Elevator Justice by Robin Stratton
The last person Lacy wants to see when she steps into the elevator is Natalie from shipping, whose ridiculous rhinestone glasses hang from a string and perch on her bosom shelf, who frosts her hair in a way that looks unapologetically fake, and who is one of those idiots who, in adherence to corporate policies, goes outside for cigarette breaks even when it's raining or below zero. Lacy delivers a brief, disinterested smile, and presses the button for the 7th floor. Door closes. She isn't the type to foster a friendship with someone she's pretty sure she would hate, so she engages in no small talk as she consults the jeweled watch her fiancé gave her recently. She has half an hour before her 9:00 meeting, during which time she intends to make an objection-proof case for firing one of her secretaries, an older woman whose arthritis has compromised her typing skills.
When Lacy realizes the elevator isn't moving, she presses the 7th floor button again; this time holding it down, the light shining through her expensively-manicured nail. Still nothing. She presses the Open button, but the doors remain shut. A stab of panic as she presses the Open button again and again. Nothing.
“Don't do no good to keep pressing it,” Natalie says. “They had trouble with this elevator last year. Remember?”
“No.” Lacy, suddenly feeling hot, presses the button for the 1st floor, then the 2nd floor.
“Yeah. Katherine from sales was trapped for five hours. When they finally rescued her, she was completely freaked out.”
Lacy, still pressing buttons, feels the nausea of anxiety; that's not going to be her, there's no way she's going to be trapped in this elevator. “I'll call someone,” she says, suddenly remembering the cell phone in her purse.
Natalie laughs without smiling. “Good luck getting a signal.”
Hands shaking, Lacy checks, and sure enough, no bars. “Damn!”
“Told ya. Lemme try this.” Natalie takes the emergency phone off the wall, and as she waits for someone to answer, says, “I mean, Katherine completely freaked out. They hadda call an ambulance. She never came back to work after that, she never... hello?”
Relieved, Lacy listens in on Natalie's end of the conversation: “Elevator's stuck again... yeah, that's the one. Well, I'm fine, but the lady I'm with is really scared.”
“No, I'm not!” Lacy protests loud enough for the person on the other end to hear. “But you need to get us out of here now!”
“See what I mean?” Natalie says. “She's completely freaking out!”
Lacy grabs the phone – she makes about twelve times what Natalie makes – and says in her ferociously efficient voice to whoever is on the other end better that they better get their fat ass out of the chair pronto and fix this lousy piece of shit elevator! To her horror, there is no reply, only the silence of dead air.
“Gotcha!” Natalie says. “That phone don't work. S'why it took five hours to get us out.”
Lacy stares. “Us?”
“Me and Katherine.”
Lacy recalls that Katherine's inflexible adherence to the rules regarding time off had resulted in four firings in one week. “You were with her?”
“Uh huh. Plus, same thing happened to Isabella in personnel. You ever try calling her Izzie?”
Lacy shakes her head.
“I called her Izzie the whole time we were in here, she hated it.” Natalie takes the phone from Lacy and replaces it on the hook. “She fired my friend Wally because he was late a few times. Even after he told her it was because his wife was in the hospital with her cancer and he had to get the kids to school. She still fired him.” Natalie shakes her head. “Man, shoulda heard her cry! Turns out, she was claustrophobic. Completely freaked out!”
It takes a moment to register in Lacy's brain that Natalie's presence in the elevator all three times it has gotten stuck can't be a coincidence, and then panic hits her full force. She raises her fist and begins pounding on the door. “Help! Help!”
But Natalie yanks her almost off her feet and throws her against the wall. “Shut up! You keep screaming, you'll use up all our oxygen and we'll suffocate!”
Trembling, Lacy slides to the floor and tries not to breathe.
“That's better,” Natalie says. “Might's well stay calm. We got a lotta time to kill.” She sits, too – manlike, with legs bent and elbows resting on knees – and lets out a deep sigh. “Jesus, I wish I was allowed to smoke in here.”
Robin Stratton is editor of Boston Literary Magazine and her fiction has appeared in Word Riot, Poor Mojo's Almanac(k), 63 Channels, Ink-Blink, Antithesis Common, Chick Flick, and others. Her chapbook, Dealing with Men, was published in 2009.