|Disclaimer n. 1 a disclaiming; denial or renunciation, as of a claim, title, etc. 2 the refusal to accept responsibility; disavowel
Warning n. 1 the act of one of that warns, with the state of being warned 2 something that serves to warn
Read any further than here and you are sure to encounter ideas that run contrary to popular norms (unless you live in the Castro... or the Village... or Provincetown... or Ontario... or work at the Thai restaurant down the block... or...). There be subversive ideas herein, representing as they do, homosexuals as almost normal people in almost normal circumstances. Such ideas may not be legally ingested by people in certain geographic happenstances or by people of a certain age (people under 18, that means you - come back when you're, like, 19, for sure).
You can't say I didn't warn ya.
Copious thanks go out to Ume ("Did you realize that this sentence goes on for three paragraphs? ...or was that intentional?") Boshi for doing beta detail. She's sweeter than pie!
And to you, gentle reader, I say, "Welcome!" and whatnot.
by Crème Brûlée
Liza scooted into the elevator, smiled an apology to the man she'd brushed against as she squeezed herself into the crowded space, and glanced at the panel to be sure the number for her floor had been pushed. It hadn't. Instead of reaching across the man next to her, she asked the woman pinned in front of the panel if she'd push the button for twenty-six. She then turned to face the closed door, let the lift of the elevator settle in her stomach and took a breath. She'd been moving since she got out of bed that morning and her mind hadn't once had an opportunity to catch up to her body - the moment it did she discovered that she was ravenously hungry.
Around the fifteenth floor the elevator had emptied to the usual suspects (the intimate strangers who inhabited the upper floors of the building, working for Neblux Corp). Liza remained looking forward, willing the slow-moving elevator to her floor, where she had a yogurt and half of a fruit juice in the office fridge.
By the twentieth floor there was only one other person in the elevator with her. She wasn't a usual suspect. She'd gotten into the elevator on sixteen and she'd registered through Liza's hunger craving because she wasn't dressed in a corporate fashion. Liza wasn't sure what fashion she was dressed in, but it wasn't corporate issue of any stripe she recognized. She supposed it could be some very relaxed version of corporate casual, in which case this woman was in the wrong building. All of the companies that inhabited the Aridyne Building were corporate formal, seriously corporate formal - the kind of corporate formal that deterred the frivolous element and struck fear into the namby-pamby jeans-on-Friday crowd.
This woman wore flashy, flowing, striped pants and a t-shirt under a deep purple vest. It wasnt garish, but lively would have been a conservative estimation of her apparel. You couldnt have gotten away with it at Neblux anyway, not even at the company barbeque (which was, appropriately enough, a coat, tied and skirted affair held at the Crystalline Ballroom). Somehow Liza, a model employee, had managed to be indisposed for the affair, eight years running.
A rumbling from the vicinity of her stomach returned Liza's attention to her crisis of the moment. Not much of a crisis really, compared to the rest of what she'd been dealing with that morning. Liza took a moment to reign in her scattered nerves. It was bad enough that she was late, she'd never get through the day if she didn't start to focus now. She'd deal with the morning's upheavals later. Work - work was what she had to deal with now. Because she was late, her 9:30 meeting was reshuffled to 12:00 (during the only open window she'd had - her lunch break, naturally). That gave her fifteen minutes to get settled in her office and finish the Parkman project paperwork before Harvey stopped in to talk about the next Jorgensen project. Why did so much have to happen this morning? Why not yesterday? She could have managed it yesterday, she was sure. Why not tomorrow? She wasn't scheduled for meetings back-to-back all day tomorrow. Once again she reminded herself to focus on the task that wasn't quite at hand, but would be the moment she stepped out of the elevator door.
The elevator stopped. Liza looked up at the display panel above the door. They'd just passed the 22nd floor where the doors had opened and shut, but no one had gotten on or off. It seemed too soon to have reached the next floor. Before her musings went further her stomach lurched. For a single moment Liza felt as though she was suspended in air, then just as abruptly she felt a painful jolt as if she'd smacked into something. Which, upon casual inspection, it turned out she had; it was the floor. She was on the floor, trying to process what had just happened, but was having difficulty concentrating through the noise.
