When the man from 10C did not say hello to Carmen in the elevator, it barely bothered her at all; she was decorated to her chin with packages—housewarming gifts from one friend or another—and probably looked too compromised for conversation, or maybe he hadn’t heard her say it first; and when 10C didn’t acknowledge her the next day, even after she said, “Geez, is it always this slow?” as the elevator belched its way up the shaft and they waded in the echo of her words for the next five floors, she chalked it up to a general aversion to social pleasantries; and when he said good morning to the couple in 10D as their Maltese sniffed at his shoes and growled, she figured he was just being neighborly; and when he complimented the influencer in 8B on her scarf—from her own line at TJ Maxx—and asked for her IG handle, it started to feel personal, so she took stock of 8B—a walking waist trainer ad—and took stock of herself—two lumps short of a bowl of oatmeal—and decided to try keto; and when Carmen entered the elevator bank after three months of bacon-wrapped avocados and taking the stairs and the man in 10C barely glanced up from his phone to ogle her freshly carved ass in the leggings from 8B’s line, she accepted that he would never find her attractive—not that she was attracted to him, Mr. Potatohead-looking motherfucker that he was, and her being married to the man in 9D who still made her happy most days—and promised herself she’d put the man in 10C out of her mind even though he smelled like all the boys in high school who never asked her to prom; so when the influencer in 8B went missing and the hashtag #FindFionaFit began to trend, she didn’t know why she felt the need to tell him, “I just hope they find her alive,” or why she briefly wished, when he ignored her, that they wouldn’t; and when he complimented the teenager in 7A on his piccolo and said he’d played the oboe himself, wished he still did, and wouldn’t 7A let him know the next time he went busking?, she wasn’t sure why she bought the clarinet off the Avon mom on Craigslist whose daughter quit to pursue the much sexier violin, or why she carried it with her until she caught the man in 10C in the elevator again, or why when he didn’t comment on it she told him she was in an orchestra (she wasn’t) and had a concert in the park (she didn’t) and would he like to hear her play? (he had plans), or why she nearly cried when he refused her help carrying his funky-smelling rolled up carpet to the curb and snapped at her when she insisted, or why she did cry when she saw him the day after a jogger had found 8B’s skeletal fingers sprouting from her woodland grave and stopped on command when he did not console her; and when she hobbled onto the elevator car sandwiched between two crutches—the result of a tumble down an icy stairway—and he did not coo at her the way he had the woman in 6F who’d splintered her wrist the same way, or offer to carry the Whole Foods bag swinging at her neck like a cowbell, or even press 9, she vowed to pack her fascination with him away; but when she trundled through the elevator doors midway into her third trimester and the man in 10C did not ask when she was due or see her safely to her door like he’d done for the woman in 8A some seven months ago, she was surprised by how quickly that box considered bursting; so when the wheel of Carmen’s stroller caught on the gap between the elevator car and her floor and the doors chewed at her feet, and the infant in 9D—which is what she called him on the days she pretended he belonged to the woman in 9D, who was someone else entirely—exploded with want and need, and the man in 10C wrung the necks of his big black, funky-smelling trash bags tighter and sighed audibly, and her hands arranged themselves around his throat and she asked him over the cacophony of screaming residents and screaming child, “What is it? What is it that’s so wrong with me?” and his eyes seemed to register her for the first time, no pulse of recognition there, she let her fingers fall away, let her neighbors drag her out of the car, watched the elevator swallow him whole.
Sara Torres-Albert works for corporate America by day and moonlights as a fiction writer. Her work has appeared in Okay Donkey, Second Chance Lit, and elsewhere. She lives in Philadelphia with her boyfriend and two cats. Find her occasionally tweeting at @saratorresalb.
Art by Bob Schofield @anothertower