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.