It was a dark and stormy night.

No, no, it wasn’t. But that’s all I can think of right now. I mean, it is pretty dim and grim in NOLA today, but the reason I keep thinking this line is because I am supposed to have a piece written for the Writers’ Circle next Monday, um, tonight. I gave everyone an assignment. I’m the organizer; I cannot show up with blank pages.

The assignment for February is to write a piece wherein two characters who do not care for each other are stuck in an elevator together. One of the characters has one of your obsessions.

I have been eating us out of house and home. Food is an obsession. I assume I’ve been eating because I have this looming deadline. That’s what I do when I don’t know what else to do. Eat. For the week, I’ve been eating veggies and dip and chocolate, remainders of my husband’s birthday party. I wrote something else for my college’s alum magazine I had to write. I paid some bills. I ate some more. It is a wonder I ever wrote and published one book.

~~~

Stella doesn’t particularly care for elevators, but she doesn’t particularly care to talk to any of her neighbors either. If she uses the stairs, someone will want to talk to her. She can be alone in her building’s elevator. Stella watches the numbers light and fade, light and fade. She lives on the thirtieth floor, the top floor. Not her choice. But it had been her grandmother’s and the family owned it free and clear. She could not complain.

At the third floor, an older man stepped in to the elevator. Too rickety to walk down three flights of stairs? Stella thought. She could bare it for the last thirty seconds of her ride. The elevator vomited out some nasty noises, true to form, as it eased its way to the bottom. Then, it stopped. It stopped halfway between the first and the second floors.

“What’s happening? Why are we stopping?” The man was immediately in a tizzy. Stella leaned back against the wall of the elevator and closed her eyes. Although the elevator had never gotten stuck before, she was not worried. It would soon start moving again. “Are you going to sleep? What are you doing?”

The man was ruining the effect of his expensive wool coat and leather shoes. Stella hadn’t seen a crease like the one in his slacks since she had caused her mother’s face to age rapidly with the announcement she was opening her own business in the city. The goal, of course, for Stella just to marry well.

“Sir, the elevator will get to its destination sooner or later.”

“I have an appointment.”

“I’m not sure what you think I can do.” Stella pictured herself stuffing a stiletto in between the doors and breaking them out. She pulled her cellphone out of her purse. No signal, of course. She had to change carriers. Who would she call anyway? The police? Why would she burden them, in this city, with something so trivial?

“What about this thing?” With undue force, the man pulled the receiver right from the wall.

“Unless that thing works on the can-string principle, I think we’re out of luck now.” Calm down, old dude, she thought, I don’t want to Mr. Spock you. The man seemed to decompress instantly, and Stella shut her eyes again. She had an important meeting herself, but she always left an hour early because delays were embedded in the plans.

“We could bang on the doors. Josef might hear us.” Josef was the on-again/off-again doorman. His father actually owned most of the building, but he insisted his son work for the right to bear their last name. This was a great theory, but Josef was about as responsible as the Rolling Stones collectively. His father usually sent one of his vice presidents to hunt the kid down. Sometimes one could catch the scene: forty-something executive triathlete running own the Avenue of the Americas chasing a red-haired teen with mischief in his grin. Kid, without breaking his stride, would yell, “Maybe you need to be in spandex,” or something equally stupid.

“You want to bang on the doors, go right ahead.” Stella was sure the elevator would catch up to itself at some point.

“You’re Josette’s granddaughter, aren’t you?” Now, he was going to try to make actual conversation. The only old person she could even stand had been her grandmother. Well, actually, the only person period. Her grandfather had been something of tyrant.

“Yes.”

“She used to come visit the cats and me quite often.”

Stella did not like cats, and her grandmother had not either. Perhaps this old man had manufactured a relationship in his deteriorating brain.

“Oh, no, she loved my cats, Clara, Buella and Louise. She just didn’t want any of her own. Wanted her freedom, she said.”

