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The lift

Image by Coombesy from Pixabay 

Buck Daley’s life changed the day that the lift started speaking. It was Blue Monday and she was travelling up from the gym in the basement to her little flat on the fourth floor, having spent her workout time draped face down over a medicine ball, like a discarded noodle, listening to a playlist called Sad Love Songs to Cry To, instead of her aspirationally pumped playlist, You Run Girl.

She was leaned back against the mirrored wall in the lift, chewing on her thumbnail when the lift dinged and then made a throat clearing sound.

Buck’s gaze whipped in the direction of the buttons and intercom.

“Hello?” she said.

“Hello,” said the lift, in a voice like polished brass.

“Is this security?”

“Security?” It echoed back politely.

“The maintenance guy?”

“The maintenance guy?”

“Is there some kind of problem?” Buck snapped, folding her arms tight over her chest, the plastic of her disposable water bottle crunching against her ribs in the process.

“I thought…maybe you had a problem?” the lift said lightly.

“What kind of problem?”

The lift dinged again, and the doors shushed open onto the fourth floor.

Buck looked all around her, and then straight forward, eyes wide and alert.

“Sorry if I have alarmed you. I will go back to muzak next time.”

Buck bolted. Straight back to her flat, her bedroom, her bed. If she had actually worked out in the basement gym it would have been gross to crawl straight under the covers. But as it was, there was nothing unsavoury in claiming some safety where she could find it. Seriously. WTF?

She yanked the covers over her head, and felt her curls tickle the inside of her wrists. From now on she was going to take the stairs. That could work. She could even do it in place of her gym workout.  Perfect.

And for two weeks, it was perfect, if a little awkward to stride past the lift to the stairs, like…I don’t see you, you don’t exist to me. Like it was some enemy, or some ex. But it was easier to avoid than her chatty co-workers, and her actual ex Davie. So that was something.

Buck could have carried on like this until the day she moved out of the block. She’d even envisaged carrying different items up the stairs, instead of the lift. A new microwave, for example. She’d do it in stages, mindful of her posture. Gym replacement number two.  It could totally work.

But on Day 15, Buck’s mother paid her a surprise visit. She was waiting in the lobby when Buck returned from work, standing there dripping onto the fake marble, like an old umbrella, her long, grey hair plastered to her scalp.

“Hello Buck,” she cheeped, and smiled-frowned-smiled.

“Mother?” Buck said. “What are you doing here?”

Buck’s mother limped over to her daughter, and pinched her elbow between her thin fingers. “You don’t answer my messages.”

A sleek ponytailed woman in a pencil skirt clicked her way past them and over to the lift.

“I’ve been busy, I’ve been working,” Buck hissed, putting a hand on her mother’s back and trying to angle her towards the stairs.

Her mother pointed to the lift. Then down at her foot. She hitched her long, puddle drenched skirt up enough to reveal a bandaged ankle.

“What did you do?”

“Went a little too high with a standing levitation.”

Buck pinched the bridge of her nose, and gestured like a crabby conductor for her mother to keep the volume down.

“Don’t be mad, Bucky. The only problem was the landing.”

“Ok, ok.” Buck shooed her mother gently towards the lift. The display above it was showing the red arrow for going up. Buck poked the button multiple times. It was likely taking sleek-ponytail-lady back to her flat for an elegant night in; White wine, a bubble bath, and a phone call with her adoring boyfriend.  Buck sighed, stiff as a stick.

“You look stressed, Bucky. You’re working too hard?”

“I’m working just fine.”

They got in and turned in unison, so their backs were to the mirrored wall. Bucky’s jaw clenched and she pressed the button for floor four.

Ding. The doors closed, and Buck felt the mini lurch of the lift setting off, in her already pretzelled stomach.

“And how’s Davie?”

“There is no Davie.”

“Oh,” said her mother.

“My condolences,” the lift said.

Bucky’s mother nodded reassuringly at the intercom. “No condolences required. I imagine that he’s still alive, just departed. As in he left young Bucky here.”

“I could have left him! And what the hell mother!” Buck said, her cheeks growing hot, gesturing angrily at the intercom. “I knew this was you! How long have you been spying on me?”

Ding. The doors shushed open for floor four.

Buck looked all around, clocking the camera set into the top of the mirrored wall, like a tiny cyclops’ eye. She tipped back her head and screamed at the ceiling of the lift. The doors opened and closed, opened and closed.

“Oh no. Oh no. Oh no,” said the lift.

Buck’s mother held out her hand, like it was a wand, and exited through the partially opened doors. Buck turned sideways and followed her out. They both walked in silence to Buck’s flat. Number 44. Buck unlocked the door and resisted the urge to hurtle straight for her room and dive into her bed. Instead, she went into the kitchenette, like a normal person would, and filled a glass with water from the tap and downed it in one.

“Do you want tea?” she choked out, levering out of her tight work shoes.

“I’ve brought some of my own,” her mother said, producing a tea bag from one of the inside pockets of her coat, and dangling it between her fingertips. It was dry. And in a moment her mother was dry too. Her long black coat, her straggly hair, her silver skirt. She looked to Bucky with a knowing look as if to say – look how good I was, waiting until we were behind closed doors to change a thing. In that instant Bucky knew that she was going to cave, and was going to let her mother magic up her favourite food; lemon chicken and egg fried rice and perfectly crispy spring rolls.

