Six Floors

I didn't hear the first thing she said.

I was wearing earphones like I do every day on my way to work. I never want to hear what people are saying on the train, don't want to know what they think about their lives or each other or me. I don't want to hear what people call out when I walk past, on the sidewalks between my train stop and my office.

I got to the elevators in the lobby of my building. It was empty except for her. The first thing I noticed was that both the up and down buttons were lit, and there wasn't anybody there but her. I looked over at her. She was skinny, tall, taller than me, well dressed in a sleek black jacket and stylish black pants. Her shoes had piano keys across the toes, and her honey-blonde hair was pulled back in a thick, fancy braid. I felt self-conscious in my shapeless blue winter coat and backpack—I never carry a purse.

She saw me look at the elevator buttons and her and smiled. Her smile was both embarrassed and sunny. That's when I missed what she said. I removed my headphones, and she continued.

“I guess I just wanted to delay the inevitable,” she said as the elevator doors open with the down arrow illuminated.

“It's too Monday to go to work anyway,” I said and immediately wished I hadn't. She laughed anyway.

The empty elevator left for the parking level. Another came. We both filed on. I hit the button for the tenth floor and her for the sixth.

What do you say in the space of six floors? Should I mention her shoes? The piano toes? Ask where she works? What can you say in that little time? She's interesting; she wouldn't wear piano shoes if she didn't want someone to talk to her about them. Look, she's looking down at them as well. She smiled at me, does she want to talk more?

We reached her floor. I hadn't said anything. “Well, back to it,” she said, smiling again and stepping gracefully off the elevator. I half-grinned as well, at a loss for words. The doors closed.