After the fun of it had all gone, after they had pushed and repushed all the lift buttons; after they had picked up the phone to get help only to be hung up on several times; after they had screamed together at the count of three the kind of scream that only ten year old girls can scream; after Isabel had taken off her shoe and with the hard sole tried to prise open the door enough to slip the other shoe in; after they had banged painfull on the stainless walls; only then did they realize they were truly stuck and they slid down to the floor, slumped with their backs to the three walls and staring at the unopening door.
A long silence broken only by the tin music. Each in their own thoughts, Alice was the first to speak.
‘I need to wee.’
Isabel looked at her sister. ‘You’ll just have to hold on. Dad will come and get us soon.’ She stood up and picked up the emergency phone. More to be doing something than for any real belief that it would help. Their dad would be looking, but how would he know where to look? How long would it take? She felt the responsibility for her sister and cousin, she was meant to look after them. All they had been doing was riding the lift up and down while dad finished off his work. He must have finished by now, he must be looking for them. Would he be angry?
It was difficult to hear over the tin music and on the cheap handset but the phone rang and again it went through to a recorded massage. “Your call has been placed in a queue, please wait.” Eventually a ladies voice, “How can I help.”
They had tried screaming help! to her, she hung up. They had tried talking, she had told them to stop misbehaving. Each time the phone disconnected after three minutes, a cost saving effort by the lift company who routes all calls through to a call centre in Sydney.
Eventually, half a conversation.
“Where are you.”
‘We are stuck in a lift.’ They had done this all before. Where is the lift? At Dad’s work. Where does Dad work? In a building, in the city. What Building? In Perth. Where in Perth? Don’t know. Each time after three minutes the phone went dead and the next time it was a different lady.
Isabel listened now to the hold music, three minutes of it, and then the phone cut out. She was thinking to talk into it anyway, to pretend that she was talking to someone and that help would be on the way, she could fool the other two girls and that might calm them down, keep them calm. She was about to do this when Alice spoke again.
‘I need to pee. I can’t wait.’
‘You’ll just have to wait. It won’t be long.’ She looked at Jesse.
‘I need to pee too.’ Jesse said looking at Isabel, as though she were letting her down. Although Jesse was the oldest Isabel seemed naturally to be in charge.
They chose the back corner on the side away from the lift buttons. They took turns, Alice, Jesse and then Isabel too because as she watched the others she realized she needed to go as well.
Jesse took off her shoes and put them to mark the wet corner, and Alice and Isabel did the same so there was a little curve of shoes sectioning off the corner and they sat back down in the opposite corner. The tin music still played, a tune Isabel knew, so she started to sing. She remembered a movie once where the people had sung to keep their spirits up.
‘Come on, sing!’ The three of them sang. ‘Raindrops keep falling on my head…’ at the tops of their voices. Jesse stood up and started dancing, pretending it was raining, holding her arms up and signaling with her twinkling fingers the rain coming down. Soon they were all dancing around and Isabel was singing, to the tune, ‘I’m stuck inside a lift, nothing seems to work, and I don’t mind complaining…’ and they were all at it, swirling around dancing and singing ‘we’re stuck inside a lift and I don’t mind complaining’ over and over until Alice fell over and landed in wee corner.
Lying on the floor laughing near hysterical with Alice coming towards the other two. ‘Get away, you’re covered in wee!’ ‘I’m coming to get you.’ And then silence again but for the relentless tin music and now the smell of urine. Jesse replaced the curve of shoes and they lay on the floor for a while.
‘How much longer?’
‘Not long. Dad will get here soon.’
‘When will he be here?’
‘I don’t know Alice. It hasn’t been that long yet.’ Isabel knew this wasn’t true. It must have been more than an hour since they had first realized they were stuck. Dad was probably furious, thinking they were hiding, had wandered off to play or had run off and got lost in the city. He had told them to stay nearby and they had, this lift only ran to the restaurant floor next to the stairs. No one ever used the lift but surely dad would come and look, it would be the first place he would check. They had only wanted to play, riding the lift up and down while her dad dropped off something to the office, some important document to photocopy and send. He would only be a few minutes, he had said, so he must be looking by now. Dad often took them on short errands like this, often had to drop off things, or pick up, and then they would go home via McDonalds or some special treat. Dad was always so busy, but often these where the best times, riding home late at night, speeding through the city looking up at all the lights in all the tall buildings. She loved that sensation, like she was flying through an underwater canyon looking up at all the bright coloured corals. Tonight he had promised them to go and see the Xmas decorations in the city, all the bright and coloured lights and tinsel.
