Smith Shuts His Eyes (Life or Death – Final Installment) – Patrick Pineyro

The elevator begins its descent.

Smith, as the elevator begins its descent, shuts tightly first his eyes, then clenches his hands into fists. From outside the elevator the humming of gears and cables at work make their way through the walls of the elevator and into the elevator as the elevator descends.

Smith ponders whether or not he should feel comforted by the fact that if indeed disaster were to strike him down there would be no one for Smith to blame but Smith himself, because who in this here world could become angry at their gentle grandmother for desiring to eat a Cuban sandwich from the Cuban restaurant around the corner from her apartment?

Smith’s breathing increases in rapidity; on the palms of Smith’s hands clenched into fists, sweat forms, this sweat forming on the palms of Smith’s hands being due to Smith’s worrying about that precious life force tucked precariously within the nooks and crannies of a fragile vessel: i.e. Smith’s body.

In particular, Smith worries that his life force is constantly searching desperately for a way to escape Smith’s body, for constantly search desperately to escape a life force must, because how could it be said that a thing would want to do anything but escape, considering that that thing was originally comfortably part of nothingness, and was transformed into something only after being forced to stumble by chance upon a vacancy named Smith? How could such a thing be said to exist for any other reason than to struggle constantly to escape from the vessel in which said thing became trapped, especially when one considers how all things are being constantly called desperately to return from the somethingness into which they were thrust and back into the nothingness from whence they sprang?

Smith (eyes still shut, hands balled still into fists): I will survive. (Pause.) I am competent (pause), and by applying maximum effort and leveraging my intelligence, I will survive. (Smith takes a long, deep breath in through his nose; exhales slowly through his mouth.)

I will obtain for my grandmother the Cuban sandwich she desires (in addition to shut eyes and fist-hands, Smith’s brow furrowed now, another sign of deep, deep concentration) by maneuvering carefully in order to arrive safely at the Cuban restaurant around the corner (anxiety intensifying), where I will obtain the Cuban sandwich as per her request, (increase in speed of speech Smith reaches the top of his mental hill and starts heading down the other side) at which point I will maneuver carefully in order to return safely back to her apartment and deliver to her the Cuban sandwich she desires.

(Eyes still shut, but anxiety dissipating.) And so if her desire for a Cuban sandwich will be fulfilled, (Smith smiles, even), then my desire to fulfill my grandmother’s desire will be fulfilled, and I’ll still be alive, and everybody will be happy forever. (Smith’s fists unclench, his smile widens, but his eyes are still shut.)

The elevator stop, who cares at which floor, but for no better reason than the aesthetic appeal of the number 5, let’s say the elevator stops at the fifth floor.

Smith’s thoughts typically being slow to uncoil themselves from around himself, Smith fails to notice that a Young Woman has entered the elevator. The Young Woman presses the already-lit button on the elevator panel marked “L.” The Young Woman looks at Smith but although her eyes are open when she looks at him, she does not see that Smith’s eyes are shut. She looks again, noticing this time that Smith’s eyes are shut.

The Young Woman, having noticed that Smith’s eyes are shut, stares at Smith with her own eyes, still open, but intrigued now, and confused, even. The Young Woman quickly forms a simple hypothesis: Smith’s eyes are closed and his face shows signs of strain because he is holding in either his urine or a bowel movement.

Young Woman (aside): Does this guy know there’s a restroom downstairs? Should I tell him? (The Young Woman looks down at Smith’s legs but sees that they are neither crossed nor trembling. Again, to herself) Doesn’t look like he needs to use the bathroom. Should I ask him why his eyes are closed? Wouldn’t that be the easiest way to test my hypothesis that this guy needs to go, and bad?

The Young Woman decides to test her hypothesis as outlined above, but decides to broach the matter with tact. The Young Woman turns her body towards Smith. Excuse me. (A pause. Silence.) Excuse me!

Smith jumps. His eyes open.

Young Woman: Are you OK?

A glitch in Smith’s heart leads to another pause.

Smith (because this girl standing gaping at him frightens him, because he needs to stall for time): That’s a loaded question.

Young Woman: What?

Smith observes the Young Woman rapidly, decidedly not “checking her out,” and notices that she is wearing a beanie, a hooded sweatshirt and jeans, which outfit confuses Smith, given that it is August and we are in Miami.

The Young Woman for her part is both perplexed and annoyed by Smith’s reaction to her inquiry regarding Smith’s state of well- or not-well being.

Smith (perplexed by her outfit, figuring he is asking a valid question): Aren’t you hot?

Young Woman (turning away): Ugh.

