Steam Room / by Kelly Kusumoto

The man stood in front of his locker and undressed. He looked in the mirror at his weathered body and was unimpressed. He remembered when it wasn’t so and frowned, while his eyes fell to the floor. His feet were wrinkled and tattered with corns. His arms were gray and splattered with liver spots. His hands were frail and shaky. His eyes were watered and worn.

The locker creaked when it shut. He turned the dial on the combination lock and wrapped a towel around his waist. He slipped on some flip flops. They slapped his feet with each step he took. The glass door was so clean that if it weren’t for the handlebar he would’ve walked right into it. He turned the timer on and immediately steam began to fill the room. He walked in and took a seat in the far corner of the room. His back and knees ached and felt like the creaky joints of a rusted gate. The steam room always brought solace to his deteriorating body. Every week on Sunday at the “Y” was marked down on his mental calendar. He looked forward to it; the peace and quiet, the soothing steam on his joints and aching skin, the respite from the world’s problems.

As the room started to fill with a slightly mentholated odor, the man closed his eyes and pictured a scene from another life. It was when he was nimble and sure-footed, climbing up the face of Waianae Range. He had spent the remainder of his savings on a one-way ticket to Hawaii after a successful friend had told him to follow his dreams. The friend had spent his last one-hundred dollars on a real estate class, then received his certificate and sold his first house within a week. He went on to sell many more, starting subsidiary companies–all which were successful, since they fed off each other–all while making a killing, starting a family, and vacationing six months out of the year.

The man had asked his friend how he did it? The friend replied, whether intentionally or not, much like many of the motivational speakers would; with vagueness and puzzling answers not even a cryptologist could decipher. He told the man to follow his dreams and never give up. The man said to his friend that he always wanted to rock climb and the friend told him to do it, and go all the way, one-hundred percent.

So he bought a ticket to the Big Island and roomed with a fisherman he met at a bar one night. The man showed the fisherman a lucky orange carabiner his father had given to him. They got to talking about rock climbing and with luck seemingly on his side, the fisherman knew a couple who ran a business. The man started working in the shop as a retail salesman while he practiced climbing on the weekends. He met a girl vacationing from California. She ended up staying. She had dreams too. They involved living in paradise by any means possible. The man was more than willing to have her live with him, which she did. She was beautiful in that California way. She was also irresistible in that California way. He stopped climbing on the weekends so he could spend more time with her, an avid non-climber. But even when it became a chore and hard on the finances, the man just could not resist her.

Then after a year of working behind the counter, a year out of practice, and a year of showing no signs of progress or even promise, the store owners fired him. When he asked them why, they gave him the runaround and told him they had to cut back on expenses. After three months of unsuccessfully searching for a job, the man and his California girl were kicked out of the apartment, forced to buy a tent with the fifteen dollars he had to his name, and find a plot on the beach. He begged. To social services, to churches, to shelters. He didn’t qualify for any help. How? Why not? One excuse after another was given to him and after a while he quit begging the establishment and started begging the people. Ironic, he thought, that the people were the only ones that would help. He got just enough to feed himself and his California queen.

One day he met a well-to-do that offered him a job. The man’s eyes welled and his heart pounded and the unfamiliar feeling of a smile formed upon his face. He rushed back to the beach and saw the tent rustling. The sounds of sex projected outward; an unfamiliar deep moan and a very familiar high-pitched yell. The man’s eyes welled and his heart pounded again and he remembered, there in the steam room, how completely different two identical actions felt.

Distancing himself from the tent, the man took a long walk and came upon a crag. He climbed up it and peered across the Pacific Ocean while the sun set and the breeze taunted him to jump. He didn’t jump. He climbed back down and walked back to his tent in the dark. The girl from California was gone and so were their belongings. At least she had the decency to leave the tent. He crawled in and zipped up the flaps of the door. The darkness surrounded him as the sound of crashing waves created a rhythm for his ears.

The man opened his eyes. The room was filled with steam. He couldn’t see a thing. A slight panic enveloped him as he tried to reorient himself. Suddenly he heard a cough and realized he wasn’t alone. At first, this calmed him, but then the steam would not let up. He closed his eyes and tried to relax. Deep breaths in through the nose and out through the mouth, but the menthol-lined steam was thick and constricting. It was harder to breath. He felt the strangle-hold of claustrophobia contract around his airways. He stood up and was greeted with light-headedness and vertigo. Color patterns inhibited his vision. He felt like he was drowning. He instinctively took a step towards where he remembered the glass door being but slipped and fell backward, hitting the back of his head against the floor.

When the man woke up there was a needle in his arm and he was strapped to a gurney. He could tell his head was bandaged up and his neck was in a sling. He tried to lift his head and was met with instant pain and nausea. The lights in the ambulance were offensively bright and made the man’s head ache even more. There was a figure hovering over him, silhouetted by the absurd brightness of the lights. Her hair dangled in his face and tickled as she listened to his heartbeat through the stethoscope. Her voice was disguised by years of cigarettes, but he recognized it instantly. His eyes widened, his heart pounded. She told him to calm down and that everything was going to be okay. He looked to the side and saw the orange carabiner hanging from her belt loop with jangling keys attached to it. He reached out his arm and grabbed it, ripping her pants down the seams. He held it to his chest and with the only strength left in him, he whispered, “You bitch.” A fog enveloped him and swallowed him up in darkness.

He woke up and found himself in the steam room. There was no needle, there was no neck sling, and no carabiner to speak of in his grasp. He exhaled while his body went limp with relief. He was dripping and his heart was pounding. He stood up, left the room, and walked toward the pool. The water was refreshing and with every stroke, washed his memories away. By the time he reached the other end he already felt much better.




Kelly Kusumoto is a graduate and valedictorian of Full Sail University’s Creative Writing for Entertainment BFA program. He is a writer of literary fiction, flash fiction, and short stories, with experience in content writing for websites and marketing materials, short film screenplays, and video game writing. He is also a graphic designer, marketing specialist, musician, and ice hockey defenseman.