Flash Fiction Story 039: The Button

With quick, lithe movements, the man darted through the lobby and made the bank just as the the doors of the last elevator began to open. Only moments ago, he was sure he’d be late. Now, he had an outside shot at getting to his appointment early. Sometimes things just work out in people’s favor. Serendipity is easy enough to find, if you’re looking for it.

The man took a quick look outside the doors to see if anyone was coming. No takers. Things were just getting better. I pressed the button to close the doors.

And he pressed it again.

And once more.

Nothing happened.

I could see the frustration begin to burst forth from the inner recesses of his face. It was time to go to work.

Officially, the doors on elevators will not immediately respond to someone pressing the door-close button due to ADA laws. To ensure that a person with mobility issues can have the same opportunities as everyone else to use the mode of transit, the button will not work for five seconds. The same principle applies to buttons at crosswalks. What few people are aware of is that both types of buttons are not connected to any actual mechanism. They do nothing. At all. The elevator doors will close on their own volition after the ten seconds pass. Any feeling of control is purely an illusion created by the presser.

And yet, people still press the button. Why? An even better question: With these realities in mind, why do manufacturers still make elevators close buttons at all? What purpose do they actually serve?

This is where Conglomerated Messaging Systems come in. While much has been made about the methods advertising professionals use to deliver their messages to the public, the truth is that the people charged with selling products to a teeming public don’t dare discuss their most effective methods.

“We’ve got another one,” I called out. It was more for the sake of tradition than any actual need. Every one of my coworkers could see the information play out on the main monitor in the workroom, or from their individual terminals.

“Did we get his thumbprint?” my supervisor asked. I didn’t need to look up from my work to tell that he hadn’t bothered to look up from his phone to ask the question. I also didn’t need to see the sign that read “CREATE THE NEED” that hung over him. It had been there since my first day. I didn’t need to look anymore.

My fingers flew across my keyboard, but my eyes never left the progress bar on the top right of my monitor as it marched towards 100%.

“Yes,” I finally replied. “His name is George Smith, 37 years old, has two kids and an alimony. He makes 65,000 per year and is a devout Blorch™ Lemon Lime drinker.”

My good old Super Visor—masked defender of the Time Clock and 15-minute breaks everywhere—smiled. This would be just challenging enough to remove him from his stupor for fifteen minutes, but not so daunting that he might feel some inkling of frustration.

I didn’t need to be told what to do next. Mr. Smith was pressing the button enough times, that I was able to send the electrical impulses through his thumb straight through to the visual cortex. He got the message loud and clear, and licked his lips in response. We all knew he wasn’t thinking of Blorch™. The system never failed.

“Why don’t these damn things do anything?”

George Smith’s voice came over the speakers with a tinny quality. In the next several seconds, you could hear a pin drop in our monitoring station. If I hadn’t known any better, I would have sworn that even the fans on our computer towers had stopped spinning. In fact, the only sound I was absolutely sure I could hear was the light flapping of the banner reading “OFFER THE SOLUTION” that hung over the water cooler.

No one had ever actually wondered about the button. If somebody figured it all out…  Well, I didn’t know what would happen. The employee handbook didn’t cover such a possibility, but I could imagine most of us would get fired.

After a grunt, he pressed the button four or five times in rapid succession. We all finally exhaled, and the sounds around me finally returned to normal. The elevator door closed, and Mr. Smith was on his way. He was going to be late again, but that was far from my problem.

After his appointment, Mr. George Smith relented to an uncontrollable desire to drink a can of CLARGLE-GARGLE™ brand cola drink and we all breathed another sigh of relief. It was the only way he could regain that feeling of control he lost when trying to make that damned close-door button relent to his will. It was only then that work truly got back to normal.

The brief crisis averted, Mr. Bossman (no really, that was his actual name) rose from his seat. “I’m going to eat lunch,” he said, leaving us to our own devices. 

I eyed the clock, thinking of my own lunch and not the large block letters painted around the clock reading “MAKE THEM THINK IT’S THEIR IDEA.” I hoped the Bossman didn’t drink the last of the CLARGLE-GARGLE™ in the vending machine. All of a sudden, I was so thirsty I could hardly stand it.

 Art by Eris O’Reilly

Art by Eris O’Reilly