Elevator / by jbhalper

Going Up

My floor is next

“… your kids.”

He’s talking to me, I realize. I take out my earbuds and pause the podcast I’m listening to. He sets down his grocery bags — one paper, one brought to the store from home. He bought more than he thought he would.

“I’ve seen your kids lately.”

“Yep,” I say as I wrap the cord around my phone, use the occasion to look instead at my hands. I don’t recognize him.

“They’re really growing up,” he says.

We stop at a floor; a woman exits with no coat despite the afternoon drizzle. The weather lately has been a puzzle.

“Sure are.”

The doors close, and the geometry of the remaining riders shifts, as it always does, into a triangle with us at the vertices. He leans back against the elevator wall, let’s himself rest. Three buttons lit, I’m not sure which one is his. I begin to wonder whether he lives on an odd or even floor.

“Mine are now 17 and 24.” He looks older to me as he says this; I notice his hair more gray than anything else, his glasses round and gold-framed from several trends ago.

“A little over nine and just 11,” I hear myself say. I’m curious at the unnecessary precision.

He smiles, remembers something. Another stop; the only other person exits, probably on the way to a dog that wants a walk. Everyone but us seems to have a dog. I still can’t place him, but it’s a big building, and we’ve been here a long time.

“I don’t want to think of those numbers quite yet,” I say. It occurs to me that I say “quite” a lot. Quite a lot, in fact. I give myself a moment to make and enjoy the joke to myself.

His floor, an even one. He steps out and reaches back with a bag, the paper one, to hold the doors. I can hear the high pitch that goes off when something interrupts the safety beam.

“You think when they’re older, you’re not there. They’re on their own. You think you’re missing out on things. But it’s just different.”

“There’s always something new to be there for,” I say, trying to help him build his thought.

He pulls the bag and goes.

“I wish I could trade you,” he says from down the hall, mainly to himself.

The doors close. I’m alone. My floor is next.

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