The heat sweltered down from the ruthless sun and then radiated back up again from the unforgiving black asphalt in unbearable waves. He took a fine white linen handkerchief from his suit coat pocket and dabbed the beads of sweat off his sunburnt skin. The day was hot- well over a hundred degrees, and humid, but he still wore all of his finest things: tight black leather dress shoes (freshly polished), white cotton dress shirt (freshly pressed), and a woolen suit coat and pants (picked up from the drycleaners this morning). He always dressed this way because he was always professional- a man of business who worked hard twenty-four-seven and prided himself on self-discipline and perseverance.
Today, unfortunately, he was feeling a bit less professional and businesslike than usual. This was because he was sorely behind schedule; ten ghastly minutes late for a Saturday morning meeting on the fifteenth floor. And why was he late? He glanced behind him at the two children he had in tow- a young girl of eight with her hair twisted tightly into a multitude of fine little braids and a boy of ten with the beginnings of what he called dreadlocks sticking out from under his blue baseball cap. Both were miserable in the heat and sun, did not want to be awake this early on a Saturday morning, and hated being with their father as much as he hated being with them.
The two of them had been accidental births- both were unplanned and unscheduled and they severely cramped his lifestyle. They lived in his house, ate his food, and used up his money. In fact, he could have been a CEO by now if the timing of his daughter’s unfortunate birth had not kept him from the important meeting that was a pivotal part of his plan to get promoted. Without that meeting he had failed to get the endorsement of the foreign investors that he needed so that he could close a multi-billion dollar deal that would earn him fame, money, and power in the executive world. He still had never forgiven his wife or daughter for that.
He turned around and glared at the poor girl jogging along innocently behind him. His days always seemed to be worse when his kids were around and getting stuck actually supervising them always put him in an ill humor.
Needless to say, he tried to get out of the latter responsibility whenever he could, but on this particular Saturday his wife had to go tend to her sick mother and there was no one else to watch the kids. Even though they begged, cried, and even screamed to go with their mother she had insisted that they stay with their father that day. She told them that it would be a good bonding experience for all of them; all of them were hard pressed to believe her-especially the children’s father since he voluntarily worked seven days a week just to avoid them.
He took a sudden, hard left and stopped short in front of a large skyscraper with a big glass revolving door.
“Hurry up you two we haven't a moment to spare,” he barked at the inconveniences behind him while waving impatiently at them with his hand.
When the two were close enough he charged through the door, almost crushing his daughter as she tried to follow him. Once inside he dashed to the elevator and caught the door with one hand just before it slammed shut. With his other hand he grabbed his children and literally flung them inside. Then he slammed his fist on the button for the fifteenth floor, mentally told the doors off for not closing fast enough, and waited impatiently in the corner with his arms folded tight across his chest.
The interior of the elevator was wonderfully cool and well air conditioned, decorated with purple carpet, had four cold polished metallic walls, and wreaked of the clean industrial smell of commerce. It was also empty, save for the three of them. The awkward silence inside the lift was almost unbearable as they waited patiently for the device to begin its ascent, but the elevator refused to move. It simply sat there for a few moments with the doors tightly closed and the air conditioner whirring away. Then, the fifteen button on the control panel ceased to glow yellow, the bell dinged, and without moving an inch the doors quietly slid back open.
The children’s father impatiently shoved his head back out the doors, fully prepared to cuss out whatever jerk had had the audacity to push the up arrow, causing the delay in his elevator’s progress. To his surprise the lobby stood just exactly the same as it had only moments ago- empty and quiet. He violently pushed the ‘door close’ button several times with his thumb, but the door remained open as if giving them a second chance to take the stairs instead. Grunting impatiently, the man punched the button for fifteen again. It began to glow yellow once more and the doors slid quietly shut. This time they remained shut, the button continued to glow, and the machinery groaned with the effort of the steady climb. Each grind of the gears seemed to almost be whispering to him: ‘I warned you- I told you to take the stairs’. The man took no notice of this as he leaned back against the cool metal and tried to calm himself for he had never been late for a meeting before, but there was no point in worrying about it now. After all, he had two very good excuses for his tardiness. Surely the CEO of the new merger plan would understand and not be offended by the fact that he was being kept waiting an extra fifteen minutes when he could be out on the golf course enjoying himself. But there was no reason to panic; he wouldn’t be much longer now- he was already at the ninth floor.