The woman who'd been in the elevator with her was also on the floor and she was yelling a stream of expletives as she sat crouched with her arms over her head. The profanity came to an end as she asked in a frantic voice, "What was that?"
Liza blinked, then groaned, "The elevator's stopped."
"No, ya think? Of course it stopped! What the fuck happened after that?!"
Liza looked at the woman who hadn't lowered her arms from their protective cradling of her head. She sat balled up on the opposite side of the space. "I expect that it dropped and the brakes engaged."
Liza hoisted herself up. She glanced at the ceiling; an emergency light was on, not the fluorescent light that she was used to. The lights on both display panels were out. A dull throbbing started in her shoulder. She'd hit the wall as she'd fallen. She rubbed it to disperse the soreness.
"This is not happening. Crap. This is not happening. Crap. This is not happening..." The woman on the floor was rocking back and forth, hugging her head even tighter as she chanted on.
Liza looked around, unsure what to do. The woman was obviously distressed. Liza felt sympathetic, but mostly she felt annoyed. Panic and distress weren't especially efficient responses to crisis
not in Liza's humble opinion. Nevertheless, she knew that conveying such a sentiment, however correct, wasn't usually welcome. "It's okay, we're going to be fine. They've been having trouble with the elevators all week."
This was true and the thought served to annoy Liza even further. She'd been told that the problem with the elevators had been fixed.
"Super! Great! How long 'til we're out of here?" The woman didn't look up to ask the question, she continued rocking.
"I don't know. It took them twenty minutes last time..." Of course, it had taken them an hour and a half the first time, but looking at the agitated state of the woman on the floor, she didn't think it would be a good idea to mention it.
"Twenty minutes! Holy shit!" The woman rocked harder and started to make a keening sound.
"Are you alright?" Liza asked.
"Who me?" the woman asked. "Peachy, dandy! Ignore me, go about your business - I'll just die of suffocation quietly."
Liza thought that might be a temporary respite for her frazzled nerves, before she realized what an unkind response that was in the face of this woman's obvious state of terror. "Look, I'm sure we'll be fine."
The words had barely left her lips before there was a loud creaking noise just above the roof of the elevator. An ominous vibration shook the enclosure. Liza looked up. There wasn't anything to look at but the ceiling and that looked normal.
When she looked down, the woman was rocking again. Liza stepped over to the button panel and opened the compartment with the emergency phone. She waited as the line rang and felt a sigh of relief when someone picked up, "Maintenance, Susan Fletcher speaking."
"Hi Susan, my name is Liza Cook. I seem to be stuck..."
"Hello. We're stuck in the..."
"Look, either say something or get off the line, we've got an emergency here, a major power outage, we don't need jokers jamming our phone lines!"
Liza spoke louder, "We're stuck in the elevator. We're somewhere between the..." She heard a loud click as Susan hung up. She called back twice, but both times she couldn't be heard on the other end. This day, this was a day that would make it into her journal. She hadn't had time to write in her journal in six months, but she was making time for the list of grievances she had to settle with the governing principles of cosmic calamity. There had to be a quota. One person could not be expected to have to endure this much adversity in one morning.
"It would seem..." she said to no one in particular, because the woman rocking on the floor didn't appear to be interested. "
that there's a power outage in the building, it might be a while before someone comes to get us."
She reached into her pocket for her cell phone. It wasn't there. She froze as she realized where it was. "Damn it!"
Nan looked up. The loud outburst from the woman in corporate drag jolted her out of her panic attack. And right into another one. She pushed herself into the corner of the elevator - it seemed, irrationally, like a better place to die than the spot three or four inches to the right. "What?! What now?"
"My cell phone. I left it in my car." Liza pinched the bridge of her nose.
Nan couldn't wonder enough at the minor details that occupied people's minds. Who the hell cared where this woman's cell phone was? "Use mine," she dug into her bag, located her phone and slid it across the carpeted floor. Maybe, maybe if she stopped moving every muscle in her body, the elevator wouldn't fall. Maybe, maybe if she could remain perfectly still and slow the flow of blood in her body, she could keep them suspended. Of course, with that woman over there, tapping her foot as she waited for an answer on the phone, they might as well cut the damn cables and go into free fall.
