Sunday, January 6, 2013

Out of the Drawer

Next to the desk in my study is a two-drawer filing cabinet. The top drawer of the cabinet groans with the weight of all the stories it holds: stories I have written, that have not been published, that probably will never be published.

I try not to open that drawer because every time I do, a chorus of plaintive voices starts reproaching me. The stories don't like being filed away, not a bit. They say things like,
     "You haven't sent me out for a long, long time."
     "Remember, you were just going to put me away for a while, and then try again."
     "You said you planned to send me out after the first of the year. That was three years ago."

It's getting very embarrassing. They all just want to be read, and they all think they are absolutely perfect (or almost perfect) just the way they are, and why don't I give them the attention they deserve?  I haven't the heart to tell them that a new story has captured my heart, that I am in love with it and spending all my available hours working on it.

I know, I know. Writers can be fickle. It's not that I don't love them any more. It's just....well, it's just that's how it is.

The logical question here is why do I open the drawer if it upsets me to hear their voices. The answer is simple, really--and a little sad. I keep having to put more stories in with them. Just this afternoon I got a very kind, lovely letter from an editor who said she really liked the story she was sending back and did wish she could offer to publish it, but...

So there I sat with the unwanted story in my hand. My desk top was already covered with miscellaneous manuscripts and mail ... no way round it, I would have to... and then this perfectly brilliant idea occurred to me--if a story just wants to be read, and it doesn't really care whether it's done up with a fancy cover and full-page illustrations, why not just take it out of the drawer and put it somewhere where it can be read?

(I firmly believe that even a story that won't appeal to enough readers to be profitable to a publishing house will find the readers it is meant for. And sometimes that story and that reader will form a lifelong friendship. What more can a writer ask?)

 I wasn't sure I'd have any takers, but when I opened the drawer and asked if anyone was interested, the clamor of competing voices was amazing, so I did the only sensible thing--I stuck in my hand and pulled out a story at random. Actually, I'm very pleased with my choice. I've always liked "Stella's Elevator," and it's been waiting for readers for a very long time.
I hope you enjoy it.

Stella's Elevator

Graceview Arms was six stories high. It had a canopy in front and a garden on the roof, and the people who lived there had all lived there for a very long time.

One day Mr. Procter, the owner, put up a sign in the lobby. The sign read, "Attention: George the elevator man is retiring. Our new operator will be Stella Wilkins."

When they read the sign, some of the people who lived in Graceview Arms shook their heads. "Hmmph," sniffed Mr. Armstrong from 402. "A woman operator! I'm not sure that's a good idea."

But Stella herself was thrilled. "My name in print!" she exclaimed. "I'm going to be the best elevator operator Graceview Arms ever had."

Mr. Armstrong took the first ride. He tried not to stare at Stella, but he had never seen anyone dressed quite so colorfully.

"We're going to miss George," said Mr. Armstrong. "He was always so well dressed."

"Well then, isn't it a good thing I wore my Elvis sweatshirt?" Stella asked.

Later that day Stella took Mr. Armstrong down to the lobby. "I'm not used to riding with a woman," he grumbled.

"That's all right, I'm not used to driving an elevator," said Stella. Mr. Armstrong looked worried.

On Monday morning the elevator had a fluffy orange rug on the floor. "Brightens up the place, don't you think?" Stella asked everyone. The Larrimore twins, who lived in 201, loved the orange rug. Their mother wasn't so sure.

Tuesday Stella sat in an armchair by the elevator controls. "I believe in comfort," she said with a grin.

The only passenger who didn't grin back was Mr. Armstrong. "Hmph," he said. "A stool was good enough for George."

On Wednesday Stella put a small table beside her chair. She placed a radio on top and tuned in the All-Elvis station.

"What's all this?" asked Mr. Armstrong.

Stella beamed at him. "Elevator music," she said.

"I hate rock and roll," Mr. Armstrong told her.

On Thursday Stella hung pictures of Elvis in the elevator. "Ten!" sputtered Mr. Armstrong. "Ten pictures of Elvis. One would be too many."

On Friday Stella gave out pieces of cake. "It's Elvis's birthday," she told everybody. The Larrimore twins didn't know who Elvis was, but they ate the cake anyway.

For the next month the tenants of Graceview Arms rode up and down with Stella.

The Larrimore twins loved her -- she told them a new knock-knock joke every time they rode.

Their mother liked Stella, in spite of the orange rug, because Stella held the elevator and watched the Larrimore baby while Mrs. Larrimore carried her groceries down the hall.

Mrs. Gaglioni in 303 liked exchanging recipes with Stella.

When Mr. Freedson in 200 complained of his arthritis, Stella told him about a home-made medicine her mother used to take. It didn't help his arthritis, but it tasted good.

