Seventeen-year-old Daisy Owenby stepped onto an elevator on a Tuesday morning, a quarter past eight. In a blue dress that fit her age, and a yellow wallet clutched against her belly, she wore an expression of distress. It was the second thing Daniel Wiley noticed when the elevator doors opened with a whurr on the fourth floor. The first thing he noticed, as he stepped forward, a polite smile fixed on his face, was how pretty she was.
When he reached in front of her to press the pad of his thumb into a glowing button that would determine where the elevator deposited him, the girl stepped back, and as the elevator doors closed, Daniel followed suit; retreating into the opposite corner of the six by seven-foot box that hummed beneath his feet as it began its ascent.
Daisy didn’t like that she had to share the elevator with a stranger. She came here alone, with the intention of carrying out an unpleasant responsibility alone, and she wanted to ride the elevator and weep, alone. The man beside her wasn’t somebody she could relate with. He wore a white medical coat, which told her that he worked in the building. If she wasn’t mistaken, he had stepped off the ophthalmology floor. So, he was an eye doctor. He was also young and handsome. And she had to ride eight floors with him.
The tension in the air was so thick, Daniel felt himself growing as uncomfortable as the girl beside him. She was young, he observed, and obviously wary of being alone in the elevator with him. When his pocket buzzed, he dived for his phone, relieved to give his attention to something, and reduce the girl’s discomfort. That’s when the lights went out. The elevator jerked to a halt that nearly knocked Daniel’s feet out from under him. A thump to his right indicated that the girl had fallen. The black binder under Daniel’s arm slipped and hit the thinly carpeted floor just as the elevator’s hum ceased, cloaking them in silence.
With his phone in hand, he shined the light from the screen to locate his binder. A series of labored huffs brought his attention up. He turned his phone to the opposite end of the elevator, and there he spotted the girl on her knees, a hand clutching her belly, her yellow wallet discarded several feet in front of her.
“Are you OK?” Daniel asked from a distance.
“Yeah:” was her response. Daniel wasn’t convinced. Her brow was furrowed as if she was in pain. Her eyes were shut, and she moved very little, if at all as if it hurt.
“Really,” he pressed. “Are you OK?”
“I think so.” She took her time answering this time. After a series of deep breaths, she opened her eyes. She blinked into the darkness. “Yeah,” she swallowed. “I’m OK.”
Daisy watched as the stranger turned his phone from her and flashed the light at the panel of buttons that no longer shined with the building’s floor numbers. There, he pushed his thumb into the emergency call button. From a speaker, the sound of an outgoing call offered three rings before someone picked up, announcing themselves as the building’s emergency operator. The stranger told the operator that there were two people stuck on the elevator, and after a: ‘we’re doing all we can,’ silence returned.
“I guess we just wait.” Daniel joined Daisy on the floor, and on opposite sides of the elevator, they sat with their backs against the walls; Daniel’s legs bent at the knees while Daisy’s legs stretched out in front of her. She crossed her ankles, preserving her modesty. Her wallet was returned to her lap, and her fingers nervously fiddled with the silver zippers and buttons.
Daniel placed his phone on the floor between them, allowing light in the pitch-black elevator. That’s when he came to the conclusion that they would both feel more comfortable in each other’s company if they simply knew one another a little better.
“I’m Daniel.” He threw out there, pleasantly, and offering a professional smile as if she were one of his patients.
“I’m Daisy.” She smiled in return, a strictly polite smile that said she still wasn’t comfortable with him. When her eyes dropped to her lap, an invisible wall constructed itself between them. Daniel respected her wishes to keep to herself. He made no further attempt to speak to her. Instead, he reached for his phone and called a colleague that he was meant to meet in five minutes. He spoke into the phone: “I’m stuck in the elevator.” ; “Are you alone?” (His eyes flickered to the girl;) “no.”
At the end of the call, he returned his phone to the center of the elevator. In the dim light, he watched the girl fidget for a moment more before she reached into her wallet, and produced a phone of her own. She turned it on and placed it screen-up in the center of the elevator beside his.
“A little more light.” Her voice entered the silence gently.
“That’s better.” Daniel smiled, the corners of his eyes wrinkling with relief when she smiled back without lowering her eyes the next second. The tension in the air melted, and Daniel felt more compelled to try for another conversation, but she surprised him by speaking first.
“Do you work here?”
“Yes, I’m an ophthalmologist, here, in the building.”
“Has something like this happened before?”
“A power outage? No. But I can’t complain. It’s getting me out of a meeting I had no interest in attending.”
“There you go.” She laughed, a breathless, wispy little laugh.
