OCTOBER, 2020

LAKES

BY BEN GORELICK

Lakes have always been 
a source of catharsis for me. 

I dangle my legs off docks 
or chairs in the late spring months. 
The chill of the water shocks 
my feet at first and gradually 
becomes a slight icy ache in my skin. 

It reminds me I am real. 

Schools of minnows 
gather around my toes. 

I watch them dart at 
every slight gesture. 
I stay still and watch 
them slowly shimmer with the settling sand,
planting myself in their ecosystem. 

It reminds me I am real. 

Wandering deeper, 
I always look upwards. 

When above the water I see 
the world as I usually do, but 
if I just sink down a bit, I can see 
what the shimmering minnows see, and how the water 
becomes a mirror, with a clearer image than any other. 

It reminds me I am real.

FLOOR 31

BY JONATHAN WICKREMASINGHE-KUHN

Phil took up his usual spot in the right-hand corner of the elevator, leaning against the
railing. The crowd inside grew larger, but none of his colleagues were there, meaning another
ride in silence. He had resigned himself to staring at the backs of heads he didn’t know, but right
before the door closed, she stepped inside. He only caught a glimpse of her face before she
turned toward the door, but it did not matter. He had already memorized it. Besides, her
expression today was not particularly pleasant, full of intensity as she’d rushed to get on board.
But Phil was just happy to share her company, even if it was along with a group of strangers.

Her name was Linda. Or maybe it was Laura. Lisa? Phil’s only clue was the
monogrammed bag she sometimes carried. He also knew that her last name started with a “B,”
but the possibilities were so endless that it was ridiculous to even venture a guess.

It had been raining the day he’d first noticed her, though he was almost certain he’d
seen her before because she seemed vaguely familiar. She’d apparently fumbled with her
cheap umbrella all the way across the lobby because she only got it closed upon stepping inside
the elevator. Tiny droplets of water shined in her hair, and Phil watched with fascination as
some held firmly in place while others slowly slipped down before plunging to their demise on
her coat collar. A strand of her hair twisted playfully around her delicate ear, as if sharing a
secret.

There was fear that someone would notice his staring, or worse, that she would feel his
gaze and turn to confront him. But he suppressed this and continued studying what little of her
face he could see. He closed out the rest of the world so completely that it took him by surprise
when she stepped forward to exit when they had reached her floor. She turned down the hall
and smiled, greeting a coworker, and that was all Phil needed to see.

He had not kept count of how many elevator rides they’d shared since then, not out of
any self-respect to avoid becoming obsessive, but because it was too depressing to think about
how much he looked forward to them. The current one was passing by too quickly. There were
only three more stops before her floor.

A group of heavy-set men with strong aftershave exited, maneuvering around her. As
she repositioned herself, she looked Phil’s way. Was that a smile? And if so, did it mean
anything?

He contemplated moving slightly closer to her. Though he had no real reason to change
positions, his movement would not be noticed in the shuffle. But by the time he had made his
decision, the elevator was already moving again. The moment had passed. To act now would
be too obvious. He sighed and leaned back against the wall.

He had searched valiantly for her name even though this would only make it harder to
one day approach her. Speaking to a stranger was already a monumental task for Phil, but the
added pressure of knowing her name when he should not and being afraid that he would
accidentally reveal it would surely cripple him. Still, he had looked for it, the search being the
only way to feel that he was making any progress.

There were three companies on the floor where she worked, and only one of them had
pictures of its staff. He did not know if her position was picture-worthy, though in his mind it
certainly was. Another company listed names, but there were no “LB”s among them. The last
had an outdated website that was generally useless, and Phil convinced himself that she
couldn’t work for such a place.

Two floors before hers, fate shined on Phil in the form of a Hungarian cleaning lady. She entered with her large cart, heading straight for Linda/Laura/Lisa. LB would either have to move
to her right (away from Phil) or to her left (right next to him) in order to accommodate it. She
chose the left, and as she stepped over, she accidentally brushed up against him.

“Sorry,” she said, offering an embarrassed smile. It was the first time he’d heard her
speak.

A million words streamed through Phil’s brain, but only a few managed to string
themselves into coherent phrases, and each one sounded dumber than the next. So before too
much time had passed, he threw out a simple, “That’s okay.” She nodded and turned back to
face the doors.

He’d gone down to her floor a few weeks ago, hoping that perhaps she worked in a
visible area. It wasn’t much of a plan because he had no pretense for being there. She wasn’t
anywhere in plain sight, and he wound up being grateful for this when, after looking around
aimlessly for a few moments, a secretary asked if she could help him. If it had been her, he
would have made a complete fool of himself. Instead, he was able to lie and claim that he was
looking for his own office.

They finally reached her floor, and she left. Phil watched her go, following her until the
last second, when the doors finally closed to send him up to eight hours of monotony. He’d
never shared a ride with her on the way down, even though he had made up excuses to leave
at different times. He thought it might be easier to speak to her after work, when he could go
drink off the rejection right away.

Maybe this would be the day.

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