The lift was of the old fashioned sort, large with cushioned benches along the edges. On the walls at waist level were mirrors with gold trimmed panels surrounding the glass. In the centre of the wall that faced its passengers as they entered was a clock of Roman numerals. When the woman cast her glance towards it, the hands indicated 11:32pm with its thin second hand gliding towards the ten.
She was tired and the flight had drained her of energy. She had a long day ahead of her in the morning, but her mind was alert, even if her body was aching. A drink in the bar would help solve that problem, but she wanted to be good. Her hand hovered over the numbers of the lift. She stood on the ground floor. Her room was on the third and the bar was in the basement level of the plush hotel her company had chosen.
Just one, she thought, just one. A little Mount Gay and coke, a little ice, a little slice and everything will fall into place.
She pressed the large glowing “B” and headed down. When she reached the bar, the lights were dim and music drifted out into the hallway. A piano player churned out random covers whilst the patrons in various stages of chatter and intoxication went about their business.
When she stepped into the lift five hours later, she was a little tipsy and the stranger stepped in behind her. She had observed him smoking in the small patio outside the bar and temptation had got the better of her. She wandered out into the cool night air and approached him.
“Could I buy a cigarette from you?” she asked.
“No…” he said, reaching into his coat pocket. “…but you can have one.”
He handed her a cigarette, lit it and together they sat on a short brick wall that doubled as a flower bed for yellow roses. They fell into conversation and over the next few hours they traded lives and bought drink after drink until finally, the barman rang last call.
The woman giggled into her glass and whispered to him. “The garden door is still open. Shall we get a bottle of red wine and sneak out?”
He nodded in assent and went to the bar to collect the wine. A moment later, he made his way towards the garden doors. She watched him from her spot at a corner table while he motioned for her to follow him.
Once outside, he reached out from beneath his coat and produced the bottle. “It’s Pinot Noir. I hope that’s ok. The barman wouldn’t let us take it away, so I hid it under my coat.”
“Nice work.” she said.
In the time they had been together they had talked about everything. She told him of her childhood in London, of her job, her family, her kids. She shared her fear of flying with him.
In turn, he talked of his fiancé, of his business and his love of old movies. By the time the day’s first light was hinting towards the horizon, they felt as though they had been friends for years.
As they reached the lift, he slipped his arm around her waist. She glared down at her side, then at him but didn’t pull away.
They stumbled into the lift and she collapsed onto the cushioned bench.
“What floor?” he asked.
She held up three fingers and he pressed the button for the third floor. “I’m on six.” He said and sat beside her as the doors closed.
“I can’t believe what time it is.” She said. “I was only going down for one drink. I’m blaming you.” She smiled at him and he chuckled.
“You’re the one who came after me for a cigarette. I’m not taking the blame for this.”
“50-50?” she asked.
“60-40.” He said.
“Fine, you take sixty percent of the blame, I’ll take forty.”
He shook his head. “I don’t think so.”
They were between the second and third floors when the lift came to an abrupt stop. They were given a jolt and they stared at each other for a moment before he reached for the buttons and pressed a few at random, hoping for a response. When nothing happened, he opened the small panel at the side of the wall to reveal a phone. After a moment, someone answered.
“What did they say?” she asked when he hung up.
“It was the concierge. He said they could tell we were stuck and that they’d get someone over to fix it as soon as possible.” He leaned back against the wall. “Apparently, this happened a week ago. I guess they didn’t quite fix it.”
“Did they say how long it would be?” She looked up at the clock. “My God, I’m supposed to be at a meeting in five hours. I can’t bloody believe this. I also can’t believe I’ve been up all night. I never do this.” Her tone was light, as though she didn’t really mind at all.
He laughed and picked up her hand. “Me neither.” As he held her palm in his, he brushed the fingers of his free hand over the top of her fingernails.
“What will you do tomorrow?” she asked.
“I’m flying home. I guess tomorrow is today now that we’ve been up all night.” He sighed and leaned forward. “I had a great night. I was about to go up to my room when you turned up.”
She shifted in her seat and moved towards him, wrapping her hand around his. “It’s funny. I was trying to decide whether or not to head up for bed or to go for a drink. I just pushed the button. It could have gone either way, really. To think, we might have missed our chat.”
“I’m really glad you came down.” He said. “Do you suppose this thing has a camera?”
“Shocking.” She said, but there was laughter in her voice.
Colour rose to his cheeks. “That’s not what I meant. Well, it’s sort of what I meant.”
As he leaned towards her, he could feel her tense up, her grip of his hand became tighter as though she was deciding something.
As suddenly as it had stopped, the lift came to life and startled them. They let go of each other’s hands and pulled back as the doors opened on the third floor.
“I guess this is where I get off.” She said and stood up.
He rose to his feet and holding the doors open watched her move away. As she turned to say goodbye, he reached out for her arm. Aware that she could easily pull away, he kissed her cheek. They stood in that attitude for a moment until, remembering the time and seeing the sun beginning to come in through the windows she stepped into the hall.
“I’m glad we met.” She said and disappeared down the corridor.
She turned back within a few seconds, unsure of what she would do if she caught him. She reached the hall too late to stop them, but in time to see his hand go up in a small flicker of recognition as the lift doors closed.
© Eliza Dashwood, 2008