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Grey Sparrow Journal

Issue 30, July 31, 2017
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Apartment Mom

 

by Margaret Eaton

 

 

 

 

                  Lorna didn’t want to be an apartment mom. Not in Birch Point. Tommy, her ex, started this whole thing. There was a woman they would see around town that he started calling Apartment Mom. They both thought of her as a bit of a fuck-up, even though they knew nothing about her. Except somehow Tommy knew she lived in an apartment, a rarity in Birch Point. After the divorce, Tommy confided reluctant lust for Apartment Mom. His not so reluctant lust was the chief cause of their split; now Lorna lived on the other side of their small mindedness, the side that bruised. On the night of their daughter Chloe’s open house, Lorna took a hit, mid-torso. It was self-inflicted, provoked by the sight of her lowered social status on a public document, the second grade parent list. Sitting there next to her name it read like a warning label: Apt. 4A.

 

                 A bit disoriented, trying to pinpoint precisely when she had fully acclimated to the town’s caste system, Lorna drifted into the throng of chattering parents headed out of the building. The throng stalled on the steps outside. Scouting an exit strategy Lorna saw Apartment Mom getting out of her little white car. In what sounded like some serious boots, Apartment Mom, a tiny thing, approached. Within seconds she was bobbing and weaving like a heroic salmon up the crowded steps. Admiring Apartment Mom’s fortitude, Lorna got distracted and accidentally jabbed an elbow into Jessica Fairfax, mother of precious Ariel. 

 

                "Sorry Jessica." 

 

                "Lorna, hi! Can you believe this madhouse? Did you get a chance to talk with Mr. Muhammad? He’s supposed to be quite smart but did you see that jacket?  What was that?" 

 

                As Lorna inched away Jessica’s voice reached for her, "We miss you at book club.”  Lorna always felt a little out of sync in Birch Point; just when she thought she had found her kind of people, they would turn out to be the other kind. Jessica was the reason Lorna left the book club. Clubs weren’t Lorna’s thing but books were. She was dubious that reading on a schedule and talking about books with people she wouldn’t otherwise spend much time with held the possibility of much reward. Then a reward came. One evening the women let the discussion engulf them. They succumbed, fully, to the collective pursuit of meaning. They kept chit-chat from filling every silence and gave themselves over to the possibility of discovering something unexpected, something new, together. Buoyed, Lorna kept coming back for more. But more never came. So she started looking for a sign. For permission to stop showing up for the one dependable social engagement in her life. It came from Jessica. Lorna was sitting on the sofa waiting for the conversation to shift back to the book, or a book, any book when she heard Jessica droning on about her trip into the city with Ariel to visit the American Doll Factory and how they couldn’t decide between the $100 slave doll and the $100 homeless doll. It turns out, as Jessica felt compelled to share more than once, each doll, in its own way, taught children wonderful values. 

 

                “So we bought both!” 

 

                Before she could elaborate further, Jessica was interrupted by the need to choose the club’s next book. When Belovedwas mentioned Jessica turned to Lorna and without a hint of irony said, "I heard Toni Morrison doesn’t like white people." That was it. Permission granted. She was a free agent. Unbound from unfaithful Tommy and now unbound from book club. 

 

                Driving home from Chloe’s school that night, Lorna absentmindedly took her old route and found herself sitting in front of her old house. Empty and unlit, it looked as if it were in hiding, embarrassed that it hadn’t lived up to its hype. She headed over to Apt. 4A where her bonds of choice, Chloe and the cat, awaited her. As she pulled behind the Ambassador Arms, a once stately building in the old part of town, she saw Apartment Mom’s little white car parked near the rear entrance. The car’s lights were off, but the engine was running; as Lorna got closer she heard music and could see movement inside. Dead curious, she slowed her pace. She stopped to throw a gum wrapper into a dumpster. As Apartment Mom got out of the little white car her eyes snagged Lorna’s. 

 

"Hey, you’re my new upstairs neighbor. I’m in 3A."

 

                Startled, Lorna could barely get out a feeble, “Hello.” Apartment Mom swung a fringed suede bag over her shoulder, grabbed two bulky sacks of groceries off the back seat and an enormous crayon drawing of what looked like a green elephant walking on the moon. Before Lorna realized it, her arms were offering to lighten Apartment Mom’s load. When Apartment Mom leaned in to accept, their feet got tangled, making that moment when two people are close enough to be aware of each other's breath longer than Lorna was prepared for.

 

                "Was just up at my kid’s school. He got switched to a new class; now his teacher is this guy, Mr. Muhammad. He used to be an engineer or something. He’s amazing.” Lorna’s body dipped to absorb the weight of the sack without losing eye contact with Apartment Mom. 

 

                “My daughter Chloe’s in that class.”

 

                “Then she’ll meet Hank tomorrow. He’ll be so much happier in there. Did you see that guy’s jacket? Very cool.”

 

                Lorna felt a smile inside, mid-torso. She followed Apartment Mom toward the back door of the Ambassador Arms, their silence punctuated by the sound of Apartment Mom’s boots hitting the pavement. The familiar smell of dried leaves in the autumn air was cut with the scent of the celery jostling in the brown paper sack under Lorna’s nose and with what she assumed was Apartment Mom’s shampoo. The concoction was new and unexpected, like Mr. Muhammad's jacket. To Lorna it smelled of possibility.