Hour One: 2:00 to 3:00 p.m.
BLAINE’S SMARTPHONE SAID THE TIME was 2:07 p.m. EST. She discovered that telling time was all the smartphone was good for in this aged mahogany-inlaid jail. Since hearing from Emmett, she had been trying to phone, text, and send e-mails, first to 911 and then to various friends, but the same messages appeared on the screen: “Unable to send mail,” or “Message not delivered,” or “No signal.” She felt like crying.
“It’s a waste of time, I’m afraid,” the fat redhead said, pointing at the smartphone with her stubby index finger. “This building is in one of the worst areas for cell phone reception in the world,” she averred.
“Yeah, I’m beginning to suspect that,” Blaine said with a grimace. Why me?
For several minutes, neither woman said anything. Finally, the redhead broke the silence.
“This is just typical. Just typical,” the fat redhead said, shaking her head. “For once I was gonna leave work early so I could get home at a decent hour and start enjoying the holiday weekend, but nooooooh, this has to happen—again!”
“Yeah, you mentioned that this is the third time this week. That’s terrible,” Blaine said.
“Tell me about it. And they won’t do a damn thing about it. Won’t spend the money. I should sue the shit out of ’em for mental distress or something.”
Blaine smiled weakly and nodded. She was beginning to feel a little mental distress herself, being trapped in an elevator with an agitated three-hundred-pound-plus woman. Who knew what this person would do if she became desperate? Would she take her anger out on her? On the chair in the corner? She had to be ready for anything, she decided.
“I know why this is happening, though,” the woman said. “This is happening because I’m God’s little cat toy.”
“Yeah,” the woman said, the hint of a smile on her face.
“You ever see a cat with a balled-up piece of aluminum foil? The cat will bat that ball around a room at breakneck speed, catch it in its mouth, toss it up in the air, stalk it, pounce on it, purposely let it roll under the sofa, go after it, catch it with its front paws, and then, with the ball clamped firmly in its mouth, will furiously kick at it with its back paws, let the ball roll away again, bat it around some more, and finally, after repeating this sequence several more times, the cat will trot proudly, ball in mouth, to a dark corner of the bedroom closet you’ve forgotten to close and deposit its prize deep inside the toe of an unsuspecting shoe or the partner of your favorite pair of boots.” The woman paused briefly to catch her breath.
“Once this is done, the cat will promptly tire of this game and forget all about it as it saunters off to see what kind of treats can be finagled out of its human by the sheer force of its cute face.” The woman’s face was flushed as if she had been chasing after the aluminum ball herself.
“That balled-up piece of aluminum foil will remain undisturbed, lodged in the toe of that shoe or boot until days, or even weeks later when you decide your boots will be the perfect choice with that day’s outfit.” The woman continued. “After you realize there’s something in the toe of the left boot, you’ll start tapping and striking and reaching in to get whatever it is out, until finally, the metal orb rolls into the heel part, and you turn the boot upside down, freeing the ball from its suede jail to merrily roll, roll, roll on the floor toward the freedom of the hallway.” To illustrate this, the woman made a rolling motion with her hand. “The cat, upon hearing this, will utter a joyful chirp that means, ‘Yay! Where have you been, my long-lost friend?’ and the game will start all over again.”
Blaine smiled at the thought of this woman comparing herself to an aluminum ball rolling around the floor. She’d pay money to see that, for sure. Her smile encouraged the fat redhead to continue her monologue.
“See, I’ve long suspected God of deriving much amusement from the situations in which I find myself and the people who cross my path. I believe he creates those situations and causes those people to find their way to me just so he can see my reaction. There’s just no other explanation for some of the things I’ve witnessed and gone through. Many times, I’ve been the only witness to some bizarre stuff, so I have my suspicions, like I said.” The woman looked at Blaine for what? Agreement? Approval? Blaine couldn’t read her expression, but it didn’t matter because the woman continued with her train of thought.
