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. Although 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 she got slammed good, mid-torso. It was a self-inflicted blow, provoked by the sight of her lowered social status on a public document. There it was on the second grade parent list, 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 she saw Apartment Mom getting out of a 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.
“Lorna, hi! Can you believe this madhouse? Did you get a chance to talk with Ms. Benson? I wasn’t overly impressed with that math program. But she really likes Ariel. I think she gets her. She said Ariel could bring in her butterfly collection next week.”
“That’s nice.” As Lorna inched away Jessica’s voice reached for her, “I heard Chloe threw up at her desk yesterday, I hope she’s okay.”
Jessica was the reason Lorna left the book club. The capper was the night she droned on about her trip into the city with Ariel to visit the American Doll Factory. They couldn’t decide between the $100 slave doll and the $100 homeless doll as each taught children such wonderful values. “So we bought both!”
Jessica got cut off that night by the need to choose the club’s next book. When Beloved was mentioned she turned to Lorna and without a hint of irony said, “I heard Toni Morrison doesn’t like white people.” 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. She worked at blending in but eventually she’d slip up and say what she was thinking, out loud. Dinner invitations dried up.
Driving home from Chloe’s school that evening, 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 near the old town square, she saw Apartment Mom’s little white car. It was tucked under a low overhang protecting 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 neighbor. I’m in 4B.” Startled, Lorna could barely get out a feeble hello.
Apartment Mom swung a big suede bag over her shoulder, then grabbed two bulky sacks of groceries and an enormous crayon drawing of what looked like an elephant walking on the moon. “Just got back from my kid’s school. He’s got a really cool teacher, I think the guy’s a retired engineer. Anyway he’s very sweet.” Before Lorna realized it, her arms were offering to lighten Apartment Mom’s load. As Apartment Mom leaned in to accept, their feet got tangled, making that moment when two people get close enough to be aware of each other’s breath, longer than Lorna was prepared for.