Freedom to do what? Her grandmother hadn’t voluntarily left her building for the last five years of her life. Getting her to Christmas dinner was like arranging a presidential motorcade. She wouldn’t even go to the Catholic church right around the corner. She watched church TV instead. Stella had managed everything for her. She was sure she would know if her grandmother had had liaisons with Cat Man Fever. “Sir . . .”

“Name’s Clark St. John. Don’t you remember meeting me before?”

“Mr. St. John, I’m sorry, but I don’t remember. How did you know my grandmother exactly?”

“I was best friends with your grandfather when we were boys. Became friends with him all over again . . . When did he die? It was about five years before that. Sure, we had aged, but your grandfather’s strut was the same. Bernie always knew who he was.” In the last year of his life, Bernard Stockton had not known who he was, who his wife was, where he was. “You walk like your grandfather. You don’t seem to favor either of them, though. Must have gotten all your father’s genes, huh?”

Her father’s family’s genes were dominant in Stella, her brothers, and all her cousins on that side. She towered over her pint-sized mother, which had made for interesting junior high confrontations. “Mr. . .”

“St. John.”

“Mr. St. John, my grandparents never once mentioned you. I think if you had any importance they would have mentioned you.” These were words she used to dismiss people at work. The people with whom she employed were used to her, put up with her because of all she gave them in bonuses and benefits and ideas. Mr. St. John swallowed audibly. Stella thought maybe he would just stop talking to her, so she didn’t want to apologize.

“You suppose nothing escapes your notice,” said the old man.

“I was pretty close to my grandmother.” Why was Stella having to explain herself to a stranger in an elevator? Was she going to have to invite him to coffee now, too? “I make my living paying attention to details. I think my grandmother would have told me if she had been seeing someone.”

Mr. St. John laughed. “Seeing someone? Oh. I see. Were we dating?”

Stella moved to the elevator doors and began to pound on them. “Josef! Hey! Josef! Where is that kid?”

“You know he’s probably not there, right?” Mr. St. John said.

“Maybe someone else will hear us. People get up and out with the birds in this place.” She knew this because she went to the gym every morning at five, and the place was electric at that time. The lobby crowded with people about to walk animals or running for a paper or getting a beyond early breakfast. But they could all be back in bed or tucked into a corner of their grand apartments by now. She stood near the button panel. Alone she could have paused to read a book on her e-reader without disruption. The old man was going to keep plying her with information about her grandmother.

“We’ll get out eventually.”

“Right.” Stella checked her cellphone for bars again. Nothing.

“I think your grandmother said she was coming to see me, but she really liked the cats. I let her name one of them. She said Bernie had been adamant about naming the children, and she wanted to name something other than a philanthropic movement.”

“My grandfather was allergic to cats. They both didn’t like animals.”

“Your grandmother grew up on a farm. How could she not like animals?”

Step in manure enough, you might be a little pet-shy. But. “My grandmother grew up on Madison Avenue.” This man clearly had no inkling of what he was talking about. Had to be another woman and her husband he had befriended again. He had confused them with her grandparents.

“Your grandmother spent the first ten years of her life on a farm in upstate New York, until your grandfather’s family took her in. They were distant cousins, you know?”

“Mr. St. John, you are clearly confused.”

“Your great grandparents sent her to all the right schools and all the right parties.”

“Why are you saying these things?”

“These aren’t secrets. Your grandmother didn’t try hide her life from anyone.”

Stop talking. Stop talking. Stop talking, Stella thought. She was cured of needing to take the elevator to avoid people. In fact, she was going to use her climbing wall skills and repel down the side of the building from now on. She wished she had a vial of something in her laptop bag to offer this man.

“Are you okay, dear? You look pale.”

“I’m fine. I just need to get going. I didn’t think it would take this long for people to figure out we were stuck. Are we really the only ones ever take this elevator?”