"Could you stop that?" Nan asked.
Liza raised an eyebrow in question and saw that Nan was pointing at her foot. "Wonderful," she thought. "I'm stuck in an elevator with a panic stricken neurotic." She stopped tapping her foot. Someone answered the line, "Harvey?!"
"Liza? Where are you? All hell's broken loose around here. The power's out and everyone's convinced we've been attacked by terrorists."
"Terrorists?" she asked, dumbfounded.
"Security's already tried to convince everyone it's safe, but half the office cleared out. Some idiot cab driver plowed into a public works truck up the block. The accident caused someone on the work crew to cut a major power cable.
Lizas stomach flopped. This day just wouldnt quit. With morbid certainty she knew which cab it must have been; the one shed stepped out of before entering the building. Never before had she thought a short cab ride could make her so thankful to see the doors of the Aridyne Building.
The driver, a young man with a thick accent, had spent the duration of the ten minute drive gesticulating and veering from one side of his lane to the other. There was a wild-eyed look of fear plastered across his face, and several times he turned to shout at Liza. His rantings were incoherent, but Liza gathered that hed never driven that route before in fact, she was relatively sure hed never driven before at all.
When the cab came to a screeching halt before her office building (one tire on the curb), Liza was thankful to be alive. She tried to warn the person who climbed into the cab as she stepped out, but he said, Arent they all like that?
"Was anyone hurt?" Liza asked Harvey. She had to speak clearly because the muttering noises Nan had begun to make were getting louder.
"Not from what security said. Where are you anyway? Bernice said you were late this morning." Anyone who knew Liza would wonder at such a turn of events.
"I'm stuck in the elevator. Could you let maintenance know we're in here?"
When Harvey had stopped laughing he asked, "We who?"
"We're not acquainted. Did they give you any idea when the power will come back on?"
"Do you know anything about elevators?"
Harvey's mind was a veritable gold mine of useless trivia that came in handy more often than you'd think. "They go up and down."
"Harvey!" Liza warned. "After it stalled, it dropped - then stopped, and then there was a noise, a loud one, not a nice one, that came from above. "
"Jesus, Liza! Are you okay?" Harvey bellowed.
Liza held the receiver away from her ear a tad. "I'm fine, but I want to be sure that I stay that way."
"Those elevators have redundant safety mechanisms. Even if the brakes hadn't engaged, and it sounds like they did, but if they hadn't and the thing had fallen, there's a gizmo at the bottom that acts like a cushion. Unless there's a fire in the building, you should be fine."
"Thanks, I won't light any matches."
Harvey thought that Liza must have had a nasty shock, she rarely joked about anything and when she did, it wasn't usually very funny (not to anyone but Liza and maybe a couple of geeks in the tech department). "Good plan," he said. "I'm glad that consulting I did for Randolph Lifts and Elevators has finally paid off. What's that noise?"
Liza, who had the phone to one ear and her finger blocking the other so that she could hear Harvey over the noise that had turned into a high pitched wail, answered, "That's the other person who's in here."
"Is she hurt?!" Harvey exclaimed.
Liza's assessment was succinct. "Panicky."
It's not that Liza was a cold person, Harvey considered, so much as she could be dense in the face of other people's emotions. This was due mostly to her extremely focused and matter of fact personality. While it served her well in her work, it had been cited as a liability in her interpersonal relationships (even as recently as that morning, though Harvey was unaware of recent doings in Liza's life - she wasn't big on sharing details). "Christ, Liza, tell her she's going to be okay."
"I already have."
"Tell her again," Harvey insisted. "Tell her what I told you about the brakes and the gizmo at the bottom. And for pitys sake, tell her that terrorists haven't attacked the building!"
Liza, who'd grown accustomed to, and quite comfortable with, her location across the elevator from all of the commotion on the other side, glanced at the woman on floor. She placed her hand over the receiver and said in as cheerful a voice as she could muster, "Harvey says were going to be fine. The elevator's very safe."
"Ask her if she knows any breathing techniques for relaxing," Harvey prompted.
"Do you know any breathing techniques?" Liza asked.
Through gritted teeth Nan asked, "What for?!"