Smith: I’m hot. It’s hot outside today. (He lets out a sigh and lowers his head, dejected.)

The Young Woman, realizing her mistake in assuming that this stranger was about to come on to her with a pathetic pick-up line, turns once again towards Smith and examines in her turn his wardrobe. She is also decidedly not “checking Smith out;” rather, she is observing Smith the way Charles Darwin would have observed a bird’s coat of feathers. The Young Woman notices that Smith is wearing very short denim shorts, a black t-shirt, knee-high white tube socks, and black jogging sneakers, which outfit confuses Miss Smith, given that very few people in Miami venture into public attired in such a way.

Young Woman: You’re very strange. (Pause.) Do you live here? I hope you don’t live here.

Smith: Affirmative.

Young Woman: What?

Smith: Affirmative.

Young Woman (puzzled, but not annoyed): Affirmative what?

Smith: Affirmative, meaning I don’t.

Young Woman: Don’t what?

Smith: Don’t live here.

Young Woman (turning towards the door, turning away again from Smith): Thank goodness.

A long pause as a third person, an elderly woman, a light-skinned Hispanic woman, enters the elevator, escorted by a much younger female, a dark-skinned Hispanic woman in a white uniform. Both the Young Woman and Smith move to the back of the elevator to make room for the elderly woman and her much younger companion; Both the Young Woman and Smith are facing the front of the elevator with both eyes and body.

Young Woman (with both eyes and voice addressing Smith, who stands to her left, his eyes fixed on the two new entrants to the elevator, assessing any and all risk): So who are you visiting? (Pause, as Smith, judging his assessment of risk to be higher in priority than answering or even acknowledging the Young Woman’s question, ignores her question.) Friend, family? (Short pause.) Girlfriend? (Seeing she is being ignored, with sarcasm.) I doubt that one very much. (She turns her eyes away from him and back to the front of the elevator.)

After having determined there is little to no credible threat posed by the elderly woman and her much younger companion, Smith realizes he should feel more alarmed by what he would call the forward nature of the Young Woman’s questioning. In fact, Smith feels too alarmed now to have even noticed the jab about the girlfriend.

Smith (aside): Is this person crazy? Is she rude? Is she normal? Am I normal? Should I reveal anything? Should I reveal anything to her? What should I reveal to her? What do I have to gain by revealing any information to this person, compared to how much I have potentially to lose?

Smith (taking one of what they call those “leaps of faith”): I’m visiting my grandmother.

Young Woman (turning bodily towards Smith now, which causes him to take a half step away from her): Oh! That’s nice. What floor does she live on?

Smith (aside): Now this I cannot accept. I am drawing the line. I drew the line, and she crossed the line.

Young Woman (following a pause, sensing she has crossed some sort of line of this stranger’s): Whatever, you don’t have to tell me. Doesn’t matter, anyway.

Smith (as the Young Woman is about to turn away from him again, realizing but reacting too quickly to allow for time to figure out why it would matter to him that the girl’s interest in him is waning, blurts): I am going to the Cuban restaurant around the corner to buy a Cuban sandwich. (Pause.) She is hungry. (Pause.) My grandmother, that is. She is hungry, and she wants very badly to eat a Cuban sandwich in particular, and so she has asked me to go out and obtain for her a Cuban sandwich from the Cuban restaurant around the corner from this apartment building, which, as I have mentioned already, is not my place of residence, it is her place of residence. (Pause.) My grandmother’s, that is. My grandmother’s place of residence. (Pause.) It’s for her. (Quick pause.) The sandwich, that is. The Cuban sandwich is for my grandmother.

The elevator reaches the ground floor as Smith finishes his bizarre, disjointed ramble.

Young Woman (at first staring blankly at him, but then smiling): I like you. You’re cute. (Pause.) Cute, that is, like a mouse in a lab dropped into a maze and constantly searching desperately to escape. (Pause.) You’re very funny. What’s your name?

Smith: Smith.

Young Woman: Smith?

Smith: Yes, Smith.

Young Woman: Well, what’s your first name, I meant.

Smith: Smith. My first name is Smith.

Young Woman: How odd — my last name is Smith. Never actually met anyone with Smith for a first name. (Pause.) Makes sense, though. Especially for you. (Pause.) It’s nice to meet you, Smith.

The Young Woman offers Smith her hand. Smith stares at her hand, envisioning the millions of bacteria swarming around the surface of the palm of her hand.

The elevator stops and he barely escapes without shaking her hand. Confused, intrigued. Miss Smith steps out after him, puts headphones on. She listens to a voice which instructs her in beginner French.