NYC Civil Service

Three suicides, one premature birth, a murder, renal failure, lung cancer and a nasty fall down an elevator shaft.

The Transmittal
Three people stood in the dim light of a rickety elevator on 34th street. A petite girl leaned on the wall to one side shuffling her scuffed ballet flats and clutching a large manila envelope to her chest. The envelope was tattered and taped, an address scrawled onto the front in a child-like hand. A crisp sheet of lined paper clung to the underside of the envelope bearing two names and a ten digit alpha numeric code associated with each of them.
The others included an elderly man, white haired and wild looking, hunching over an ancient cane and a tall, thin brunette bearing signs of a deep running sadness. The brunette had her arms folded across herself, she had never liked elevator rides and this one was particularly jerky. She felt eyes on her and looked up and briefly met the older man’s eyes. He possessed a stark wisdom, she could detect it in his milky stare.
“My name is Henry. Henry Hightower,” he offered a wizened hand toward the tall brunette. The other girl hadn’t changed her stance, her gaze steady on the floor, she didn’t notice the others despite the small space.
“I’m Jessica,” replied the taller girl, and gingerly shook the man’s hand, he seemed fragile but steadfast, a remarkably firm handshake. She quickly withdrew her hand and resumed her tense arms folded position. Mr. Hightower regarded her with a stern look.
“How old are you, dear?” he asked.
Jessica thought this was an odd question to open a conversation with but replied, “I am twenty four,” somewhat curtly, feeling bothered by the older man with the penetrating gaze. She hoped he wasn’t a pervert anticipating groping her before the elevator ride was over. She never liked elevators. The man paused to consider her answer for a moment and he seemed to hunch a little more as the gears ground toward the fourth floor.
“Too young for this ride,” he muttered.
“What?” Jessica started to suspect the man was more insane than perverse. She was getting more annoyed by the second. She had forgotten something upstairs but she couldn’t remember what it was or why she was upstairs in the first place. She folded her arms tighter.
“Where are your parents?” the milky stare again, unwavering now.
“What is this? Twenty questions?” Jessica snapped, “Why don’t you ask her something personal like that?” she indicated the girl slumped against the wall, now picking at her nail polish, arms still folded around the envelope.
Mr. Hightower seemed to ignore her response and pressed on, “I suppose you’ve left them behind, then.” He still hadn’t taken his eyes off of her and she was getting uneasy.
“What did you mean by that before, that I’m too young to ride the elevator?” Jessica felt pangs of anxiety, something was ebbing away.
“I didn’t mean the elevator,” he chuckled slightly and Jessica noted he had bruises on one side of his face.
“What happened to your face?” She decided it was her turn to be probing.
“I lost hold of my cane and fell about a week ago, I was in the hospital for a night, nothing big.” He looked away for the first time, he hunched a little more and regarded the girl against the wall. “You are young like her,” he said, pointing about a foot away from the placidly placed nail polish picker. She didn’t move, Jessica started to wonder if the girl was Helen Keller’s modern day medical clone, having found her way into the shaft by way of Braille infused elevator buttons. Mr. Hightower seemed to read her thoughts.
“Don’t worry about her, she knows we’re here. This just ain’t her conversation is all. I already know all about that one, we saw her desk upstairs, remember?-before we got into the elevator.”
Jessica didn’t remember the desk or why she was in the elevator or where her parents were. She remembered a cold tiled floor and seeing rainbows through her eyelashes before the darkness came. Wavering fluorescent bulbs in a well worn bathroom, rough hands wrenching her upward, something sharp in her arm, shouting and scrambling, dark bodies moving in the haze. She remembered a man crying, “I found her like this, I found her like this…” She knew now, the girl holding the envelope knew, too. Jessica unfolded her arms, the marks on her skin told her story.
“I never wanted to disappoint anyone like this,” she said, now understanding Mr. Hightower’s prodding questions. He nodded.
“It’s funny how people meet, isn’t it?” he asked, raising his eyebrows quizzically. Jessica gazed at the ground now, trying to find what the envelope girl was looking at.
“How long before they found you?” she asked.
“I was there for five days. The super came in to get me, he suspected something was wrong. He phoned an ambulance and I went to the hospital uptown. I stayed for a few hours, I asked for a ginger ale and they got it for me but it was too late. I fell asleep, nobody came to get me. You are the first person I’ve spoken to since.” He smiled a little, he appreciated the company, Jessica could tell. The elevator ride was nearly over, she stared at the glowing “four” button and wondered what the floor held.
The other girl looked up for the first time, something about the envelope was wearing her down, it was written on her face and Jessica remembered the desk now. The computer monitor had poetry around its perimeter, by some guy named Buk. Various photos on the walls of the cubicle, black and whites of Paris, pearls and the old starlets. Little knick knacks adorned the desk space, newspaper clippings and an inconspicuous pile of green folders with names, an Excel file perpetually open. Jessica noted the civil service ID hanging from the girl’s neck. The elevator ground to a halt and its doors opened to reveal an archaic hallway with over packed bulletin boards bearing various Union notices and agency posters. Jessica took hold of Mr. Hightower’s hand and helped him out of the elevator.
The mail room was dusty, the wooden desks had been there for years. The windows were slightly ajar letting in the cold February air. Fluorescent lights overhead emitted a yellowish hue which it cast over the desks lending to the vintage appearance of the place. The girl deposited the envelope onto a desk in the far back of the room. The envelope containing Jessica and Mr. Hightower’s birth and death certificates, hospital files, doctor’s notes, and witness statements. Jessica saw the person at the desk remove the clean, white transmittal, he Xeroxed it and handed a copy to the girl. She glanced at it and wondered if the two people had ever met before sharing the transmittal she had compiled for them.
Back upstairs there was a new pile of green folders on her desk. Three suicides, one premature birth, a murder, renal failure, lung cancer and a nasty fall down an elevator shaft. Ironic. She opened the Excel file and began recording the names of the dead, next she’d compile their transmittal and shuttle them to the dingy light of the 4th floor mail room. At night the green folders would stalk into her room and the dead stand around her bed holding vigil. The first year is the toughest, they say.


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