"Yes," Nan answered. The woman across from her didn't look upset, she didn't look in need of relaxing. If anyone needed to relax, Nan thought, it was herself. This realization helped, a fraction, to retrieve her from the edges of hysteria.
"She says yes," Liza relayed the information to Harvey. She certainly had no idea what to do with it.
"Do them with her," Harvey said. While Liza had an impressive intellect, her emotional system was sometimes in need of a nudge... or a shove, in the right direction. There was no answer or movement on the other end of the line, Harvey could picture Liza puzzling away at what would have been a very simple matter of empathy for most people. "It might help her calm down if you did them with her."
"Oh, okay..." Liza glanced at Nan uneasily, none too pleased by the prospect of having to comfort a complete stranger. "In the meantime, would you call maintenance? Tell them where we are. I couldn't get through on the emergency phone."
"Will do. Hold tight," Harvey said.
"I'll hope for just that," Liza said and hung up.
"Thanks for the use of your phone," she stepped over and held it out to Nan. Nan stared at it, then reached up to take it and quickly dropped it on her bag. She leaned back into the corner. It felt safer. It wasn't safer, she knew, but nevertheless, it felt safer.
"I don't want to die here," she said to no one in particular.
"Were not going to die here," Liza felt her annoyance rise again. Why couldn't this woman keep a grip on herself? She recalled the look of anger and hurt that she'd been confronted with not an hour before. "Why can't you be more like normal people? Why are you so uptight?" Richard had shouted at her before storming off. She'd stood crushed by the impact of his words, watching him run down a hallway away from her, his book bag jerking from side to side as he went. Her mind noted, automatically, that he could improve his speed if he'd tighten the straps.
Looking at the woman before her who had started hugging herself again, she said, "There's a power outage in the building because of an accident on a public-works project up the block. It will probably take a little while for them to fix that. Hopefully, someone will come get us first. What's that breathing technique you mentioned earlier? Why don't we try that?"
Through her terror Nan knew it made sense to practice her breathing. Freaking out was passing the time, but it wasn't otherwise helpful.
"You know," Nan took a deep breath, closed her eyes and leaned her head back against the wall. "It would be just my luck to die in this elevator. Icing on the cake, given the last two months of my life." She crossed her legs and tried to relax her shoulders (somehow they'd crept up to her ears). "Why did I ever accept a contract in a frigging skyscraper?! Buildings shouldn't even be this tall. Nothing good ever happens above the 5th floor! Nothing! It's not natural for people to be walking around the atmosphere. It's not natural for anything to be this high. I hate it. The plants hate it. And what the hell do you people do to these plants anyway? I swear someone's been peeing on the ficus on 27. And the palm disappeared on 15. No one could tell me who moved it or where it went. It's not like a stapler, you can't put a 150 lb. potted plant in your pocket and walk off with it. It requires an organized effort. I think they were all in on it. The whole floor. And I'm filing a complaint against the soccer mom who groped my ass while I was leaning over to prune the geranium on 12. That woman is a menace. What if I'd slipped and scarred it? Do you have any idea how long that kind of trauma takes to heal?" Nan opened her eyes and focused on the woman in front of her. She needed someone to understand. She had to explain it before she died. These plants were living, real things; not plastic decorations; not the little doodads you stuck on the top of your computer monitor.
The other woman, Liza, was poised between the two options she was considering to help the increasingly hysterical Nan. The first was to make the kind of calming shushing noises she'd made to Richard when he was a little boy and had scraped his knee. The second was to give the other woman a good crisp slap. She wasn't sure who the latter option would benefit more, and on the off chance it would make this woman even more hysterical, Liza opted for the first approach. As it turned out, neither was necessary as the woman had ceased her outburst and was staring at Liza.
"Were you about to hit me?" Nan asked.
"It was one of the options that I was considering, yes," Liza answered.
Nan's already wide-eyed stare grew wider, "As if my life isn't bad enough? You were going to hit me? What kind of person goes around hitting other people who are having a panic attack?"
"Isn't that one of the things that's supposed to help?" Liza asked.
"Do you think that if you were feeling anxious and someone belted you, it would soothe your nerves?"
