The Night Doorman

There is a jagged crack in the ceiling of this freight elevator; paint over a splintered fracture that buckles slightly in the center. Two pieces pushed together impatiently and then abandoned to decide for themselves how they fit.

Hardly noticeable.

A doorman runs the freight elevator even though it is automated. The day shifter runs it for me this morning. He doesn’t talk much.

The other elevator in this building is manual, operated from the inside by a lever, like you see in old movies. The same doorman uses it to get residents to and from ten stories of apartments.

The freight elevator is generally for moving things – but more than once it has transported my mother down to an ambulance. There were nights before the pacemaker, before we got her meds right, that she was taken down in this elevator at midnight or 3am, on a gurney with the EMS crew. On those nights, Ben, the night doorman, would ride down with her. When she admonished him to please not tell everyone her business, he would say Don’t worry. I’ll tell everyone you were pregnant and went into labor.

Today I am moving her old recliner, which she has replaced with an electric one, in deference to legs that are no longer strong enough to push a footrest.

Last time we came home from the hospital, Ben nodded at me and said That’s a beautiful granddaughter you have there, and my mother told him to shut his trap.

He keeps keys safe for everyone. He’ll park your car if no one is available. He’ll take your groceries to your apartment for a “small fee.”

He’ll call you to make sure you are awake for an appointment. He’ll call your daughter if you don’t answer. He’s not afraid to use your spare key to check on you if he thinks you might have fallen. He’ll come in and shout Are you decent? so that he doesn’t embarass anyone.

He’ll ask your mother to marry him just to make her laugh.

We were supposed to get this chair five Saturday mornings ago. I don’t remember what kept us that day, what made us change our mind, but we weren’t there at 8, like we planned.

Five Saturday mornings ago Ben took this elevator to the 10th floor while everyone slept, got off and sent the empty car to the basement.

Then, he propped open the doors and jumped in after it.

Stricken, silent grief and the matter-of-fact acceptance of death that is often the hallmark of older souls. Hushed rumors about terminal diagnosis and family dysfunction and lifestyle. The plaque proposed in his honor denied by a board of directors unsure of the most respectful choice.

But that is not my story to tell.

I look away from the ceiling and into the eyes of the doorman, whose name I do not know.

We stand in uncomfortable silence and wait for the doors to open.

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