The locker combination started with ten but she believed it was zero.
The gym buzzed with children forming lines to play basketball or to swim. It was the perfect place to forget her combination because no one would notice or care. Numbers were the first thing to go when she felt stressed. They floated and then evaporated from her mind right before she could identify them.
Her goal had been a quick dip in the pool so that she might cool off for just a few minutes. Under the water she was free, invisible, whole. She’d closed the lock without thinking—the top button of her pinstriped blouse opened in false anticipation.. A young dark-skinned girl in a neon pink swimming cap pointed to her locker shouting “OPEN SESAME.” She twirled and gestured to the locker as if she held a magic wand. Then as if by magic, she was gone. The smell of chlorine, soap and sweat coated the air. The red label on the lock glowed. She tried the combination she thought to be correct--backwards. If she couldn’t open it soon, she’d have to ask for help. The other women in the locker room would know then that she was a woman who could not remember a simple number. She imagined herself standing with one hand on a cocked hip while the Dominican man she spoke to each morning entered the ladies’ locker room clutching his giant wrench. She would laugh and look at her feet apologizing for letting down her entire sex while confirming to this grinning man that women were amusements. This was, after all, what she assumed he believed.
A younger woman came to the aisle and stood nearby. Her hair was golden raisin and her muscles outlined her body like a charcoal sketch of the human form. Her olive eyes sparkled. Her gentle gait didn’t yet carry the burden of children or disappointment. “I’m sorry, but I think you’re standing in front of my locker,” she tucked a long piece of hair behind her right ear.
“I believe so, is yours red too?”
“Yes, it’s funny that I thought that would help.”
“There are so many.”
“Black would have been better!”
They’d switched places and the young woman easily manipulated the lock and flung open the locker door. Her toiletries were neatly arranged on the top shelf of the locker and her printed cornflower summer dress hung loosely as though it anticipated an adventure.
“I’m so embarrassed.”
“Oh, don’t be. I do it all the time. Everyone does.”
“God, I hope so. That or I’m the biggest idiot on the planet.”
“Well, sorry, again.”
“No problem. Take care.” She was already undressed. Her buttocks firm, her legs free of varicose veins.
Walking to the next aisle to look for a red lock she remembered that the first number of the combination was a ten and not a zero. Hot air from the steam room began to descend.
Lauren Davenport is a fiction writer who lives and works in Brooklyn, NY. Contact Lauren.