"I don't know," Liza answered truthfully. "It's only something I've heard. And though it may sound counter-intuitive, that doesnt mean its wrong. Take shock therapy for example, you'd hardly think that a person who's lost their grasp on reality would benefit from being electrocuted, but it's often quite helpful."
"Why thank you for that comforting illustration. I'm not a lunatic. I don't need shock therapy. I simply need a little understanding here. Compassion, ever heard of it? Have any examples of that in the database?"
Liza flinched. It wasn't the first time someone had likened her to a machine.
"Oh crap, I'm sorry," Nan reached out to touch Liza's hand, but Liza moved it away. "Really, I didn't mean to snap at you. Well, I did, but I'm sorry. It wasn't very nice. At least you were trying to help - but for future reference, if you hit me when I'm having a panic attack, or any other time actually, I'm liable to hit you back."
Mentioning her panic attack seemed to remind Nan's psyche that itd been slacking off. The walls of the elevator, which had receded for a few minutes, raced back in. "Shit," she closed her eyes tightly and gripped her stomach.
"What is it?" Liza asked.
"I'm claustrophobic," Nan explained. "I absolutely hate elevators... even when they're working properly."
"Oh," realization dawned on Liza and the note of relief that sounded in her tone was clear (as it always was when something made sense to her). "Well no wonder you're so uncomfortable."
Nan's eyes popped open and she stared at Liza in disbelief, "Now it makes sense to you?! It didn't before? When this shoebox we're trapped in went into free fall? That seemed somehow inappropriate? To to be upset about that?"
"It wasn't your being upset, it was the extent to which you were upset," Liza noted.
"So, it's a matter of degrees with you," Nan knew she was on the defensive again. She took a deep breath to calm herself. She was always more quick to control her temper than her fears.
"Is that the breathing technique you mentioned earlier?" Liza asked.
Nan nodded, keeping her eyes closed.
Liza noted the effects of the deep breathing. Nans features relaxed perceptibly as she took slow even breaths. Her shoulders lowered, her arms dropped, it was like watching a tightly wound spring uncoil in a measured fashion.
Liza had never been good at guessing peoples ages (she wasnt much good at guessing anything about people), but if shed been pressed shed say that Nan appeared to be around her own age. Indications of a certain numerical, if not emotional, maturity were in evidence.
The angles of Nans face softened as she relaxed; she had a very open appearance. This struck Liza as somehow contradictory for such an anxious individual. And yet, perhaps it was simply the circumstance that had Nan upset; she said she was claustrophobic after all; it couldnt be easy to be trapped here in such a small space. Lizas approach to people tended to be practical, even in the unwieldy and dangerous realm of the emotions. She lowered herself to the floor, crossing her legs and leaned back against the rear wall of the elevator, "Is that a yoga style of breathing?"
Nan nodded again, "Do you do yoga?"
"No," Liza answered, more definitely than one usually might answer such an innocent question.
Nan, focused on her breathing, was unaware of Liza's inner turmoil on the topic of yoga, "Me neither. I know it's great for stress, but I've never had the wherewithal to keep up with it. Besides, everyone in those classes always looks so calm and healthy, it makes me anxious."
Liza thought anxiety a curious response to calm, healthy people she recalibrated her assumptions about Nans anxieties claustrophobia wasnt her only problem. "Maybe I should try calling Harvey back to see if he's found anything out."
Nan handed Liza the phone again. Liza turned it on, but nothing happened. She tried again, with no luck.
"Don't tell me," Nan said. "The battery's dead."
"It's not turning on," Liza handed it back.
"It's dead," Nan closed her eyes and began to breathe slowly and evenly. "So what? The phone's battery is dead. They know we're here, they'll get us out. We won't fall. We'll be fine..." She felt a reassuring hand touch her arm and realized she'd been rocking as she sat hugging her knees.
"It is going to be fine, really. We'll be okay," Liza assured her. "I'm certain help is on the way."
"What if it doesn't get here before the brakes on this thing decide they're tired? What if we're nothing but a pile of moist dust at the bottom of this shaft before they decide to get up off their asses and come do something?"
"Actually, Harvey says there's a mechanism at the bottom of the shaft that will cushion the fall if the other safety mechanisms give out."
"What if it's broken?" Nan asked.