“Do you work here?” He pressed to keep the conversation going. He didn’t want to return to tense, awkward, silence.
“A patient then?”
“Where are you headed?” Daniel reached for his phone. “I might have somebody’s contact from the department you’re visiting today. I can call and let them know you’re here.”
“Oh, that’s fine.” Her back separated from the wall as she straightened, waving the hand that wasn’t clutching her wallet. “You don’t have to do that. I think I already missed it anyway.”
“Well, I can help you reschedule…” He trailed off when her head started a quick shake.
“No, it’s fine. Really.”
Daisy watched as Daniel put his phone down next to hers, doubling the amount of light in the pitch black. The tension returned, thick enough to choke on. Inside Daisy’s chest, her heart hammered. Her hand rubbed idly at a dull ache in her belly.
Daniel wasn’t so unobservant that he hadn’t noticed or remembered the button that glowed from selection when he entered the elevator. His young companion was on her way to the twelfth floor: Women’s Health Clinic. And from the idle attention she paid her belly, it was evident she was physically uncomfortable and needed to see a doctor today.
“I’m sorry.” Daniel cleared his throat. “I didn’t mean to pry.” He watched the girl fidget beneath his apology.
“No, it’s OK.” She gripped her fingers and they stilled over her yellow wallet. “I have an appointment with Ruth Carmic.” She said it as a question, taking Daniel up on his offer, and without a word, he reached for his phone and located the contact.
“I have her cell.” He told her before pressing his thumb to the screen of his phone and then holding the device to his ear. “Ruth, it’s Daniel Wiley from ophthalmology. I have a miss Daisy…”
“...Owenby in the elevator with me. Yesーwe’re stuckーthey told us to stay put. Listen, Miss Owenby is afraid she’s missed her appointment. Can I tell her that you still plan on seeing her when the power comes back on? Of course. I will. Yes, thank you. I appreciate it, Ruth. OK. Bye.” He lifted the phone from his ear and pressed his thumb to the screen once more. “OK, you’re all set. She will still see you.”
“Oh, that’s great.” She smiled a smile that didn’t reach her eyes. “Thank you for checking for me.”
“Of course.” He couldn’t help but study the ever-changing emotions that crossed her delicate features. He expected her to be relieved that her appointment hadn’t been rescheduled. Instead, she looked torn as if part of her wanted the appointment pushed back.
“Are you OK?”
Why he felt compelled to ask her, he didn’t know. He regretted the question the second it spilled from his mouth. He didn’t really want to know if she was OK, did he? Yes. He supposed he did. She was young and visiting a woman’s clinic by herself. That meant something was wrong.
Daisy eyed the stranger and suspicion thickly veiled the dimly lit space between them. What did this man know? As a doctor in this clinic had he already figured out why she was here? Had he seen her in countless teenage girls? Did Ruth Carmic tell him what her appointment was for?
Panic and shame flooded Daisy’s senses until she couldn’t will herself to think around it.
“Look, I’m old enough to make my own decisions.” Through a wave of tears, she spoke. “It’s my body. My choice!”
“Daisy, I’m sorry, I didn’tー”
“Yes, you did!” She argued. “You and everybody else. Why else do you think I’m here alone?”
“No, Daisy, I didn’t know.” Just as panicked as she, Daniel waved his hands frantically to stop her from telling him more than she wanted him to know. When her brows relaxed their angry furrow, and when understanding dawned, Daniel watched the blood drain from the girl’s face.
“Oh my God.” She breathed as tears slipped from her eyes. Her hands covered her face. “I’m so stupid.” She cried. It was a heartbreaking sound, and she was such a slight little thing, if she cried any harder, Daniel worried she might break. Honestly, he didn’t understand at first. It wasn’t until he watched the shame flood her features did he finally realize what she was so worked up about.
Daisy was getting an abortion.
He started to reach for her, and then he stopped himself. She was young; it would be terribly inappropriate of him to comfort her in the small, dark, confines of an elevator. But how she cried! And she was alone. How could she be here alone? Undergoing such an emotionally distressing procedure by herself? Poor girl.
“I’ve been here twice before.” She hiccupped. “And each time I’ve stepped off the elevator onto the twelfth floor, I’ve turned around and left. This is my last chance. After this week, I can’t get rid of it.”
Daniel didn’t know what to say. He never made a stand for pro-choice or pro-life. The topic was such a sensitive one, such a complicated one; he had no right to tell a woman what she could and could not do with her body. He could admit, however, that a strange weight settled somewhere deep within his belly. But why? Because she was making such a sad, grown-up, decision that he hatedーdespite his neutral stanceーbecause it meant ending a life before it had begun? Or did he ache for the young soul he saw in this pretty young woman who was on her way to motherhood before her life had truly begun?
