Too Much Like Mother
It‘s always unnerving when the elevator stops on the thirteenth floor of the building where my Amy works, but this guy seemed alright, though his bow tie and bowler were comically old fashioned. About 5’7”, he stepped jauntily to the back of the elevator with military precision while affording me neither nod, nor smile. At the back wall he turned on his heel to face the door, his posture perfectly erect, his hands dangling loosely at his sides. This last bit I found exceedingly odd, as there was not even a fidget from his fingers. I am one to notice such things, as I take an interest in hands, and what one does with them. In fact, hands (or rather my obsession with them) were our primary subject today, I having just been to visit my lovely and talented friend Dr. Amy Piersall, Head of Psychology here at the Periwinkle Psychiatric Institute.
Hands are a fascination to me. Never knowing what to do with my own hands, I have developed my interest in them from observing what others do with theirs. Take this gentleman riding the elevator with me for instance, he with the straight hanging, non-fidgeting hands. Now, most people would be doing something with their hands on an elevator. I have watched a billion hands on elevators in my time and rarely have I seen a pair hanging so perfectly still while on one. Elevators are tight, close, nervous places, so a man will often subconsciously slip one hand into a pocket as he steps inside, while a younger boy will stuff both hands into his pockets once the door closes, feeling himself trapped within. A woman will clasp a bag, or check her phone, and a girl will fiddle with her hair, or her mother’s skirt, or her father’s trouser leg, but few will let their hands hang so confidently loose and still as this man did, so I was intrigued.
I leaned what I hoped was casually against the elevator wall before speaking, one hand flapping the end of my unaccustomed tie, the other resting back-handed upon my protruding hip. ”May I ask which branch, sir?” When they looked my way I noticed a cold, flatness to his eyes which very nearly disconcerted me, but I was not so easily put off. “I asked, which branch of the military was it that you were in?”
”No?” I questioned his response, sure that he was wrong, and must certainly have been in one branch or the other. “Policeman, then? Or perhaps Scout Leader?”
”Marching band? Secret Service? Merchant Marine?”
”None of the above. And please mind your own business... Friend.”
The way he said the word “friend” did not sound as if he meant it, but I took it as being just his stiff, stand-offish style that made it sound that way. Surely he was not being purposely unsociable, as we were the only two on the elevator. I was just starting to delve deeper when the elevator took a resounding jolt before lurching to a complete stop. I nearly went down when it did, my leisurely lean against the elevator’s wall leaving me so vulnerable that the reeling of the car pitched me directly into my new friend, whom I found to be much stouter than he first appeared. Standing perfectly balanced with his feet shoulder width apart the shorter man was able, even in the careening elevator, to remain perfectly in position even as I slammed face-first into his shoulder, breaking my nose and sending a shower of blood onto my brand new, 40% off suit and tie bought wholesale. My fidgety hands stopped their fidgeting to grab at my nose even as the stalwart little man shoved me back to my corner, where I stood whimpering with neck craned back and nose lifted high, my fingers tightly compressing either side of it in a futile attempt to staunch the flow of blood.
”I say, Friend!" I stammered into the sudden pitch-blackness of the elevator. "Mightn’t you have moved when I was thrown your way, rather than aiming your shoulder in my direction?”
”I am not your friend.”
I found this rebuff much more painful than the broken nose and sought to settle whatever bitterness he had developed for me. “Well! Didn’t you call me one only a minute ago? Have I done something to create antipathy between us? I was only trying to be cordial, and to compliment your martial bearing.”
”You are annoying.”
“So my father always said, that I was annoying that is, being too much like Mother." My pinching fingers added a nasally texture to my voice. “But Amy is helping me with that.” I paused here, expecting a question from him, such as, “Amy who?” But I received no response from out the darkness, forcing me to continue on myself if conversation was to be kept alive. “The Dr. Amy Piersall, that is. Head of Psychology.” I said this last bit with some smugness. “We are engaged.”
”Hmmm.” I detected disbelief in his hum.
”Do you doubt it?” My back was up now. "She said it herself!"
”There is more than one meaning of "being engaged." Just how long have you been seeing this 'Good' Dr. Piersall?”
I was back on solid “conversational” ground now, as Amy and I were long-time loves. “Three years, now.” With that I removed my fingers from my nose and crossed my arms sanctimoniously across my breast, though it would be impossible for him to see my posture through the blackness inside the elevator.
”Let me guess,” he replied. “One date a week, and always here in her office?”
I could feel the blood trickling again, down my upper lip. I wiped it with my sleeve and re-pinched my nostrils for safety’s sake. “She is a very busy woman.” I squeaked.
”And you are the fool I took you for.”
”Oh yea? Well, your fingernails need trimmed. They are long and dirty.” Take that, I thought!
”It isn’t dirt beneath them.”
”No? Then what is it?”
”It’s blood. It turns black, over time.”
”Oh, are you also prone to nose bleeds?”
”It is not my blood, you idiot.”
”No? Then whose blood is it?”
