Scholars and Rogues Fiction: “Stuck,” by Laura Pappers

Stuck

He had to be there at two, and now it was almost two and he still had to bike there. It would at least take him ten minutes to bike to the central station, then five more minutes on the train. He worried, because he knew she would be waiting for him.

She left the building. Why did he just say that to her? Why did he just wave her away like she was a little schoolgirl? Now she would feel bad all day. Quickly she crossed the street and waived her hand at a taxi.

“Where to?” the taxi driver asked her after he had pulled over.

“To the Wanonian Ward Centre please.” She took a seat in the back of the taxi and closed the door while keeping her long silky dress tucked inside. She looked at her feet, they were in pain. It had not been a good idea to wear her new high heels today, but she had done so as to impress him. Unfortunately it had not had the influence she had wished for.

“How long will it take?” she asked the taxi driver.

“At least twenty minutes,” he answered, “Traffic is a kind of slow today, especially in this part of the city.” This was not the answer she had hoped for. She disliked going there and now it would take her whole afternoon. But she had to, it had been two months since the last time she had gone there. It made her feel guilty.

He rushed inside, it was now almost half past two. She probably felt very sad by now, he knew what she was like. He couldn’t call her, the last time she had used a phone was a long time ago. There was no way to getting to her without seeing her. Quickly he walked towards the elevator. Someone else was already waiting in front of the elevator, a woman, and she had pushed the button to go up. He waited behind her and he looked at her. She seemed to be very pretty. Not the normal kind of pretty, she was stunning. She had long legs, long brown hair. She looked exotic, but her style was very classical. She was wearing a beige trench coat and underneath it a black dress, her heels were very high, he wondered how she could walk on them. When she turned her head a little, he saw she was wearing sunglasses. He thought it was funny that she was wearing these, as if the sun was shining inside. Then the elevator made a sound, and the doors popped open. She entered the elevator first, he followed and then leaned against the left arm rest. He could smell her perfume now. Her perfectness made him feel uncomfortable.

Why was this guy staring at her? He wasn’t unattractive, but he looked so poor, or maybe poor wasn’t the right word. He looked confused, chaotic. His hair was in a mess, curly. She couldn’t really tell what he was wearing, because he was standing behind her, but from the short impression she had, she could tell he did not have style. Couldn’t this elevator go any faster? Everything about this building was old. She could actually afford a more expensive place for her father, but she had never told her husband about him, she had been too ashamed. And now it was too late for the truth. Anyway, it didn’t really matter anymore.

They could hear a lout bang, and the elevator moved shortly up and down, then it stopped. She looked at the weird guy for a second, and then pushed several buttons. Nothing happened.

“Try this button,” he said and he pushed the red one. They waited in silence, but again nothing happened. “Seems like we’re stuck,” he said. She looked at him.

“Stuck?”

“Yes, stuck. The elevator is stuck, and we are in it.”

“This can’t be happening,” she said confused, “push the red button again please.” He looked at her for a moment before pushing the red button. It was as if she was talking to her servant.

“Like this?” he asked her a little irritated after he had pushed the red button again. She looked at him annoyed. Then they could hear a cracking sound coming out of the little speaker. It sounded like an old radio from the fifties.

“Hello?” they could hear a voice say.

“Yes hello,” she answered immediately and she leaned towards the speaker. “Hi there, can you please help us? We are stuck in the elevator of the Wanonian Ward Centre.”

“What? Can you say that again?”

“We are stuck in the elevator of the Wanonian Ward Centre,” she said now a little louder.

“Wanonian Ward Centre?”

“Yes,” she waited a moment and looked at the guy with a smile, as if she was saying, “You see, you should listen to me.”

“Right, I’ve made a note.”

“A note? What is going to happen now?”

“You will have to wait, there are a lot of elevators stuck at this moment.”

“What?” she said irritated, “What do you mean ‘wait’? I have no time to wait.”

“Sorry lady, but that’s how it is.”

“How long do we have to wait?”

“Can’t tell you exactly.” She sighed after this answer.

“All right, just keep us updated.”

“Will do.” And the speaker made a cracking sound again and then the connection was gone.

“Well, seems like we’ll be in here for a while,” he said to her while taking of his coat and sitting down on the floor with his legs crossed. She looked down at him. She didn’t want to be impolite, but she had a feeling that she had to make herself very clear; this wasn’t going to be an hour of chitchats. Normally she would never spend a minute talking to a guy who looked like that.

“Yes, seems like it,” she said on a strict tone.

“Better take a seat, your legs will get tired,” he continued with a smile.

“I will decide on that, thank you,” and she started to dig in her bag as to make the impression that she was looking for something.

“Mind you, do you always talk to people like that?” he asked her irritated. She looked down at him again. His tone and directness confirmed her feelings, this was going to be a painful hour unless she was very clear to him.

“Look, I know we are stuck in this elevator together,” she said as if she was talking to her little brother, “but that doesn’t mean that we have to become friends, or bond or something. In an hour or so we will be out, and it’ll be like we’ve never met.”

“Tssssj,” he made a sound between his teeth, “why so unfriendly? We will probably be in this elevator together for more than one hour. During that time you cannot deny my presence. I just wanted to be nice to you, to break the ice a little and make you feel comfortable by telling you that it was all right to sit down. But, do as you please. If you want to keep standing, who am I to tell you otherwise?”

She sighed, he was right actually, her feet hurt like hell by now. But his directness made her feel very uncomfortable. Normally men flattered her, and most of the time they were too insecure to talk to her. Especially guys of his caliber. But he didn’t seem to be impressed by her beauty. He talked to her like she was his sister or something.

“Well thank you,” she said in a low voice and she took off her high heels. Her naked feed on the tapestry felt like heaven. She waited a moment before she sat down, her dress was so tight that she she was afraid it might rip.

