Read the beginning of Rising Stories here
[The opening of Rising Stories: A Novel appears below. Comments, reviews, and other information appear elsewhere on this site. The author's blog is at http://donlepan.blogspot.com/.]
[The cover, which appears above, was designed by Lisa Brawn.]
Rising Stories, copyright © 2015, Press Forward Publishing and Don LePan
You didn’t think of love as much, once you were married. That was what Carol had been thinking, on the last day when everything had still been all right, as she turned away from the children, turned her attention to the stove. The children would be all right if she wasn’t watching them every second; they always were. Robin and chubby little Hope were so good together. She and Carl were lucky that way, it was a loving family all round. But no, love in the way the two of them had used to think of love, you didn’t think of it as much anymore. No one did, not the lovemaking part of love, not once you were married and had kids. But when you did think of it, the feelings could be just as strong; just now Carol couldn’t get Carl out of her head, couldn’t stop thinking of him in that way, how hard he would get when she…. But of course you had to stop, you had to get on with what needed doing, you had to think of the soup boiling over and of back-to-school and of the laundry—yes, she had better get that second load in before she phoned to see if the plumber could come round about that leaky faucet. Should she phone? Maybe it was something Carl could fix after all. At any rate, that second load had to go in the washer. The kids would be all right left to themselves on the balcony for a few minutes. Yes, they were always all right; Hope could be a handful but never with Robin, it seemed.
Robin was getting older—it was strange, how a child could be so grown up so young. Of course they said seven was the age of reason, but how many other seven-year-olds were as responsible as Robin? As nice as Robin. Not many.
As smart as Robin? Carol found herself asking that too. Probably quite a few who were smarter, she had to answer herself. Not that Robin was slow, just that with some children you could see their minds going off in strange directions; who knew where their thoughts were going. But slow? No, definitely Robin was not a stupid child. Maybe even quite bright, just not in the ways you usually thought of as being bright—it wasn’t a brightness that would turn on when you pressed the usual switch, or that would light up the places you might have expected. Maybe they should have looked into some sort of special school for Robin; was it too late now?
As for Hope, she was as smart as anything—what a joy to hear her babble on. There might still be time for Hope, time to put her in for a special school—although, from everything people said, for any sort of really good school you had to have them on a waiting list almost before they were born. She would talk to Carl, yes, they would definitely have a talk. And Robin? Well, they would just have to hope that Ogden really was a decent school, hope that people were right that it was about as good as you’d be likely to find for a public school. So far it had all seemed fine; Ogden seemed fine, Robin seemed fine.
Robin had always been easy, right from before there had been a Robin. It was Hope who hadn’t wanted to come out. Everyone always said the second one would be easier, would come faster, but little Hope hadn’t been so little after all. And she had turned, she’d been a breach birth; you didn’t want to think about what might have happened. How little Hope had screamed those first few months, screamed like she’d made her mother scream when she had come out into the world. No, not like Robin; Robin really had been easy.
Now the two of them could play for hours together, you wouldn’t think it would be like that when they were almost five years apart. But Robin was so gentle with the little one, gentle but sometimes a little bumptious in the slaphappy way that an almost-two-year-old loves so much—in the way that Carol and Carl found it so hard to act themselves. It wasn’t that Carol couldn’t find it in herself to be playful; she reminded herself of how often people complimented her on her sense of humor. It was just that it was all so messy, playing with small children. And sloppy. And boring, truth be told. If something’s funny the first time, it’s funny the five hundredth time, that was how a two-year-old’s mind worked—and it wasn’t how Carol’s mind worked. When did they stop being so messy and so boring? She knew the answer: when they stopped being so small. Maybe Hope would be like Robin, maybe in no time you’d be able to play Scrabble with her.
