Shrouded in Blackness

By: Norma Jeanne Karlsson

To the people who forgot to fight for me. It’s because of you I can fight for myself. And it’s because of you I’ll always fight for others.


Do you want to know what heaven feels like? It’s this right here. Standing under a steaming hot shower head, dousing my grime-covered body in droplets of freshness. After a week and a half of being out there with nothing more than a wet wipe to do a basic rubdown in a public bathroom, this is pure ecstasy. My muscles are releasing tension as each second ticks by. My skin is breathing deeply through each pore as the water drags away the filth. My lungs are being cleansed by the steam mixed with the scent of some cheap generic soap that may as well be the most high dollar body cleanser the world has ever seen. I never thought soap could mean so much to me, but at this point in my life I live for soap.

I don’t know how long I’ve been standing here, but my fingers are pruney to the point of pain. Time to move this along. I stick my hand under the pump attached to the wall and fill it with an industrial, green-colored shampoo-conditioner-body wash combination that has a manly fragrance. I don’t care. I scrub my inky raven hair into a sudsy pile on top of my head. A feat really, considering it reaches my waist at this point. That happens when you don’t cut your hair for eight years.

I brace my hands against the cracked, grey, used-to-be-white-twenty-years-ago tile and let the fluffy mound on my head set while the water scalds my back. I’m covered in goosebumps from the sting and I relish it. I use the pump combo soap again to scour my body clean. I buff so deeply that it’s red and welted. Clean. I won’t be able to come back for another week and a half so I’m making it count. Now that I’m covered in foam from head to toe I step back in the searing heat and rinse myself slowly.

I hear something and halt my movement instantly. I’ve become hyper aware of every sound in the last eight years. I can hear a rat take a shit I’m so highly tuned in. I wait for thirty paced breaths. I’ve found in that amount of time if something’s actually making a sound it’ll make another in that space of time. The breaths come and go without another peep so I return to rinsing. I shave everything with the cheap one-blade BIC Ian gives me every week while I’m here. He leaves me the razor and a towel without fail, and the soap pump is always full as well as the lotion pump out in the changing area.

Ian Brogan is the closest relationship I have in this world. Seven years ago, he came upon me and decided to insert himself into my life. I fought and bitched like crazy until I realized he didn’t care what my opinion was on the matter. So, the then-sixty-two year-old with the body of a man twenty years his junior and a face always masked in some form of pissed off became…my everything. He watches out for me, feeds me when I allow it (or so I tell myself), and lets me come here whenever I want to clean up.

Ian owns and operates a gym of sorts. It’s really an old warehouse that he converted into a training center for fighters in the 1970s. Not boxers: fighters are what he and his crew train. Fighters that are vicious, lethal men who no one wants to cross in the dark of night or even on a bright sunshine-filled day. Some of the men he’s trained have gone on to fight professionally, but most stick to the underground bare-knuckle fights that have been going on for centuries. I met Ian after one of the fights he hosted here. I was out back in an alleyway when some guy, who had bet on one of the fights and lost and then got rip-roaring drunk, decided he wanted to make my acquaintance. It didn’t take long for the guy to realize that my five-foot-nothing, barely hundred-pound frame was not in the mood to be acquainted with him or his “skin flute,” I believe is what he called it. Instead, I introduced him to a swift knee to his musical instrument.

Ian had been watching the guy because, well, that’s what Ian does. As I unmanned the prick, Ian watched from afar before approaching me cautiously. He complimented me on my skills and tried to start up a conversation which I quickly shut down and disappeared into the night. I didn’t see Ian again for months but when I did, I was in a worse situation and Ian didn’t watch from afar. Needless to say, after our second encounter I was more willing to talk to Ian Brogan.

After shaving and rewashing myself, I cut off my heavenly shower and wrap myself in a towel. The only problem with using a men’s gym is that I have to use men’s towels. I flip my hair over and wrap it up turban-style with one towel before I dry my body and then wrap the other tiny one around my waist man-style. Walking into the changing area, I slather lotion anywhere and everywhere. It’s another industrial product that smells manly and, again, I don’t give a shit. It feels silky with a bite on my raw skin that I welcome.

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