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Please God. I rest my forehead against the hot dashboard of the old Buick. Please God, brake now. Brake now and plant me through the windshield. Anything to get me out of here. My fingers twitch, fighting the urge to un-snap my seat belt and bail from the car.

My mom pulls her rusty boat into a parking spot and cuts the engine. We sit for an awkward moment, the silence made worse by the sweltering heat and lack of air conditioning. Unwilling to begin our routine, I keep my face plastered on the scummy window, focusing on making designs out of the swirled dirt patterns.

Her soft hand comes out, grazing my shoulder before ruffling my hair. “C’mon toots. I don’t have all day.”

My eyes widen in outrage and I whip around to face her. Before I can cry out that I’d rather bake in her damned Buick with a dull John Steinbeck novel, mom is gone. All that remains is the zing of the seatbelt as it recoils into its place between the seats.

Not resigned to my fate of suffering in silence, I sling the passenger door open and slither out. The twelve labors of Hercules seem like a task for an infant when compared to apartment hunting with my mother. Spending my spring break in Phoenix had its possibilities until mom began waving Apartment Guides and maps of Scottsdale in front of my face. This is the fifth stop of the day and I’m about ready to snap. I scowl at the perpetual blue sky above. Checking out the woman’s future digs just doesn’t compare to being wasted in Palm Beach.

I follow my mom up the cobblestone walk of the gated community. The complex is a seashell pink color, adorned with pearl-white awnings and ornate columns, perhaps hoping to echo the atmosphere of ancient Greece. Brushing past immaculately kept shrubs and pool boys we enter the management office, door chimes jangling, bottled water and a plate of probable store bought cookies set before us. It’s all nothing new, but like the apartment before this, I grab a bottle of water and stuff it into my purse.

“Stop it,” my mother hisses, noticing the swipe. “You’re not a klepto.”

“Would you rather I’d be a pyro?”

She stares at me. I cock my head, a smile growing on my face. I nudge her with my elbow and nod at what’s approaching. “On second thought, how do you feel about albinos?”

The palest woman on earth floats toward us. Ice-blue eyes, white hair, skin the color of paste: a walking wraith. “Good afternoon! I’m Rita and welcome to Blue Heaven.” Rita grins. Her arms open wide as if to showcase the grandiosity of the Rental Office. Either that or she wants a hug.

My mother takes Rita’s outstretched hand, a cheesy smile plastered across her own face. “Thank you. I’m Liz Larabee and this is my daughter Louey Larabee.”

“The alliteration is fabulous,” I tell the woman before getting swatted on the back of the head by my mother. First she ruffles, then she swats. I wish she’d make up her damned mind.

“Act your age,” Liz says. “You’re eighteen not eight.” A man and a woman who are speaking with another sales agent crane their necks to stare at me. Their baby, sitting in its stroller, blows me a spit bubble. Scowling, I sink into a chair and cross my arms. My face burns with embarrassment. The worst punishment Liz Larabee can dish out is a public shaming. And it seems that no matter what age I am, I’ll always be on the receiving end.

Rita acts as if a case of maternal violence is nothing. “Now what can I show you two?”

Bristling, I hold up my hands in a not me gesture. “Her,” I point at my mother. “She’s getting the divorce.”

My mother clears her throat. Lifting her chin she says, “Just a one bedroom please.”

Rita reaches for a black binder nestled on her desk. “Let me show you some great single-person floor plans.” Then she and my mother cozy up and begin cooing over master suites and walk-in closets.

My mother decides on a one-bedroom apartment nicknamed The Majestic. “And it even has a garden tub, Louey,” she tells me, twisting the apartment brochure into shoddy origami.

At her desk, Rita begins the credit report. Liz drops her eyes to the floor. The lines in my mother’s face could write an epic novel with only a few of them having a hand in the happy chapters.

We squirm.

The only reason we’ve been apartment hunting for the last two days, three hours and seven minutes is because Liz Larabee keeps failing the credit check. She’s hoping to beat the system somehow and I’m waiting for the moment when she asks me to co-sign.

This unwelcome thought was put into my head by my father as he bid me a fond spring break. “Louey,” Frank Larabee began, “You’re eighteen now.”

His tone, saturated with a wisdom I hadn’t heard before, caused me to glance up from my Star magazine, wondering whether Frank was going to bestow upon me some cash or some long awaited parental advice. The most prophetic knowledge my father’s ever given me was that garbage disposals and potato peels don’t mix.

