by Stephanie Jimenez
It was the week of her performance review, and Adrienne was ready for a promotion. That Monday morning, at the 12th Street Gym, all the lockers in use were fastened with locks. When she joined months ago, they told her she could buy one at any hardware store, but Adrienne had never been in a hardware store nor had she ever purchased a lock—what kind should she ask for? what if they gave her the wrong one?—and Adrienne was so busy with work these days, how did anyone find the time for something like that? As she rushed towards the showers and saw women squeezing out of their sports bras, her chin rose high, high above them, over a bar that would be set very soon, after her performance review.
Early on, she had figured out a method. Every day, on the treadmill, she took her purse with her, hung it on the arm of the machine as she ran. To shower, she left the purse in the locker room, but only after removing the three importants: keys, wallet, phone. She placed these in a little plastic bag that she hung from the shower hook with her towel. And sometimes, in the middle of washing her hair, she reached around the curtain to make sure the plastic bag was still there. She didn’t like herself for doing that. She remembered Eddie Murphy.
She’d grown up hearing the story. It was a friend of a friend of her mother’s who arrived to a hotel room late in the night. A Black man followed her into the elevator, flanked by two other Black men on each side. When the elevator doors opened on her floor, the woman ran out and didn’t stop until she was behind her door. In the lobby the next day, the concierge waved her along. Your friend took care of it, he said.
What friend? the woman asked.
Mr. Eddie Murphy.
In one version of the story, the man holds the leash to a big German shepherd. Sit, Lady, he says. The friend of a friend sits down, right onto the elevator floor. At this part, all the adults laugh. What a guy—that Eddie Murphy.
But recently, Adrienne’s parents told a different story.
Look at this place, her father said, when Adrienne came to visit. They had sold the house that Adrienne had grown up in and moved into a small apartment on the outskirts of the city, which had broken her parents’ hearts. In their old house in the woods, they never woke up to the sound of people yelling.
This used to be a nice area, her mother sighed.
Adrienne thought, as the water dripped down her spine, they’re all Mr. Murphys. But a moment later, she reached around the shower curtain to check: keys, wallet, phone.
* * *
Her performance review kept getting re-scheduled so Adrienne set a Google jobs alert. She would need to leave her current job the same way she left the two that came before it. It was just like what her old college roommate used to say. Who stays at a job if they won’t give you a raise?
But this time, Adrienne did get her raise, and it was much larger than what she expected. Though that didn’t mean she could leave the apartment on Canal Street, it did mean she could quit the 12th Street Gym. Recently, she’d found a used tampon in the shower. She was happy she had the foresight to join on a month-to-month basis.
Adrienne joined Fitrix instead. During the tour, they showed her the sauna and the spin room, and they told her about the exhaustive schedule of group circuit training and ballet barre. When they left her alone in the changing room, she looked behind her before opening several locker doors, and was delighted to find they were all filled with things. As the weeks passed, Adrienne found that at Fitrix, there were people of all shapes, sizes, and colors, and when a Latina woman smiled at her on the neighboring Stairmaster, Adrienne realized that it’d been weeks since she’d thought of Eddie Murphy. How silly it was to have felt so guilty! She had always known she wasn’t like her mother’s friend of a friend.
But on one cold, Saturday afternoon, as Adrienne caught sight of the ceiling on her twentieth crunch, she became alarmed. She got up, walked herself to the changing room. When she opened the locker—without a lock, of course—she saw there was nothing there.
At the front desk, the woman with the blonde ponytail informed her that this kind of thing had never happened before.
Not once? Adrienne asked.
Not once, the woman replied, her lips the color of a peach.
Adrienne looked all around her. There was a man staring at his bicep curl in the mirror, there was a woman cycling in place. Which one of them was it? Which one had her credit card tucked into the elastic band of a sports bra? Which one had the braised key to her apartment shriveled inside a basketball short? Her phone, her pictures, all the password logins she’d saved into her iPhone notes. Oh my God, Adrienne thought, they have everything.
Someone opened the door to the spin studio, pushing a cart filled with cleaning supplies. Inside, the lights were all out, and the bicycles were invisible in the darkness. Adrienne had taken plenty of cycling classes, but she’d never seen this woman emerging from the shadows before.
It’s her, Adrienne said.
The woman with the cart stopped. Adrienne raised a finger as if she were able to summon the keys, wallet, phone, with the power of her fingernailed point.
Show me what’s in the cart!
But the woman didn’t answer. Behind them, the receptionist’s voice barely registered above a whisper.
Ma’am, the receptionist said. And then she giggled. You’re embarrassing us.
Adrienne turned around. Who do you mean us, she shouted, but then she noticed the music had lowered. A group of gym-goers had hopped off their bikes. The men lifting weights no longer looked in the mirror. Though she had been training for months now in both cardio and resistance, it took Adrienne many moments to gather the strength needed to lift up her head and walk out the front door.
* * *
That night, Adrienne walked past her apartment to knock on her landlady’s door. The little woman grunted, then disappeared without a word. When she came back, she was holding a set of silver keys.
What do I do, Adrienne asked her.
The woman hardly ever said anything to her, but tonight, she was explicit. You go to the hardware store.
In her room that night, Adrienne tossed and turned. Her window fogged up in the cold. But behind the flurry of snow coming down, Adrienne saw something moving. It looked like someone was out on her fire escape. She watched in terror and awe as the person climbed in, removing his wet boots before he stepped onto the rug beneath her bedposts. His mustachioed mouth was parted. The gap between his teeth was unmistakable. His eyes glistened and wrinkled.
What a relief, she said. It’s you!
But this wasn’t the only Mr. Murphy at the window. Soon, another appeared. He stood side by side with the first.
Come in! Adrienne said. Come!
Another Eddie Murphy came, tapping at the glass. Then another. Then more, more. There were so many that Adrienne could no longer see past their heads. They all scooted forward, trying to make space. They got to the bed, then on top of the bed. Their shoulders bumped against hers. She knew they weren’t there to hurt her. But there just simply wasn’t room.
That’s enough, Adrienne said. Stop. No more.
They pushed onto her shoulders, then they pushed onto her neck, then they pushed onto her head until her neck snapped. The sound of each vertebra breaking was like kindling in a fire. Finally, she thrust her hand into the inner lining of her sweater, and when she felt the hidden pocket, she unzipped it. Oh, good, she thought, just as her head rolled under the mattress. Clenched in her fist were what was important: her keys, her wallet, her phone.
Stephanie Jimenez is the author of the forthcoming novel They Could Have Named Her Anything (August 2019). She has published in Cosmonauts Avenue, Heavy Feather Review, The Guardian, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, and more. Follow her @estefsays.