Liza considered the terror stricken gaze locked with her own and sighed. She assumed the question was rhetorical. She rubbed her forehead and renewed pangs of hunger reminded her that she hadn't eaten that morning. "Today isn't going at all well."
"You can say that again," Nan concurred. "Do you have a headache?"
Liza thought, "It would be a miracle if I didn't." To Nan she responded, "Yes, and I haven't eaten this morning. My regular routine was interrupted and I haven't had an opportunity to catch up with myself yet."
"I know that feeling well enough," Nan turned to her work sack, a large canvas bag with a good many pockets. It had a formidable, well used look about it. She dug inside and rummaged out her lunch. "I have a turkey sandwich." Nan unzipped the thermal pack that the sandwich was in and handed it over, "Help yourself."
When Liza hesitated to take it, Nan asked, "Don't like turkey?"
"Turkey's fine. But aren't you hungry?"
"Not even remotely," Nan felt an ominous quiver in the region of her stomach, she handed the sandwich over with a slightly pained look.
"Thanks," Liza bit into it, and sighed.
Nan passed the interval Liza took to eat the sandwich productively; she started working out her last will and testament. It didn't have a calming effect. Neither did glancing around the elevator that somehow seemed to be smaller by the second. "Oh, God," she groaned. "I don't want to die."
Liza, who should have felt much better for having had something to eat, didn't. As her body concentrated on digesting the food, her mind had begun to digest the events of that morning. It was more than one reasonable person could be asked to bear. Her patience, which was legendary (only because people mistook her temper for reasoned cool), ran out. Another outburst from Nan was simply unacceptable. "We are NOT going to die here. I can assure you of that. The statistical probability is extremely low and even if it wasn't, even if there was a very good probability that you and I were going to die right here, right now, we still wouldn't die. Would you like to know why?" Sometimes, people who take a long time getting started, have a harder time stopping. Liza was one of those people and she didn't wait for Nan to answer. "It's quite simple, really. If I were to die now, bad things would stop happening to me. Once you're dead, you're dead. There are no more car accidents, no more attorneys dressed in lingerie showing up on your doorstep, no more fights with unmedicated sales people, no more hideous reporters calling at ungodly hours, no more unfaithful yoga instructors, no confused belligerents masquerading as my offspring - none of it. I'd be resting in peace and I think that's more than I can hope for today. So you see? You can stop worrying and rest assured. We'll be fine. I'm your cosmic ace in the hole, your lucky rabbit's foot. Now, can we move on please? Find another topic? One that's a little more cheerful? I used to have cheerful conversations from time to time - I'm reasonably sure that I could hold my end up."
There was a curious, almost hysterical illogic to Liza's theory that appealed to Nan's sense of the absurd. She considered the cool, well put together woman facing her. Her demeanor screamed "organized". You didn't roll out of bed that well dressed and coiffed unless there was something seriously wrong with you. She looked the type who didn't falter in her judgements or opinions; and wasn't much bothered by other people's. She had a strong jaw. Nan had often noted that people with strong jaws had a certain something to them. A definite something. Liza wasn't a striking woman, but she was handsome in a quiet way. A vague look of annoyance lurked across her features at frequent intervals; as if she was responding to a perpetually vexing internal dialogue. She probably wasn't used to being upset and was likely exaggerating a few minor occurrences that had plagued her of late. She looked strained and like she was unaccustomed to being so. For a suit like her, missing her breakfast was probably the kind of a jolt to her routine that threw her off for days. She probably considered being late to work a major catastrophe. A hair out of place was probably cause for a profound unease or at least a nagging sensation that she couldn't quite place that haunted her subconscious for hours.
It wasn't that Nan didn't like "suits" as she called them. Until recently she'd been something quite like a suit herself. Things like missing her morning coffee and hairs being out of place had preyed on her mind from time to time. Her erstwhile assistant, Jennifer, might have complained that hairs being out of place had been a daily, if not constant, preoccupation for Nan. In her defense, Nan often cited a distinction between the superficial preoccupations of anal-retentive minds and a necessary attention to detail in one's work.
Even though Liza's theory of improbable outcomes had a certain appeal, Nan found it problematic, "Your theory is interesting, if flawed only slightly by reality. Nevertheless, if one was to accept your theory at face value, I'd be your ace in the hole. Because if having a crappy day is some kind of cosmic life insurance, then you're all set - I'm having a crappy year."
