The lift stopped on a dismal afternoon, and from the bottom, looking up the dim stairwell, the ascent seemed formidable. Full, of disconcerting, dark shadows, a choking gloom, which was only occasionally relieved by shafts of grey light breaking through frosted windows. Medusa fingers reached desperately for the hall light switches, to charge the bulbs and fill us with a sense of peace. But it was an ephemeral security – the electric light was on a timer with a brief circuit. We hardly had a chance to manage more than half a flight, before it would run through and return us all to the gloom.
Some of the neighbours, hoping that the breakdown would not be permanent, waited by the lift door. At periodic intervals they pressed the call button. These were people with faith who knew that eventually someone always came to fix things, all one needed was patience…
Without a doubt, and all post-breakdown discussions have confirmed this, it was more painful for those of us going up than the ones coming down. Yet there are always exceptions and one fellow for instance, a young man in his early twenties, tried to run, flat out down the staircase, from the fifth floor. Whether he was in light or shadow, it didn’t matter; the closer he got to the bottom the faster he went (a phenomenon which those neighbours with an understanding of physics later insisted was natural law). Five flights of stairs, however, were enough to increase his velocity to such an extent that by the time he had reached the last flight his legs could no longer keep up with the speed at which his body was descending and, when he tried to break the momentum by leaning backwards, his feet shot out from under him and he fell, hurtling down twenty-five steps, bumping his head on each one. A companion of his, who had stopped at the top and had watched the whole thing from down the stairwell, laughed at every bump (after the first three, which had taken him by surprise)…
From the top we peered down, into the lift shaft, where the great thick cables stretched away from us, taught and firm, to the iron plate that was the roof of the capsule. And then we had to prick up our ears, for from there, rumbling out of its interior, came a slight but repetitious thump…
Jake, a handsome and athletic lad who could believe in the virtues of a physical life against mind and soul, had been living in the apartment block for nearly two years and he had often encountered Marí Luz, the caretaker’s daughter, in the elevator. In those two years Marí Luz had grown from being a pretty sixteen year old to a very pretty eighteen year old.
Seeing each other every day in the intimate proximity of the narrow lift had brought them quite close. Of course they had always greeted each other with a hello, but then this had developed into longer salutations such as, good morning, nice day isn’t it, or on the contrary, good morning, but it looks like it’s going to be another lousy day, until very soon Jake began asking personal questions: You’re the caretaker’s daughter, aren’t you? – Which floor do you live on? The seventh? And when she had her text books with her: How are your studies going? Sometimes he asked her for advice: I forgot to ask your father what day they’re going to read the gas meter. Can you tell me?
It was usually better to say something as the silence in a lift can be ghastly. But if they did go in silence she would look at the floor while he stared at the ceiling, or they would reverse roles and then the quietness seemed to make a soup of the oxygen and almost choked them.
It wasn’t until after twenty months of this daily to and fro that Marí Luz, who by no means believed herself to be as young as she was and who was in no way as innocent as Jake had always taken her to be, stammered out the more intimate question that really broke the ice:
Do you have a girlfriend?
It came right out of the blue. They were going up. He shook his head. They looked into each other’s eyes. They kissed.
When they had reached the third floor they stopped and Jake took Marí Luz’s hand, gently drawing her out of the lift. Then they paused and stood for a while in front of the door to flat A, which was Jake’s flat. They looked at each other, trying to read signs from each other. They were still and silent until Jake asked her if she would like to go in, where they could… have something. She said yes, she would… like something. And so they entered.
The flat, or room (for it was a studio flat, long and open) was a mess. Jake led a solitary life and was not used to visitors. There were three days worth of dirty dishes and other remnants of meals scattered about. Jake made a gesture to Marí Luz to seat herself, the only place to do this being his bed, which doubled as a couch. But this was a crumpled mess of filthy sheets – an undulating sea, sweatstained grey, at times brown, splattered with empty yoghurt containers and their lickedsucked spoons, a half-eaten carrot, and a blackening, floppy banana skin. Nervous and embarrassed, Jake gathered this mess up, but only to worsen his image by unthinkingly hurling it under the bed. Yet it was only afterwards, when he was sitting down on the mattress, beckoning Marí Luz to join him, that he realised what an absolutely vulgar act she had just witnessed.
Nevertheless she went to him and sat down, never taking her eyes away from his eyes, and the action would have begun then and there if Jake had not nervously retreated, getting up to go the fridge for two small bottles of beer.
This could have been disastrous. A mephitic emanation wafted out and, as cold air when warmed will rise, it followed Jake straight back to the bed. This did make Marí Luz think twice, but the beer was nice and cool and she was hot.
When they had finished their beers Jake realised he had better act, so he leaned forwards a little toward Marí Luz, who leaned forward a lot toward Jake, until they were embracing each other and resuming the interchange of saliva that had begun in the lift. When Jake began to unbutton her blouse, Marí Luz let him, and when Marí Luz unzipped Jake’s fly, Jake did nothing to stop her. Instead, he scooped his hand under the tight and rubbery cup of her shiny, lycra bra, to squeeze a breast and tweak a cotton bud hard nipple, while she was busy inserting hard fingers under his stretching underpants, to wrap them around what was still an unpardonably flabby lump of flesh.