Except it hadn’t been “in no time”—that was just the way it seemed afterwards. Had it happened when Robin turned four? No, five. Hope might be just as bright, maybe even smarter. But that still meant years (two more? three more?) before you could connect with her as a human. Sometimes it just seemed endless; there were times when Carol could hardly stop herself from screaming. What was the point of any of it? All the worry and the wailing and the boredom, and then they did become human, they did grow up, but what was it all for? They might make their mark on the world, she supposed, but what would that be? A tiny scratch was all it could ever be, and it would be a scratch on a pebble of soft stone that would be rounded into nothingness by sand and sea, perhaps they would have children themselves and then those would do the same, and on and on, but what was the point of any of it? Live in the moment, that was what people said, enjoy your children while you have them, while you can, it won’t last forever, but what if it just wasn’t very enjoyable, what if it sometimes seemed nothing but an endless grind? Sometimes it really was hard not to scream No! Not one more game of pat-a-cake! Not now, not ever!
That was what Robin had been playing with Hope just now. Just now and just before that, and just before that too—all day, it seemed like. Gentle, but a little bit loud; it would be better for them both to be out on the balcony, such a beautiful day, so bright out there, and the fresh air. Of course afterwards Carol had asked herself again and again just what had happened, had tried to reconstruct every second of it. Robin had said come on, Hope, let’s go outside, and outside they had gone. It hadn’t been because of Carl she’d sent them outside—she hadn’t even sent them, she might have suggested that maybe they would enjoy the fresh air. But that was a different thing. And whenever they were out there she would always keep an eye on them. Just like anyone would.
But then Carl had come home, it was an hour or more before the usual time, there’d been something in the Loop he’d had to do for work and then it hadn’t been worth it to go back to the office; by the time he’d have gotten there, he would have had to just turn right around again and come home.
So there he was, and oh, what a joy it was to see him. When was it not a joy to see that smile, those shoulders, the light in those eyes? But when he got home like he usually did—at 6:30, at 7:00, at 7:30—the light could be a little dim. Dim? Hell, sometimes it was switched off completely.
But you had to be fair—maybe Carol wasn’t always so chirpy herself a hundred per cent of the time, not with the kids and with working the shop at the Field three days a week; people always said how wonderful it must be to work at such a wonderful museum, when really it was just like any other shop, you rang in the dinosaur toys and the guidebooks and the souvenir mugs just like you would anyplace else, there were days when she could kick herself for having gotten out of publishing, had it really been that stressful? But still, life had its joys, and what a joy it was when Carl was like this—it was like Saturday coming when you didn’t expect it. Carol’s face lit up, they’re fine, they’re on the balcony, and her eyes met his and her lips met his and at once it was like it had been before Hope, before Robin; there was nothing between them, there was nothing but the two of them. His fingers traced the line of her dress and the line of her spine and then they pressed into each other. It had been so long, so long since it had been like this and then they were in the bedroom, you didn’t have to think how to please each other when it was like this, or how to get your lover to please you, or how to—you just didn’t have to think, it was all feeling, feeling of every kind, everywhere. Of course you couldn’t cry out; it wasn’t really just as it had been before Hope and before Robin. But close enough. Close enough to forget about—well, you can’t describe what it’s like.
* * *
It had only been a few minutes—maybe five or six minutes, Carol thought. Can any of us be responsible every minute of our lives? Maybe it had been eight minutes—ten minutes, absolute max. Carl swore it couldn’t have been more than four or five minutes, I’d better check on the kids, he had said. Oh, they’ll be fine for another minute or two was what Carol had thought, but she hadn’t said that, thank God she hadn’t said that. She’d said of course, yes, we had better… and it had been Carol who had gotten out of bed a little more quickly, had thrown on a shift and had made her way into the living room, “the living and dining area” the agent had called it, it wasn’t as bright as the balcony but the light streamed in here too on a sunny day. On this day it had gone suddenly dark, Carol struggled for a moment to make out the shapes, she was still a little giddy, yes, the kids must be fine, there was Robin looking at—what was Robin looking at? It couldn’t be Hope, where was Hope? And then another step and then Carol saw that Robin was not looking at Hope, that Hope was behind Robin and above Robin, that Hope was on the railing, was she singing? how could she? how could she climb the railing, how could she be singing up there? she was too small, too small, too little, too little, …baker’s man, patty cake, patty cake, dough need your hans can do it my self, Carol couldn’t move, couldn’t move.
