Step Out [Flash Fiction]

Jimmy was a bellboy. He wore a dark red uniform with shiny brass buttons, polished black shoes, and a cap with a hard top. Sometimes, when there was no one in the elevator, he took the cap off and ran his fingers through his blond hair. More rarely, and only if he was having a bad day, he would take his shoes off and stretch his toes inside their gray silk socks.

Mr. and Mrs. Hall came into the elevator. “Where to?” Jimmy asked with a polite smile. “Lobby,” Mr. Hall grunted without looking at him. Jimmy stepped forward and pressed the big yellow button with the letter “L” stamped in it. As the elevator descended, he kept his eyes fixed forward and pretended not to hear Mrs. Hall’s hissed accusations and Mr. Halls impatient sighs and indignant tut-tuts. “Good day,” Jimmy said, stepping forward to hold the elevator door open. Mr. and Mrs. Hall didn’t answer.

Jimmy stepped back into the elevator and waited for the door to close. It was the off-season now, so there weren’t as many guests, which meant Jimmy didn’t have as much work. It upset him to stand in the elevator and wait, but he was a bellboy and that was his job. The automatic light-switch was on a timer, as was the fan, and pretty soon both went off, leaving Jimmy planted firmly in the back, left hand corner of the elevator in the increasingly stifling dark.

He couldn’t remember how it happened exactly. In fact, there were many things that he couldn’t remember. He knew, vaguely, that there had been things to remember – maybe a father’s proud glance and a mother’s hug, maybe even (and he wasn’t at all sure about this) a scent of wet dog – but those things were gone now. Sometimes, when a little girl came into the elevator and smiled at him, he felt something around his rib-cage, a sense of loss or maybe grief, but he was sure that there hadn’t ever been a girl to remember; during long stretches of time in the dark, he thought that maybe there could have been a girl in some future, though.

Jimmy was a bellboy. His name tag, a vital part of his uniform, proved it. The men and women who came into the elevator and then stepped out of it all knew he was a bellboy and, usually, treated him accordingly, as part of the furniture. That was alright. Jimmy was very skillful at what he did and he was aware that his servile attitude was excellent and appropriate. He just wondered, once in a very long while, if there would come a day when he would step out of the elevator after the likes of Mr. and Mrs. Hall.

Seeing The Milky Way

I was ten when my family and I took a trip to the Sinai Desert in Egypt. We drove down all night long and arrived in the morning. We hadn’t booked a hotel, since we weren’t planning on sleeping in a big resort on the beaches of the Red Sea. No, we preferred to find one of the small groups of huts to rent out – “chushot” as they’re called – and rent ourselves a couple of huts for the week we were planning on staying.

We found the most perfect spot. A man who had just started up his hut rental spot was glad to welcome us as his first customers. He was a chef and had studied in France and so despite our protests he cooked a couple of serious meals while we were there. The huts were rudimentary, but then that’s what we’d wanted – there were a couple of sandy mattresses and thin blankets in each hut, and the windows were just shutters which we threw wide open during the night, trying to will a breeze to enter the stifling rooms. The only time we ever spent in those huts was at night, to sleep. During the rest of our days and evenings, we enjoyed our secluded and empty beach – no one in sight except for us and the manager’s friends who visited him from Nueba, the nearest city. We snorkeled, saw exotic fish and beautiful coral reefs. We lay in the sun, we played backgammon, we walked around the markets of Nueba – it was the most restful and idle vacation I’d ever been on, and I haven’t been on a similar one since.

The trip is a blur to me, the memories all fading into each other and forming a short montage of what we’d done during that week. However, one night stands out crystal clear in my memory.

The moon rises not from the sea, but from the mountains in Sinai, and so it seems to rise very late because it takes it so long to rise above the mountains and be visible. One night, the full moon, it rose very late. Until it rose, the sky was this vast and endless velvet blanket above us, sprinkled with a million stars, all twinkling brightly. We were so far away from the big hotels and from the city that when we extinguished the lamps we had, we could see the stars perfectly. We could have counted them one by one if we’d wishes. I felt so small, so insignificant that night, because I saw The Milky Way – that ribbon of stars that is the basis of our galaxy’s name. It was so plain and easy to see – right there, above me, a river of stars so dense they seemed like a long white cloth spread across the heavens. I’d never felt or seen the full scope of the sky like that before.

It was, to say the least, overwhelming. But there is something wonderful in looking up and seeing how big the world really is and how small and insignificant your life is. There’s a sort of relief to it.