Scarlett nervously tapped her finger as she stood waiting for the elevator. She usually allowed herself extra time to hike up the ten flights of stairs in her black, pencil skirt and professional heels. However, she had an unfortunate morning filled with unexpected delays and was about to be late for the first time since she had been hired. Her value for timeliness outweighed her hatred for elevators, so she raised her head high in a façade of defiance and waited. As the elevator inched its way towards her and the seconds till 9 o’clock quickly ticked off the building’s clock, she became increasingly aware of each co-worker who waited next to her.
When the doors opened, Scarlett allowed her co-workers to file in past her, so that she could stand closest to the doors. She glared over at her co-worker who held the door for a group of people running late and did not move to make space for them as they tried to file in past her. When it came to her fears, she never yielded to politeness.
The doors inched shut, as if waiting for more people to get in. When they were finally closed, the elevator lurched upwards, causing Scarlett’s stomach to turn. She kept her eyes on the numbers that flashed by as the elevator ascended. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9...
Right as they hit the ninth floor, Scarlett's worst nightmare became a reality. The elevator came to a sudden stop and the light disappeared.
Scarlett stayed deathly still. Her skin paled and her heart stopped beating. Though she held her head high, her knuckles went white from gripping her briefcase and her legs went stiff. She became overwhelmingly aware of the anxious whispers passing through her co-worker's lips. One woman began to panic and one man went up to the floor pad, punching different buttons. Others had more logical responses and turned on their phone lights before trying to google how to react to being trapped in an elevator during a power outage.
Scarlett did not move. A weight fell onto her heart, breaking open the cage that kept her feelings in check and allowing anxiety to slowly creep into her chest. Her mind went blank, and she stared lifelessly at the metal, elevator door.
Scarlett stayed perfectly still for several minutes until someone bumped into her, causing all the hairs on her arm to stand on edge.
“I’m sorry,” they apologize.
It’s okay, she answered him in her head. But the words would not find their way out of her mouth, so she slightly nodded at him and pulled her arm closer to herself, hoping that if she became slimmer, she could avoid any future confrontation.
As the minutes slowly ticked by, and panic began to settle in people around her, Scarlett found it difficult to breathe. Panic was screaming inside of her, and she could feel her emotions inching their way up her throat. She wanted to fall down and cradle her legs close to her chest. She wanted to rock back and forth to soothe her anxious thoughts. But she didn’t move.
Don’t make a fool out of yourself. You’re okay. You’re okay. You’re okay, she chanted to herself in an effort to force the panic out; but the more her brain said to calm down, the more restless her heart became. She could feel the tears start coming to her eyes, and she was afraid that her façade would break before she had a chance to get out of there.
Then, as suddenly as it had gone out, the lights flickered back on, and the sickening jerk she had experienced on the first floor, pushed Scarlett to the tenth. As her co-workers began to clap and feel at ease, she felt like throwing up, and even after she had sat down at her desk, her heart still crawled with panic.
Scarlett pulled out a report she had been working on and typed the results into the computer, hoping that if she kept her mind occupied, the panic would settle. Over the fierce clicking of her fingers as they hurried to finish her task, she could hear her co-workers going to every desk in the room and talking about their “near-death experience”. And amidst the outburst of conversations, Scarlett began to pick up her own name being passed between lips.
“Scarlett was so cold. While the rest of us were panicking, she just stood there, waiting for the elevator to start up again, as if it was inconveniencing her. I love it.”
“I can’t believe how collected she was in that kind of situation. I was going out of my mind with worry,” they whispered.
“She really is like an ideal reporter; nothing ever fazes her.”
“Did you see how she just came in and started working as if nothing happened?”
Her cheeks turned pink as the misconception about her experience began to pass through the office. But she had been familiarized with these groundless rumors since her first day working there.
Scarlett finished typing up her report and went to get a cup of coffee, hoping the warmth of the drink would calm her nerves. But as she pressed the button, the machine malfunctioned only discharging a brownish water. She hit the side of the machine, unable to hide her frustration. She was still in the midst of panic, and this unforeseen discomfort was about to send her over the edge. She hurried to the bathroom, and checked each stall to make sure it was empty, before locking herself into the farthest one from the door.
Scarlett bit her lower lip as the tears silently started to roll down her face. She ran her hands along her lifeless legs in a soothing motion, and she slowly shook her head in pain. Alone, she let her panic take over and gave into the fear that she had suppressed. Alone, she wiped away the tears that ran down her neck. Alone, she rocked back and forth to ease the pain. Alone she cried because she had only ever been alone.