Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Fiction #69: Jennifer Ouellette

On a Tuesday

The morning announced itself urgently. Brooke rolled over in bed, swatted at the alarm clock then stretched her limbs under the covers. She blinked, acclimatizing herself to the foggy transition between dream and reality. Pushing the covers down she swung her legs over the side of the bed and walked towards the dresser. Pulling on her gym clothes she walked to the fridge, the light spilled out into her dark condo along with a puff of cool air. She grabbed a bottle of chilled water and headed down to her building’s second floor gym.

The rhythm of her shoes making contact with the treadmill matched the tempo of the music leaking into her ears from headphones. After forty five minutes she was back in her apartment, standing under the warm stream of her shower. Brooke dried her body, dried her hair, applied moisturizer and makeup, then slipped into heels and a teal shift dress.

Shrugging herself into a jacket she shot a glance at the time; 8:15am. Grabbing her purse she locked the door behind her and walked out into the street. All around her people were trickling out from buildings, being pulled by the clock towards their destinations. Brooke walked a block then waited in line at her neighbourhood coffee shop, an old brick house that had been gutted and transformed.

“What can I get you this morning?” asked the woman behind the cash register.

“Medium almond milk latte, please,” Brooke replied without hesitation. She handed over cash, their interaction complete she then stood off to the side to wait. Her drink was eventually placed on the counter, delicate swirls of foam topping a rich brown coffee. Brooke snapped on a cap then took a sip, letting the warm bitter liquid roll over her tongue. She pushed out through the door back onto the street as a man in a suit edged past her into the cafĂ©.

Brooke crossed at the intersection; there was a screech of tires as a car stopped short inches from where she was standing. Gasping she dropped her coffee, the liquid splashed up hot against her leg and pooled at her feet. “Watch where you’re going!” Brooke shouted, her heart in her throat, and she darted to the safety of the other side. She wiped at her leg, her light shoes were stained. She has a spare pair at the office she could change into.  Looking back across the street she contemplated another coffee, but there was no time.

Turning the block she saw the building, tall and metallic, gleaming in the early sunlight. Walking through the revolving door she just made it as the doors of a waiting elevator started to close. “Hold the elevator please!” she cried out, rushing forwards and getting inside. She pressed the eleventh floor and when it illuminated she stood back. An older man headed to the eighteenth floor was the only other occupant. They stood in silence as the box begins its ascension.

With a shudder the elevator stopped at the seventh floor, the doors firmly shut. Brooke glanced at the man nervously, then began to press one button then another. Nothing happened.

“Come on, come on not today,” Brooke pleaded under her breath pressing the emergency intercom. “Hello? Hello is anyone there? I’m stuck in the elevator.”

“I don’t think that’s working,” the man said to her.

“Excuse me?” asked Brooke, her finger on the door open button.

“The door controls. I don’t think they’re working,” he added patiently. Brooke looked at her finger then dropped her hand to her side.

Static crackled from the intercom. “Just hang on Miss, help is on the way.”

Visibly relaxing, Brooke breathed a sigh of relief. She stood in the corner, drumming her fingers on the wood paneling until the older man broke the silence.

“My name is Jonathan,” he told her.

“Brooke,” she said, offering her name with a small smile. “Do you work in the building?”

“No, I’m here for an important meeting,” he said, his voice steady betraying no indication of alarm.

“I have an important meeting this morning too. I hope they get us out of here soon.”

After ten minutes, Brooke and Jonathan found themselves seated on opposite sides of the elevator floor. Brooke was staring at the door like a trapped animal unacquainted with the concept of captivity.

“We’re both going to be late,” she said sullenly.

“These things happen from time to time,” Jonathan assured her. A short laugh pushed past Brooke’s lips.

“You get trapped in a lot of elevators Jonathan?”

“Being held up, being unable to get to where you’re going. It happens to all of us from time to time. There’s nothing you can do but wait,” Jonathan clarified.

Brooke sighed, his meditative patience grated on her. She was ambitious and proactive, years of hard work had led her to this day and this meeting; her promotion. Now she was going to be late. It wasn’t something she could easily shrug off.

“What do you do?” asked Brooke making small talk. The silence pressed in around her like the walls and she felt an urgent need to break it.

“When I’m not trapped in elevators I’m a Consultant. I help evaluate plans, develop strategies and plan next steps on a variety of projects. How about you Brooke?”

“I work for a Marketing firm; I manage campaigns for large consumer brands.”

“That sounds very impressive,” Jonathan replied, there wasn’t an ounce of condescension in his voice. “Do you enjoy it?”

“I’m very good at what I do,” said Brooke proudly.

“That isn’t what I asked,” Jonathan said. Brooke was taken aback, shocked by his unspoken insinuation.

“Of course I like what I do.” She leaned forward and began pressing the intercom again. “Hello? Hello we’re still trapped in here. Are you getting us out?”

Static crackled and someone on the other end mumbled. “What a mess”.

“Hello? Can you hear me? Are you getting us out? I want to get out.” Panic was rising in Brooke’s voice. The realization that she was trapped in an eight by four foot metal box, suspended seven stories above the ground by thin metal cables rippled under her skin. What was a mess, the wiring? The controls? Was she in danger? Her heart began to pound in her chest as she pushed the buttons frantically. She was trapped, helpless.