Afterwards when she went over everything again and again, this was always where everything stopped. A part of her that Carol hadn’t been aware of at the time could hear Carl somewhere behind her, is it all right, is it all right? in the voice we all use when we sense that it is not all right, that something is terribly, horribly wrong. The sun must have been behind a cloud but now it burst over everything; if you had been looking out across the city you would have seen it glinting off the bright black of the Sears Tower, seen the bright rust of the insurance building start to glow. But Carol’s eyes had not travelled across the city. When she went over it all later she would try to think of just where the little blue chair had been—a little sideways, a little askew. She would try again to see the knitting on the table, the newspaper on the couch, would try to see the things she had not noticed when she had stopped, when she had found for a moment that she could not move.
And then just as suddenly she had been able to move again, and she had surged across the room. She had been able to see Robin turn, could see that Robin saw, could hear the No! that came from Robin. They had closed the door to the balcony, Robin must have closed it, why had Robin closed it? She had told them a thousand times that door had to stay open if they were going to play out there, she had to be able to hear what they were doing and they had to be able to hear her too. And then a thought jerked open in Carol’s mind, had they heard? had they heard her and Carl? Had they closed the door because of that? And now, and now, and no, the door wouldn’t give, the door was jammed, no it had to give, she could see Hope’s face through the glass, Hope’s eyes, what was in them? what was there? finally she yanked the door free from the catch and started to pull it across and Robin was reaching out, she could hear Robin and see Robin reaching as the little one started to rock, catch her, Robin, hold her, Robin, hold her, you have to catch her, you have to get hold of her!
And then in a sliver of time you could tell it was all going to be all right, you could tell that everything could be brought under control. Carol could see that Robin was close enough to grab hold of Hope, that Hope would not fall, that Hope would not die, that life could be as it had been and that never again would she leave them alone and that never again would she and Carl, it would be all right, Robin’s hand was there, Robin was in time, Robin’s hand was at Hope’s and Hope was taking the hand. And then just as suddenly the moment ended, Robin didn’t, Robin couldn’t, somehow Robin couldn’t, small fingers jerked and fumbled together, and fumbled and jerked and Hope was teetering and nothing caught hold, nothing caught hold. She swayed for a moment, a shaft of light caught her for a moment, less than a moment. And then she was gone.
It was pretty good, really, the poem that Robin had written. That was what Robin thought, anyway. Curved and heard only sort of went together, but all the questions were true; that was exactly what it had felt like and it sounded like what Robin had felt, and somehow that was like what falling felt like too. Robin and the poem made their way together south along the streets that went south from the place where the lake curved out, the narrow streets that curved towards the river. Robin savoured the poem a little, and now the sounds felt less like falling and more like a sort of success. Could a poem be a success all on its own, without anyone reading it? Anyone except you? A poem had to stand the test of time, Ms. McLenithan had said that (it was Ms. but she said you could pronounce it “Miss” if you wanted). And this poem had only just been written. Robin hadn’t written it during English, when it was all right to work on a poem if you had extra time; it had been written during math—when you were supposed to do extra math if you’d finished what was assigned, and Robin hadn’t finished what had been assigned, had hardly started. There was something down on paper for three of the eight questions—maybe enough that if Ms. McLenithan had walked by Robin could have pretended to be still working on it. But Ms. McLenithan hadn’t walked by, and now the poem was finished. Sort of finished. Maybe it still needed to be fixed up a bit more, polished. Maybe blowed would be better than snowed; could a snowflake snow? Why did people only use the word it before the word snowed? Could rain rain? Robin thought a snowflake should be allowed to snow.
