In the building where Karen worked the elevator always brought her to a different floor. The elevator might take her to an ad agency or an insurance company, someplace with harsh artificial lighting and the burnt smell of an overused copier. Or she might find herself on a bright office floor with yoga balls for chairs and a foosball table in the conference room. Once, the elevator stopped at a floor where an old security guard sat at a desk. He pushed a heavy ledger toward her. “Please sign in,” he said. There were no other desks or chairs besides the one he sat in. A tiny transistor radio snaked into his ear. At five o’clock sharp he took the elevator down with her. She never saw him again.
Sometimes the elevator would take her back to her old office. Her cubicle would be just as she left it, with her cardigan draped over the swivel chair, the fake palm tree on her monitor, and the New Yorker cartoon of a man with overstuffed pockets who says, “We don’t get offices. We get cargo pants.” All her co-workers would be there: Josh, the IT guy who stared at her and made her uncomfortable; Heather, the passive aggressive receptionist who was super nice one day and manic the next; and Tim, the fat and prosperous manager who liked dirty jokes and Thai food. They would all welcome her back and celebrate her return by having cake in the break room. There was always cake. She liked that floor best.
Other times the elevator opened onto the college library where she made out with Keith Piccolo in the stacks instead of studying for her organic chemistry final; the hospital floor where she tended to her mother for two long agonizing months; the dinner party where she met Tom who spilled wine all over her new dress; her parents’ bedroom where she watched her mother paint her eyelashes; the doctor’s waiting room with the water fountain that Tom said reminded him of a urinal; her sixth grade classroom where Mrs. Harris had them watch footage of the Challenger space shuttle explosion; the cavernous locker room where she let Bobby Giles feel her up; the funeral parlor where she saw her father’s pale blue hands and almost fainted; the empty house she’d grown up in, moving boxes lining the hallway; the college dorm where she heard her roommate crying on the other side of the door but walked away; the department store where she switched the tag of a dress she wanted for a cheaper one.
Some floors were less fun than others. She hated the floor where the man with the combover dumped a stack of files in her arms and said, “You’re late.” She never told him off and she hated herself as much as him for not standing up to him.
One floor was vacant. The partitions between the cubicles were knocked over like fallen dominoes. The phone and computers were gone. The copper wiring was ripped out of the walls. Her cardigan, dusty and tattered, hung over one of the swivel chairs. A shiver ran through her body. She called out the names of her co-workers but no one answered. She went into the break room and opened the fridge. A moldy cake sat on a shelf, swarming with maggots.
One day the elevator took her to her apartment. The carpet had been vacuumed. The bed was neatly made. All the dishes had been put away. The latch on the dishwasher, which never closed properly and left a puddle of water on the kitchen floor, had been fixed. Steam was coming from the bathroom. She walked into it and pulled back the shower curtain. No one was there. She turned off the water. She walked back into the living room. A glacial breeze blew through an open window. She closed it. She turned on the light in the bedroom closet. Tom’s clothes were gone. “Tom?” she said, each time her voice growing more desperate. “Tom? Tom?” She ran out of the apartment and back into the elevator. She punched all the buttons but none of them lighted up. Slowly and with an awful mechanical hiss the elevator doors closed and trapped her in total darkness.