By Lana Spendl

This piece first appeared in 3Elements Review (2014)


His biggest fear was getting stuck in an elevator in a Communist building, between floors, and having to be pulled out by friends and neighbors. And when he took a sabbatical to visit his sick father in Romania, the unthinkable happened.

He was standing on the elevator next to a large woman with her market bags of potatoes—he felt too tired to climb up nine flights—and he eyed the moving lights and held his breath with force, lest the whole mechanism should think him cavalier in brazenly displaying his bodily functions. But the woman shifted her bags from hand to hand and jingled her keys and leaned against the side wall and sighed like a tired beast, and the whole structure slowed to a halt and hung in place. “We’re stuck,” the woman said. And he felt suspended over the mouth of death.

He pressed the alarm and pressed and pressed. Ringing buzzed in jerks and jolts far away, and he thought he’d give gold to be on the other side, among the free, rising from his biscuits and coffee to check on things. Windows would surround him and sunlight and space and he would wipe the corners of his mouth with a glorious serviette. The woman lowered her bags and pulled the underwire of her bra to adjust her bosom into place, and he thought over gulps of air that he was a man of quality, a man of taste—that he was above mortal discomforts and pains—but then he felt the underwire of her bra intimately, as if it pressed a mark of pain into his own soft white flesh.