Robin was heading home while these thoughts were happening, and also dawdling a little bit. Home was on Erie Street, not far from where the rivers met, way up, way above the rivers, the 33rd floor of 300 West Erie, you could look south and see all the business buildings, a lot of them taller than 300 Erie, and so were a lot of the condo towers but you could see a lot of things from the 33rd floor if it was daytime and you were home from school, and you could look down too, and there were the honking cars and all the little people and all the little boats making their way along the river, but usually Robin didn’t like to look right down. You could look a little bit out instead, across the water and up the river, or was it down the river, Robin was never sure, across all the bridges and in the distance Goose Island, that was a name Robin always liked. Sometimes it would be foggy and you couldn’t see anything and the clouds would swirl low but not right down to the ground, you’d be right inside them and then out of them and then in them again, it was as if you couldn’t know where you were, perhaps you weren’t anywhere any longer, and that was a feeling you wanted to hang on to.
Today Robin didn’t really have to be home before five, maybe even before six o’clock. Sometimes it could be good if you meandered a little before you got to where you were going, just like a story can meander a bit before it gets to the end, and if you’re lucky the meandering can make it better. If your parents asked you, you could say there had been something extra, like when Robin had stayed late back in December to help Ms. McLenithan with the seasonal decorations, Christmas decorations they had been mostly, but no Santa Clauses and no Frosty the Snowman. Ms. McLenithan said that we were all of us too old to believe in Santa Claus, and when people who were too old to believe in Santa Claus used him for decoration it was cheap and tawdry. She said Frosty the Snowman was always cheap and tawdry, that was a word she used quite a lot, tawdry, also chintzy. So not those things, but shepherds and angels and wise men for Christmas and also some pictures that had nothing to do with the Christmas story but were about how Judah Maccabee led his rebel army and fought for freedom. Ms. McLenithan said it didn’t matter how many Christians or Jews or white people or Hispanic people or African Americans there were in the class, none of that mattered for this school year or for any year, it didn’t matter what color you were or what background or what religion, what mattered was that it was good to learn things, and Robin thought Ms. McLenithan was mostly right but maybe sometimes what she meant was that it shouldn’t matter what color you were and all that. Maybe she was wrong to say it didn’t matter because sometimes it seemed that it did matter, not in Ms. McLenithan’s class, maybe, but outside. Was there a god who was slowly helping us to see what mattered and what didn’t, and what should matter and what shouldn’t? And to try to make it better? In the last little while Robin had started thinking about god and had decided not to be a believer, but it seemed right to believe what Ms. McLenithan said about people who did believe in a god. Who believed in different gods. There were lots of different people too, Miss McLenithan talked about how diverse the school was and how good that was. Robin was starting to notice that sometimes people would use that word—diverse—to mean there were lots of different colors of people, and sometimes they would use it to mean there were people from different cultures all round the world, and sometimes they would use it to mean that it was OK to be gay or straight, but sometimes people would say What a diverse group! when they were talking about a group of people who were all a lot like them. Every year it was declared that Ogden had a diverse student body and every year there were jokes about that. Robin sort of laughed with the others, but also thought about that word, diverse. A lot of people in the class talked about things that cost money and you could guess that nobody was really poor, there had been that nice girl with the curly hair and the sort-of-lopsided face who wasn’t in the class anymore, Kathy Snyder said the curly-haired girl’s mother and father hadn’t been able to stay where they’d been, the rent had gone way up and now they couldn’t afford it and they had to live on the South Side and Robin had thought what’s so bad about that? That’s where the president lives, the South Side. LeShonna. That had been her name. She had liked to paint pictures, not just when they were doing art but anytime. When Robin had said I like to go the lake she had said I like to paint the lake, and then neither of them had known what to say.
LeShonna had been gone a long time, weeks and weeks—months, even. It had been the end of fall, when everything started to get really cold. Now it was still cold but not so much. Soon it would really be spring, and in spring it was always better to take one of the long ways home. Sometimes Robin would even leave school a little early so as to have more time to take the long ways home; it seemed like a good thing when the day was especially lovely. Dawdling would often take Robin east, to the lake and to the Oak Street Beach. Which was actually north of Oak Street, it would be better if they called it the Elm Street Beach or the Cedar Street Beach, but they didn’t. You could sit and look at all the tall buildings off to your right, always there was the looming dark of the Hancock—wider than everything, higher than everything, darker than everything—but sometimes it felt like a comfort to have all that darkness right there where you could see it did that make any sense? but it felt like nothing had to make sense when there was the sand and all the far away of water and sky, and up close there were the little waves and the people and the other animals, a lot of the people would go by with dogs. You could sit there for a long time and no one would bother you, and if the sun was out it would be quite warm, even when it was cold, and if sometimes you had been feeling a sort of hard knot somewhere inside you, maybe below where you breathed, maybe near where your heart was, you could forget that and it would be gone. It could be hard to know how long you had stayed there.
