Cynthia watched two lone figures downstairs in the food court, one turning to leave the mall and one remaining at a table by himself, the one sitting at the table a big man with a bald head that Cynthia had seen many times before now riding his bike sometimes right through the food court entrance doors. Eventually, she would recognize all of the regulars, would fabricate their origin stories and their motives for being there and interacting with one another without ever properly knowing them, and soon they would populate her already crowded imagination until she'd have no choice by to try to forget about them altogether. She was a writer, and with it Cynthia new that she could never truly switch off such a high-powered perception. These people were as real to her as any of the characters that she'd created in all of her creative writing classes.
And every evening after class she would ride this elevator up to her family's penthouse and gaze down at the inhabitants of this mall, the shopping center connected but a separate entity from this high rise building that was home to her and to dozens of other professional office spaces. This was where she lived with her family, in a dwelling that resembled nothing more than a rented beach condominium of sorts. The beach, Cynthia thought about now as her and everyone else in the elevator car were swallowed-up in the darkness of the elevator shaft around the sixth floor, all of them riding the tube now with no more visual input than their own thoughts, than that surf that broke on the shores of Cynthia's imagination.
She thought about how this glass and steel structure was in fact so alien from a beachfront resort, and she recalled how strange those resorts looked when juxtaposed against the sand, sitting there as if having been placed awkwardly against the wrong backdrop. And she remembered now how from the inside those beachfront resorts, the presence of the beach itself was always a shock when she would walk from the front door and opened the sliding-glass balcony door of her father's condominium, gasping as if never truly ready for the beach to be there, no matter how many times she'd seen it. She should write a story about that, she thought.
But Cynthia knew that such memories were reserved only for those privileged enough to experience them firsthand, like herself and her sisters who all lived under the luxurious wing of their father's success. And from their father, her sisters had acquired the same business-savvy skills in real estate that allowed them to raise and support families of their own, the two women marrying up and moving on from this strange tower in which they'd all been raised. Cynthia gained no such insight being the artist of the family, the black-sheep middle child of three sisters who themselves did what they could to nudge her into the real world.
But writers can never move into the real world until they were comfortable with the ones that they were creating. She should write a story about that as well, she thought, and then she lost her balance suddenly and fell into one of the two businessmen who rode the elevator with her. After apologizing to the man for having drifted off, she wondered why these men were going to their offices at this time of night in the first place.
Immediately a story formed itself out of the void, and it had to do with drugs and prostitutes, with after-hours executive parties in which these businessmen were entertaining clients from overseas.
Okay, she thought. This was one of those times where she wished she could shut it off. But doing such a thing was like applying the brakes in a vehicle that was already moving at too high of a speed, carrying her as the passenger of her own imagination just a little further than she would've wanted. Then in correlation with her desire to stop the forward progression of her writer's mind, the elevator car came to a stop on the fourteenth floor.
And there came the calm that Cynthia had always found so fascinating, yet never thought to write about. It was that sense of solitary purpose once the car had stopped, the one that had nothing to do with where she was in life or to where she applied her mind, for her only thought during those seconds when the door opened again was how long was it going to take for this passenger to leave. She'd try to guess which direction in the corridor the person would turn upon exiting, and rarely was she right.
Then the doors would close, and like rain her thoughts would soak her again, her mind flooding with background stories and conflicts, with the story of this businessman to her left who remained in the elevator once it started up again. But before her mind could mercilessly exhilarate out of control again, Cynthia felt the momentum of the elevator car change again, the G-forces working against her body as much to her surprise the car stopped only two floors higher. The doors opened, and there stood yet another businessman of approximately thirty, his hair a sculpted duel wave of platinum blond, clipped short and combed perfectly above his ears, and he was staring down at his mobile device.
"This one's going up," the first businessman said to this new potential passenger, and Cynthia sensed a certain discomfort from this first man that she hadn't noticed before now, as if elevator travel was somehow a source of anxiety for him. But this new businessman looked up from his mobile device, and upon hearing the news of which direction the car was going, he hesitated only briefly before stepping inside. Cynthia, lost in her Zen state between floors, listened to the exchange, fully invested on the matter at hand.
She regarded the man who'd chosen to stand just inside of the doors as they closed, near to where the climbing lights of the floor indicators moved in sequence. And comparatively, this man seemed much calmer and worlds more collected than her once only travel companion. From him came an air of authority and control that launched such a tangle of background stories in Cynthia's mind that she couldn't stand it anymore and held her hands to her ears.
"Are you all right?" the new passenger asked her, and then he smiled at her, keeping his eyes on her longer than she would've liked.
The seventeenth floor made itself known with a single chime and another shift in G-forces. The doors opened, and much to Cynthia's relief, both men exited.
And there it was, she thought, or perhaps didn't think at all. The closing of the elevator doors worked to pinch-off all of the stories of debauchery that were haunting her, and now she was moving away from the possibility of any of that being a reality. Here was the Zen of elevator travel, those few moments when all that was required from her was to occupy the space without thought, in the calm silence of a mind desperate only to reach its destination. She knew how this story was going to end, and she was well aware of which direction in the hallway she would go once the elevator stopped on her penthouse floor.