The door is stuck half open. I slip in and sweep my flashlight down the left tier of lockers. They’re stacked double, 101 on top of 103, 105 over 107. Rust nibbles at the edges of the gunmetal gray doors. One-oh-seven is mottled with orange, like a nasty skin rash, which spreads onto the next units, growing until the last, 129, is engulfed. It’s like the progression of a fatal disease, ventilation slats exhaling dying breaths.
Even-numbered lockers face the odds, a low wooden bench between them dividing the floor into two narrow paths. The right is buried under a jumble of collapsed ceiling panels. So I squeeze down the left side, ducking a florescent fixture dangling from ganglia of wires. Most doors gape a few inches. One-fifteen is wide open, a once-white towel hanging inside, furred with mildew and streaked with an inky glistening substance. The straps of a woman’s one-piece bathing suit spill from the bottom, moist and brown, like rotten leaves in a gutter. Perhaps it’s the source of the sick-bed smell. The floor is strewn with relics: a wooden hairbrush, tangled with black hair. Maroon plastic barrettes.
The room dead-ends at a cinderblock wall with passages to either side. To the right are communal showers, two cycles of drips echoing from beige tiles, like windshield wipers out of sync—the only sound aside from my socks scuffing the floor. To the left stand another set of lockers. These are full height. More expensive. They’re all closed. The last three on the left appear to have something growing in them. It’s bright orange, squeezing from the ventilation slats. Not my favorite color, and a butt-ugly shade of it. Call it “screaming orange.” At a glance it’s just more fungus. And who’s going to come in here, anyway? I can imagine a million better spots for a lover’s den.
Despite precautions, the contents of the three lockers are getting ripe, stronger than that sick-bed smell.
I turn and get down on all fours. It’s tight, but I can crawl. I leave the way I came, brushing away the faint prints of stockinged feet with my gloves. Through the lower-class section, past that smelly one-piece to the entrance. I stand and squeeze out.
There’s no hint out here of that stink. Just normal decay. Do smells move, flow like water? If so, it’ll take time.
No one will ever find them in those lockers. And there are twenty-seven more.