Locker Room Love Story

Photo by Sandy Millar on Unsplash

I don’t know what kind of cancer she has. It is too soon to ask her. She wears pink tank tops and holiday-themed scarves around her head to hide the hair loss.

“I see your wife in the locker room,” I tell him while he squeezes a drop of honey on a banana then takes a bite.

“Really?” he asks. “She goes sometimes to stretch.”

He is 49, and I am 27.

He is my boyfriend. A sort of boyfriend. The kind whose wife has cancer and will be probably dead in one to two years according to the doctor. He comes to my apartment to sleep together and sometimes have a snack after. I like how his skin feels on mine, but I do not know him at all. It’s no real kind of thing.

After I bump into his wife the second time in the locker room, she tells me I have pretty hair. I want to say, I’ve seen photos of yours before this… cancer, and it was beautiful too. Instead, I stand still like an idiot and so I am an idiot. But she is patient and gracious, just like he had described her. She asks if it is natural, and jesus christ is it natural? Is it natural for someone so gentle to die of something you cannot even see at 40 years old? Is it natural for me to want it to happen soon?

It is natural. I have never dyed it.

Please do not assume I am a horrible person although I might be. I was a runner until I hurt my knee so then I was a weightlifter which of course is where I met him and now I am an adulterer.

I don’t do anything serious with my life and that’s okay. I work as a mixologist at the bar two blocks from my apartment and take my dog on long walks through the neighborhood early in the morning so she can poop on different lawns.

The third time I run for my life from the locker room, his wife asks if I like spinach. Then if I like artichokes. She throws scarves and gum and a water bottle from her purse before revealing a sheet of paper.

I remember that I brought a spinach drink into the gym once. Some ridiculous juice drink my girlfriend Alyssa wanted me to try. “It’s good for your alkaline levels,” she said. It was the second worst thing I’ve ever put in my mouth.

“I saw you with a green drink once,” his wife says, smiling.

I smile back with no teeth.

“I always make this recipe for my family. Simple and easy. Try it if you’d like.”

She hands me the paper and stands too close to me. I can smell her. She smells like him. Like someone squeezed a lemon in a new car. So that night I go to the grocery store and buy all the ingredients for the dip. I don’t like artichokes or spinach or dips, but I think I like him. And she is part of him.

I get all the way home and realize that my bag of spinach is moving. I flip it around to see a beetle crawling along the inside of the bag with a piece of spinach stuck on its back.

What does this beetle know? This beetle does not know suffering. It knows my spinach. I cut open the bag and fling the beetle and leaves out my apartment window.

“I think we should stop seeing each other,” I tell him over coffee, but he is texting back his son using his pointer finger. I try to tell him that I don’t like artichokes, that the spinach belongs to the beetle and not me. I try to tell him this telepathically, maybe through the letters pressed oh so freaking slowly on his keyboard. I want to tell him I am feeling something bad, something regretful, and do you think the beetle is still alive? He presses send and asks me how to make the keyboard letters bigger on his screen.

I like how his skin feels on mine, but I do not know him at all.

I am growing bored of myself. I do not long for this life, for this dip making. My mother wants me to go back to school to be a nurse or a dental hygienist. She has resorted to a passive aggressive approach with me. She sends photos of the newspaper, my two-star horoscope that tells me I need to take action in my own life, and mails affirmation cards to my apartment. I use them as coasters around my apartment, shielding my garage-sale-acquired furniture from being tarnished by my vodka sodas and early morning orange juice.

The sex with him is okay. It’s nothing great, nothing bad. Every now and then, when we’ve been going for a while, he’ll start to lose his erection, and we will both disperse into separate tasks as if on cue: I will check on my dog, locked in the kitchen behind her doggy gate, and he will clutch at a leg cramp, water bottle, passing thought of his wife, then disappear into the bathroom for several minutes.

“Today, I am flexible!” he reads aloud. “Today, I will adapt to changes in my life with an open mind and a positive outlook.” He has stolen a coaster from the bedside table and looks at me with raised eyebrows.

I narrow my eyes.

“Oh, you’re flexible alright.” He winks.

Perhaps I could move to Latvia. I read somewhere that the average height of Latvian women is taller than any other nation. I could blend in, watch as other women tower over me and simply float somewhere beneath the surface.

My dog has been staring at me inquisitively when we are alone. I think she knows who I really am. Her one ear gets stuck folded backwards after she has been moving about intensely or playing, rolling around on the carpet with a stolen sock. She barks at me accusingly when I sit in one place for too long. Outside, she lays in the grass in the hot sun and watches the birds walk by her, picking up insects from the ground.

I change the settings on his phone so he can read his texts without glasses. His son sends him memes and asks about school pick up time for Tuesdays and what level of hell does the person sleeping with a married man whose wife has cancer go to? I imagine the devil’s pawns whispering in each other’s ears, patting me on the back, then banishing me to live with other adulterers and coveters for the rest of time. I wonder if they allow pets in hell, although my sweet girl hasn’t done anything to deserve such a punishment. She deserves better.

The last time I see his wife in the locker room, she asks if I tried the dip.

“What kind of cancer do you have?” I horrify myself.

She sighs like my mother, shallow and genuine. “Breast,” she says and grabs her boobs. She stares at me, and I stare at her hands on her chest, and then we both burst with laughter like old friends.

“I am sleeping with your husband and have been for months,” I want to say. I feel intensely connected to her, as if she is the one I have been spending all this time with instead of him. Is it possible she is the one who has been eating all my bananas, peeling my hard-boiled eggs in the kitchen, and spending too much time in the bathroom? She waits patiently, maybe sensing that I have something else, something desperately important to say to her. But the moment passes, and we are once again two strangers in a locker room.

“The dip.” I nod, vigorously. “Delicious.”

Danielle Epting

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