(first published in Ink Sweat & Tears, Sept 17th 2020)
Liam limped listlessly into the lift. It was empty. He pressed the button for the seventh floor (Safetyseal Export Sales). There was the usual hiatus, while the mechanism seemed to consider his request. Liam weighed LIFE in the balance. On the one hand, he had a steady job (Data-Processing for Safetyseal); on the other hand, the job was crap (no prospects, no interest, precious little money). Likewise, next weekend would be the Easter holiday; but today was only Monday. Again, he now had Sunday mornings free, having disgustedly given up playing for The Black Swan FC; but in the unlikely event of ever recovering from the injuries inflicted by the Centre-Back for Wilmington FC, he had no-one with whom to spend those Sunday mornings.
Then the bugle sounded. She tripped demurely into the lift, pressed the button for the sixth floor (Smellie & Thrawn, Solicitors) and turned away to face the lift door. It was HER. Small, deft, with long tumbling dark hair. He’d seen her four times before, in the lift or the offices’ entrance hall. Once he’d heard a colleague call her ‘Jenny’ or ‘Ginny’. Once also, he’d heard her laugh – a gentle, private, smoky chuckle. The lift door closed and the mechanism lurched into action.
He had seconds to act. He might never be alone with Jenny/Ginny ever again. He regretted that he wasn’t wearing his good grey suit. And he regretted that he wasn’t good at this kind of thing. He thought back to the advice his louche Uncle Dermot had given him over a drink at Cousin Mary’s wedding. Dermot was explaining that the secret of success at those dating websites was to have a profile with a good ‘hook’, a good opening line.
‘Writing, “Own hair and teeth” simply doesn’t cut it, Liam. Currently, my hook is: “I’m thinking of buying a horse” – not bad, eh?’ Liam had nodded slowly into his pint. He believed he saw Dermot’s point: ‘thinking of buying a horse’ was arresting and engagingly quirky, while hinting at financial resources and healthy outdoor pursuits.
‘OK,’ thought Liam, staring at the back of Jenny/Ginny’s head, ‘Just say something arresting and engagingly quirky.’ They were passing the third floor…
‘Mmm. Maybe something about a lift breakdown?? Jesus, no, that’d sound scary-creepy. What about: “Do you find elevators give you elevated thoughts?” Gotta be joking: would she want to go out to the pictures with Stephen Fry??? Mmm. Err. “I was once in a lift with Freddie Truman, the Yorkshire fast bowler” No, No, No.’ They were passing the fifth floor…
Liam knew that he must act NOW: ‘Harrumph. Harrumph. I’m thinking of buying a horse…’
The lift doors opened onto the sixth floor. She stepped out of the lift and turned to face him. He could see the brass plate of Smellie & Thrawn behind her. She gave him a considering look: ‘Well, you’ll need to take it up the stairs then.’
The lift doors closed.