As soon as I walked in, I knew he wanted to touch it. It was a small lift, just a box on a rope
really.You could hear the churning of the wheel high above, and the whole thing creaked as it
wound you up through the building.
I stood over to give him room – not easy when you are so big. Then, of course, I realised I
hadn’t pressed the button yet, so I had to swing by him again, almost pivot, my belly like a ball
between us. I was sweating already as I reached for the seventh floor.
You know those old bakelite buttons – loose, comfortable things, there’s a nice catch to them
when they engage. If someone’s pushed it before you, of course, they just collapse in an empty sort
of way and your finger feels a bit silly. So I always pause a little, before I hit number seven. And in
that pause, I suppose, I get the feeling that this bloody box could go anywhere.
‘Oh, I’m sorry,’ he said, even though there was no need for it. American. In a suit. Quite tall.
‘Oh. Sorry.’ I said it too.Well, you do, don’t you?
The button went in with a soft crunch – wherever he was going, it wasn’t to my floor. He
eased back into the far corner and we waited for the doors to close.
This blasted lift. Six times a day I go up and down in this box, maybe more, waiting for the
machine to make up its mind;waiting for it to finish thinking; checking the building, floor by floor.
It’s so ancient – it should have those screechy trellis gates, like a murder mystery. (I should have an
ashblonde permanent wave, the American should be packing a snub little gun.) But it doesn’t. There
are just these two endlessly reluctant doors of metal, that click and surge, as though to close, and
then change their mind.
I gave a little social sigh – Well, here we all are – and flicked a glance his way. He was
looking at my stomach, but staring at it.Well, people do. So I blinked a bit and smiled my most
pregnant smile, all drifty and overwhelmed, Isn’t nature wonderful?These days,my skin smells of
vegetable soup. I mean quite nice soup, but soup – you know? I tell you – reproduction, it’s a
He looked up at my face then, and smiled. The donors heaved a little in their furrows and
then decided against it.Very serious eyelashes.Very bedroom.
‘So. When’s the happy day then?’ he said.
As if it was any of his business. As if we had even been introduced.When you’re pregnant,
you’re public property, you’re fair game. ‘Well, hello,’ they say in shops. ‘How are you today?’ It’s
as though the whole world has turned American, in a way, and here was the genuine article, corn
fed, free range; standing there in his nice suit and inquiring after my schedule.
‘What do you mean?’ I wanted to say.‘I am just suffering from bloat.’Or,‘Who says it’s
going to be happy? It might be the most miserable day of my life. I might be, for example,
screaming in agony, or haemorrhaging, I might be dead.’
‘Oh.’ I looked down at my belly like I’d just realised it was there – What, this old thing?
‘Six weeks,’ I said.
‘Hey!’ he said back. Like a cheerleader. I thought he might reach out and give me a playful
little punch on the arm – Go for it!
I turned and jabbed the ‘doors close’ button. At least I thought it was the ‘doors close’
button, it was actually the ‘doors open’ button – there is something so confusing about those little
triangles – so the doors which were, at that exact moment, closing, caught themselves – Ooops! –
and slid open again.
We looked out into the small lobby. Still empty.
‘Well, good luck!’ he said.
And he gave a little ‘haha’ laugh; rocking back on his heels a bit, while I jabbed at the other
button, the correct one this time, the one where the triangles actually point towards each other, and,
OK, said the doors – Now we close.
Someone got a pot of gloss paint and dickied them up, years ago. Thick paint, you can see
the swirl of the brush still in it, a sort of 1970s brown.The doors meet, and sigh a little, and you look
at the place where the paint has flaked.You look at the place where the painter left a hair, in a big
blond S.You stand three inches away from another human being, and you think about nothing while
the lift thinks about going up, or down.
Good luck with what? The labour? the next forty years?
The lift started to rise.
‘I’ll need it,’ I said.
This building used to be a hotel. I can’t think of any other excuse, because there is dark
green carpet, actual carpet, on the walls of the lift, up to what might be called the dado line. Above
that, there’s mirror made of smoked glass, so that everyone in it looks yellow, or at least tanned.
Actually, the light is so dim, people can look quite well, and basically you look at them checking
themselves in the glass. Or you look at yourself in the glass, and they look at you, as you check
yourself in the glass. Or your eyes meet in the glass. But there is very little real looking. I mean, the
mirror is so hard to resist – there is very little looking that goes straight from one person across
space to the other person, in the flesh as it were, as opposed to in the glass.
Or glasses. One reflection begs another, of course, because it is a mirror box – all three walls
of it, apart from the doors. So your eyes can meet in any number of reflections, that fan out like
wings on either side of you. The American in the corner was surrounded by allmy scattered
stomachs, but he was staring straight at the real one. And, No, you can’t, I thought. Don’t even think
I look so strange anyhow these days. I misjudge distances and my reflection comes at me too
fast. I felt like I was tripping over something, just standing there. The American’s hands were by his
sides. The left one held his document case and the right one was unclenching, softly.
