Between Floors

Beate Boeker

New York

Sarah pressed the gold-rimmed button with the word ‘UP’. A drop of water splashed from her wrist and made a clicking sound on the polished marble. Sarah looked down. Three more droplets from her wet hair followed and exploded on the creamy-colored marble, right in front of her naked feet.

What a stupid idea to go for an early morning swim in the hotel pool. No, she corrected herself. Not stupid at all. She recalled the deep peace she’d felt as her body slipped into the warm water, the feeling of utter freedom as she shot through the turquoise liquid. No, no, no. Not stupid at all.

Unfortunately, though, someone had mistaken her terry cloth slippers – a courtesy of the Grand Excelsior Hotel – by the pool for their own and had waltzed off with them, so that she was now forced to return barefoot. And even worse, she had to take the elevator back to her room. To be trapped inside a metal box was low on her list of things to do for feeling good.

Maybe she should have packed a bag and taken everything to the pool. Then she could have avoided crossing half the hotel in a bathrobe, with a trail of water droplets leading all the way to her room. But could you get that special hotel-pool-luxury-feeling if you first had to organize and pack a bag? A bag overflowing with hairspray, mascara, face powder, deodorant, a business dress, a pair of tights, and . . . She stopped herself. No. Too much hassle. She’d done right not to burden herself with all that stuff. After all, she could reach the 32nd floor in five minutes, and if she was lucky, she would have the elevator all to herself.

A ping and whoosh announced the arrival of the elevator. The gleaming metal doors slid to the side, inviting her into the marble cage. No, no, not the cage, Sarah admonished herself. Never think about an elevator as a cage when inside.

Whatever it was, at least she had it all to herself. She stepped inside, giving a small prayer of thanks that the green-and-white checkered marble floor was spotless. At least she wouldn’t return to her room with fresh New York dirt between her toes.

With clenched teeth, she pressed the shiny button with the number 32. “Just three more minutes,” she told the face in the golden mirror. The face didn’t look enthusiastic.

Was there a spot on her cheek? Sarah stepped closer to the mellow shaft of light coming from the corner of the elevator.

Yes. It was a spot.

Dear God. At her age, first wrinkles appeared, and spots should be remembered with melancholy, as a reminder of tender youth. Instead, she combined both, wrinkles and spots. How unfair.

With a sigh, she bent forward and looked at her mouth where she had discovered the beginning of a wrinkle two mornings ago. It started in one corner and went up in a vertical direction. She pressed her hand to the side of her cheek, the way a cushion would when she was asleep. Yes, there it was. With profound misgiving she checked the other side of her face. If both wrinkles should develop simultaneously, she would end up looking like a saber-toothed tiger before the year was out.

The elevator gave that little lurch she hated and stopped. Sarah jumped back from the mirror. Floor 32? She checked the display above the door.

Oh, no. Floor 28. Someone was going to join her. She squared her shoulders and looked as dignified as she could in a white bathrobe with dripping hair.

The doors opened with an elegant sounding whoosh. Sarah braced herself. But the corridor was empty; just the lush mulberry colored carpet greeted her.

“Great.” Sarah sighed. Once again, she pressed number 32 on the smooth mahogany panel. Immediately, the doors closed again. But what was that? The elevator took the wrong direction! It was supposed to go up, not down!

“I hate elevators.” Sarah clenched her teeth.

An instant later, the shining doors of the cage (no, NOT cage, darn it!) slid to the side and revealed a man in a black business suit, standing in the marble floored lobby. His white shirt and bright blue tie looked crisp. Great. Just great. Sarah stepped to the side and smiled in grim determination. “Good morning.”

“Good morning.”

Had she heard a hint of laughter in the deep voice? As he entered the ca . . . the elevator, a whiff of Eau-de-Cologne tickled her nose. Nice. Sarah caught a glimpse of brown hair and black-rimmed glasses before she averted her eyes. She would have preferred to have a closer look, but it wouldn’t do to scrutinize him.

They both stared at the elegant marble floor in green and white, but from the corner of her eyes, Sarah discovered a silver cuff link peeping out of the end of his jacket sleeve. Next to him, Sarah felt like something just dragged out of a canal. A drop of water splashed down between them and splattered the side of his shiny black shoe. Sarah stopped breathing and moved closer to the mirrored wall. The elevator rattled (surely that noise hadn’t been there before?) and lurched forward.

Two more minutes, Sarah told herself. Then I can leave the elevator and forget this paralyzing encounter, and the next time, I will think twice about going swimming, or I will pack a bag, or I . . .

The elevator shuddered and stopped. Here we go! Sarah took one step forward.

The doors didn’t open. “What on earth . . .?” She checked the display. It blinked a weak 31.

Had it blinked before?

Had it?

“Is . . . is that normal?” Sarah pointed at the display.

He lifted his dark eyebrows. “What do you mean?”

“The display. It blinks in such a funny way. Sort of . . . irregular.”

He frowned and passed a hand through his thick hair. “Hmm. I don’t know.”

Again Sarah pressed the elevator button.

Nothing happened.

She scratched her head. “I believe it . . .”

At that instant, the elevator sank by two inches, like a man sagging at the knees.