As a matter of fact, most of the tenants liked Stella.

But not Mr. Armstrong, even though Stella turned off the radio every afternoon at 2:05 when he rode downstairs to pick up his mail.

If the elevator didn't arrive till 2:06, it made Mr. Armstrong angry. When he stepped into the elevator and saw the pictures of Elvis, he got angrier still. "That elevator is a disgrace to the building," he said. "I'm going to complain."

On the first of the month Mr. Procter came to collect the rent. He went from apartment to apartment. He stayed in 402 a long time.

On the way out of the building, he told Stella, "Stella, I've got bad news. We've had some complaints. All these frills and furbelows have to go. Less talk, more work, that's what we want.

And I'm getting you a uniform. You need to look professional."

The next day the rug was gone. So were the armchair, the table, the radio and the pictures. Stella's sweatshirt was gone. Stella's smile was gone too.

Leaving for school, the Larrimore twins were the first to ride the elevator that day. "Wow," said one. "The elevator sure looks empty."

Stella didn't say anything.

"Knock-knock," said the other twin hopefully.

Stella didn't answer.

Mr. Freedson got on the elevator to go out for the morning paper, but Stella didn't ask about his arthritis.

When Mrs. Gaglioni told Stella she was making her special Eggplant Parmesan that day, Stella didn't ask for the recipe.

Mrs. Larrimore had to carry her dry-cleaning and the baby at the same time because when they got to her floor Stella said she was sorry, but she couldn't wait.

For the next two weeks Stella ran the elevator quietly and efficiently. Every time the buzzer sounded she answered it right away. But she didn't smile or joke. The elevator was very quiet.

One day at 2:05 Stella was waiting for Mr. Armstrong's buzzer to sound. At 2:06 Mr. Armstrong hadn't buzzed. 2:07 went by, and 2:08.

At 2:09 Stella said to herself, "I'd better go check." She parked her elevator on the fourth floor and walked down to apartment 402. She knocked. She waited. No one answered. "Maybe I shouldn't bother him," she said to herself. "But what if something's wrong?"

She knocked louder. She heard a groan and then a faint voice called, "Come in."

She opened the door, and there was Mr. Armstrong on the floor beside an overturned chair. "I was trying to change a light bulb," he said. "I think my leg is broken."

A few days after Mr. Armstrong came home from the hospital with a cast on his leg, Stella took him a bouquet of flowers. "How are you feeling?" she asked.

"Not too bad," said Mr. Armstrong, "but it's boring to be a shut-in. There's nothing to do."

"I have an idea," said Stella. "Wait right here."

In a little bit she was back. "Grab your crutches and come with me," she said. She helped Mr. Armstrong down the hall to the elevator. There in the corner was Stella's armchair. "Sit in this," said Stella. "You can ride up and down with me."

For the rest of the morning Mr. Armstrong rode the elevator. Tenants got on and off, and Mr. Armstrong told them all about his accident and the hospital, but between rides he got fidgety.

"Don't you get bored when the elevator's not moving?" he asked.

"I didn't when I had my radio," said Stella.

"I have a CD player and some beautiful CD's," said Mr. Armstrong. "Do you ever listen to opera?"

"I never did," said Stella, "but I don't mind trying."

"You'll love La Boheme," said Mr. Armstrong.. "It's set in Paris, and there are two young lovers..." he told the whole story to Stella as they rode up to his floor. They got Mr. Armstrong's CD player, and soon they were listening together as they rode up and down.

"Ah, Puccini!" said Mrs. Gaglioni as she got on. "No one makes music like the Italians!"

A little bit later, Mr. Armstrong shivered. "It's drafty in here. Don't you get cold?" he asked Stella.

"That's why I always wore my sweatshirt," she told him.

Mr. Armstrong looked thoughtful.

Pretty soon he said, "There's not much to look at in here. Why don't you bring your rug back, Stella? Orange is cheery. I might even get used your pictures of Elvis."

Now Stella looked thoughtful.

The next day when Mr. Armstrong hobbled down the hallway, Stella met him at the elevator door.

"What's this?" asked Mr. Armstrong. Posters of famous operas covered the walls of the elevator -- Tosca, Aida, Carmen, and La Boheme. The overture to The Flying Dutchman was playing on the CD player. "I thought I'd surprise you," Stella told Mr. Armstrong.

"I have a surprise, too," he said, holding out a package. "I bought you this year's Metropolitan Opera sweatshirt. And I got myself a new CD -- Elvis' Greatest Hits. Listened to it last night. It's not so bad."

"Neither is opera," said Stella.

"Cool!" said the Larrimore twins when they came home from school and saw the posters and heard the music.

"Knock knock," said Stella.

"Who's there?" asked the twins.


"Aida Who?'

"Aida apple every day -- keeps da doctor away."


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