Nathan stood outside next to the elevator. We see each other sometimes across the floor while he smokes a rolled-up cigarette and sometimes drinks and I take out the leftovers.
‘Three weeks without a kiss,’ he said to me the last time I stood there last summer with my black bags, ‘but at least I don’t stink like you do right now’ and through the smoke he’d laugh, coughing roughly in the yellow glow.
Now the time has changed and it’s dark when he leaves in the morning, caught somewhere between the leather store he manages on the weekdays and walking home the blonde with the smudged mascara on a Saturday morning. At first I thought she was the same one but she changes every once in a while, I only notice when the lights are working in the elevator shaft when we’re heading to the ground floor, pretending we don’t know each other.
He’s stood there every time I leave like if he’s not somewhere else he could only be here, smoking and waiting for his eye to be captured. Apparently it’s easy for him as he tells me that the last one we were in the elevator with might be the one, but the only one that’ll be there until she vanishes again come November. For a salesman his words are elegant but as a salesman he’s clumsy and as he admits himself he lets everything of value slip through his hands. He smells strongly of leather and never needs cologne.
‘Next time. She’ll come by next time and this time she’ll stay,’ he said one time when I joined him. It just so happened that he had an extra glass.
‘The girl with the blonde hair?’
‘Lisa. They’re all called Lisa,’ he said taking a long, slow sip. ‘They come inside so strong and confident, like they flew up here to the 7th floor, like they’d never come down. They’re all butterflies to me.’
Only when I got back to my apartment did I sit on the bed realising that their make-up wasn’t smudged but it had run down their cheeks. The lines curved around their faces, patterns forming looking as beautiful in the elevator as much as in the dull autumn sunlight that would meet them at the bottom. I would look harder but then they’ll see that I see them too, as fragile as the day they first realised what being a woman really means and that they wish they could fly away.
It’s winter now, the cocoons are ready and the women are wrapped up warm outside looking like ants on their way to work. When I leave my apartment, it’ll be dark and I’ll see just the small orange flicker from across the way, Nathan smoking, looking over at me with the same little left-sided smile and he’ll say, ‘Three weeks without a kiss. Lisa’s nowhere to be found, Steve. We won’t see her until the spring.’
I think of my own butterfly somewhere out there and I believe him.