Liza considered her situation for a moment, "My year isnt going so hot either. I thought the last couple of months was difficult, but I managed. This morning was over the top. It was never a scintillating affair, but we were good together. But it had ended a couple of years ago, I can see that now..." she sighed deeply. "Hindsight is 20/20 and all that..." She shrugged. What's done was done, better to move on - it was the constructive thing to do, she was sure of it.
Nan, surmising from her comments that Liza had recently gone through a breakup, refrained from rolling her eyes. "Small potatoes," she thought to herself.
"In the last two months," Nan said. "My life, which had been perking along at a good clip, went to shit. I lost my job, my house, several friends (I don't know how many colleagues), I've had to take a job pruning tortured corporate flora, and my cat died."
Liza rose to the challenge, "My partner of six years left me for one of her clients and my son hates me."
Nan didn't think these were trivial concerns by any means, only, they seemed so... normal. And yet, you couldn't just come out and say that to someone... "She left you this morning?"
"No, last month. Richard, my son, he says it was my fault. That I drove her away. Maybe I did..." Liza shook her head, she was still mildly stunned by the entire business.
"Women are poison, you're better off without her, trust me," this was not simply a supportive platitude on Nan's part, but heartfelt advice.
Liza realized with a start that without a second thought she'd just revealed her sexual orientation. It hadn't even crossed her mind when she'd mentioned Dorothy's leaving. She was out generally, but wasn't in the habit of coming out to strangers in passing. She felt a light blush rise; she hadn't realized how much the events of the morning had effected her equilibrium. It might be a good idea, she considered, to get a grip on herself.
"Fancy that," Nan smiled, ruefully. "Two jilted lesbians getting trapped in an elevator together - you're the expert on probability, what are the odds of that happening?"
"I wouldn't know. Probability isn't actually my area of expertise, I'm a workflow engineer," Liza noted Nan's blank stare. "An efficiency expert."
"Oh," Nan nodded, not at all surprised.
"I'm Liza Cook," Liza held out her hand.
"Nan, Nan Golding," she took Liza's hand and gave it a good shake.
"Is that Nan as in Nancy?"
"No, it's Nan as in Audrey. Never liked the name Audrey, so I go by Nan."
"That makes sense," Liza smiled. "I'm sorry about your recent problems... and your cat."
"Thanks. I hope it's some consolation to you to hear that someone is having a crappier time of it than you. At least I'd feel my life hadn't gone to pot in vain."
Liza shifted, trying to get more comfortable. "Thanks for the thought, but I think the morning I'm having may trump your claim. Immediacy must carry some weight in the consideration. And such an awful lot has happened to me in the span of one morning, so perhaps density may tilt the scales further in my favor."
"Interesting idea," Nan recrossed her legs and pondered Liza's latest hypothesis. "While immediacy may carry a certain emotional poignancy it might also cloud one's judgment; a dispassionate calculation, after some distance had been achieved, might find the unrelenting torrent of crap that's drenched me in recent weeks, overwhelming. After all, I did manage to get felt up by my boss's wife, then accused (by that very same woman) of accosting and stalking her. The morning I arrived at work and learned about the accusation (and my subsequent dismissal from the firm where I'd worked long and hard hours for five years), I arrived with cat vomit on my shoes. Giles, my cat, had begun vomiting at 5:30 a.m. and continued, until he expired, at 8:20 a.m. I don't even know why I went to work that morning, only the vet said there was nothing else that I could have done for Giles, so I went. I suppose that I was in shock or maybe I was seeking some kind of comfort. Ha! I arrived to find a security guard at my desk. I was given 10 minutes to clear out. My colleagues stared at me as though I'd sprouted horns and a tail - everyone (except for me) had heard Claire's ludicrous story that morning. You have no idea how the scent of scandal burns through the offices of Wendell/Bridgebain Landscape Architects. I'm surprised the sprinkler system didn't go off. Landscape architects don't live the most... scintillating lives. A little excitement gets them all a-flutter. Or so I learned that morning."
