Fiction by Courtney Felle

Cutting Locks

Mari sat on her bathroom counter, trying to open a combination lock by seeing where it clicked and fell into grooves. Soon she fell into a groove of pulling uselessly, and an hour later it was no closer to opening. She imagined shattering it, then set it aside.

Mari had lied to her mother about a headache to stay home. She couldn’t bear to show her face at school, not when she had failed to open Talia’s lock. Talia locking up Mari’s clothes in the first place, refusing to put in the combination even after Mari begged, leaving Mari standing in only old underwear in the middle of the gym showers, terrified the teacher would enter: none of that mattered. What mattered was Mari’s inability to remove the lock, to find the combination, to have control: her fault, her flaw.

Of course, the teacher did enter. Mari didn’t know what Talia had expected—she could only taunt Mari for so long before the other girls let loose that something was wrong. Maybe if the teacher hadn’t walked in Mari would be at school, laughing with Talia like nothing was wrong. Talia always stopped eventually—on her own terms. Mari should have remembered that, pushed and begged less, known that Talia needed the last say—and that the grand flourish of yanking Mari’s underwear down would be how Talia would get it.

On her way to the principal’s office, Talia had mouthed hairy Mari, smirking. Mari never got her lock’s code. The teacher had filed it off, not looking at her. Years later, Mari wouldn’t remember the teacher’s name. She would remember Talia’s face against her nose and how she recoiled. She would remember wanting to kiss Talia and not fully knowing what she wanted, even though she recoiled. When her girlfriend asked when she knew, she would say—a girl with gorgeous hair, a political science class, an opening of something I always could have opened. She would imagine the sawed lock in the basement of her parents’ home, still holding away something vital even though it had been forced opened. She had forgotten that Ms. Baylor, the gym teacher, had thrown the lock away.

Mari grabbed a razor from under the sink and shaved the skin between her legs, plucking the stubborn hairs, not stopping until every spot was smooth. When she finished, she saw the bumps and broken skin, the redness and blood-spots, and began to cry.

The next day, the headache lie didn’t work. Mari walked into school imagining opening her own locker, the combination she controlled, but there was no need—the lock was already opened. Inside, the pages of her notebook had been torn and strewn, red scribbles drawn over everything. Across the door read: Hairy Mari. She slammed the locker shut, and she walked quickly away, refusing to look further inside.

Courtney Felle imagines herself living somewhere between the Northeast and the Midwest. Her work currently focuses on the landscape of queerness, illness, and gender, and can be found in Blue Marble Review, Chautauqua Literary Journal, and Pen 2 Paper, among other publications. In addition to writing, she edits Body Without Organs Literary Journal, reads poetry for Helen: A Lit Mag, and interns for Senator Kirsten Gillibrand.