by Eileen Malone
I give the security guard your name, say you are on the thirteenth floor. He says oh no, all the shrinks are on the twelfth floor, presses a button on his podium. I have to hurry down the hall before the elevator doors slide shut. The express cab lifts me straight up. I can’t get off any other place because there are no buttons inside the elevator, just a camera.
When the doors open. I get off and check the listing on the twelfth floor wall which doesn’t show your name among those listed as psychiatrist, psychologist, therapist. Of course not, this is the wrong floor. It doesn’t go any higher. Looks like I have to go across the hall to another elevator to take me further up.
Now, the security guard is inside the cab wearing the gloves of an elevator operator. Asks what floor please. I tell him I want the thirteenth floor. He replies there is no thirteenth floor. The one he pushes, the only one it makes sense to push, is labeled fourteenth floor. We both face front, until the car jerks to a stop.
On the fourteenth floor, which we all know is the thirteenth, the security guy nudges a bit, almost shoves a little so I have to either step out of the way or exit. He does not excuse himself. Instead talks over his shoulder as he walks away, proclaiming that one delayed stop can upset the entire prescribed order.
He’s obviously deranged. I hold the door open behind him, lean out, scan the directory. Looks like everyone here is a medical doctor. Of course you are not listed here either. I push L for lobby. Remind myself, as you suggested, reality is believing all the lies everyone else believes.
I know I am going down from the thirteenth floor, even though it is called something else, but if I insist on what I believe to be the truth, expecting the nonexistent thirteenth floor button to reveal itself, I will be stuck here forever in an insane loop of sleazy lounge music.
Whoa. What’s that? What feels like the elevator clutch lurches. The car shudders. Lights flicker. The very air turns bitter, metallic-black. It blows strangely cold on the sweat forming above my upper lip. Pushes the smell of grease up my nose.
I hear a cable snap.
Then feel a moment of sudden stillness before the drop down a shaft which used to be a rabbit hole. Words fly by, meanings lose all weight. I lose all bone density, blood pressure. The freefalling I dreaded is actually happening. I am plunging to the pit. The security guy will find me on the floor, curled in a fetal position. He will help me to your office, the one I know, the one on the thirteenth floor.
Truth will not set me free. My fear of elevators only validates my psychosis. So when you ask about my panic attack, I will tell you none of this happened. I will cleverly lie.
And once again, you will be pleased with our progress.
Eileen Malone has published in over 500 literary journals and anthologies. Many of her works have won awards and four were nominated for the Pushcart Prize. She lives in the coastal fog at the edge of the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband who is a retired elevator mechanic. She founded and now directs the open, Soul-Making Keats Literary Competition and coordinates its annual Awards Reading in San Francisco.