No sooner had this thought escaped his brain when the elevator lights dimmed and the metal vessel ground to a halt. Before any curse could escape his lips the lights flickered and the elevator began to freefall. His children screamed, the lights faded, and everything swirled into a wash of darkness around him in which the pounding of his own heart was the only thing that could be heard. When the elevator finally stopped he was alone in the dark and was stuck somewhere between the fourteenth and thirteenth floors.
His head ached from confusion and irritation. How was he ever going to explain this to the CEO? He hauled off and kicked at the doors with all his might. This did nothing whatsoever to the polished steel, but it did send him flying backwards into the wall. He lay there for a second alternately rubbing his head and his foot while frothing with anger.
“Nothing gets the best of me,” he screamed, “not even a stupid elevator!”
He launched himself off the floor and with all his might slammed his fist into the control panel. All of the lights lit up with a brilliant flash of yellow as his hand sunk into the metal. He stood there for a moment in shock, trying desperately to remove his fist from the cold steel while all the tiny red warning lights flickered on and off at him.
“What the hell,” he yelled nervously. “What is going on here?”
The calm, composed man of business was beginning to get rather frightened. He was not used to being out of control and now that he was, he found that he did not care for it one bit. He began to panic and hyperventilate- the elevator was so small and so warm and he couldn’t free his hand from the horrible, taunting control panel! Surely he was going to die here- yes he was going to suffocate to death!
“I don’t want to die here!! Please, please don’t make me die here,” he shrieked as he pulled at his hand and kicked the wall once more.
With a blinding surge of red light, the man could feel energy coursing through his body. His teeth chattered as all of his muscles contracted and spasmed wildly out of his control. He could smell his flesh burning on the molten metal that had once been a prefabricated elevator control panel. A wave of pain washed over him till he could not take it any longer. He gave into it, closed his eyes, and went to sleep forever.
Well, at least it felt like he had been asleep forever when he groggily awoke sometime later. He was not sure exactly how long he had been out for since he could not see his watch in the dark while lying on his back on the purple carpeting of the elevator floor. His head was spinning, his body was aching, and his hand was burning with pain, yet he knew that in order to survive he would need to find a way to get out of this horrible elevator. He groped his way back over to the somewhat charred set of glowing buttons that still taunted him from the wall and managed to find the yellow ‘door release’ button. He was sure that it would work and open the doors so that he could get out, but as his hand neared it the innocent yellow glow changed to a searing angry red one. Instinctively, he backed away remembering the unpleasantness of his previous electrocution. He decided that he would try the emergency call button instead, but it too glowed an eerie red warning as ominous as the dance of a threatened cobra.
He sighed in the dark, suddenly remembering his wedding day fondly. He had not thought about it for at least eight years- not since he had been promoted to district manager. Regardless, it still seemed like it was only yesterday that they had stood in the backyard of his mother in law’s home (they’d been too poor to rent a dining hall) him dressed in that ridiculous blue suit he’d borrowed from his best friend and she in that silly yellow dress she’d rescued from the resale shop. But none of that mattered to either of them that day. They had loved each other and their family and friends were all there and the day had been beautiful and sunny.
He remembered other things as he sat, smiling like an idiot despite himself, in the dark. His thoughts drifted back to they day when they found out that she was pregnant with his son. He had vowed that he would find a way to provide for them all and so he applied that very day for the position of general manager. Two days later, he got it. Then from there he worked harder and harder- often working seven days a week, sometimes more than seventy hours a week to climb the corporate ladder as quickly as he could. In the beginning he used to miss his family, to cry for the childhood milestones that he had not been home to witness. But somehow, somewhere along the way he began to loose sight of his wife and kids. He grew to understand numbers and subtle interactions between business partners more than he understood his own children when they tried to tell him what they had done in school that day. He began to enjoy the corporate atmosphere, the work, being alone and lavished in expensive things.
