Pru from the typist pool, and Ernie from the delivery department, of ‘Curdle and Pukey; Superior Delicatessen Foods’, found themselves in the same lift on their way to deliver confidential memos and incoming mail. Just below the fifth floor, the lift got stuck and, in one of those mysterious and alarmist imaginings that overtake people, their minds leapt to the awful possibilities that come from faulty mechanics, reported with such graphic detail in the tabloids. In short, they began to panic. Ernie stood in silence, his eyes bulging and his lips compressed tightly enough to make his mouth disappear like in a surrealist painting. Apparently calm, but starting to perspire like a Kebab, Pru was so conscious of her condition that she feared her clothes might become transparent, and was glad to be wearing clean underwear as her mother always advised in emergency situations. As if by some mystic empathy, Pru and Ernie soon both began to shiver in unison. Fear and dread became so intense that a desire for unconsciousness overcame them. Just at that moment, they felt themselves mysteriously rise up off the floor, pass miraculously through the ceiling, to find themselves standing on the roof, holding on to the elevator cable.
“How the heck did we get here?” said Ernie.
“It’s incredible”, replied Pru. “unless”, she reflected, with a calmness beyond her own understanding... “unless we are having an out of the body experience.”
“A what?!” said Ernie, in a don’t give me any crap; I’m in highly nervous state! kind of tone.
“It’s the only way to explain it”, she said. “I once read about it in a woman’s journal. In times of extreme tension, it’s possible to absent yourself from your body.”
“I didn’t do nothing”, he insisted.
“No, I know. It’s possibly your alter ego doing it for you.”
“Who’s he, when he’s at home?”
“He’s the other side of your person, the one you never get to meet, except in extraordinary circumstances”.
Ernie stared at her. “You’re making me very nervous, lady. I’m only the bloke ‘who delivers the mail. I’m under-paid and over-worked and I left school with disappointing grades, but at least I know who I am.”
“What’s your name? She asked.
“Ernie. At least that’s who I was down there in the elevator.”
“I’m Pru.” She looked at him with a calm reassuring smile, and in a soft whisper, said, “Ernie, I think it might be helpful to work our way through this experience if we were to hold hands. It might help us to give each other strength.”
“How does that work?” he said, not being averse to taking her hand, since, beneath a rather business like exterior, she was a pretty good-looker.
“Well, we may not instantly be able to recognise the persons we’ve become up here. Maybe we should just let them take over. I mean, let them be themselves, so to speak. After all they got us out of the lift, didn’t they?”
“Okay”, he agreed. “ There doesn’t seem to be anything else to do.”
They held each other’s hand and. Pru stood with a serene smile and Ernie screwed his eyes up and willed the beneficial effects to take over.
“This is Good,” she murmured. She looked calmly up to the top of the shaft and at the walls that surrounded them. “Isn’t it an amazing thing, Ernie? I don’t feel afraid at all. How do you feel?”
“Well, things don’t seem too bad.” He opened his eyes and looking round him had to admit that he was feeling more confident, despite the gloomy reminder of their present situation.”
“You know”, said Pru, with philosophical calmness, “I once read this article in a journal on management development about how our fears are tied up with inhibitions.”
Ernie found the words big and unfriendly, and shivered.
“ I think we’d get on better if we kept it simple, if you don’t mind, Lady” , he said, screwing his face up.
“Of course. Please call me Pru.”
“Right. ”, he continued. “So,.. Pru,.. what I mean is, you being well read, and me being a simple guy…”
“Simple is good”, she said, smiling at him. “It means we can speak honestly and directly.”
“Right”, he said, which was something he tended to say when he didn’t quite understand.
“Sometimes,I think we go beyond the need for words, especially in extraordinary situations like this”, she went on, squeezing his hand a little.
“Yeah?”, he said, uncertainly.
Pru reached out and softly brushed Ernie’s cheek with her fingers. He reflected on this for a few seconds and then decided that he perhaps, in this ‘extraordinary situation’ he ought to respond. He let his hand softly touch her neck. Very shortly they were feeling much more confident by exploring each other’s contours, and felt drawn to increase their assurance by embracing each other in more intimate terms.
“This is so reassuring”,.. she murmured, “so strangely metaphysical” as their lips met, “so uninhibiting”.
Just as they were about to descend into heaven knows what kind of mutual reassurance, the elevator lurched suddenly upward, and before they knew what was happening or who they had returned to being, they found themselves unceremoniously shaken down into their bodies in the lift again.
Sue and Ernie stared at each other. He reached out to embrace her again.
“Hey, what the heck do you think you’re doing?!”she exclaimed
“It’s reassuring, isn’t it? ” he reminded her.
“Excuse me” she retorted adopting a superior tone, “We don’t need to be reassured now we’re on the way up again.”
She got out on the seventh floor. The incident was never spoken of again. But whenever they found themselves in the same lift thereafter, their faces betrayed thoughts that were obviously best left un-translated.
© Trevor Danby 2008