Minutes later they were both sitting on Bucky’s stiff sofa tucking into the food of Bucky’s dreams, until the foil containers were empty and the main excuse to stay silent was gone too.

“I can’t believe you interfered with the lift,” Bucky muttered.

“Darling, don’t make me sound like a pervert.”

Bucky stacked the foil containers, and her mother sat forward. “I just asked it to check that you were ok. If you’d answer my texts then…”

“I’m fine. I’m ok. What about you?” Bucky gestured to her mother’s ankle.

“It’ll mend. Ankles mend, no magic required.”

Bucky gave her mother an appraising look. What her mother really meant was that she couldn’t use magic to fix a mistake of her own making.

Her mother shrugged, and raked her finger through her now dry hair. “Hearts on the other hand, they don’t mend so easily unless…”

“No,” Bucky said. “Thank you for dinner, and no.” She checked her phone. Her mother had been in her flat for 33 minutes total.

Her mother held up her hands. “I just want to help.”

Buck nodded, her throat tight. “Thank you.”

She meant it, but it was like coughing out a pebble. She glanced at her mother, and her mother looked back at her eagerly, green eyes feverishly bright.  Buck could feel the words welling up – she should ask her mother to stay, maybe just for a night. Buck gritted her teeth and forced them back down. That would be the start of the end. It would all be too easy. Too easy not to go to work, to an office, where she sat in her itchy clothes, and her tight shoes, and hoped that no-one would speak to her. Too easy to have her mother scrape some spit from the toothbrush that Davie had left here. And work just a little something.

“I don’t like to see my little girl stressed.”

Buck nodded, stood up and straightened her skirt, then retrieved her shoes and wedged her feet into them. “I’ll come back home and visit…” she almost said ‘next weekend’, but swallowed it down. Was her mother working her, or was that just regular old guilt?

“Good girl,” her mother said. “I’ll see myself out.”

“No, let’s go and straighten things out with the lift.”

Her mother nodded and smiled. Of course she would play along. But Buck had decided that she was going to win this game. The two of them both played the roles of good, co-operative person, heading for the lift, calling it to the fourth floor.

Ding. The doors opened.

Hell. There was Davie, carrying a stack of books, Buck’s books. Ones that she’d read in all the hours that she’d been awake before him. Great timing. Not. He stepped out of the lift and before he could get a word out of his pretty mouth Buck shoved past him, and dragged her limping mother after her.

“So that’s Davie?” her mother waved at him.

“Close the doors!” Buck yelled.

The doors closed.

It was a quiet and highly aggravating ride down. Buck could feel her mother on the brink of laughter, and then pulling her ‘look Buck, I’m being so good face.’

Buck made herself turn to her mother. “Turn the camera off. Disable the voice,” she gestured angrily at the intercom.

“Oh no. Oh no. Oh no.” The lift said.

“Always so heartless Buck,” her mother said, and clicked her fingers.

“Mmmhmmm.”

Only one more floor to keep it together. The doors opened and Buck walked her mother out and across the lobby. She even hugged her before she ushered her out of the main door. Then Buck strode back to the lift, called it, and gave it a minute until the lobby was clear and she was sure that she was going to have the ride to herself.

Inside, she turned straight to the intercom, clicked her fingers and said, in a low voice. “You work for me now.” She laid her palm on the brass plate above the buttons, and it buzzed. “You will ignore every order from my mother, and follow everything I say. Or I will fry your wiring. Feel that!” She increased her own force and the brass plate buzzed harder.

“Yes! Owww! Owwwww!”

“Starting with Davie.”

“Davie?”

“The dark-haired idiot carrying books. You’ll recognise him? When he comes back down?”

Silence. They were already at floor three.

“Yes or no.”

“Yes.”

“When he’s in the lift, travelling down, by himself, say, ‘LEAVE AND NEVER COME BACK’.”

“Leave and never come back.” The lift repeated. It sounded like he’d lifted it from a jaunty little nursery song.

Buck screamed again to the ceiling just as the doors opened onto floor four. Davie looked at her open-mouthed, still clutching the books.

“Going down. Going down. Going down.” The lift said, shutting the doors and lurching downwards so fast that Buck could feel it in her stomach.

Buck laughed. And once she’d started she couldn’t stop. She doubled over.

“Sorry. Sorry.” The lift said. “Panicked.”

The lift started playing some muzak. Buck groaned.

“Leave and never come back,” the lift said again, with a little more force. But it still sounded like an actor, unsure of his words.

Buck patted the side wall, awkwardly. “Forget I said anything.”

“Forget.”

“Sorry for shocking you.”

“Sorry for shocking you.”

“Do you want to start over?”

The lift made a throat clearing sound.

“Hello?” said Buck.

“Hello!” chimed the lift.

The lift dinged, the doors opened and closed. Opened and closed. Then Buck pressed the button to floor four and felt the lurch of going back up.

Week 28

I must have absorbed some mentions of Blue Monday, combined with failing fitness kicks, and started wondering about a young woman down in a gym, feeling low. What would be uplifting + problematic? Why maybe a talking lift??

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