It was then, in the dark warm elevator amid all his suffering and pain that he slowly began to realize something. It came to him as he thought of his wife and the look of joy and surprise on her face when he had placed the diamonds on her fingers on their last anniversary-ten diamonds, one for each year they had been married. But that look paled in comparison to the happiest look he had ever remembered her having. The smile that she wore across her whole face when their son was born put that other smile to shame. In fact he could not recall any material gift ever making her look happier than when she first set eyes on her son. She had doted on that child, devoting every waking hour to cleaning and feeding and playing with him.
So had he, he suddenly remembered as the pride he had felt while looking down at the strapping baby boy that he had helped create flooded back through him. He remembered the gentle wonder of that little hand closing around his finger and how tight it felt. He remembered the full and complete trust and devotion as that little boy reached out to him as he took his first steps across the room. He remembered the little warm tears he had wiped from his son’s face the night that he been frightened by a thunderstorm and wondered what that little boy could have possibly done between that day and now to make his father spite him so.
It seemed so clear to him now that his son and daughter had grown up without a father. Yes, he had been there for their births and he remembered their presence in the house when he would be getting ready to go to work, but somewhere along the way they had grown up, even without his love and guidance. With a sudden pang of sadness, he suddenly regretted every harsh word, every baseball game or school play that he had purposely missed. He mourned every sunny day that they could have spent at the beach, every Boy Scout camping trip he had avoided, and every vacation that he had left his kids with a nanny for.
He was hit with a wave of regret for things he could no longer have- things he could never buy with any amount of money (like his children’s love). It was so horrid and so unbearable that the dignified professional businessman sat in the dark in a broken elevator huddled in the corner like a child himself and wept. He wept and wept and wept bitter tears until the blearing red warning lights turned into watery red smears before his eyes. Then, he faded into darkness once again.
He awoke suddenly on Saturday morning to the summer sunlight blasting through his window. His wife was already gone at her mother’s house and he was aware that his bed was unusually cold. His thoughts quickly switched to the upcoming merger meeting. Now, what should he wear and how would he act to impress the fat, extraordinarily wealthy seventy-year-old man that was about to invest millions in his company? As he slid the polished metal door to his closet open he suddenly flashed back to being in the elevator- those horrible red warning lights, being late, and most importantly-where were his kids?
He sprinted down the hall to their rooms where he found his daughter sleeping peacefully, her arms tightly clutching the teddy bear that his secretary had ordered for her and sent in his name when he had forgotten about her sixth birthday. Then he found his son, strong and proud in his own room, slumbering under his plaid comforter, with his baseball trophies lovingly polished and neatly lined up along his shelf. Next to them stood the man’s own well worn glove (he had given it to his son at his first little league game for good luck), he could barely believe that his son had kept it all these years. Looking around, he noticed that there certainly were a lot of trophies lining his son’s shelves. He had had no idea how many games he had missed or even how long his son had been playing for. He decided to leave the two kids sleep a while longer.
Oddly relived at finding his children safe and sound he figured that the whole elevator thing must have been a really bad dream and dismissed it as such as he began, with his usual business like efficiency, to shave. He did not get too far into his routine when he chanced to look at his hands and noticed the burn marks on his right palm. Suddenly he remembered being electrocuted and trapped.
Calmly, coolly, and perfectly collected, he went to the phone and dialed his secretary, who was already there at six o'clock on a Saturday morning, canceled his meeting and gave the poor girl the day off. Then he called his wife and told her that he missed her and that he hoped her mother was doing well and that he was taking the kids to the zoo for the day. When she didn’t respond because she was in shock on the other end of the line he added that he couldn’t wait for her to come home and that he’d be waiting for her when she got there. Then he went back to bed and slept until noon. When everyone was finally awake, the father and his children walked to the coffee shop down the street and had chocolate doughnuts for breakfast before going to the zoo. He talked and laughed with them all day as they shared stories about school and work and baseball games and ballet recitals and for the first time ever he told them that he loved them and meant it. Later on that evening, he happened to over hear one of the stories on the late night news. It seems that the CEO he was supposed to have met that morning had died in a tragic elevator accident. The elevator, which was found to be in perfect working order, had fallen all the way down from his penthouse apartment on the fifteenth floor and crashed into the basement below. He had died on impact, alone and one of the single richest men in America. Yet, the father thought to himself as he hugged his sleeping children tightly, also one of the poorest.