You drive for days before making it into the state that is supposed to be your home. Even then, after crossing the border, there are hours to go—eight more—before the end of this trek through the American South you have been on for the past week. But you make it, and when you step out of your car into the Florida night, it clings to your skin like wet cotton. You try shaking it off, but it presses closer, tighter. The weight of it makes you shrink, and you struggle to expand your lungs against the unseen hands that press on your chest.
You look around the parking lot, try to pick out which apartment is yours. You have the keys already, and you hold them in your hand like a weapon, sharp edges protruding out from between your fingers. Against what, you’re not sure. If someone asked, you’d say a kidnapper but, if you were honest with yourself, you’d admit that you were afraid of Southerners. Of men in Trump hats, and maybe ones with banjoes. Your dad had told you about that movie—some movie with banjo-wielding hillbillies—and even though you’ve never seen it, the story sticks in your mind like mud and you hold your keys so tight that the cold edges bite into your hand like ice.
The darkness isn’t silent here and you’re relieved, at first, before you realize that the wings of some unknown bugs are buzzing in your ears and there are myriad voices croaking from what must be a pond stretching out behind the nearest building, some reptilian life forms that you have no desire to ever come across, and the darkness isn’t silent here. It’s pulsing like the melody of an unfamiliar and unwanted song, and you miss, suddenly and ferociously, the rolling sirens and electrical hums and human voices that create the night sounds of the city, a mixed chorus of natural and manufactured sounds that used to rock you to sleep.
That mixed chorus is absent here, and you’re left instead with the air sticking in your throat, and a trickle of liquid snaking its way down between your breasts because you’ve stood outside in the parking lot for an entire minute now, and your body is so heavy. But you drag yourself through the molasses in the Florida night until you reach your new door, your new home. The key fits into the lock easily, and it opens without complaint. Cool air washes over your face, and suddenly you can breathe again.
Caitlin O’Brien received her Bachelor of Arts with a focus in Creative Writing from the University of Rochester in 2011. She then went on to earn her Master’s degree at the Bread Loaf School of English at Middlebury College. Her favorite genre to read is fantasy, although most of her own work is creative non-fiction or poetry. She is currently a high school literature teacher and resides in Naples, Florida.