“Any relatives in here?” he asked her while wondering what she was doing. Was she pulling her dress down?

“Yes, my dad,” she answered shortly.

“What has he got? My mom is in here, alzheimer, and probably by now freaking out because it’s the only consisting thing in her life, me coming here every day at two.”

“Every day?” she asked him surprised.

“Well yes, it’s my mom, and she still recognizes me.”

“But how do you do that, I mean, don’t you have a job?”

“I do, am an artist. I am free in what I do, or when I do it.”

“I see.” An artist, she thought, that explains how he looks. She could see now the stains of paint on his clothes. He noticed she looked at his shirt.

“Yes,” he said, “it’s paint. Not quite your style I think.” She blushed a little.

“What do you mean?” she asked politely, but she knew what he meant. The difference in everything between them was so obvious. She pulled her dress now up a little, and tried to sit down. It worked, she could kneel down now, and her dress was still intact. Her eyes met his eyes when she finally sat down, and she noticed that she felt something when she did. He was prettier than she thought. He looked at her in a funny way, he was most certainly not impressed by her style and beauty.

“So,” he said, “your dad, what has he got?”

“Well, what not? It’s mainly his mind, he’s losing it.”

“Has he been in here for long?”

“Yes, about seven years now.”

“I have never seen you here before.” She waited a moment before she answered him, she hated his directness.

“I don’t come here as often as I would like to,” and she looked away. That was a lie, she came her more often than she wanted to. She disliked going here, but she knew it was a very selfish thought. Her dad had no visitors, only her.

“You must be a very busy woman,” he said a little sarcastically. He thought it was funny how she still tried to pull her act together, even though they were stuck together in this elevator of an old people’s home where no one could see or hear them. He felt like he wanted to make fun of her, break her spell.

“What do you mean by that?”

“O nothing, I just think you look like a very busy woman, a woman with standards.” He knew he was pushing her buttons by saying this, but he felt like he had no choice. He lived a very basic life, survived every week with the little he had. He hated the system and capitalism, and here he was, stuck in an elevator with someone who seemed to be his vision of everything that was wrong with this world.

“You don’t know me,” she said in an irritated tone, “I mean, look at you, how old are you? Thirty five and still no career, no money, nothing? Can’t imagine you’re in a relationship, must be too bothered with yourself.”

“Fair enough,” he said, he was enjoying her reaction, as if the pretty clothes, her expansive bag and her perfect hair were now forgotten, and she was showing her character.

“You are quite right,” and he smiled, “I don’t have any money, I am not in a relationship and I don’t have a ‘career’ as you name it. But I do have got something that not many people on this world own, and that is freedom. Every day I do what I feel like doing. Do you?”

She looked at him, puzzled. What did this guy want from her? Why was he asking her all these deep questions? No one ever did, and that was the way she would like to keep it. She had fought very hard for everything she had become. Growing up in a poor family, and now living a life she had wished for.

“I think that you are judging from an easy position. You don’t know what real poverty is,” she answered him without knowing where it came from. “Yes, everyday you can do whatever you want, but that is because you were born on the right side of the system. You don’t have to put up with hunger, or feed a family. You are just as selfish as I am.”

He was very surprised by her answer, and he felt a little thrown aback. He had been playing the poor wise man, he knew that. He hadn’t actually considered that she might have been poor at one point of her life. Her whole appearance was glowing wealth. To him she was a symbol of capitalism, but apparently she had become a symbol of capitalism. He stared at his feet for a moment before he answered;

“You might be right on that, but I didn’t choose to be born on this side of the system. You might think I’ve been very lucky, that I am on ‘the right’ side, but to me it feels like I have been unlucky, because I am forced to function in this system, even though I don’t want to.”

“We all feel unlucky I guess,” she said, “freedom is a lie. You are always chained, chained to something. At least I knew what I was signing up to, when I got married. I am not sure if you have any clue on what you are doing.”

“I do,” he said, but he knew he was lying. Lately he had no clue of what he was doing. He had always thought that living the artistic life would set him free, would give him the opportunity to function outside society. But the last two years it had worried him, what exactly was he doing? Was he really free? He hated that she had pointed this out. The speaker suddenly made a cracking noise, and there was this voice again, “A service man is on his way. Must be there within half an hour.”

“Thank you,” they both answered simultaneously without much joy. Both of them stared at their feet, too uncomfortable to look each other in the eye.

“I am quite thirsty, will drink something first thing we get out,” he said after a moment.

“Yes,” she said, “me too.”

“Why did you put your dad in here?” he asked her after more minutes of silence had filled the air. She moved uncomfortably to her left side. The question had offended her. It was enough that they already had exchanged personal details about their lives. How long did she knew this guy? An hour or so? She had been married to Max for six years now, and he didn’t even know about her dad’s existence.

“That’s none of your business,” she answered. It wasn’t, he knew that. But he felt irritated that this woman had found a way to turn his allegations against him. He knew he wasn’t perfect either, but he liked to think that he was on the ‘right side’. He just wanted to say something unkind to her, to make her feel bad. But he realized that he might have crossed the line.

“I am sorry, let’s start again,” he said therefore, “I am Alex, it’s very nice to meet you.” And he offered her his right hand. She looked at his hand for a moment, and then she replied, “Nice meeting you Alex, I am Julia.” And she shook his hand.

“Sorry if I have been impolite,” he said, “it’s the situation I guess, stuck in an elevator.” But he knew that wasn’t true, he had been impolite because he wanted to.

“Don’t worry,” she said, “it isn’t my best day either.” She thought about the conversation she had had earlier in Max’s office. Alex smiled at her, opened his mouth, and then changed his mind again. Maybe it was better to just let silence fill the air.

END

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