What’s the weirdest conversation you’ve ever hard with a stranger in an elevator? Probably nothing as unsettling as Yvette’s encounter with a strange woman while on her way back from doing Christmas shopping.
Standing in the hosiery aisle with Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer playing overhead, Yvette pushed aside straight brown hair and rubbed a throbbing temple. Jostling elbows with frenzied Christmas Eve shoppers, hours before big sister Peggy—picture-perfect family in tow— arrived for their yearly holiday visit, was the last thing she needed.
Sighing, Yvette continued the search for a maternity pantyhose. Since she wasn’t motivated to lean over a protruding stomach to shave hairy legs, a short black muumuu was her only Christmas dinner dress option. True, her sweetie Max had offered to help. But there was no way he and his shaky hands were wielding a sharp object near her body.
By the time she found the right size, her achy feet were swollen inside size twelve flats. Fortunately, there were only three people ahead on the self-checkout lane. She went through and hurried towards the mall bathrooms.
Yvette’s heart sank when she saw the long line. Her temperamental bladder wasn’t going to hold on, which meant she had to play the pregnancy card.
Shuffling to the front of the line, she scanned faces, looking for a sympathetic gaze. Head down, the first person in line examined her nails. Onward.
Looking frazzled, the woman behind muttered under her breath as she lifted a flailing little girl off the floor.
Next in line, a grandmother rocked a baby stroller. Their eyes met and she smiled at Yvette. Bingo!
Pushing her stomach out, Yvette waddled over. “Excuse me,” she whispered. “Please, may I go ahead of you? I can feel something and I want to make sure I’m not leaking amniotic fluid.”
The woman’s eyes popped. “Of course, dear,” she whispered back. “Do you need me to call for help?”
Grimacing, Yvette shook her head. “No, thank you.”
Stepping out of the way, she gave Yvette’s arm a light pat. “It’s going to be alright.”
Minutes later, Yvette whistled inside a bathroom stall. Afterwards, several women on the line glared as she walked by with a bounce on her way to the elevators. She gave them a little wave. It was nothing personal.
Yvette pressed the silver call button for the elevator and waited. Glancing at her wristwatch, she frowned. Max was picking up their guests from the airport in less than two hours. With rush-hour traffic, she would have less than thirty minutes for a bath before tackling dinner for seven.
Instead of being whisked down to the mall lobby, the elevator shot up. The blinking numbers above the doors increased until the elevator stopped on the thirteenth floor.
The doors swung open and a young woman stepped in. Spiral red curls framing her porcelain white face, she held on to a shopping bag.
They were both quiet as the elevator made its way down. Yvette found elevator etiquette confusing. Should she say hello after eye contact or look away to avoid making conversation?
Choosing the latter, she kept her head down.
As Yvette stared at the floor, she noticed the woman wore different shoes. Her left shoe was a black flat sandal, the right, a red slingback pump. She wondered if the woman was colour blind. Even if she were, it was still strange she hadn’t noticed the difference in shoe types.
Yvette almost jumped out of her skin when she looked up and found a pair of dancing green eyes locked on her.
“So, which shoe do you like?” the young woman asked. The deep, husky voice was ill-suited with her voluptuous figure.
Embarrassed, Yvette gave her a weak smile. “Well,” she said, pausing to think of the best response. “I think the red shoe looks good on you.”
“Red is my favourite colour,” the woman said with a slow grin. “By the way, I’m Lilith.”
Why was the elevator taking forever? “Yvette.”
They exchanged polite nods. Yvette glanced at the door when the elevator chimed and stopped on the ninth floor. The doors swung open. There was no one there.
Before she could move, Lilith hobbled over and pressed the close button. Resting her back against the metal wall, she faced Yvette. “So, how far along are you?”
It took a while before she got used to strangers asking her the question. Why did they always want to know?
“I only have one more month to go,” she said.
“My partner and I have been trying to have a baby for over three years,” Lilith said as her eyes lingered on Yvette’s stomach.
The wistful tone in the other woman’s voice struck a chord. Yvette’s hand rested on the swell of her stomach. “We tried for several years. Sometimes, these things just take time.”
Not according to her sister though. Peggy didn’t pass up any opportunity to tell Yvette she was responsible for her infertility.
“You’re such a good cook,” Peggy said after a not so discrete belch the previous Christmas.
“Sometimes, I wish I could load my plate like yours. You may want to reduce the quantity though. Your extra weight may be the reason for all the failed In-Vitros.”
Max had been furious. Just not furious enough to support her decision to disinvite them for the holidays this year.
“Sadly, I’ve run out of time,” Lilith said. “Yesterday, I found out my sister’s pregnant with my husband’s baby.”
Taken aback, Yvette gaped at her. “Are you serious?”
Lilith’s face flushed. “Yes! Who jokes with something like that?”
She shifted uneasily from one foot to the other. “I’m so sorry.”
Lilith shrugged. “I should have known something was wrong when he started locking his phone,” she said. “When I found it unlocked while he took a shower, I couldn’t help looking through his inbox.”
And she thought she had problems. “Did you confront him?”
Lilith’s full lips curled into a sweet smile. “No. I don’t do well with confrontations. My plan is to kill them both tonight.”
Yvette gasped. “Kill them?”
“Yup. I was going to kill myself too. But why pass on the opportunity to play the grieving widow?” She gave Yvette’s stomach a pointed look. “And there are other ways for me to become a mother.”
Yvette remembered stories she’d read about babies ripped from their mothers’ stomachs. At thirty-six weeks, her baby would survive. Was that why Lilith had asked how far along she was?