“Of course, it could also be karma. I happen to believe in karma, and in my mind, it boils down to the same thing: God or karma, payback’s a bitch, you know?”
“Uh-huh,” Blaine said, nodding again. She realized her fellow rider needed very little encouragement to speak her mind. Or maybe it was the woman’s way of coping with the situation. It could be she was nervous being trapped in a stalled elevator. Whatever the case, this behemoth certainly wasn’t shy about telling a complete stranger exactly what was on her mind.
Full speed ahead, the woman continued. “I often wonder who I was in previous lives. Yes, I believe in reincarnation too,” she said, noticing Blaine’s skeptical expression. “But I think I must have a metaphysical learning disability or something because I keep coming back. I’ve reincarnated many times already, and I’ll probably come back a few more times after this life. Maybe one of these lifetimes I’ll get it right. In the meantime, here I am, God’s little cat toy.”
Nothing little about you, Shamu.
They fell back into silence. Blaine looked at her smartphone again. It was 2:35. It felt later than that, probably because of her colorful elevator friend, but that was good. If the firemen rescued them quickly, the afternoon wouldn’t be a total waste. She could still get home relatively early. Maybe she’d even stop at the corner liquor store and get a bottle of wine to celebrate her release. Yeah. That’s exactly what she was going to do. She deserved it after this.
“Hello, miss?” Emmett’s voice came through the intercom. “Miss? Are you there? Can you hear me?”
“Well, where the hell else would we be? Moron!” the fat redhead said.
Blaine pressed the intercom button and spoke into the speaker. “Yes, Emmett, hello!” she called out.
“Miss, the firemen are here, but there’s a problem. The way the elevator’s wedged between the seventh and eighth floors, it’s gonna take awhile to get it running again.”
“Well, what’s a while, Emmett?” Blaine said, her voice wavering a little. She had to keep it together.
“They’re not really sure, miss. Maybe a couple of hours or so, but they’re working on it; I just wanted you to know.”
“Thanks, Emmett. We appreciate the update.”
Her heart sank. The joy she had felt earlier at the thought of the long holiday weekend evaporated. She needed to keep her cool. Stay calm, she told herself. This will be over soon. Maybe the elevator will be repaired faster than the firemen thought.
“Well, looks like we’ll be here for a while,” the woman said, almost cheerfully. “If you don’t mind, I’m gonna use the chair. My knees are killing me. We can take turns sitting, okay?”
“No problem; go ahead. I can just sit here,” Blaine said, pointing down, simultaneously letting her body slide down the wall of the elevator until her derriere made contact with the floor. Good thing she had chosen to wear comfortable slacks and her flat ankle boots that morning. Blaine sat with her back leaning against the wall of the car, her knees drawn up to her chest. She watched as the fat redhead slowly lowered her hugeness onto the chair, which creaked in protest.
“There,” the fat redhead said, sighing. “That’s better.” Blaine smiled weakly at the woman.
Neither one said anything for a while. The silence felt good to Blaine. It felt even better to sit. She realized she had been standing for roughly an hour without moving around. She was surprised at the ache in her legs and feet. This is what sitting at a desk for eight to ten hours a day did to the body. She would make it a point when she got back to work to be more active during the course of her day. She would get up and stretch her legs and walk around more. Her thoughts were suddenly interrupted.
“Look,” her corpulent companion said, “this could take awhile. Why don’t we pass the time getting to know each other? What do you say?”
“Sure, why not?” Blaine replied, shrugging. She would have preferred the silence.
“Well, you don’t have to sound so thrilled about it,” the redhead said, and made a short snorting sound that Blaine realized was a chuckle. “I’m just trying to make things easier.” Blaine smiled her tight-lipped smile. Then why don’t you just shut up?
“Okay, so what’s your name? I bet you have one of those cool names, don’t you? You look like you have a cool name. Everybody in their twenties has a cool name. You’re in your twenties, right?”