“I haven’t taken the elevator in over three years. Mrs. Watts was on the stairs-I could hear her voice echoing down the stairwell. She always tries to catch up to me and follow me wherever I go. Takes her two blocks just to stop panting from the extra exertion.”

Her grandmother and grandfather had met each other at a school dance. Josette had been too shy to dance with Bernard when he asked. He had been persistent, though, and had finally managed to get her to agree to a date the fifth or sixth time they had run into each other. Everyone knew the story. Everyone had seen the pictures. The star-crossing that had occurred when he had gone off to war. (Yes, wealthy as his family was, her grandfather had insisted on serving.) One of those walk-in-the-woods-around-the-lake authors had even written a book about how they had finally gotten together. She had printed proof of their romance, their relationship.

“I really think you must be mistaken, Mr. St. John. My grandmother hated dirt of all kinds. I cannot imagine her grubbing around on some farm.”

“All kids like dirt. Didn’t you play in some sandbox when you were small?”

“I surely did not.” From the time Stella could remember her bedroom had been entirely white. She and her brothers had had to change to an “inside” pair of shoes before they get beyond the foyer. If her mother was not there to remind them, one of the house staff would be. Her father had only ever looked at the top of his girl child’s head until she could meet him almost eye-to-eye. He had never noticed if she wore the wrong shoes indoors. Conversations with her father had been like business meetings. Her ass on the line for some failure in the chain of command.

“Your grandmother was a farm girl at heart. She said her favorite thing was tending the chickens.”

“Look,” Stella said, “my grandmother never touched a live chicken in her life. If she ever stuffed one live or dead with anything, I would be completely surprised. You may know my grandparents’ names, but you did not know them.”

“Oh, one of us in this elevator knew your grandparents, and clearly it was not you.” Mr. Clark grinned at her.

Eeeeeeeeeeerrrrrrrrrrrrkkkkkkkk. The elevator shuddered. It moved up and down. Shimmied a little, and then, as if it had merely stopped to think for a moment, continued on its way. When the doors opened, Stella nearly knocked over Josef, who was standing there, in uniform, with a key of some form.

“How long you guys been in there?” Josef asked, but Stella was already gone. She hailed a cab in record time and made it to the office just shy of her regular arrival. She had only been stuck there with Mr. St. John for twenty-seven minutes. Plenty of time for her to get into the office, grab some coffee, scan some headlines, check a few e-mails, and get to the staff meeting she had every Monday morning. Monday staff meetings were a ploy she used so no one would be late after some bacchanalia of a weekend.

Without fail, she had not missed so much as a stifled burp at one of her staff meetings, but that morning, Stella could not stop thinking about Clark St. John. She wondered if something was really wrong with him, something beyond old age clouding his thoughts. When the meeting was over, someone tapped his bony finger on her phone.

“Stella?”

“Where’s everyone going? The meeting’s not over.”

“We ran through the agenda. You didn’t say anything,” said Briggs, the only person she trusted to speak in her place.

“Oh. Yes, that’s fine. I was thinking about a source I want to secure. My mind went there.”

“Sure. If you need a recap, let me know,” Briggs said and left her there at the head of the table.

She managed to pull it together for the rest of the day. Nailed down all the loose ends from the previous week. Hired a new employee. Interviewed the lead singer of Mime, the latest “it” band (she didn’t trust anyone else to get it right). Ended the day early with nothing left on her “to-do” list.

On her way home, she stopped to get some Chinese food at the place on the corner of her block. She ordered double of everything on the bland side. At the door, she passed Josef, who raised a barely there eyebrow at her. She scanned the kiosk for “St. John,” and walked up to the third floor and down to 3B. She hit the antiquated buzzer and waited.

The man did not even look through the peephole, but threw the door open. “Stella! I knew you’d come. Come in. Come in. Meet the ladies.”

Stella hesitated for a moment, late night crime shows running through her brain, and then, she walked through the door.

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