If you drive down 103rd in Orange Park, you come across a small apartment complex just off the road right next to a convenience store. If you pull up to the gate it screeches as its long arms go to expand for you, and most people drive in cautiously, looking up at all the tall uniform buildings. In building ten, on the second floor is Apartment 201.
Apartment 201 is special for several reasons. It is where I went every other weekend, and select holidays, for six months when my mother left her husband. It is also the first place I saw my mother genuinely laugh.
Though the apartment stayed empty for most of the time we were there, housing only a couch, a cot for my sister, a television, and my mother’s room that was piled with all the things she could take from the old house, some remaining unpacked, looming in her closet like giant monoliths, I was happy.
At first we were all quiet, staying to our separate spaces in the small enclosure. My mom in her room, my sister on the cot, and I chose the porch. My mom never put lawn chairs out there and it remained bare, the concrete ground was rough and had a mysterious gouge near the center. Every night I would lay out on that porch, or stand, grasping the flaking railing, white paint peeling back to show raw wood. I listened to the summer crickets and cicadas create an orchestra. It was the most peace I had in a while. The humid air, and the streetlights and their orange glow. I pressed my forehead to the bars of the railing, and brought my knees to my chest, comforted to watch the people who came and went but never stayed in the late night parking lot.
Then Holidays came around and we cooked in the tiny kitchen all day. I smeared pumpkin pie over my mom’s face, and instead of yelling she laughed and dipped her finger in too. We sat on the couch, plates in our laps and ate while watching a chick flick, something my mother’s husband hated. In December, when my mother stepped out to feel the cold I watched her take in a large breath of the crisp hair, her chest inflating and expanding as she let it flow through her. I saw a smile crack on her face. She began to laugh. This laugh was free and loud and full of snorting, something my sister did as well. I remember laughing with her before we went inside to huddle in the house, our hands wrapped around mugs of hot chocolate.
-Zoey Carter, Junior Art Editor