“Which means,” he continued, taking a right on Jefferson Avenue. “You are now legal to join the military, legal to screw, and legal to sign on the dotted line for your mother should you choose to.”


But my protest was cut short as Frank Larabee chuckled, reaching over to slap my thigh with his big, meaty hand. The college ring on his right hand pressing into my flesh. “Louey, on a professional level, I highly advise against it.”

“Which one? Screwing or signing?” I tossed the magazine and its tabloid talk into the backseat as my father barked a quick laugh and answered his ringing cell phone.

The tap-tap-tapping of the computer keyboard stops. The chair squeaks as Rita spins around to lean toward us, her hands crossed in prayer position. My mother slumps in her seat, her anxious twisting of the Blue Heaven apartment brochure forgotten.

“I’m sorry, Ms. Larabee,” Rita says, combining the paperwork into one large pile on top of her desk and giving it a pat. “But your report shows you have an adverse credit history.” Rita’s mouth comes together forming a thin, white line, like a raised scar. “We can’t approve you.” With a slap, Rita shuts her binder and files it away for another, hopefully more ideal client.

My eyes narrow. “It’s ok, mom. We’ll look someplace better.” I resist the urge to stick my tongue out at Rita’s smug face and instead settle for a cavalier shrug. Like my mom said, I’m eighteen not eight.

My mother lets out a small titter. “Well, there must be something we can work out.” She threads a hand through her curly brown hair and boings a ringlet.

“Unfortunately not. Unless… you have a co-signer?”

My breath catches in my throat and I twist away from them, pretending to be fascinated with the two grossly obese people sunning themselves in the pool area.

Beside me, my mother hesitates, her body stiffening. Then, she disproves my father by saying, “No. I don’t. C’mon Louisa. Let’s go.”

Her hand finds me for the third time today. We push past Rita with such force we may as well be fleeing hell fires of Sodom and Gomorrah; which would make for a way better story than failing a credit check. But I suppose even Lot and his wife had trouble with the creditors.

The cool confines of the management office disappear as we’re drenched with the sweltering heat of mid-August. We stare at the Buick shimmering in the sunlight. Liz lets out a sigh.

“Rita had cheap shoes,” I tell my mother as if that will comfort her.

Surprisingly it does. She throws her head back and laughs. “Oh, Louey.”


My mother is silent on the drive to the next apartment complex. Her knuckles white from gripping the steering wheel so hard. She’s figuring out her story; what she’ll tell her sisters and cousins at the next family reunion in Key West.

I slouch in the passenger seat, feeling a bit like the bad seed. After five days of this, I get to fly back to my dorm room and fight with professors about post-apocalyptic feminism, while my mother gets left behind to fight on her own. Argue with my father. Pay lawyer bills. Defend her divorced self to relatives.

Reaching over, I flip the radio on, turning it to NPR. I hate NPR but the least I can do is sit through All Things Considered. Liz smiles. I glance down at the apartment rental guide book. “Turn here. Euclid and Shea.”

I had spurned the name Blue Heaven but now as we pull into Hidden Acres it strikes me as the kind of place Jason Voorhees, Leatherface, and Freddy Krueger might frequent. The ravens littering the gravel drive are disconcerting as well. “Mo-om,” I intone, gripping the Buick’s doorknob with frightening intensity. “Let’s go someplace else.”

Cutting the engine, she reaches across to unhinge my door and shove it open. “I’d really like to toots, but as they say: try, try again.”

“Only losers and virgins say that, mom.”

She considers this. “That may be true but I’m sure they’re both having better luck than I am right now.” The heaviness in her voice could sink a ship.

“Let’s go,” I say, crawling out into the sunlight. Knotty pines and junkyard cars surround the dilapidated three-story apartment complex. Dust kicks up under our feet, hovering in the air like a thick fog. We follow the sign directing us up the path to the Manager’s Office. Somewhere a dog begins to bark, setting off the ravens. They caw their protests to the sky, beaks snapping; I shrink away from them as we pass. “God, this is worse than an R.L. Stine book.”

My mother keeps a firm hand on my back, propelling me along. “Don’t be silly, Louey. It’s Stephen King at the very least.”

Impressed with my mother’s wit, I begin to chuckle which sets her off. We shake with laughter outside the office for a good five minutes until Liz clears her throat. “That’s just what I needed.”

“Youse comin’ in or what?” a gruff voice asks. A tall, rather fat man glares at us from behind the screen door. He disappears back into the office.

“Well, he does have a way with the ladies,” my mom say with a wink. Liz fluffs her hair and steps inside, the screen door clattering. I freeze for a moment, hesitant, and then dart inside after my mom.

