Corridors

She pushed the cold metal button pointing up. Back into that overgrown vacu-pac elevator.

"Stock market?"
"Sure, Mom taught me the tricks. She taught me how to choose among all the information, how to read the market, how to dodge taxes, how to transfer funds to banks overseas, stuff like that. Stocks are a lot of fun. Ever tried?"

"Afraid not," I said. I'd never opened a fixed-term com-pounded-interest account.

The elevator moved at its requisite impossible ascending-or-descending speed.
"Grandfather says that schools are too inefficient to produce top material. What do you think?" she asked.

"Well, probably so," I answered. "I went to school for many years and I don't believe it made that much difference in my life. I can't speak any languages, can't play any instruments, can't swim, can't play the stock market, can't even drive a car."

"So why didn't you quit school? You could have quit any time you wanted, couldn't you?"

"I guess so," I said. "I could have quit, but I didn't want to. I guess it didn't occur to me to do anything like that. Unlike you, I had a perfectly average, ordinary upbringing. I never had what it takes to make a first-rate anything."

"That's wrong," she declared. "Everyone must have one thing that they can excel at. It's just a matter of drawing it out, isn't it? But school doesn't know how to draw it out. It crushes the gift. It's no wonder most people never get to be what they want to be. They just get ground down."

"Like me," I said.
"No, you're different. I can tell there's something special about you. The emotional shell around you is so hard, everything inside has got to be still intact."

"Emotional shell?"

"That's right," she said. "That's why it's not too late. After all this is over, why don't we live together? It's not like we'd have to get married or anything. We could move to Norway or Netherlands or somewhere easy-going like that and pass the time riding horses, singing songs and backpacking. We'd have plenty of money, and meanwhile you could be reborn as a first rate human being."

"Hmm." Not a bad offer.

The elevator came to a stop. She stepped out and I followed. She walked at a fast pace, as she had the first time we met, the click of her high heels echoing down the long corridor. Before my eyes, her pleasing wiggle, her flashing silver earrings.

"But suppose I took you up on the offer," I spoke to her back, "You'd be doing all the giving and I'd be doing all the taking. That doesn't strike me as fair." She slowed her pace to walk beside me.
"There's bound to be something you can give me," she said.
"For instance?"
"For instance, your emotional shell. That's something I really want to find out about. I want to know what it's made up of and how it functions and stuff like that."

"It's nothing to get excited about," I said. "Everybody has more or less of an emotional shell—if that's what you want to call it. You've never been out in the world. You don't know how the mind of the ordinary person works."

"You act as if you're worthless!" exclaimed the girl. "You can read minds, can't you?"
"Of course I can. But that's just a matter of practice. Not so different from using an abacus or playing the piano."

"That is not all there is to it," she said. "Everyone thought that way at first. That with the necessary training, anyone—anyone who can say they can that is—could read minds. But it isn't. You are the only person I knew who could.

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