by Sarah Cimarusti
IN MY GYM’S LOCKER ROOM, I WATCH A WOMAN. She’s there every Tuesday at the same time. I’ll be straightening my hair in the mirror, crafting myself for work, and suddenly she’ll be bent over between the lockers slathering lotion between her toes.
The first time I saw her take off all her clothes, I immediately throttled my gaze down to my phone blinking on the long countertop below the mirror. Did I miss a call? I thought. I squinted and pretended to focus my attention. I looked up. She was taking long strides on the thin carpet. Her auburn mane freshly showered, she shook its excess drops like a wet animal coming inside from the rain. What is this, a nude beach? I scoffed.
But now, I can’t help but admire. I pass by her, and sometimes we even exchange hellos in a daily grind kind of way. I’ve come to expect her oblivious nakedness.
Really I just like that she lotions her toes. She even lotions the folds underneath each breast. She does it precisely, like she’s checking for lumps. I let them fall into a heap on the floor, then shimmy into my clean ones. The towel doesn’t completely cover my body. There’s always a pie slice of skin exposed between the two ends. I utter a silent curse to the establishment for not providing towels large enough to cover my entire body. I could bring one from home. Maybe I like the self-torture.
I slither out of my sports bra while replacing it with the one I wear for daily use. It used to be a soft, baby blue, but now a little brown leaks through like a stain on a soiled diaper. I swap bras in a quick 1-2-3 maneuver. I’ve gotten pretty skilled at it. I’m like the Spiderwoman of whipping off bras.
A few times, someone has had a locker right next to mine. I’ll let out an inaudible sigh, again cursing the establishment for assigning this poor soul a place on top of mine. The other woman and I avoid eye contact and trade clunky apologies for being in each other’s way. In trying to avoid each other, we almost knock heads. Sometimes I wait until she’s gone. I’ll busy myself with tasks inside my purse or on my phone to make it look like I put my dressing on hold for more pressing things. If I’m idling long enough, I’ll excuse myself to the bathroom stall and change in there. Who knew getting dressed could be such a hassle?
But back to the naked woman.
She applies lipstick. She scratches at blackheads. She plucks her eyebrows. Sometimes she stretches. I wonder if, after her workout, she completely bypasses the cool down area lined with blue mats just outside the locker room. Instead she opens up her fingers wide as a peacock wings in the middle of the locker room. She curls her spine, bowing her chin deep against her chest. It’s like she’s waking up, and this is her first stretch of the morning.
If I were to guess, I’d say she’s about 50. Her skin is the rugged mountain terrain she has explored and survived. It has little luster left. There’s an extra knob of flesh on one shoulder, a faint whisper of a scar on her right hip. I’ve noticed the random patches of freckles on her back. They’re scattered list clusters of stars. I wonder if anyone has named them. Her toenails are trimmed, but never painted. Her stomach protrudes, and there are slivers of pink sketched into her hips. Maybe she’s birthed a kid or two. Maybe she’s lost a lot of weight and has a triumphant weight loss story to tell. She has conquered something. With some people, you can just tell. Who else aside from me has marveled on this body? Maybe she’s been in and out of every relationship in the book—the pulsating one dipped in sweat and tangled hair, the one that’s as comfortable as morning coffee and as unapologetic as peeing with the bathroom door open, the one pitted against brooding backdrops and as co-dependent as sharing needles. The one where she had to fight to be herself. Maybe she’s held a hand or two through coughing fits that ended in death.
Maybe she is alone by choice. Maybe her favorite relationship is the one one where she slips in and out of herself and tries each part of her life on for size. She routinely needs to be fitted because she keeps shrinking and expanding.
I’ve never been one of those people who can spend long periods of time naked. I find it nearly impossible to sleep in that state. I’ll wake up every hour and shiver, even if I’m not cold. When the slumber wears off, I’m ashamed. I feel like I need to explain myself.
More recently though, I’ve started to try some daily routines without clothes. I’ve quickly realized my favorite thing to do naked is eat a bowl of cereal in my bed.
I sit with my shoulders hunched and my belly and bowl resting in my lap. I imagine pregnant women get these moments. They caress their full stomachs. I caress my breakfast and stare at my own life between my knees.
I do jumping jacks in my living room until my chest is on fire.
My thighs make harsh slapping sounds when they unite at my body’s equator. My tits feel stretched as dusty rubber bands. I want to scratch them as they begin to itch. The rubbing spreads warmth between my legs. For a second, I wonder if anyone has ever climaxed while doing rigorous exercise. Did this person fall down in sheer ecstasy?
I hack away at some half-finished document on my computer.
All I’m missing is a trail of smoke descending from a lit cigarette. Ah, there it is. After each puff, I feel a little more grandiose. What if Da Vinci’s plump ladies came to life and decided to write about him? I drop the act and forget myself. I smile at the sentence I just wrote. It’s not bad. At least it’s there. And I mean it.
During one of my experiments, my boyfriend arrives home from work early. I stand frozen in the middle of our living room. I’m in the middle of a move that looks like drunk Macarena.
He throws his heavy backpack on the table, and scratches his beard.
He asks me why I have to be a tease. Playful banter.
“Why does my nakedness always have to be for you?”
“Touché,” he says.
This time I’m the naked woman in the locker room. I suck in my stomach. I feel like I’m being watched and assessed even though I’m alone. It’s like the lockers are bursting with secrets to tell each other. The benches cough in between hushed judgements about my chaffed bikini line. I hear a rustle a few rows down. I tear at my gym bag. The zipper won’t unzip fast enough. My heart is a ping-pong ball inside my chest.
I look up, and I’m peering into the face of a young girl. She has thick, red spirals of hair, and she’s cradling an orange backpack covered in patches as prominent and proud as bumper stickers. I forget why I’m here at all. At any point now, this girl will convey she’s uncomfortable in one movement. She will silence me with her eyes. She will shun me, stepping over my nakedness like its a puddle she’s not about to step in.
Wait for it.
She says, “Hey aren’t you that girl from my Friday morning spin?”
“Oh, yeah,” I stutter. I stand up straighter.
“Cool. The last one kicked my ass. I felt like we were out of the saddle the entire time.”
“It really did. I thought it would never end.”
“Right? We did it though. See you Friday.”
I watch her turn the corner, exiting the locker room. I wonder what she has inside her backpack aside from clothes. If these items come close to explaining her. I wonder when she strips down to the bare minimum what she will feel. I lift a fresh shirt from my half open gym bag. My clothes smell of Downy April Fresh fabric softener. It doesn’t smell so much like rain, but I like it anyway. I rub the shirt against my face. Cotton to skin. I run my fingers along my lips. I taste like salt. Skin to skin.
I am beautiful.