It wasn’t his place, he told himself, and with a firm, but determined frown, he moved to her side of the elevator and put his arm around her shoulders.
“I don’t want to do it.” She continued, crying delicately now. “I’m afraid I won’t be able to live with myself if I do. But Dr. Carmic told me that a lot of girls get abortionsーshe called me after my second cancellationーbut that doesn’t make me feel any better. I think it makes me feel worse.”
Daisy knew she was speaking too much, but she couldn’t seem to stop. The negative reaction she received from her boyfriend convinced her that no one else should know. So, she hadn’t spoken about it with anyone, and now that the opportunity had forcefully presented itself, she couldn’t seem to hold back her every thought on the matter.
“But I’m only seventeen!” She continued, lowering her hands from her eyes. “I’ve got senior year, and N.Y.U., and I-I-” Her arms wrapped around herself. “I can’t have a baby. I don’t know how to be a mom. I-I don’t know what to do.”
In the dark, her words ended in a whisper. Silence returned, save the occasional sniffle from the distressed girl, and Daniel remained perfectly still as her shuddering shoulders stilled and relaxed into his chest. In his head, he mulled over his next words carefully, but nothing sounded right. He couldn’t give her advice; he was in no way qualified. Maybe he could speak to her as a friend. What would a friend say, he wondered?
“Does the father know?” His curiosity shoved through all rationale, and the words spilled from his mouth before his common sense filtered them.
“Yes,” she answered, and the absolute dejection in her tone told him how the conversation must have gone.
The ache in Daniel’s stomach grew.
“Daisy,” he sighed, feeling strangely familiar with the girl. “I thinkー”
Whurr! The elevator jerked. The pair on the floor sucked in startled breaths; their hands flattening on the thin carpet to maintain balance. With a buzz like the electric hum of a buzz zapper, the lights above their heads flickered.
Daisy squinted into the light, her eyes feeling heavy and dry from crying. From beside her, Daniel cleared his throat, and simultaneously, they separated and rose to their feet. The elevator hummed and resumed its climb to the twelfth floor, and as if the power had never gone out, and as if Daisy hadn’t cried in Daniel’s arms just moments prior, they stood apart, staring ahead, waiting for the doors to open.
As they approached the tenth floor, the elevator rolled to a stop, and the doors slid open, presenting a clean-shaven man in a crisp blue suit.
“Dan! There you are! C’mon, we held the presentation. We moved it to John’s office; let’s go.” The man stepped back, making room for Daniel to step from the elevator. He did, but not before looking back at Daisy, who watched him as if she almost knew him.
What happened to the advice he had intended to give her? Was this a sign that anything he had to say on the matter of her predicament was better left unsaid? But he wanted to help, and the prospect of leaving the elevator without having helped her in the slightest wedged another ache deep inside his ribs.
“Daisy,” he reached for his wallet and produced a business card. “If I can do anything…”
She gingerly took the card. “Thank you...” She answered like she wanted to say more.
Daniel pulled his arm back just as the elevator doors started to shut. Her eyes never left him, and her face displayed more distress than it had before he stepped onto the elevator.
Daisy blinked several times as the elevator resumed its brief climb two floors up. Her eyes burned like she needed to cry, but she didn’t want to anymore. As the elevator rolled to a stop on the twelfth floor, goosebumps pricked painfully along her arms, and her heart thrummed wildly in her chest. After several deep breaths, she watched the doors open. From her place in the elevator, she stared into the lobby of the Women’s Health Clinic. Her eyes combed the collection of women, young and old, waiting to be seen. Several girls who looked close to her age were seated in the far back corner, and they looked uncomfortable and nervous. Were they here for the same reason as she was?
Rooted to the elevator’s floor, she couldn’t seem to move. Suddenly, the six by seven-foot box that had seen more of her in the last fifteen minutes than most people had seen in the span of her seventeen-year life, closed around her protectively. It hugged her with a familiarity of an old friend that she didn’t want to part with. When a girl from the back row raised her weary eyes to Daisy’s, the elevator’s doors slid shut, whispering as they closed. With trembling fingers, she pressed a button on the elevator’s panel. Within less than a minute, the doors were reopening, and on shaky knees, Daisy stepped from the elevator and approached a tall desk.
“Can I help you?” A woman with black-rimmed glasses asked from behind a wide computer.
“Yes,” Daisy whispered through a throat thick with emotion. “May I see Daniel Wiley, please?”