The gold-tone banister I hold is rubbed to a smooth patina and warm beneath my hand. One slow step at a time, I climb. My skirt is white and gauzy as sea-foam, but far too long, as is the fringed and tasseled scarf slipping forward over my shoulder. Both threaten to tangle between my feet and trip me up. My husband offers to hold the scarf – he is right ahead of me on the stairs, just behind my mother. In my free hand, I gather scarf and skirts; I thank him, but assure him it’s fine
Glancing over my shoulder, I see the staircase double back on itself a multitude of times; a steady current of people files up the steps as far as the eye can see. For such a crowd, in such close quarters, we are exceedingly polite, inching forward together steadily. Looking ahead, I’m relieved to see that my mother has reached the landing outside the elevator doors.
The line comes to a standstill. Just over the landing’s lip, I see three sealed elevator doors gleam softly golden. Set within the center of each door is a circular window which stares like a blank, dark eye. Each door is likewise crowned in a half-circle – segmented and numbered – over which an ornate arrow marks each elevator’s slow descent.
The soft voices of those around me lap and echo within the stairwell’s narrow throat. I decide to give my scarf to my husband after all and unwind it from about my neck. When I hand it to him, I stumble backward and bump against the woman below me on the steps. Quickly, I apologize, tell her that I felt suddenly faint – this is not true, but it seemed better than admitting to clumsiness. Unperturbed, the woman kindly offers a piece of advice: to keep from feeling faint while on board, I should keep my focus fixed toward the North. She points up at the elevators, and repeats herself: North. I thank her, smile and nod, and wonder how on earth any one can tell where “North” is inside this windowless stairwell?
Suddenly, there is a great, cavernous groan and an enormous shudder – we all grip the banister as everything trembles. The floor, the stairs begin to tilt sickeningly. Still sealed, the elevators swim slowly upward to take the ceiling’s place. A sodden weight of dread compresses my chest. A desperate panic lodges in my throat. Silence has stolen my voice. But I understand – as we all do, trapped in this slowly inverting stairwell – that a tidal wave has capsized the ship. It is only a small matter of time before the sea spills in and we all drown.