The lift door was opening for her when the blonde-haired man stood up suddenly and crossed the lobby. As she stepped inside he was right behind her, his body creating warmth against her back and giving her no opportunity to stop or step backwards. When she did halt, in the middle of the lift-floor, he placed a large, spatulate hand in the small of her back and pushed her forward so that he could clear the doors and let them close behind him. In the confined space she could smell sweat, acrid and horsey, thinly veneered with a spicy aftershave scent, and another more floral scent that she thought might be hair-wax or creme of some kind. She turned, annoyance forming words on her lips, and then stared silently at him.
His lips were moving silently and his eyes were rolled up into his head so that only the whites were showing. His hands, huge, like those of a lifelong manual labourer, scarred on the back across the knuckles and calloused on the palms where the fingers joined, twitched spasmodically but somehow in time with some of the unheard words that he was mouthing. His chest fell and rose rhythmically as though he were breathing especially deeply. And as she watched, Rosa was transported in an instant back to her childhood and a red-brick church on the corner of a busy crossroads with huge brown doors that swung open at the lightest touch. The memory of her mother was at her back, hands on her shoulders pressing her forwards against her resisting footsteps. There was a sudden pictorial memory, a black leather shoe with a little strap across the top of her white-socked foot to hold it on while she walked, slightly scuffed at the toe which her mother had been telling her off for until they entered the church when she’d fallen silent. As they walked into the body of the church the priest was stood behind the altar, facing them, his eyes rolled up back in to his head and his arms stretched wide, his hands held out in supplication. Blood dripped from the wounds in his hands; stigmata her mother told her later.
She shook the memory away and forced herself to look at the hands of the man in the lift, but they were unwounded, whole and pink. His lips continued to move, and as though he were finding his voice for the first time, his words began to whisper into the lift, ragged and hoarse. She didn’t want to listen but she had no choice, so, with her eyes firmly fixed on the digital floor counter, already a glowing green 2, she heard him beseeching a God that she thought she’d left behind her.
The memory seized again, unwanted. The priest was whispering, but loud enough that they could hear his words from their pew in the middle. Her mother always took this pew when they attended church, even when it meant forcing her way onto the end, pushing and elbowing pinch-faced, red-scrubbed women, nudging aside men in threadbare black suits with the holes artfully darned with the wrong colour thread. There was always the smell of carbolic soap about them, and their eyes seemed like little holes into a world of meanness, where every last grain of salt was counted and weighed against your soul. The priest’s whispers were like the roar of a cataract and she could hear him admonishing the Lord, begging the great and good God to visit him and show him the way, to bring the full stigmata upon him and anoint him a warrior in the faith. Words that she’d long thought obliterated from memory came rushing back, and without knowing what she was doing she whispered along with the blonde-haired man, joining him in his litany of hate and zealotry, perverting the intent of prayer.
She opened her eyes, wondering what had happened, and saw the green digit of the floor counter, a glowing number 3. The lift wasn’t moving any more and there was a dull whine. The floor jerked, and then stopped. The whine faded, then returned, and the floor jerked again, then stopped. The blonde-haired man seemed to relax momentarily and his eyes returned to their normal place in their sockets. She noted that they were a vivid shade of green, almost unnatural in their intensity, and that around the irises the whites seemed jaundiced. She knew without having to ask that he’d done something to the lift to hold it here, trapped between floors, struggling to move, and she opened her mouth to ask him what he wanted. Before she could speak though, his hands came to rest gently about her throat, and they squeezed, cutting off her breath and cutting off her words. She reached up, marvelling at just how large his hands seemed, unable to panic, and tugged at them. They didn’t move, and the pressure against her throat seemed to increase slightly. Now she felt a sense of urgency, and she dug her nails in to his skin and flesh, raking backwards with him to try and make him let go. His eyes rolled back up and he began whispering again. Her vision started to fade at the edges, darkening from the outside in, narrowing down into a dull little tunnel with barely any light at the end. She pulled harder on his hands, and then tried beating hers against them, but her arms felt heavy and distant, almost not hers, and her lungs were starting to spasm as she tried to breath. She felt for a moment as though she were hiccuping, and then everything went dark and there was just a burning sensation in her throat, moving slowly down to her chest. She was sure that she didn’t want it to reach her chest, but even as she tried to stop it she seemed to fall forwards into the darkness, knowing that somewhere beyond it a priest was waiting.
The lift doors finally opened on the fourth floor and Rosa’s lifeless body fell out and sprawled across the tiles of the lobby, unseen by anyone working beyond the glass doors that led into the call-centre. The doors tried to close so the lift could return to the ground floor but her legs were in the way, and the doors opened and attempted to close several times before giving up and triggering an alarm. By the time Larry had got up to the fourth floor to see what all the fuss was about, the blonde-haired man had walked quietly through the ground-floor lobby and left the building, leaving behind him only a blurred CCTV image that could have been almost anyone.