Jesse stood up. ‘Lift me up. Remember that movie where they get into the top of the lift.’ She pointed at the white light panel in the centre of the roof. ‘Lift me up.’
They lifted her so she could reach up and push out the panel. It was the only weak point in the stainless surface and the light plastic sheet pushed in easily and fell to the floor. Behind it were two fluorescent light tubes and more stainless smooth steel, held in place by eight metal screws.
‘We need a tool.’ They let Jesse down. They didn’t have a tool. They had no way to break out through the roof. Isabel started pushing all the buttons again while Jesse put the plastic sheet like a screen across wee corner, balanced in place by two little piles of shoes.
Silence again for a while, then Alice again. ‘I’m thirsty.’
‘Soon Alice. Dad will come and find us and we can get drink and an icecream and some chips and whatever else you want.’ That seemed to satisfy her, and each to their own thoughts they waited.
Isabel looked over at Alice and Jesse sitting together against the wall and suddenly felt old. Older, grown up. Standing next to the control panel, looking down at the apologetic face of Jesse and the still childish face of her sister, Isabel suddenly felt the burden of responsibility. It was not an immediate responsibility for now, but a future lifetime’s worth. With a rush she knew what it meant to grow up, it just hit her like that. Moments before they had been fooling. Childhood play. Now it was serious and this was just the start, she saw with sudden clarity, of what it was to be adult.
The carefree fun of just before was gone. Years of childhood, of playing in the park, summer holidays at the beach house, dress ups and drawing at Auntie Annettes, all this fell away in an instant, and here she was stuck in a lift and in charge of two small girls and somehow she was now also in charge of her own life. She was no longer a child who could look up to someone else to help her like the other two now looked up at her. In that instant she saw the future. She was between two places. When the lift doors opened and they stepped outside it would be into the same world that for her would be forever different. For her, it was now a grown up world.
With equal measure of panic and clarity she wanted the lift doors to never open, for the outside world to be locked away forever and for her life never to change. And with equal measure of desperation and excitement she wanted the doors to open now, she had had enough of this. Time to move on.
Isabel realized that she too was thirsty. How long had it been. Dad must be looking for them by now. All thoughts of his anger were gone, she was not afraid of his anger. All she wanted now was to be rescued. Someone had to come.
‘OK Alice. Just wait. Dad will come soon.’ She hoped this was true.
She felt like crying, she wanted her dad, she wanted him to suddenly appear big and solid and strong, to hug her like he always did. To take her completely in his arms and lift her high like he used to when she was smaller and then she realized he hadn’t been able to lift her like that for years and that this was just the end of something that had been happening forever. She did not worry for being stuck in the lift, and not for the concern for the other two. She wanted to cry, not from fear, but from loss. The loss of her childhood that at that moment she saw closed with the same certainty that the lift doors had when they didn’t open. Nothing would ever be the same.
Isabel was lying on her pack, half dozing, thinking of those Xmas decorations and how different they would be to the harsh cold light in this stainless vault, when suddenly the lights went out and the music stopped. Alice or Jesse started screaming. Whoever it was who started didn’t matter, soon they were all screaming in the dark. It was not just dark, but total. Black. Isabel felt around the wall and picked up the phone, but this time there was not even the recorded voice. The emergency phone was dead. The power had gone out to the whole lift. Alice and Jesse where sobbing in the corner, and again she wondered if she should pretend to talk to someone, pretend help was on its way.
They sat together in the black silence with the smell of urine and their own thoughts. Isabel opened her eyes as wide as she could, she had to consciously open her eyes to be sure they were open, there was nothing to see. She moved her hand up to her face to test. It came all the way to her nose and she could still not see it. Partly to distract the others, she told them.
‘It’s so dark, put you hand up right up to your nose and you still can’t see it.’ She said. Jesse let go of her hand to try it but Alice was holding on tight with both hands. Alice moved her head in closer to Isabel, although how Isabel knew this she couldn’t tell. When Alice spoke it her mouth was inches away and it was no surprise that she was so close.
‘Shhh’ ‘Shhh. I can hear something.’
‘It’s cars. Cars in the Street.’ It was true. Now that the music had stopped they could just hear the street noises below. If we can hear that…… they all thought this at the same speed and then finished the thought at the same time.