The office is not nearly as ominous as the outside of the complex but I still don’t judge it fit for housing the living. The walls are painted a pale pea-green color; the carpet is patched with duct tape, a faint smell of fried onions and ranch dressing lingering in the air. A black and white TV with a pair of rabbit ears sits on a small refrigerator. The TV alternates between the Jerry Springer Show, where frantic transvestites are pulling punches, and fuzzy static.

The man is handing my mother a key. “Apartment 302 is free to view. Take your time.”

“Mom,” I say under my breath. “Let’s not do anything drastic.” I get distracted for two minutes and she’s bargaining with Ed Gein.

She ignores me. “Thank you.”

“Not a problem ma’am,” he says with such surprising kindness that I feel like a shit. Judge not lest ye be judged rings in my head and I suddenly curse my old Sunday school courses with all their haunting morals and ethics.

“Would you like a water, little miss?” the man offers, turning to me, his pudgy face breaking out into a smile. Sausage fingers curl around a bottle of Spring Water.

I blink, remembering the water in my purse from Blue Heaven. “N-no thank you,” I stammer.

“You didn’t want another bottle?” Liz asks when we’re outside.

“Shut up.”

Apartment 302 sits in the middle of the complex on the third floor. Both of us are careful not to touch the grimy handrail as we climb the steps. After a quick fight, the key merges with the keyhole and turns. The door swings open, revealing the mess within.

Aw, hell, I want to say but don’t. Door number three don’t look so good. Instead, I settle for a low whistle and rock on my heels. “Well, it ain’t the Ritz.”

My mom is silent as she surveys the small, studio apartment. Drab, brown walls stare back at us. The tile in the kitchen is lime green with white checkers. The appliances could be straight out of a 1950’s Sears and Roebuck catalogue and there’s no doubt in my mind the view from the balcony will be of the garbage dumpsters—sure to smell real heavenly in the summer.

The apartment is not much to tour but for unknown reasons we take our time. I think Liz is holding out for signs of hope but I can find nothing. My internal voice narrates the apartment’s jaded history. I pull open the bedroom’s closet: And this was where Old Man Bejangles hung himself after discovering his old woman preferred games of Gin Rummy to games of Pinochle.

The sliding glass door opens. “It does have a nice view,” I hear my mom call from the balcony.

Sneering, I swing open the laundry room: Scorpions. Lots and lots of scorpions.

“I don’t know mom. It’s awfully…” I rack my brain for a non-threatening word, “…drab.”

“Oh, Louey. I’ll fix it up. Get some cheery little curtains.”

“Mom,” I call out, dropping down on my hands and knees to check under the sink. “Cheery won’t keep the crazies away.” Pulling open the cupboard, leaky pipes and hanging wires greet me.

The fire alarm is what sets me off. I scrabble up on the kitchen countertop to poke and prod at the little safety device sitting on the ceiling. I tap it once and the red light stops blinking. I tap it twice and the lid falls off, smashing down onto the floor. It spins like a lazy roulette wheel among the muted tiles. “You bastard,” I whisper.

“Louey, I think I’m going to take it. They’re not going to care about my credit.” Liz tries to laugh, twisting the empty space on her left hand where her wedding band used to be.

“C’mon, mom!” I jump down from the counter, ignoring the tiny pricks shooting up my legs. She turns to stare at me. “I’m sure Charlie Manson had better living conditions than this.”

I go to her and give her hands a quick shake. I will only say this once, because I am not so good with words. They melt in my mouth like superglue, stick to the roof like peanut butter; a sandwich of disastrous proportions. “Mom, you’re not living here. I would rather you live in the last house on the left, I would rather you have Rosemary’s baby, I would rather you experience the Amityville Horror, I would rather you…” Here, I run out of steam and creative options. “I would rather you… just not,” I finish. “You can’t.”

Liz Larabee smiles that lovely smile. Cool hands clutch my own and then release. “Oh, toots…” she murmurs.

I grin back, happy that my mother has seen the way. That my words have—

“You watch too many movies.”

I throw my hands up. “I what?


We grab lunch at a ’50s-style diner. Everything is so cheery, nostalgic. Marilyn Monroe and James Dean smile down at us from their places on the walls. After the horrid morning we have endured, we’re now being force fed a platter of rainbows and sunshine.