Blaine nodded. “I’m twenty-five. It’s Blaine; my name is Blaine.”
“Blaine. See? It’s a cool name. I thought ‘Blaine’ was a man’s name, though.”
“It’s for both men and women, like ‘Kelly.’” Blaine sounded a little defensive to herself. “It’s an old family name.”
“Oh. Yeah, that seems to be a trend lately, giving kids unisex names. Kinda confusing, if you ask me. No offense.”
“My name’s Zelda.”
Blaine raised her eyebrows in surprise.
“Yeah, that’s right, Zelda. Named after F. Scott Fitzgerald’s wife,” the woman’s tone seemed bitter. “I mean, who in their right mind names a kid ‘Zelda’? And that was my mother’s second choice for my name. She originally wanted to name me Isadora, after Isadora Duncan.”
“Isadora Duncan. She was a dancer in the 1920s. I think she was the first modern dancer—way ahead of her time. Scandalized society by dancing barefooted and naked underneath gauzy robes.”
“Oh. So why did your mom name you Zelda instead?”
“Because my mother was very superstitious, and she was afraid that if she named me Isadora, I would die like she did.”
“How did she die?”
“Isadora Duncan loved to wear very long scarves. She died when the scarf she was wearing while riding in a convertible in Paris got caught in the spokes of the wheel of the car. Broke her neck,” Zelda explained.
“Oh, wow, that’s awful!”
“Yeah. Funny thing, though, my mother didn’t seem to be superstitious about the way Zelda Fitzgerald lived and died.” Fat Zelda paused and looked at Blaine expectantly. “You know, she was married to F. Scott Fitzgerald and had a very tumultuous relationship with him. They were jealous of each other’s careers, and both abused drugs and alcohol. They were both alcoholics, really, but she was also diagnosed as being schizophrenic and spent time in several mental institutions. For all her fame, beauty, and talents, Mrs. Fitzgerald seems to have led such a miserable life, you know? She died when the mental hospital she was in caught fire. She was one of nine patients who died in that fire. She was only forty-eight.” Zelda sighed and went on.
“But the name ‘Zelda’ itself conjures up a negative image. Like, if I had to call you up for business and told you it was Zelda speaking, what would you picture I look like in your mind? Not a supermodel, I can tell you that. I’m sure there are Zeldas out there who are beautiful, but the name doesn’t automatically suggest beauty, you know?”
Blaine was beginning to feel sorry for fat Zelda. The woman did have a point; “Zelda” wasn’t on anybody’s short list of baby names to choose from.
“Also, I’m a firm believer in good luck names and bad luck names, and Zelda is definitely in the latter batch.”
After a few seconds, Zelda continued. “But I think the worst of the bad luck names is Anne and any derivative of that name: Anna, Anita, etc. I would never saddle any child of mine with that name.”
“I think Anne is a pretty name.”
“It may be a pretty name,” Zelda said slowly, as if explaining something to a slow-witted child, “but it’s a bad luck name. Does Anne Boleyn ring a bell? Anne of Cleves? How about Anne Frank? And even in movies most of the time the Anne character is left for a younger, prettier woman, or is portrayed as a total bitch or an unsuitable sort like Apple Annie. Even in literature, Annabelle Lee comes immediately to mind as an unlucky sort.”
I guess you may have thought about this once or twice.
“I see what you mean,” Blaine said, unsure who some of the women mentioned were. “What would be a good luck name?”
“Jennifer,” Zelda said without hesitation. “In my opinion, Jennifer is a really good, lucky name. Alison is another. Also, Brooke, Heather, Jessica, Kim, and yeah, Kelly, even if it is used for both men and women nowadays.”
“Well, why not change your name, if you hate it so much?”
“I should have done that a long time ago, but I knew if I did, it would upset my mother. She passed away a couple of years ago, and I coulda done it then, but it’s okay; I’ve made my peace with my name, so it’s not an issue anymore.”
I think I beg to differ.
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