”Didn’t catch his name. Just some guy who annoyed me.”
”Say, can I borrow a handkerchief, Friend? This nose bleed is getting out of hand.”
”You know… you are annoying.”
”So says my father… too much like Mother.”
All My Work
It was one of those Tuesday afternoons where nothing seems to be going right and you feel convinced that nothing you do will make it a better day, so you just begrudgingly shlog through the rest of the day. Late to wake up, late catching the train, and late coming back at the office after lunch. I was sure that my boss would lecture me jeering, "Alex! Next time, might you have the decency to skip lunch after such a lazy morning? Or better yet, skip showing up at all next time," leering as only a spoiled twenty-something-year-old brat can.
Checking my watch I curse and pick up my pace as I scurry through the main lobby. I pause between the entrance to the stairway and the one elevator in the building, briefly deliberating. Then I heard a ding as the elevator doors opened and there were only two other people waiting. I turned away from the stairs and sprinted the last dozen feet onto the lift.
Wheezing slightly, I smiled a bit at the others to reassure them that I wasn't a weirdo. A young blonde woman returned my smile with a polite nod, and the old lady who held on to her arm smiled warmly. I pressed the button for the 32nd floor and the close button. After what felt like a full minute, I was about to throw my arms up and go back to the stairs when the ugly metal doors finally creaked shut.
I sighed and turned to say, "I really hope they fix this piece of junk soon."
It's funny what you notice about other people on a long elevator ride. I noticed them bickering under their breath and what kind of shoes they were wearing. I was beginning to make up a little story in my head about them when the lights flickered to black. I couldn't help but curse again. The red emergency lights switched on mercifully not long after. The sudden complete darkness had been unsettling, to say the least. Then I heard a thud behind me. Whipping around I saw the old lady crumpled on the ground breathing heavily.
"Gran!" her companion cried out. We both immediately knelt beside her, though it was abundantly clear that neither of us knew what to do in a situation like this.
"Should we call an ambulance?" I asked.
She nodded vigorously but had her eyes concernedly fixed on her grandmother's face. So I pulled out my phone and dialed 911. I told the dispatcher all the relevant information I could think of and hung up. Then I took off my jacket and covered the poor woman as her granddaughter maneuvered her to rest more comfortably in her lap. I explained that help was on the way, but it might take a while. The old woman's breathing slowed down enough for her to speak a minute or so later.
"I knew it would end like this, eventually." She mused.
"What are you talking about, Gran?" her granddaughter responded.
"All my work comes back to haunt me. I knew it would."
"You'll be fine. Don't worry, Gran."
"You don't understand, child." The grandmother blinked in confusion, "They've found me." She pried away from the younger woman whose gentle protests were brushed aside and she sat up against the wall. "I have to tell you," she wheezed., "Have to set the record straight." I shifted uncomfortably. A few minutes ago, I was just late for work. Now I'm about to hear this random lady's last will and testament. I Fucking hate Tuesdays.
"You remember, I told you I worked for the newspaper when I was young. Well, I only got the job because I had to after I killed Earl. And - "
"You what?" I blurted.
"Killed my husband, honey, keep up! Anyway, I only - "
"Gran you killed him? You said Grandad got hit by the mob!"
"Look, I'll die before I finish the story at this rate, so unless you want me to haunt you with this you better let me speak. I killed Earl because he hurt me and he tried to hurt my baby! I told them it was self-defense, but they didn't believe or didn't care. Domestic Abuse didn't count as assault at the time. So I went to prison until I won an appeal two years later. Your mother was living in foster care, already 10 years old. The social worker said that there was a chance I could regain custody if I could find a job that could sustain us both."
"I sent out applications right and left, but no one would give me the time of day. A woman? A convict? No chance! That's when I realized I would never win if I kept playing by their rules. So I made my own. I went to the foster parent's house and took my daughter back and we ran like hell, changed our names and I got a job cleaning at some little publication in Texas. That's where I got the letters."
"You see, the paper had an advice column called Dear Chelsea, and readers wrote in their problems in these letters. There was a team of people who read them deciding what they could use and what was scrap. Some letters were responded to publicly in the column, others were handled privately, but many were just thrown out and sent generic apology letters. I found them in the trash one evening, and once I started reading them. I couldn't stop."
"They were mostly sent from women and children. Some of them were crazy threats and gibberish, but most were cries for help from desperate people... and they just threw them out. It wasn't right, women have the right to live unharassed. I thought about Earl, and how miserable he made our family. After a while, I couldn't contain my anger. So I made a new rule. I would never turn my back on a desperate woman again. So I used the letters to track down their demons and slay them, just like I did with mine."
"I had to move and change our names a few more times, but eventually I figured out a different way to cover my tracks, and I never gave up until your mother had you. I wanted to keep an eye on you, to protect you, that was all that mattered. But they've finally found me. It's over. I'm sorry..."
She drifted off then. I sat in stilted silence in a box bathed in red. Haunted by a stranger's past.