Sometimes Robin looked out at the water and started to daydream. Daydream about being one of hardly any people left at the end of the world, and about what Kathy Snyder would think about being all alone with Robin; daydream about Alexei Ramirez stealing home to win the World Series for the White Sox; daydream about writing a poem that would be read by everyone on the subway. Daydreams were so different from dreams, you could control them better—you couldn’t really control a dream, no matter what you did. For years Robin hadn’t dreamt at all. But back in the fall Robin had remembered in the morning a dream in which Kathy Snyder had…—anyway, it had been a dream. And then in January Robin had started to have dreams about Hope. They were not good dreams; they were dreams about how Robin had killed Hope, about what had happened when they had been playing on the balcony. What made dreams happen? Nothing was different, really, there had been the day just after Christmas that would have been Hope’s birthday when Carol had started to cry but that wasn’t anything new, that happened every year and you just waited and then it stopped. What could make dreams stop?
Sometimes it was better to be looking out at the lake and at where it didn’t end—for it was large enough that you couldn’t see any end to it—than it was to be walking the rest of the way home. But after a long time Robin did start to think about going the rest of the way. The quickest way from the Oak Street Beach to 300 Erie was straight down Michigan to Erie and then west along Erie. But Michigan was where all the big shops were and where the crowds of tourists went, and it was where all the pickpockets went too, and a lot of other people who—well, all that was why Carol and Carl had said again and again that there were places a young person shouldn’t be going, not unless it was with someone older or with a group of friends. For that matter, the Oak Street Beach was another one of those places. So Robin had told them again and again I never go along Michigan on my way home, and it hadn’t been a lie, not really. There really wasn’t any need to tell them how often Robin went to the Oak Street Beach alone, or that the most interesting way to walk home if you had been to the Oak Street Beach wasn’t even along Michigan. They wouldn’t understand anyway, that was pretty much certain. Parents didn’t understand a lot of things—that was something Robin had come to realise the past year or so.
Michigan was bright and wide and cold; it was better when you left the beach to follow East Lakeshore as it curled around beside the rushing traffic on North Lakeshore, and then wander onto the streets that were narrow and warm, little Dewitt with its little trees and the tall buildings on either side, tall old buildings and tall new buildings that were pretending to be old, and there were flowers if it wasn’t winter. Then you could cut through the little park by the tennis courts to Fairbanks, and then it was one way in the other direction, but Robin had started to like the feeling of going in the other direction from the way everything else was going.
For a while it was the same after you turned onto Erie, one way in the other direction. There was always a lot of honking when you crossed Michigan but Erie was good, there was the old red and grey stone building with its high steps and its round columns and its flags, and another old building Robin liked at the corner of Wabash, red and squat with a round arch and trees in front. And then the traffic was in both directions and everything started to open up, the buildings were lower and there was more sky, and there were always people going in to one of the low buildings, the Kerryman Irish Bar, and you didn’t see anyone leaving, not at 5:00 o’clock or 5:30. At Wells there was the low shiny steel of Ed’s Diner with a red and yellow sign to let you know it was coming, Good Food 200 Feet Ahead, but you could smell a bit of it as you walked by and it didn’t smell as if it had ever been good food. And then at North Franklin you went under the L and if a train was going past overhead you could watch the shadows shimmer across the street and for a half a minute the clacking din of it would be everywhere. And then you were there, you were at 300 Erie and who was to know you hadn’t stayed late helping Ms. McLenithan and then walked straight home?