The stimulation had a tranquillising effect on both of them, and for a moment they even seemed to fall asleep. Marí Luz had closed her eyes, she felt like she was floating. For a moment everything became absolutely peaceful, as if absolutes could exist. But then she began to think too deeply through the peace, actually doubting it. An intellectual exercise which destroyed the sensuality. Suddenly she was even questioning her own existence, a painful shock that thrust her closer to Jake. She squeezed his cock and pulled his head hard up against her breast as she was gripped by the terrible vanity of it all. Jake however was still lost in a physical bliss which distorted reality and made him misinterpret the apparent surge in Marí Luz’s passion as a sexual order, commanding him to move his hand under her skirt and push his fingers under the tight elastic of her knickers. Marí Luz was concerned with infinity and she was considering the universe contained in a huge box: – but where was that box? – she wondered: – in another box? and where…? Terrible, incomprehensible – the concept made her raise her hips a little, pushing them up towards the four fingers that came slowly, in a kind of lapping, tidal motion over and down the inside of her thighs. But then Jake, who had been doing so well, suddenly and brutally grabbed that which he thought was being offered him, an action which brought more pain than pleasure to Marí Luz and destroyed her intense contemplation just when she was on the verge of reaching an enlightened conclusion. She crashed back to earth, toppling off the couch, out of Jake’s arms and onto the floor.
This sudden repulsion shocked them both. For some seconds they just looked at each other.
Marí Luz was the first to rise. She got up and away until she was standing at what she considered to be a safe distance. There she rebuttoned her blouse, telling Jake that she had to leave and that her father would be angry. Then she blew a kiss to him, but just a little peck, and straightening her clothes she was out of the door and away.
Jake jumped up when the door slammed shut. He shook the disbelief of so much disappointment out of his head and then ran after her, banging his shin on the coffee table and scraping the top of his head on the doorway as he rushed out. She had had to wait for the lift to come, so he caught her, just as the lift door was opening. She tried to wrench her arm from his hand and struggle in. He tried to wrestle with her and pull her out again. He needed to convince her… it wasn’t finished. But instead of out, they were now both in and the doors were closing in on them, enclosing them. He pushed his foot into the gap between so they slid apart again and grabbed her again to pull her out and back to his flat. Again, they had to begin again, he thought, to finish it. They had to finish it. He pressed against the side of the lift and whispered in her ear: Don’t go now…
The doors shut again and the lift started to ascend. I must, she said.
She needed to rise, he had to go down. When they were between the fifth and sixth floors he bashed his fist against the stop button which jolted the lift to an abrupt halt. The force threw Marí Luz down and dropped Jake on top of her. She struggled and fought against him and when he kissed her she scratched his face. The smarting pain brought him to his senses and he backed away, gripped by the terrible horror of what he could have been capable of doing.
Suddenly Marí Luz had a strange sense of eternal recurrence. That what had happened would always happen, that it would repeat itself over and over an infinite number of times and that the moment to come was an infinite moment also, that she had and would always have this same thought and that she would always come to the same conclusion. So it had better be a happy one, she realised, which brought a lovely radiant smile from her. A smile which bewildered poor Jake, who was lost in the unbearable tragedy of his own pathetic instincts.
Instinct, thought Marí Luz, and suddenly she was stepping out of her tiny purple knickers, kicking them into Jake’s face while she undid her own blouse and then pulled Jake’s head down again onto her breast…
They really took much longer than they should have done in such a situation, but Jake was more concerned with satisfying the needs of the wonderful Marí Luz than those of the poor residents struggling up and down the stairs. He spent quite some time on his knees in front of her, his ears rubbing against her thighs. And when he had finally entered her, not even the rapid pounding on the lift door at the seventh floor would hurry him on.
Jake had wanted to go down so badly, but he knew that Marí Luz was ascending and it was only when he saw her with her eyes opened wide, her eyeballs rolling back, it was only when he heard her breathing grow more and more frantic, moving from a loud pant into a short, stentorian groan, and it was only when he was up on his tiptoes with her arse slipping up the smooth stainless steel wall and she was squeezing him so hard and her very flesh was twitching, and he imagined that she was rocketing forward, upward and her scream was so intense that it seemed to burst a hole right through the roof of their cell… it was only then that he let himself go down, laying her on the floor, wrapping her legs over his shoulders, pushing himself deeper and deeper inside her, where things were invisible, mysterious and hotter.
It’s very difficult to fall slowly, so when they had jumped they reached the bottom soon enough…
While many of us were busily bashing on the lift doors. Three girls (slightly older than Marí Luz), came up together in a group. They were chatting and laughing merrily when they stumbled upon an ancient old woman, puffing and wheezing as she clutched tightly hold of two large, plastic carry bags full of groceries.
Isn’t it terrible, one of the young girls complained. But the old woman, although quite out of breath, was actually optimistic and claimed to be enjoying the exercise. She argued that lifts were dangerous mechanisms which had to be avoided at all costs. She had been living in the building since long before the installation of any elevator and now, she said, she was glad that everyone had been returned to the old ways. But then the poor old thing, whose face was pale with deep purple blotches, erupted into a barrage of coughing which, although quite ugly, made the girls laugh louder than ever before.
When she had recovered from the fit the old woman composed herself and lunged forward to take the stairs two at a time. She cursed the frivolity of the young ones and vowed that she would be on the seventh floor before the giggling simpletons had managed two more flights. This made the girls laugh louder than ever, but by the time they had settled themselves the old woman was already putting her key in the lock…