51 Minutes in a Revolving Door

by Jess Lowry

Mid-turn, and the whole thing stopped moving. With a sighhhhh. And a click. The person in front of me (hair scraped into a bun and brown coat) was able to squeeze out. As was the person behind me (heavy boots and red scarf). But I was trapped. By three walls of glass. After much pushing and shrugging on my part, the security guard approached holding up a note written on the back of a ticket stub. Are you ok? Door stuck? His name tag said “Bill” and he could not have been older than 19. “I can hear you,” I said. “Yes it is. And yes, I’m fine.” Good, Bill wrote on his hand before, subsequently, transforming these words into a thumbs up. He turned to another security guard: “I think the door’s stuck,” he said. Bill’s Friend looks at the door. And then at me: “Christ.”

10:15 AM: Bill and his Friend start to pull the door. And like any self-respecting young woman living in a post-Liam-Neeson-Taken era, I decided to call… my father. “Dad. I’m trapped in a revolving door.” There followed a crunch of cornflakes. “Is this a metaphor?” My father asked. “Did you want to speak to your mother? You know I’m no good at these sorts of problems.” I tell him it’s real. I tell him it’s happening. I tell him to feed my fish if I don’t make it out. “Honey, [cornflake crunch/ swallow] have you actually tried pushing the door. Push the door. See what happens.” This whole time, museum patrons are trying to use the revolving door/my new glass prison. Puzzled when nothing happens, they look at me. And then exit through the side door to the left. Some of them shake their heads or roll their eyes. I have, they presume, broken the door. Children are crying: they wanted to go through “the spinning” door: “What did the lady do?” A small girl asks her mother. “I can hear you,” I say.

10:20 AM: After five minutes of unsuccessful pushing and pulling, Bill’s Friend approaches the glass with a note: Facilities are coming. I nod: “Good stuff.” Bill’s friend raises his eyebrows, blinks and writes back: How’s your air? Asthma? Oh. Right. Ok. Right. Because *could I* suffocate in here? I shake my head. He smiles and writes: Ok. Stay Calm. Stay still. “I”ll try,” I say as he walks away. So, like they tell you in those high-socked Primary School fire drills, I sat down. In order to avoid the non-existent smoke. All the air is at the bottom of the revolving door, right? Right. Ok. Good. Knees to chin.

10:27 AM: Bill, Bill’s Friend and the newly arrived Facilities Man and Woman all stand in a line and give multiple thumbs up. “She has interesting hair,” Facilities Woman whispers, cocking her head to the side. “I can hear you,” I reply. They nod with big grins: “Keep — smiling,” Facilities Man says through gritted teeth: “Keep — smiling. Keep — her — calm.” After exuberant waves and hammer mimes, the latter two start working on the mechanism to the side of the door. Meanwhile, Bill and his Friend get back on their walkie-talkies: “We have a situation here.”

10:32 AM: All this time, out on the street, people wander past. Students, Christmas shoppers, university staff, museum staff, old, young, prammed, wheel-chaired: they’re all moving. There’s scuffing and shuffling and running for the bus. Loitering and lolling and a man grabs a woman’s hand. They’ve been walking in stride but she yanks her palm away, and places it over her neck, saying something I can’t hear and backing away. A mother leans down to tie a girl’s yellow shoe. A man drops a binder and the papers scuttle over the pavement like one-winged doves: hovering and falling and taken by cars.

Alerted by the group of small people around the door, some of these pedestrians smile in my direction. Or stop to stare. “Art installation,” one woman sighs to her companion: “total student rubbish.”

10:33 AM: Cue the arrival of a group of my scarfed students from last term. They wave. “Hi Jess!” Facilities Woman shakes her head and looks up from her position on the pavement: “she can’t hear you.” The students nod in unison and grin. Two of them salute and they all keep walking, arm-in-arm. This predicament, it seems, does not look unusual to them.

However, their class was Fiction Writing 101. And — among other things — I made them follow strangers around supermarkets, write about the contents of their shopping trollies and wear each other’s shoes for a day: their reaction here is fair.

10:39 PM: Cue the appearance of French Neighbor. Giselle is beautiful and French and may have been lead to the impression that I, in fact, speak French. “Allo? Jezzie?” She gets right up to the glass and says something to Bill’s Friend. He replies in French and is, with wide eyes, clearly transfixed. She is beautiful and French and the Facilities Man stops working for a second to look at her face. (Leave Giselle! You are too beautiful!). She puts her un-opened bottle of water in front of the door and nods at me. Then — borrowing the pen from Bill’s Friend who is ignoring the (now audible) yelling on his walkie-talkie — she writes a note and presses it against the window. I do not, as it happens, speak or read French. But this all feels too complicated, at this point, to explain through a stuck revolving door. So I nod: “Oui.” She kisses her fingertips and places them on the glass, mimes washing her face and points to the bottle of water. “Au revoir,” she says though, very loudly though so its more like: “OHHHEVVWARRRRRRR.” And she’s gone. Bill’s Friend looks bereft, and watches her turn the corner: a whip of (so gold it’s almost) silver hair around red brick.