You could walk that way and always see things you knew, and Robin liked that, but you would always see something new too. New and you and knew and too could all be squeezed into rhyming with one another but you had to use a rhyme lever, lever rhymes with fever, not with ever like Ms. McLenithan said they said in England. Carol and Carl didn’t like Robin rhyming all the time, it makes you sound like you’re still a little kid, Carl had said that one time. And you’re not; you’re not a little kid any more, Robin.
Levers were things Robin knew a lot about, that had been all they did in science class for quite a while. A shoehorn was a lever. Robin’s granny had always used to use that word, shoehorn. As a doing word, a verb, all the time I knew that family, they were shoehorned into that tiny apartment in Winnipeg. Robin’s granny was actually Robin’s great-grandmother, but you didn’t want to say great-granny all the time it was too clunky, so Robin had always called her Granny. Robin’s mother had said that really she wasn’t a great-granny or a granny or a mother at all, she had never had children, it was her husband’s child from another marriage who had become her daughter, Josephine had been her name. It was Josie who would have become Robin’s granny if Josie had lived but she had died giving birth to Carl, who was Robin’s father. But it was easier just to think of Granny as Granny than to remember all that, especially if you were walking home and you could feel a little ache again from the hard knot inside you.
There! Off in the distance as you looked west—was it just off Michigan? That was Granny’s building. Granny was the person who would appreciate most of all what Robin had written, excepting maybe Ms. McLenithan. When Robin had been little they would settle on Granny’s big couch, all three of them, and Robin and Granny would take turns reading. Or if there were a lot of bigger words Granny would do it all by herself. Robin had spent more and more time with the sounds of words after Hope had died; sounds had a sort of kindness to them.
Robin would go up and show the poem to her now, yes, that’s what I’ll do, Robin thought, I’ll cut over to Michigan, and in no time there Robin was in the middle of the bright lights and the crowds and a large woman pushing a stroller almost bumped into Robin and so did a man watching his cell phone and not where he was going but in a moment more Robin was past the buses and the honking taxis and through the revolving doors of Granny’s building. There were a lot of stories about her building; people said it was still famous because of how tall it was and because of how it had been made, long ago. But people said that about a lot of buildings in Chicago, it was hard to keep track of them all and of how some of them had been the very tallest skyscrapers in the world, or the third tallest, or the fifth tallest. At different times, when they were new.
Robin’s father said all that was all over now in Chicago, the Spire might have become the tallest but now that building would never happen, it would never be more than a dream, all the really tall buildings going up now would be in Chongqing and in Beijing, in Dubai, and in Shanghai, and Robin’s father seemed to think that was a sad thing even though he hadn’t ever liked skyscrapers that much. Robin thought it was OK if other places were the very tallest now, and they were rhyming places, qing and jing, bai and hai.
Robin went right past the information desk; the bank of elevators for the upper floors was the one you wanted if you wanted to go up to Granny’s—where Granny lived was the 86th floor. 86? Or was it 68? No, it was 86, Robin was sure of that.
Three of the elevators were busy—you could see the lights showing the floors, one was going 58, 59, 60 and another was blinking 64, 63, 62 and a third was on its way down from 50. The fourth elevator was standing open. Robin walked into that one and reached out to push the button for… . but there was no button for the 86th floor. Robin looked and looked and looked again and then felt a wave of embarrassment. You couldn’t go to Granny’s apartment, you couldn’t ever go to Granny’s apartment. Granny had been dead since the end of fourth grade, everybody knew that, and Robin knew it too, knew it through and through and through—what was wrong, what was wrong, how could you make a mistake like that?
Robin thought back. Granny’s name had been Sandwell, Kathleen Sandwell she had been called and then K.P. Sandwell. Women used to always lose their name and have to take the name of their husband; Robin wasn’t sure what the name was that she had lost, but Sandwell had been her husband’s name, and so it had been her name too. When Granny had died, Robin’s father and mother had said that it was terrible how some parents made their children look one last time at the face of someone when the someone was dead. Granny had been going to have an open coffin. She hadn’t cared herself, open or closed or cremated it made no difference, she’d said, but an open coffin was what her Arthur would have wanted. Mother and Father had said they couldn’t see why that would matter more than trying to save the feelings of a living child. And then there had been a long pause, and Robin had known that everyone was thinking of Hope, Hope who had been Robin’s sister and Mother’s daughter and Father’s daughter, and of how she had had a closed coffin. Hope died in an accident. That was the formula, my sister died in an accident were the words Robin had learned by heart until they had no feeling left in them, until there was nothing left of Hope anywhere in the words, until they were as empty as air. Robin had had to say those words or words like those words quite a lot; one thing everyone always thought of saying when they met you was, “do you have any brothers or sisters?” Robin’s mother and father had explained how natural that was, but it always made Robin’s chest tighten when they asked it.
