She doesn’t smoke. Honest to God. But a puff of white breath
curls into the cold air that’s trying to cut through her skin.
The cool meeting of her fingertip against the smooth elevator button
yields a soft “ding,” the satisfying promise that, soon,
a rickety-rackety elevator will squeal its way to her.
Her lungs, barely laced together by ribs, like ribbons, fill up
all the way with air that tastes something like overcooked chicken.
An offensive miasma of smoke, mingled with sweat, circulates
around the elevator. Who smokes in a hospital? The elevator,
filled with sniffling humans wiping noses on sleeves, pauses
on the 4th floor. Several humans leave. So does the smell of smoke,
but not sweat. She realizes it’s coming from her own sweater.
She reminds her lungs to breathe, breathe, though they ache from smoke.
She feels the elevator stop. 7th floor, and two more leave.
There are no other humans but her now. No more sniffling.
No more tears, no more red-rimmed eyes. A jittery feeling stirs
her stomach, and forcing her lungs to expand with air that’s been
warmed up by the presence of humans walking in and out, in and out,
she concentrates on the hum of the elevator. It whirs and whooshes, bringing
her to the 15th floor—the topmost of all. The final “ding”
signals the gentle opening of the elevator door, urging
her into the shocking redness of a sign that reads,
“Psychiatric Unit.” This bright hall, leading to two sets of thick,
heavy, locked doors, is her destination. She breathes in again.
The elastic of her lungs tightens, and each breath is labored as she steps
from the elevator and presses a button to alert the tight-lipped,
unsmiling nurses that she’s here to visit their pallid patients—
Poster Children of Humanity, who she knows she has the capacity to be.