Looking around for the panic button, she realized Lilith stood in front of the control panel. She wasn’t sure what had happened, but the elevator appeared stuck on the sixth floor.
As if Lilith had read her mind, she said, “Oh, I stopped the elevator. I thought it would be nice to chat.”
The sight of the blinking number dried out Yvette’s mouth. “Please, I need to go.”
Lilith gave her a puzzled look. “Why? Aren’t you enjoying my company?”
Yvette glanced at the shopping bag in Lilith’s hand. The surgical instruments were probably in there. Stammering, she forced a smile. “I…I am. But my sister and her family are arriving tonight. I need to get dinner ready.”
“We had an early dinner at my sister’s house. You would think when I called her this morning guilt would have made her cancel it.” Lilith bared her teeth. “I sat there, watching them pretend. They both think I’m stupid.”
Yvette’s baby chose that moment to kick. Yvette stiffened, afraid to rub the sore spot above her ribs. “I can imagine how hard this is for you,” she said. “But, I need to go.”
Lilith narrowed her eyes. “I just told you I’m going to kill two people. And that’s all you have to to say? Seriously, where’s the regard for human life?”
Yvette began to sweat. This was her punishment for cutting in the bathroom line. If she made it out of the elevator alive, she was never using the pregnancy card again. “I’m sorry. It has been a long day.”
For several minutes, Lilith searched her face. “I do you think you’re sorry,” she finally said. A big grin lit up her face. “So, who do you think deserves to die first?”
She fought against her rising hysteria. Max didn’t know she was going to make a stop at the mall. Why didn’t the stop button trigger an alarm in the maintenance room? “I don’t know.
They’re both equally guilty, aren’t they?”
“Hmm. Good point. So what’s your sister like?”
During Peggy’s last visit, Yvette’s dining table collapsed right in the middle of dinner. The lemon meringue cream pie she’d laboured over flipped and overturned in her lap. Even with a smear of mashed potatoes on her nose, Peggy laughed, saying Yvette needed to stop shopping at yard sales since, with the exception of Max, she brought the crappiest things home.
Yvette swallowed hard. “She’s manageable in small doses.”
Lilith snickered. “Something tells me you hate her guts.”
The walls of the elevator closed in. “No, I don’t.” Hate suddenly seemed too powerful an emotion. Intense dislike was more like it. Max was right that one shouldn’t hate family.
Lilith’s green eyes glowed. “You’ve never thought of killing anyone if you could get away with it?”
Yvette’s breath quickened as she remembered standing in her kitchen, fingers clenched around the cool metal handle of her turkey carving knife. She’d overheard Peggy tell Max it was a good thing he’d met Yvette after she’d stopped drinking heavily. It was no secret but Peggy’s tinkling laugh made Yvette stab her freshly baked turkey until it was a shredded mass of meat and bone.
On the heels of the memory, came another. A teenage Peggy, her boisterous laughter filling the frozen air as she pushed Yvette’s pink toboggan downhill.
She shook her head. “I would never think of hurting another human being.”
Lilith’s tight red curls bounced around her face as she chuckled. “Liar.”
Yvette squared her shoulders. “I find that very offensive,” she said.
Lilith raised an eyebrow. “Really? What I find offensive and frankly, painful, is watching you navigate your head out of your butt. You don’t like her. I can tell.”
Her teeth clenched. “It doesn’t matter what I feel. She’s family. And we’re meant to tolerate each other.”
“In my opinion, familial tolerance is overrated,” Lilith said. “I knew my sister always wanted what I had. I guess I was stupid to think my husband was off-limits.”
Yvette froze when Lilith’s hand reached inside her shopping bag. She exhaled when Lilith brought out an apple.
“Care for a bite?” Lilith asked.
Yvette could feel tears stinging her eyes. “Please, let me go.”
Lilith gently rubbed the shiny red apple on her dress. “It should be all over by now,” she said after several bites. She reached for the start button. “You should have seen how their faces washed over with relief on my way out. I guess there’s nothing like some Christmas Eve adulterous sex.”
Yvette went limp from relief when elevator continued on its way down. Each crunch from Lilith’s apple matched the beat of her racing heart. It took a minute before it registered the ding sound was from the elevator doors opening. They had arrived at the mall lobby.
Lilith stepped aside. “This is where you get off,” she said. “I’m going back up. Thanks for the company.”
Yvette turned around after stepping out of the elevator. She had to know. “What do you mean by it should be all over?”
“The dessert served was antifreeze laced gelato,” Lilith said. “My sister made it too. I just enhanced the taste.” She cocked her head slightly to one side. “Like I said, I’m not a fan of confrontations or the truth. But since this is the season to be helpful, I’ll offer you some free advice. You really should talk to your sister. You don’t want to use that turkey carving knife.”
Just before the steel doors closed, Lilith gave her a wink. “Good luck!”
Post Image (c) Christina Rutz via
Born in Ibadan, Nigeria, Yejide Kilanko is a writer of poetry, fiction and a therapist in children’s mental health. She currently lives in Ontario, Canada. Yejide’s debut novel, Daughters Who Walk This Path, was published by Penguin Canada, April 2012 and Pintail Books (Penguin USA) January 2013. The novel has been translated into German and Thai. In 2012 she was named one of the top five hottest up-and-comers on the Canadian writing scene by the Globe and Mail. Her next book, Honour Among All, is forthcoming April 2014. Please visit www.yejidekilanko.com