Robin’s mother was called Carol and Robin’s father was called Carl; they said Robin could call them by those names too, and sometimes Robin did that. Did it make them closer to Robin or farther away? Robin wasn’t sure. Everybody always said they were closer to each other than just about anybody, there was only one letter between them, though Carol and Carl themselves said that a little less often as the years went by.
Carl had also often said how hard it must be for Robin, he knew how hard it must be. Robin didn’t know about that; could you know about someone else’s life when you were another person? Robin sometimes thought that maybe you couldn’t know everything even about yourself. But now Robin was starting to wonder more often about what other people thought. Could you know about Kathy Snyder, about what she was thinking? Everyone always called her both names, because there were three Kathy’s in the class, Kathy Curtis who was Curty, Kathy Scott who was Kaths, those were the other two, and everybody called Kathy Snyder Kathy Snyder. She didn’t seem to mind that, but she was so quiet that it was hard to be sure. Robin often wanted to know what Kathy Snyder was thinking, what she was feeling, all you could see was the way she tilted her head and the way she held her pen, and you could hear her voice. Whenever Ms. McLenithan wanted an answer to a question straightaway without taking a lot of time while people gave wrong answers, that was mostly when Kathy Snyder would answer. She had a soft voice so sometimes Ms. McLenithan would ask her to repeat what she had said and she would be told to speak louder, and Robin liked that. But Robin wondered if Kathy Snyder minded that it was always the right answer that she gave; did she sometimes think of giving the wrong answer on purpose just so people wouldn’t think she had her nose in the air? Most of all Robin wanted to kiss her, but probably you could never kiss a person if you couldn’t tell what they were thinking and feeling and whether they would want to be kissed.
Robin’s fingers were pressing on the console with all the lit up numbers, pressing on it from one side and then the other and then from the top and the bottom, pushing and pressing in different ways and then jabbing at Door Close once, twice, three times, not pressing but jabbing. And suddenly the whole display changed, the bottom number was not 50, it was not a 5 it was an 8, the 8 in 80, and the top number was not 79, it was 109. Everything else was just as it had been—and now, finally, the doors were closing.
“Here, hold that one moment! Can you hold the doors please?” You could hear rushing footsteps, and Robin’s fingers started to stretch out to between where the doors were closing. But it was too late. And then when Robin turned back to the Door Open button and all the other buttons it was different somehow, somehow you couldn’t see the buttons properly anymore, there was a strange shadow over them. Now there was no space between the doors. There was a soft sound and then there was nothing, no sound and no movement, just as there is nothing for a moment before any elevator starts to move. And then it did move; someone high above must have pressed the button to call an elevator up to somewhere, and then Robin remembered to press a number, to press 86, and there was no one else in the elevator and it was moving upwards, up, it seemed faster than an elevator should move, it was faster than the elevators in 300 Erie, wasn’t it faster than the elevators ever used to go in Granny’s skyscraper? Then there was an urgent slowing, and a gliding stop. Was this the floor where someone else had pushed a button? But the light said that this was the 86th floor. Maybe the floor where there was someone wanting to go down was the same floor where Robin had wanted to go. The doors opened as they always had, with no effort, soundlessly.
* * *
[The complete Rising Stories may be purchased through your local bookstore or online through the Broadview Press website, www.broadviewpress.com.]
A question for readers: do you read Robin as male or female? I'm always curious about this; if you'd be kind enough to email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) and let me know of your experience, I'd be grateful.