10: 45 AM: Cue, of course OF COURSE BECAUSE WHY NOT, my Supervisor and her Colleague. They have nice satchels. And the highest heels. White necks above long, black coats. Small earrings that catch the light. They’ve come from a lecture and are, loudly, discussing the “Poor quality of the speaker.” Supervisor stops mid-step and looks at me. Sitting. In a revolving door. Wearing a strange jumper. Holding a book. That she gave me to read… three months ago. There is no surprise in her voice, rather resignation when she turns to her high-chinned Colleague: “That’s Jess. Over there. In the door.” Colleague nods, knowingly: “Ahhhh.” She accompanies this with an exaggerated sad face at me. “I can hear you,” I say, pointing at my ears.

10:47 AM: With her leather folder under her arm, Supervisor talks to the small crowd working on the door. “How long?” And, “How much?” And, “Who?” And, “What?” And, “Ridiculous.” Her voice, eve outside the office, is sharp and bright. Thin like a knife. Bill’s Friend stammers his replies. He wants Giselle back. I know how he feels. Reaching out with her black, gloved fingers, Supervisor approaches a Suited Man who’s just arrived, clutching blueprints. She takes his elbow and leans in to speak. “she can’t hear you,” Suited Man says, hastily turning the blueprints round and round like a steering wheel. Supervisor asks to borrow his pen and her Colleague’s lecture program. She gets right up close to the door though, she does not bend down so that I should stand to read her note: Ok? My usual interaction with Supervisor’s handwriting involves phrases such as (but not limited to): WHAT? or WHY? or NO or GRAMMAR IS IMPORTANT TO THE REST OF US. I nod. Thumbs up. Supervisor hands the pen back to the Suited Man who is squinting at a folder. “Email me,” Supervisor mouths, typing on an invisible keyboard then, raising her free arm into a shrug: “CHAP-TER? SOME-TIME? SOON?” And she’s gone.

10:50 AM: A tourist takes a photo. I smile?

10:55 AM: A group of tourists pose for a photo. I do not smile. I feel like a panda.

11:00 AM: A — very very very small — boy comes up and puts his hand on the glass. Pink starfish. I resist the urge to put my hand up too. It’s busier now and more people are pointing and talking. This exact situation comprises 34% of my nightmares (add laughter, and we’d be at 50%). It’s warm in the glass with the sun coming in. It’s warm and I take off my coat. It’s warm and the noises are loud. And then, I’m holding my own hand. At this point, I start to lose it. Stuck in the revolving door, this is where I’m going to die. Of course it is, though. Fueled by indecisiveness. Wholly transparent. Locked in frustrated, circular motion. Tights-that-I-thought-were-black-but-that-are-navy. Everything within reach. But nothing attainable. Thin air (?). On my knees. With my laptop. And lots of chewing gum. Goodbye world. I call my father again. “Now honey, are you sure you’ve pushed the door?”

11:05 AM: The Museum Director, I know this because he presses his business card against the glass, is there along with more security guards and what looks like a fireman. At this point, Bill reappears. He gets down on his knees and sits at my eye level: We’re going to break the glass, he flips over his piece of paper with a second message: Cover — your — eyes — with — your — coat. “WHAT!” I say as he motions to the fireman who, only now do I see, is holding an axe. A giant axe. Meanwhile, behind me, two (very large) Cafeteria Staff have been pushing against the frame with their shoulders and — both slowly and suddenly — the hydraulics (extremely asthmatic hydraulics) sigh. And something clicks. The glass moves.

11:06 AM: A few of the people watching jump in to help the Facilities Man/the Facilities Woman/Bill/Bill’s Friend/the Suited Man/the axe-wilding Fireman and the Museum Director pull the door from the other side. Wide enough gap. Laptop through first. Then a knee, then a shoulder, then a head. A cheer from the crowd. The air is cold. And the sun not so hot. But my coat is still trapped. Shrugged down in a corner, abandoned like shed skin.

11:10 AM: Sitting on the pavement, Museum Director is asking “how” I would “rate” the museum’s response to the situation. On a scale of 1–10. Are there improvements the museum could make in the future? Are there adjustments they could make in the coming days? “I felt like a panda,” was all I could say.


my gift card says,


Photo by Zrendavir.