The divorced man sat at his desk pretending to work but really imagining getting stuck in an elevator with his ex-wife. His theory was as follows: forced to sit with him once more in close quarters for many hours, she would have no choice but to remember why she had once fallen so vertiginously in love. He looked at the clock on his computer, which did not tick and had no hands. The elevator is the safest form of transportation there is.
The news from Japan was bad. The bad news from Japan had displaced the bad news from Wisconsin, which had displaced the good news from Egypt, which had displaced the bad news from England, which had displaced the good and bad news from Tunisia. The news from Japan was bad, but not bad enough not to be displaced by the news from Libya. Taken to Leningrad as a girl, the only thing she remembered was a golden peacock clock.
All over the city, lobbies sat cool and mirrored and empty, with one untouched sofa in the corner offering an invitation to linger and rescinding it at the same time. If you looked closely at the mirrors, you could see that they were foxed. He kept walking into elevators with no button for the thirteenth floor. Over profiteroles at the socialist-chic restaurant, they determined after some discussion that the shattered mirror on the wall had been shattered deliberately.
Was it true, as she’d read once in a book, that we find ticking clocks soothing because they remind us of our own ticking hearts? Sitting on the train in the sun they looked out the window and trembled with relief: there was so much left to watch, to buy, to click on, to show off, to want, to lick, to reject. But first, a Nescafé in a cup printed “Nescafé.” Wearing an “I ♥ NY” T-shirt down the streets of New York, she finally felt sufficiently tautological.
He was surprised to find out that the new language he was learning had only one word for both “history” and “story.” It also had only one word for both “luck” and “happiness.” All the guilt-ridden people sitting in therapy week after week, he thought, could learn something from languages, which don’t ever apologize for their deficiencies and their insufficiencies, for their omissions, obsessions, obscenities, flagrancies, fallacies, or farragoes.
Stuck at her desk late at night downing cups of vending-machine coffee, the aspiring writer fantasized about getting stuck in an elevator with a famous critic. Forced to sit together in close quarters for many hours, they would soon be making out on the carpeted floor and later, in fond reminiscence, he would offer to blurb her next book. In the hotel room, they turned on the TV looking for bad news and could find only an extended reportage on golf.
But wasn’t it—at last—time? The grandfather clock ticking in the mirrored hallway “tells” time, as if time, too, were a story, and time is a story, it is a ghost story that keeps adults wide awake in their beds at night like children while snow falling outside renders the city sugary and skeletal. The doubled grandfather clock required two keys. The new language had no word for serendipity, no word for jet-lag. It had no words for disoriented or sentimental.
All that winter, desires kept yawning open like elevator shafts into which people kept falling like black cats, falling down and down while universes all around expanded. It was a problem of geometry: desire was a part of them that was now and would always be greater than them. Remember the lesson of the elevator: welcome everyone, expel everyone. In the new language, when you were happy you were not on cloud nine, but on cloud seven.
The activist fantasized about getting stuck in an elevator with the president. Forced to sit with the activist in close quarters for many hours, the president would listen to reason and at last decide to do something about deforestation. The people in the airport checking their phones for the time watched TV screens as the bad news from Japan was replaced by the good news from Tunisia. One by one their flights were called and they were lifted off into the sky.