And then, as a mercy, we stopped.The third floor. Ping.
‘You’ll be fine,’ he said, like it was goodbye. But when the doors opened, he didn’t leave,
and there was no one there.They stayed open for a long time while we looked at an empty corridor;
then they shut, and it was just me and him, listening to the building outside, listening to our own
breathing, while the lift did absolutely nothing for a while.
I always look people in the eye, you know? That is just the way I am. Even if they have a
disability, or a strangeness about them, I look them straight in the eye. And if one of their eyes is
damaged, then I look at the good eye, because this is where they are, somehow. I think it’s only
polite. But I am not always right. Some people want you to look at their ‘thing’ and not at them.
Some people need you to.
There was that young transvestite I met in the street, once; I used to know his mother, and
there were his lovely eyes, still hazel under all that mascara and the kohl.Well, I didn’t know where
else to look at him, except in the eye, but also, I think, I wanted to say hello to him. Himself. The
boy I used to know. And of course this is not what he wanted at all. He wanted me to admire his
Or Jim, this friend of mine who got MS. I met him one day and I started chatting to him of
course – and then I found I was talking faster, like really jabbering, because it was him I wanted to
talk to – him and not his disease – and he was sliding down the wall in front of me, jabber jabber
jabber jabber, until a complete stranger was saying to him,‘Would you like me to get you a chair?’
I would prefer it if he looked at me, that’s all – the American. Even if I was sliding down the
mirrored wall in front of him, even if I was giving birth on the floor. I would prefer it if he looked at
the person that I am, the person you see in my eyes. That’s all. I put my hand on my stomach to
steady the baby, who was quiet now, enjoying the ride – and silent, as they always are. But
sometimes they leave a bubble of air in there, with their needles and so on.They leave air in there by
accident and, because of the air, you can hear the baby cry – really hear it. I read that somewhere. It
must the loneliest sound.
We are all just stuck together. I felt like telling him that
Anyway, what the hell. There was this guy looking at my stomach in the lift on the way up to
the seventh floor one Tuesday morning when I had very little on my mind. Or everything. I had
everything on my mind. I had a whole new person on my mind, for a start, and the fact that we
didn’t have the money really, for this. I had all this to worry about, a new human being, a whole
universe, but of course this is ‘nothing’.You are worrying about nothing, my husband says.
Everything I think about is too big, for him, or too small.
Of course, he is right. I pick the things off the floor because if I don’t our life will end up in
the gutter. I put the tokens from the supermarket away because if they get lost our child will not be
able to afford to go to college. My husband, on the other hand, lives in a place where you don’t pick
things up off the floor and everything will be just fine. Which must be lovely.
‘It’s perfectly natural,’ he says, when I tell him the trouble I am having with the veins in my
legs, or the veins – God help us – in my backside. But sometimes I think he means, We’re just
animals, you know. And sometimes I think he means, You in particular.You are just an animal.
By the time we passed the fifth floor I had the sandwich in my mouth. Roast beef, rare, with
horseradish sauce. That’s why I was in the lift in the first place, I had just waddled out for a little
something, and God, it tasted amazing. I lifted my chin up to make the journey down my throat that
bit longer and sweeter, and maybe it was this made him breathe short, like laughing, almost, made
me look at him finally, sideways, with my mouth full.
‘Well, that sure looks good,’ he said.
This American laughing at me, because I am helpless with food. And because I look so
stupid, and huge, this man I have never met before being able to say to me, ‘Would you mind? May
I could feel the lift pushing up under my feet. My mouth was still full of roast beef. But he
stretched his hand out towards me, anyway. It looked like a hand you might see in an ad – like that
old ad for Rothmans cigarettes – slightly too perfect, as though he was wearing fake tan. I turned
around to him, or I turned the baby round to him, massively. I did not look him in the face. I looked
sideways a little, and down at the floor.
I wanted to say to him, Who is going to pay for it? Or love it. I wanted to say, Who is going
to love it? Or, Do you think it is lonely, in there? I really wanted to say that. I swallowed and opened
my mouth to speak and the lift stopped, and he set his hand down. He touched all my hopes.
‘It’s asleep,’ I said.
The doors opened. So we were standing like that, him touching my belly, me looking at the
ground, like some sort of slave woman.Thinking about his eyelashes.Thinking that, no matter what I
did these days, no matter what I wore or how I did my hair, I always looked poor.Lumbered.
He said, ‘Thank you.You know, this is the most beautiful thing. It’s the most beautiful thing
in the whole world.’
Well, he would say that, wouldn’t he.