Glancing above she saw it, a panel. Maybe if she got out she could climb to a safe ledge where someone would rescue her. Brooke kicked off her shoes and placed a foot on the railing, reaching for the panel and attempting to knock it open.

“What are you doing?” Jonathan asked her.

“I’m getting out of here, it’s not safe.” The words escaped her in a rush.

“You’re not James Bond, and that isn’t safe. Take a deep breath and sit back down.”

Brooke rattled the panel frantically, clawing at it, breaking a nail in the process. Breathing quickly she began to pound on it then she began to sob, sliding back down to the floor. She was shaking, suddenly she felt cold. Jonathan gently placed a hand on her shoulder.

“Breathe, just breathe. It’s okay. Think about something that calms you down, a safe space.”

Brooke closed her eyes and tried to slow her breathing. Her mind darted through memories until she found it, the place beside the lake. Camping with her parents and sister when she was a young girl. Dangling off the wooden dock to dip her hands into the cool water. Lying with her sister on the smooth rocks warmed by the sun.

“Where did you go?” Jonathan inquired.

“To my family’s camp. That worked, I think I feel okay now. Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.”

Another fifteen minutes crawled by, Brooke checked her watch and sighed. Whatever the issue was they were still working on it. She pressed the intercom button again firmly, hoping she could resume her day. They can’t have forgotten about them.

Static and she heard the voice on the other end. “It’s a bit more complicated than we originally thought.”

Resigned, Brooke slumped against the wall. Her stomach growled. She always ate breakfast at the office where she kept pouches of instant oatmeal in her desk and she hadn’t been able to enjoy her coffee.

“Here,” said Jonathan, pulling a brown paper bag from his briefcase and removing a sandwich. Brooke eyed it, then peeled back the plastic wrap and removed half.

“Thank you,” she said gently before sinking her teeth into the spongy white bread, through a slice of processed cheese and rubbery ham. It was bland sustenance that reminded her of hospital cafeteria food.

“When you needed to calm down, go to your safe space, you thought about your family. Are you very close?” Jonathan asked.

“We used to be,” Brooke replied.

“Not anymore?” he pressed.

“I grew up, I moved away. I’m really focused on my career. I mean, I go back for the holidays every year but it’s hard to stay in touch now that I have so many responsibilities. I’m supposed to be getting a promotion today.”

“Congratulations,” said Jonathan.

“I deserve it. I’m always the first one in the office, the last one out. I’ve made the company a lot of money. And now I can’t enjoy what I’ve worked so hard for because I’m trapped here.” Brooke lamented.

“Who are you going to celebrate with?”

“I’m not sure, I haven’t really thought about it. I’ll grab drinks with a few friends maybe? My parents are stopping in town next week on their way to Florida. I’ll take them out to dinner and tell them, they’ll be happy for me.” Brooke was suddenly flooded with a warm feeling.

“I’m sure they’ll be very proud of you,” Jonathan assured her.

“They are always proud of me, now that I think of it. You know what? I’m going to book a day off once I get to the office. When they visit I’m going to take them sightseeing, then out to dinner. Spend some quality time together.” The thought made her happy; her parents would enjoy that and so would she.

“That sounds nice” said Jonathan.

An epiphany broke through and registered in Brooke’s frequently cluttered mind. She had worked hard for her promotion, but now it was time to put some care and attention towards her personal life. She would love to go to Vegas for the weekend with her younger sister, maybe go to a spa for the day with her girlfriends. She had been so busy she’d neglected many of the people in her life. She had been on a few dates with a cute journalist and blown him off, but now she found herself thinking about him again. His light blue eyes, the way his laugh bounced off the walls. She should give him another chance, text him once she got out of the predicament she found herself in.

“You know what Jonathan, this was probably a good thing.”

“What was?”

“Getting trapped here. I’m always so busy I never really give myself time to think.”

“We all get trapped in a certain way of life.”

Brooke smiled. Jonathan was a strange man, but his presence was calming. She could see why he was good at what he did.

Brooke pressed the intercom button again. “Let’s see what our friends are up to,” she said with a sigh.

Static crackled, then nothing. Brooke pressed the button again and the voice filled the space. “I’m sorry, there’s nothing we can do.”

Brooke looked at Jonathan puzzled. “What do they mean, nothing they can do? They can’t just leave us in here.”

She began to push the button repeatedly, feeling panic rising in her again. On the floor she noticed three small droplets of blood fall and she lifted a hand to her face; her nose was bleeding. Blood trickled from the corner of her mouth.

“What’s happening,” Brooke asked, wide eyed. “What’s going on?”

Jonathan looked at her with compassion and suddenly she remembered everything. The car accident. The emergency response team working on her broken body, the ambulance ride to the hospital.

“Am I…” Brooke couldn’t finish the question, it hung in the air between them.

“I’m afraid so,” Jonathan replied gently. The doors finally opened, beyond was pitch black.

“I don’t know what’s out there,” Brooke said, her voice fearful.

Jonathan placed a hand on her shoulder. “It’s okay, no one does.”

Brooke steadied herself on wobbling legs, took a tentative step forward, then pushed herself to continue out into the dark unknown.

*

Jennifer Ouellette lives in Toronto and works in the non-profit sector. She has a degree in English and Communications from York University. Jennifer enjoys writing short stories that focus on society and humanity.

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