The Elevator Song


by Frank Thomas Smith



            "Frank, people just don't come back after they're dead," Maryann said in that condescending tone she knows how to use to perfection.

            "Damn it, Maryann, I know they don't, that's just it." I was still shook up and I tend to be aggressive when I'm nervous.

            "What's it ? And you don't have to shout, Frank."

            "Sorry." I took a deep breath, then said, "The dead don't come back but I saw Jennifer an hour ago in the mall parking lot as clearly as I'm seeing you now.

            "She's been dead for three months, Frank."

            "Yeah, she has."

            We were sitting across from each other in our living room overlooking Central Park. I finished my drink and poured another.

            "So you must have made a mistake."

            "How? After living with her for twenty years I knew her like I know myself."

          " Ah! And how well do you know yourself?" Maryann was into self-help courses, so the question didn't surprise me.

          "All right, wise-ass, as least I know what she looked like. She was even wearing the same clothes she used to wear. Her hair was gray, that's the only difference.

        Maryann sighed, crossed her beautiful tennis-tanned legs and lighted a cigarette, although she knew I couldn't stand the smoke. It was one of the things that drove me up the wall about Jennifer, too.

            "OK," she said, "You saw someone who … "

            "I saw Jennifer."

            "Let me put it this way," Maryann said, blowing the smoke over her shoulder. "If we accept that Jennifer is dead and the dead don't come back, and yet you saw someone you swear was Jennifer, then we have to look at the logical alternatives. OK?"

            I nodded.

           "Either you saw someone who looks a lot like her or you were hallucinating."

          "No one could look that much like her unless it was her twin sister, which she doesn’t have. And I don't hallucinate."

            "What other explanation is there?" Maryann insisted. I had no answer, so I sipped my drink and brooded.

            "What's that?" she said. I was so immersed in the image of Jennifer that the sound  hadn't registered at first. Now I listened.

            "Sounds like water," I said. "Did you leave the tap open in the kitchen?"

            "No, it just started"

            She stood up quickly and walked to the kitchen trailing a haze of smoke. I followed, trying to wave it away. When we got there we saw water pouring from the faucet into the sink. Maryann turned it off. "Must be a broken washer," she mumbled.

            "If the washer were broken you wouldn't have been able to turn it off." I said. "You must have left it open."

            "I did not leave it open," she shouted.

           "Maybe you were hallucinating."

            She turned around, furious, and was about to say something analogous to her humor when a door slammed somewhere in the apartment.

           "Someone’s here," Maryann said, her eyes widening in fright. "Could it be a burglar, Frank?"

          "Burglars don't go around slamming doors," I said, trying not to sound alarmed. "We better go see though." We went  through the apartment checking the doors, which we always leave open for better air circulation.

          "They’re all open," Maryann said from behind me. "It was a heavy sound like the front door makes."

           "The front door’s locked." I tried it and it was. I looked through the peep-hole anyway before opening it with the key which hung from a hook on the wall. I stepped out into the hall. There are only two apartments per floor so there was never much movement. "No one here," I said.

           Maryann came out into the hall frowning. "Unless..." she began and broke off.

           "Unless what?"

        "Well, they say that suicides are restless in the spiritual world and may try to came back."

           "Where did you pick up that crap, in one of your courses?"

           "Yes, the ufo-kofu course. And it’s not crap!"

           "Whatever," I said shaking my head angrily. "Jennifer died in an accident, as you well know. She fell down that elevator shaft." I pointed to the elevator across from us. "When the door opened and she stepped into space because the elevator wasn’t there." A humming sound came from within the shaft, indicating that it was in use.

          "Yes," Maryann said, accusingly I thought. "And you collected double indemnity from her insurance policy and sued the elevator company for a million."

         "You didn’t complain about that when you married me," I shouted at her. "My God, Maryann, you talk as though I’m guilty of something because I took what was coming to me."

          She took a deep drag on her cigarette and blew the smoke right at me. "The ufo-kofu master said that suicides and murder victims are restless and want to come…”

            "What are you saying?" I yelled at her. "And put out that fucking cigarette!"

          The humming in the elevator shaft suddenly became a roar, startling us. The door shuddered and opened slowly as though it were being forced, revealing only gloom, for there was no elevator there. From inside the shaft and above we heard a woman’s voice humming As Time Goes by -- Jennifer's favorite song. Suddenly it ceased and a hollow scream followed. It grew louder and Jennifer fell feet first through the shaft passing our floor, where her scream reached its crescendo and then diminished as she hurtled down the twelve stories and terminated in a sickening thump when she hit bottom. Then there was silence, except in my head, which felt about to implode. The elevator door shuddered again and closed.

          Maryann was leaning against the opposite wall with her hand over her mouth and her eyes bulging. Her cigarette smoldered on the carpet.

          I said what I did so my head wouldn’t cave in: "I did it for you -- for us, Maryann!"

          Maryann’s eyes rolled up into her head and she slid down the wall like a shadow.

I ran down the twelve flights of emergency stairs and out into the street, resolved never to enter that building again. I wanted to escape, but as I was about to get into my BMW Jennifer rode by on her bike with her gray hair – which should have been red –  flapping behind her like a flag. And I knew there would be no escape this side of madness.        

© Frank Thomas Smith

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