Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Minute(s) (as in time) (03/03/11)
TITLE: Love Letter
By Beth Muehlhausen
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Minutes can be counted with sweeping second-hands or square digital numbers. They can also sometimes stand still.
I remember the day I met you. I was standing by an elevator with a briefcase under my arm when my life changed forever. My watch said 2:26; I had a 2:30 appointment.
The clip-clipping of your high heels echoed as you appeared from a side hallway and hurried toward the drinking fountain. You wore black slacks and a billowy white blouse, and an aura of candid authenticity accompanied your otherwise professional demeanor. I guessed you’d just come from an executive meeting. When you bent over to sip a drink, shoulder-length blonde hair cascaded over your face like a waterfall and a gold cross pendant fell and struck the stainless fountainhead – a tinkle-clink reminiscent of the bells on a church censer.
We were both strangers to the big city who had come to do business and were keeping our hectic schedules amidst that lobby’s fluorescent lights, ceramic tiles, synthetic ivy, and cheap art hung on sterile walls. Before you arrived I’d been watching the elevator’s flashing numbers as it descended – eight, seven, six. It had stopped momentarily at the fifth floor when my attention shifted to the water fountain.
You looked up while holding your hair to one side. Still bent over, you wiped an escaping drip from your lips with delicate harpist-looking fingers.
Time stopped as our eyes met and we blushed involuntarily.
I checked my watch. It said 2:27. No time for distractions.
We simultaneously trained our eyes on the blinking elevator numbers, as if they required careful surveillance. Eventually the elevator came to rest on the first floor with a muted thud. The doors rolled back, grinding like the stone covering Jesus’ tomb.
I entered and you followed; the doors methodically closed with a clunk. We were alone. Wonderfully, uncomfortably, and completely alone.
Your perfume filled every inch of the enclosure like a fragrant embalming spice. I felt light-headed, intoxicated. “What floor?” I asked with manufactured composure.
“Six? Really? Me too.”
“Yes! I’m going to the Monroe Company meeting. And you?”
You seemed visibly shocked. “I’m also headed to that meeting.”
I could think of nothing else to say. I punched the number six on the appropriate key and continued staring at it. My throat seemed full of dry saltine cracker crumbs; my head spun. Meanwhile you immersed yourself in the instructions posted on the elevator wall explaining what to do in case of mechanical failure – a legitimate distraction.
We were lifted higher and higher as the lights inside the elevator flashed – two, three, four, five – until we arrived at the sixth floor. The doors dutifully opened. It seemed as though we’d been isolated in that elevator forever. My watch read 2:28.
I tried to step outside into the hallway but remained frozen in place. You seemed equally stuck. Perhaps we weren’t destined to reenter life? The doors began to shut, but I reopened them with my briefcase. Your gaze penetrated well beyond my eyes into some deep crevasse of my soul. I returned it.
Time stopped again. Surely we were being transported beyond chronology into an eternal dimension.
“Shall we?” I ventured, offering my free hand.
“Thanks,” you replied with a smile that heightened my pulse. Your fingers slipped through mine - a polite social gesture - and you continued walking. I followed like a puppy on a leash.
We slipped into the already-full meeting room at 2:29. Had it only been three minutes since I first saw you? Hadn’t our elevator ride lasted a lifetime? Was this all some sort of dream, or was it real?
That memory is now over five years old. Think how many minutes have passed since then, and how many others seemed to stand still – when we knelt at the marriage altar, when our baby girl cried with her first breath, when we discovered I had cancer with a statistical prognosis of only weeks to live.
The doctors say it will soon be time for me to ride another elevator - the heavenly one - and take it all the way to the top this time. It will happen in a flash, like that moment at the water fountain. I’ll leave you as quickly as I found you. And yet … when it’s your turn, I’ll be there. And I’ll welcome you home.
I love you,
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