Jukeboxes sit on the tops of tables and stereotypes abound. Pimply-faced waitresses skate by with trays of burgers and fries while a Big Bopper impersonator croons to a couple in a corner booth. I eye the waitresses’ fluffy poodle skirts and high-top sneakers. The lucky stars above get thanked that I never had to work a high school job. Then, to atone for my spoiled brat logic, I order a grilled cheese sandwich, extra mayo. Liz Larabee orders a salad but settles for pushing around her tomatoes and cucumbers like chess pieces. Yet, I do notice that she doesn’t have a lot of trouble finishing her Bloody Mary.

She hasn’t smiled since flooding the gas pedal and leaving Hidden Acres.

I resist the urge to tap my foot as Elvis Presley begins to croon Jailhouse Rock, so as not to insult my mother in her moment of brooding. I gulp down my vanilla milkshake and burp, hoping to illicit a rise out of my mother.

It works.

“Louisa Mae,” she snaps, “You weren’t raised by wolves.”

I affect surprise. “Could have fooled me.”

She watches with amusement and a kind of disgust typically reserved for sullen offspring as I shovel fries into my mouth. Then she says quietly, almost innocently, “Where’s your father living?”

I nearly choke. After swallowing down the lump of grease I say, “He bought a condo.”

“Good for him.” She nods and then stabs a lone tomato with her fork. The prongs push through the smooth, red flesh, sending seeds squirting out across her plate. I watch with wide eyes and shudder, making a mental note to remind my father to lock his door at night.

It’s a blessing and a curse to be a blind spectator in this divorce. It’s a separate experience I hear about over the phone and on holiday visits home; I can almost pretend it’s not happening. Mom’s suddenly single and Dad’s just got a thing for stewardesses; it’s as easy as saying the earth is round and Chris Columbus might have been on to something. But at night, when I stare at the ceiling above me, I sometimes wonder which situation is worse; the eighteen-year-old one, or the eight-year-old one. The not knowing anything or the knowing everything.

“Mom,” I say, “you’ll find a place. Really.”

“It’s my fault.” She leans back against the red booth. There’s a long tear in the Naugahyde, the booth’s plump white filling oozing from the crack.

I open my mouth to tell her she’s wrong. That leering eye of Frank’s and his almost unholy belief that a mid-life crisis is healthy is all his. But Liz knows what I’m thinking because she’s quick to retract, “The apartment fiasco, that is.”

So this is how it will be known. The apartment fiasco.

When she’s older, remarried in Palm Beach to her husband with a ’Vette and a Blackberry, we’ll laugh about it. She’ll raise her martini, thank me for talking her out of Hidden Acres and tell Mr. Palm Beach just how horrible Rita’s shoes were.

Liz Larabee’s long fingers twirl the jukebox knob, scrolling through oldies but goodies. “I should have looked out more for myself when we were married, instead of relying on your father to take care of everything.” I stay quiet and let her talk about life, pre-me. “I was just a waitress at Mahoney’s doing Jell-O shots when I met your father. We married and I didn’t have to work. I definitely didn’t have to think.”

She gives me a crooked smile. “I don’t even think I could change a tire if I had to. But you know how, don’t you Louey?”

I nod, suddenly feeling very young and hating my father for ever showing me how to change a flat.

“I don’t even have a credit history. And no one will give me a chance to build one.” Liz chews her lip.

“It’s a catch-22.”

“A what?”

“You know,” I gesture at the air, grappling for answers. “A catch-22. False dilemma, circular logic. Joseph Heller?”

“Hmm,” my mother says. She reaches out to pat my hand, her touch cool above mine. “I’m glad you’re in college, Louey.”

I barely find the words. “Thanks.”

My dad is an idiot. He flashes before me: swaddled in sweat pants, a Big Gulp in his left hand, right hand on the remote control or down his crotch. Liz grins that lovely grin of hers, green eyes crinkling up, reminding me that she is still young. Just 42.

“You’re right, though. Absolutely right. I’ll find a place.” Liz Larabee holds her palm face up towards me. “Do you have a quarter? I want to hear Why Do Fools Fall in Love.”

As I hand her the cool piece of metal I feel vaguely sad that I’ll soon be listening to the story of my mother’s life on a cheap, plastic jukebox.


Somewhere between being born and raised in the backwoods of Montana, Jules Archer developed a craving for the written word. Today, she writes random stories about serial killers and domestic bondage. She enjoys reading Playboy and sipping Blue Moon in her spare time. She writes to annoy you at julesjustwrite.com

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LF #046 © Jules Archer. Published by Little Fiction | Big Truths, August 2013. Coin image courtesy FCIT.


apartment hunting
in three acts

by jules archer