Pumping Soap and Counting Mississippis

by - October 15, 2014

She walked into the locker room holding her bags and mumbling to herself. People mumble to themselves, especially when they've just walked across a rainy parking lot to the gym, but as she started unloading her bags to open the corner locker, she kept on speaking under her breath, not making eye contact with any of the other women changing around her, seeming to be conversing as her voice quietly undulated with indecipherable words. I'd seen her in the gym before, and thought of smiling to say "hi", but she was deep somewhere inside her own mind and didn't seem to be aware that anyone else was in the room.

Five laps into my swim, the lifeguard's whistle came screaming over the pool surface as I came up for each breath. He was shouting something I couldn't understand as my ears were full of water. "There is a lot of thunder. We have to close the pool. There's a really big storm." The pool would be closed for at least 30 minutes, so I went to shower off.

As I stood under the shower head, it sounded as if two women had just walked in and were having a quiet sing-songy conversation. But I heard the curtain in the next stall pull back and close again, and the talking continued. Then I knew it was the same mumbling I had heard while changing into my swimsuit. I heard her aggressively pump the soap.

pump pump pump pump

Then as she continued in her one-sided conversation, I heard more and more pumping.

pump pump pump pump

I started keeping count in my head.

One Mississippi, two Mississippi, three Mississippi, four Mississippi, five...

pump pump pump pump

"One Mississippi, two Mississippi, ...

And on it went averaging between four and five Mississippis. I reached over to pump some soap, but mine was empty. I wonder if she had used up all the soap in my shower stall earlier in the week.

There was a new sign in the locker room directing patrons to report suspicious people, and I wondered why that had been put up. What are suspicious people? I imagined her flinging open my shower curtain and throwing a punch at me. I pulled back the inner curtain to peek out at my bag. I wondered who was looking out for her. Who knew she was there?

Yesterday I put an old cd from college into the Jeep and played it on the way to the gym. The tunes were repetitive, the vocals a little bit whiny, the themes a little college-coffee-shop-meaning-of-it-all-esque, but the words "And the least of these look like criminals to me, so I leave Christ on the street" ground down into my soul, and as I stood in the gym shower listening to this woman endlessly mumble and pump soap, I knew she was the least of these. I somewhat feared her. She grabbed my curiosity. I didn't want to poke my finger into her bubble, because I didn't know how she would respond.

I finished up my shower after fiddling with the shell inserts in my tankini top, which had gotten folded and turned during their last spin in the washer. Another woman and I made small talk about the weather and dropping off kids at school, and by the time I walked out the door, it was drizzling, and the thunder had passed.

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4 comments

  1. I feel like there should be more... is there a second page? You never said anything? Not that I'm judging, just trying to see if the end of the story was the end of the thunder?

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    1. My mom had the same reaction. She said, "That's it?!!!" I don't know... it is where the story ended for now.

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  2. Works for me. I love this piece. I know the lady you are talking about. See her every time I go swim. She breaks my heart every time too. I find myself praying for relief from whatever binds her so tightly.

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    1. Thanks, Sarah! I figured you had probably noticed her as well.

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