Emily Livingstone, author of The Same Gym, has published short fiction in The Molotov Cocktail, Necessary Fiction, Jellyfish Review, and others, and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best Small Fictions.
When I got out of the car, I realized I was parked next to a van with one of those stick figure families on it. I hate those. I shouldered my gym bag and headed in. A woman with a kid on her hip and another holding her hand maneuvered her way out through the double doors. Maybe it was her van.
I didn’t see anything weird. I didn’t notice anyone new. I did twenty minutes on the elliptical. Ten on the weights. I may’ve overestimated my time on the weights. And the elliptical. I wiped down the machines, I assured the police the next night, forgetting what we were being questioned about.
A woman had gone missing from the gym during the same evening I’d been there. Never came home. Her car was found in the rec center parking lot. They showed me a picture.
Maybe she looked familiar. I wasn’t very friendly at the gym.
At home, I told El, and she said, “Time to find a new gym.”
“They don’t even know that anything happened to her,” I said.
“It doesn’t sound good,” El said.
I went back the next night after work. I studied the faces of the jacked guys weightlifting, the after-work people like me, there to put in a quick workout to make way for takeout. I didn’t see the missing woman. As I scanned the room, slowing down on the treadmill, I made eye contact with a guy—white, forties, lean. I looked away, sipping from my water bottle, feeling my stomach roll.
I was a voyeuristic jerk. Did I care about Margerie or Margaret or whoever she was? Not really. I was bored. I wanted to be a detective or someone in a choose-your-own-adventure.
That van was parked next to me again when I headed back to my car. I looked to see if it could’ve been the woman from before, with the two kids. There was a soccer mom stick figure, a woman with a tennis racket, a woman with a bathing suit and swim goggles, and a woman with a halo and angel wings. No kids. No stick fish, dogs, or cats. My stomach rolled again.
I looked around fast, and saw someone headed out of the gym, but not looking toward me. I took my phone out of my bag, snapped a picture of the back window of the van and the license plate, and went home.
I looked around fast, and saw someone headed out of the gym, but not looking toward me.
My heart pulsed distractingly all through dinner. El knew something was up, but I didn’t talk about it. I didn’t think I had enough to call the police. I didn’t want to go to another gym.
The next evening, I looked for the van. I found an elliptical that faced the parking lot, and watched for it. The gym was quiet. Even in the few days since Margerie went missing, the crowd had thinned significantly.
Then, I saw it. Blue Dodge Caravan with stick figure women on the back windshield. It parked to the left of my Honda Fit. I watched for the driver. I looked straight ahead and let him stay in my periphery. White guy, gray t-shirt, navy shorts. Maybe the same one I’d made eye contact with last night. I stumbled a little on the treadmill.
When the door opened and he walked through, I felt all the hairs on my body stand up, but I didn’t look. He got on a machine right behind mine. I heard it start up. I made myself stay another minute, then I stopped, wiped the handles down, and went to the locker room.
I saw it. Blue Dodge Caravan with stick figure women on the back windshield. It parked to the left of my Honda Fit. I watched for the driver. I looked straight ahead and let him stay in my periphery.
I was going to call the police. I showered, trying to calm down and figure out how to say it so it wouldn’t sound nuts. I got dressed and shoved my sweaty clothes in the bag. I put my hand on the door, then thought, what if he’s after me? Why was he parked next to me again? Why the machine behind mine?
There was no one else in the locker room. But at least the parking lot was in full view of the gym. It would be OK. I got my keys out, ready. I entered the long, windowless hallway that led back toward the rec center entrance. There was no one there.
I sneakers squeaked a little as I walked. I turned the corner toward the main hallway, and a hand closed hard on my wrist and pulled. A door open and shut, and I was in the stairwell that led down to the back of the building. I knew I only had a few seconds to scream, kick, something.
My body felt weak. He was walking fast across the landing, now holding me tight across my throat so that it was hard to breathe. I took the best breath I could and remembered I was dangerous, too. I knew something about him.
My body felt weak. He was walking fast across the landing, now holding me tight across my throat…
We were at the top of the stairs and I elbowed him hard in the ribs. His grip didn’t loosen, but he stumbled. I threw my weight to the side. He fell, grabbing my gym bag, almost taking me down with him. I bent my head, and pulled out of the strap, scrambling for the door. I ran on legs that felt like they would give out.
When I got to the front desk, the girl got up from her stool and looked at me, waiting, helpless.
“9-1-1,” I said.
The police found him. They found Margerie, too late. And traces of another woman. I don’t know which one she was—soccer mom, swimmer, tennis player, angel? I don’t know which one I would have been.
I go to the same gym. I put a stick figure of a man on my car—just one, nondescript guy. El thinks it’s creepy. She wants him gone. I told her he is.