Nan sighed, it was the heavy exhalation of an exhausted woman, "The fun was just starting, though I had no way of knowing it at the time. I've never met a woman whos taken rejection as personally as Claire Wendell did. Of course, I've never met a woman as closeted as she is either, so I guess slander and character assassination could be a simple survival tactic for her. Oscar, her devoted husband, my former employer, has no idea. If he figured out that "golf date" is a euphemism for sex among his wive's cohorts, he'd know she was screwing every other closeted socialite at their club. I know this mostly because I have a friend who used to golf at their club, but got tired of walking in on orgies in the shower room. Francis says there's nothing that'll ruin a good afternoon on the green quicker than having to look at Germaine Townsand's sudsed body at the height of passion. Seeing it unsudsed on the green was challenge enough for Francis. Francis has never been a fan of what she calls "grievously skinny women" in argyle. She says it's deeply disturbing and always puts her off her game.
"All of this is neither here nor there, really. Only, it turns out that Claire knows a lot of people and not just in the biblical sense. After I was booted from Wendell/Bridgebain, I found a good many doors had magically closed to me. Any support I thought I might have had, any viable employment opportunities - vanished. For all of the people in it, this is a surprisingly small city as far as landscape architects are concerned. And I'm walking around with a scarlet "A" on my chest, or possibly an "L"... well, I guess to be accurate I'm wearing a prison issue orange jumpsuit, because if I was guilty of what Claire accused me of I should have been jailed.
"As it was, they issued a restraining order... showing up at her club and screaming at her like that... there were better ways I could have handled it - I can see that now. But no, I lost it; cracked under the pressure. Which was how I lost my house too. Funny thing about mortgages, if you forget to pay them... and if the bank is owned by a friend of your ex-boss, who thinks that you assaulted his wife... things can snowball in a way you wouldn't imagine. The house was cursed anyway. I'm glad to be rid of it - only, I miss the breakfast nook. Oh, well... By the time I realized that there was no chance of me picking up work at any of the agencies around town, I'd gone through a good deal of my savings. I was lucky Kathy, an old friend at Corporate Nurseries (who knows I'm about as likely to accost a woman as I am to crawl into a small space in search of solitude and calm) offered me this job.
"For the record, the real record (the one no one happens to be keeping), I would not be caught dead stalking the likes of Claire Wendell. I wouldn't have been caught alone in her study with her either, had I known what the result would be. The woman got me drunk over lunch for Christ sakes! How high school desperate do you have to be? Had she run out of closeted golf socialites? She must have, because no sooner had I begun to look over the designs for the new garden park she and Oscar are planning (the reason she gave for wanting me to join her for lunch in the first place), my shirt was up around my ears and my bra had disappeared. That woman moves faster than a flea on speed."
Nan, her shoulders slumped in defeat, sighed and shook her head.
Liza nodded, impressed by Nan's account. Despite her evolving impression of Nan as an anxious and rather forcefully uncomfortable woman, she could understand Claire's attraction to her easily enough. Nans expressive features, when not preoccupied with extreme panic, communicated an openness and sincerity Liza found appealing. Liza also noted, in a purely aesthetic way, that Nan had a rather nice figure. She also had a curious manner of flipping her hair back over her ear. It had the look of a nervous tick, but was strangely endearing. Liza admitted that the circumstances under which she was forming her first impression of Nan were not optimal for making a conclusive judgement about someone. "I suppose in the face of such a lot of horrible things having happened to you, my morning isn't such a catastrophe. Im sorry Nan."
Nan smiled in grim acceptance. It was a dubious honor, this having had one's life gutted in such a superlative manner. She might as well glean what satisfaction from it she could - she certainly wasnt gleaning much satisfaction from the therapy bills shed accumulated as a result.
"Though..." Liza continued. "If one were to take into account my recent past (as you did) - the last two months in particular, it's possible that you could find relief in knowing that there's someone who's had it worse off."
Nan knew that some people couldn't be convinced of anything; Liza was obviously one of them. She knew that determined jaw, however much it contributed to Liza's handsome appearance, meant trouble. Short of deliberate torture, she found it difficult to envision how a woman as buttoned-up and well put together as Liza, could claim to outdo such an unrelenting avalanche of devastation as she herself had encountered in the last several months.
Click here to continue...