The view from the eleventh floor of the Corwellian Hotel is familiar, and one I’ve grown fond of over the past few years. Whenever we come to Capital City, the Corwellian is where we stay. I used to recommend it to friends, now I keep it as my secret in the big city.
My husband James prefers the penthouse. Unfortunately that floor wasn’t available when our group checked in, but the eleventh would do. It was directly underneath, and the perspective changes shouldn’t seem that extreme, but they are.
Everything feels extreme today.
I have been awake for hours; going over my speech, making sure my hair and face are done properly, fixing last second wrinkles in an outfit that shouldn’t have felt so important. The white pants with the crisp, blue top were supposed to make a statement, according to Kathy, my stylist.
I don’t feel comfortable. I don’t feel like me. Kathy says that’s perfect, and it means we’ve accomplished our goal.
I want to punch Kathy in that clownishly excessive smile, but I need her, I need those words that are so forcefully chipper. I don’t know that I can do this without her.
My hands are shaking when I pick up the coffee cup and saucer, as I take a sip of the hot fluid. Careful, don’t splash any of the dark liquids onto my light pants. My hands are shaking, and I don’t think that I can make them stop, don’t know that I should.
My knees are numb. I’ve heard of weak knees, but that’s not really the feeling in them when the weight of the world is pressing down on me. They’re numb, and I’m not 100% sure they’re going to hold me up.
I’m standing at the window, watching the traffic glide by. Trucks and vans are beginning to stop and park. They’re blocking the traffic circle as they wait for a parking spot. If I were on ground level I would be able to hear the angry horns of the commuters.
The people in those vans and trucks have a job to do. The people honking at them now will be glued to their televisions at lunch time, anxious to know what was happening at the downtown hotel. They’ll forget the traffic jam, and only concern themselves with what they see flashing across their idiot boxes.
It’s cloudy out, grey. The forecast calls for rain. I can only hope it holds off, and pray that it hits torrentially and gives me a reprieve.
I can only pray.
My shaking hands are sweaty now. I stiffen my shoulders and clench those sweaty hands into fists. I have to get the nerves out before I go down. One false step, one body twitch at the wrong time, and all of this will have been for nothing. Public perception is a bitch to change, Kathy warned me when I called to hire her service.
There’s a tap at the door. That’s our five minute warning.
I look to ground level and see someone centering a podium on the steps. The trailing cords look like snakes and I want to stomp them, stomp them all to death.
“Where does one find a podium?” I ask the crowded room. No one answers me, no one looks at me. They all have their assigned tasks and me and my questions are an inconvenience.
Kathy joins me at the window. She, too, looks down at the gathering crowd.
“Are you ready?”
“I suppose I had better be.” The words were short, my voice cracked. This wouldn’t do. I cleared my throat and used a stronger tone in my one word response. “Yes.”
We move to the elevator, a rugby scrum in business wear. I am in the center, a ball no one wants to drop.
George – my favorite concierge at the Corwellian – has blocked off the south elevator out of respect for myself, for James. The car is empty when it arrives, and we shuffle aboard. No one makes eye contact, no one says a word.
Are they here with me, these real life, air breathing human beings? Or is this a dream, a nightmare from which there is no waking?
Kathy reaches out, presses the 1 repeatedly. The doors close.
I stare at the numbered panel. Like a child I am tempted to reach out and press all of the buttons, make the car stop on all of the floors.
Who’s going to stop me?
A hand I’m not sure is attached to me reaches out and slides down the panel. Kathy sighs, but doesn’t prevent me from making the elevator pause briefly at each floor.
10th Floor – I suck in a breath, feel my lungs jitter. Kathy touches something on my back; maybe removing a loose hair. It tickles.
9th Floor – I tug at the hem of the deep blue blazer. It’s choosing this time to not sit right, to feel like it’s resting across my hips at an awkward angle. The sleeves feel short, leaving my hands to look large, mannish.
8th Floor – a child’s bewildered eyes meet mine when the doors open. Her parents recognize me and pull the child away. “We’ll wait for the next one.”
7th Floor – James has always liked the number 7. He calls it lucky and swears it is the true answer to life, the universe, and everything in it.
6th Floor – Empty hallway before me, stretching out in a fun house mirror fashion. I could run down that corridor on winged feet and no one could catch me. The doors close before I make my move.
5th Floor – “Are you ready?” It’s a murmured question from Kathy. Whether I am or not, the ground floor is coming.
4th Floor – I tug at my collar. It feels tight and I can not breathe. Sweat drips down my back.
3rd Floor – I twist my head, side to side. My neck cracks. I arch my feet, bounce to the balls and back again. The high heels make this difficult, but I need that feeling – I need to be the boxer about to take his opponent to the mat.
2nd Floor – My hands stop shaking. My knees, so weak until now, hold me straight, hold me tall.
1st Floor – 0 hour. The time has come.
My rugby scrum moves across the floor, protecting me from the people – protecting the people from me.
George nods his head in greeting as we reach the doors. He tugs at his cap briefly, a bob of respect. He pulls open the heavy door and the wave of sound overtakes me. Cameras begin flashing. People begin shouting. Reporters push close to the podium.
“Jasmine! Jasmine! Over here! Did you kill your husband-”