Charlotte ate green peppers all day long. She hadn’t had time for breakfast and she was hungry— starving even. It was hard work in the field, filling the baskets with peppers just the right shade of green, and while most of the pickers couldn’t stand the sight, smell, or taste of peppers, Charlotte craved their crunchy bittersweetness.
“Pesticides,” said the woman with very long grey hair, bent over in the row next to hers.
Charlotte was almost certain the peppers were organic and free from sprays. If not, sure, she could be in trouble.
“Your daughter needs a healthy immune system!” she remembered Nana Cole telling her mother. “Let her eat dirt, for heaven’s sake!”
Charlotte didn’t remember eating dirt, but she remembered the admonishment to her mother.
Pesticides were not dirt, however. But Charlotte was sure that thousands of people didn’t wash their pesticide fruits and vegetables thoroughly before consuming, and they weren’t all dead. Were they? Maybe the pesticides had side effects just this side of death, like… acne? Cancer? Memory loss? Baldness? Stupidity?
There was no way to know. Charlotte was thinking long and hard about this after work as she punched the button for the third and top floor of the apartment building, too tired this day to take the stairs. Just before the door glided closed a woman with long grey hair slipped into the elevator.
“Oh hi,” said Charlotte.
“Pesticide,” said the woman.
“That’s me,” said Charlotte.
As the elevator made its initial lurch upward, there was a loud long beep, then silence, darkness, and stillness. The elevator, motionless, was frozen between floors.
“It’s premature,” said the woman.
“What? The elevator?” said Charlotte, frantically rooting around in her purse for phone, since she was terrified of pitch blackness.
“My hair, it’s prematurely grey.”
“We’re stopped, did you notice?” Charlotte flicked on the phone and held it up, casting light onto to stark metallic elevator walls.
“I don’t need the light to see the darkness,” said the woman.
“Oh jeez,” said Charlotte.
There was a red button, unlabelled, at the bottom of the small bank of floor buttons. Charlotte pressed and held it. There was no comforting sound of alarm bells or sirens to alert the world that there was trouble in the elevator shaft.
She punched in 911 on her phone. No signal.
“Hmm,” she said, checking the battery.
The woman took out a Bic lighter and flicked it on. The flame danced in the breeze of the woman’s breath.
Charlotte had a vision of a… Gordon Lightfoot concert somewhere in a vast, past concert hall, empty but for the grey -haired woman, a dedicated Bic fan.
“HELP!” Charlotte shouted, just in case. Elevators weren’t sound-proofed, after all. Were they? Someone might hear her cries and investigate.
The woman reached out and touched Charlotte’s forearm.
“Be brave,” she said.
“Be kind,” Charlotte said impulsively.
“Be silent,” said the woman firmly.
Charlotte was strangely comforted, as she had felt helpless and desperately wanted something to do in this predicament, and now she had a direction: silence. She took a deep breath through her mouth and exhaled through her nose. Silence was power, peace, and purpose. Charlotte understood, she got it.
But the silence did not last.
The grey-haired woman, illuminated by the flickering light, said, “When you eat, your digestive system works to break down food into usable energy to power the cells and the body’s necessary processes and functions. But your gut finds certain foods too difficult to break down into just energy and waste, and gas is the leftover product when those foods sit in your colon.
“Portions of foods that can’t be broken down and digested by the intestines travel to the colon, which is full of bacteria. The bacteria in your colon ferment these undigested particles of food, resulting in gas, burping, and flatulence.
“Green peppers,” she concluded, “are unripe peppers.”
Charlotte put her phone in her pocket. “I’m very sorry,” she said.
The woman nodded, the lights suddenly came on, and the elevator lurched hopefully.
- Prompt from Writer’s Toolbox