Nova Crescent

By Jessica Gelar

 

Mom points to a box in the corner of the U-Haul

truck. “Pass that one to me.” The words Kitchen

Stuff stretch across the centre of the box in illegible

handwriting. Only I know what it says because I wrote it.

I hand the box to Mom and hop out of the truck.

A warm breeze ruffles the leaves of the maple tree in

the front yard. It’s cool for the first week of July. The maple

tree stands at the edge of the curb, outside the bushes

that border the lawn. Its thick trunk and sturdy branches

tell me it’s not young, but not old either—just like this

neighbourhood. Planted in the centre of Mississauga, a

five-minute drive from the City Centre, the houses on

Nova Crescent were probably built in the nineties.

Piano movers struggle to roll our mahogany piano to

the side entrance of the house. Some of the tiled blocks

on the path lift out of the ground. The movers treat the

piano like a baby. They wrapped it in a quilt and maneuver

it with careful, calculated motions.

“Roll it an inch to the right,” says the younger mover

in a baseball cap.

“Okay, now push it gently over that bump,” the older

mover with grey hair says.

The words Piano Movers are painted on the side of their

truck. I wonder if enough people need pianos moved for

them to have a stable business.

Dad holds the side door open for the movers. The side

door leads to our new home, a basement apartment—a

temporary setback for our family of five.

 

“These are all your children?” The woman points her

bony finger at my sisters and me, dragging it back and

forth in the air. Her saggy arms suggest she’s in her early

sixties, but her unlined face makes her look like she’s in

her forties.

“Yes. Just three girls,” Mom replies.

Jennifer, Sharon and I squish together on a plastic-covered

couch. Mom and the woman sit across from us on

another plastic-covered couch. Dad and the woman’s

middle-aged son sit together on the plastic-covered loveseat

to my right.

The living room has the essential furniture—two

couches, a loveseat and a television—but no pictures, no

plants, no books, no dust-collecting figurines. The room

swallows up the turmeric, cumin and chili pepper scents

floating from the kitchen.

“This is my oldest, Jennifer.” Mom points to Jennifer.

“She’s sixteen.”

Jennifer forces a smile, pulls her baseball cap down

and examines her socks.

“This is Sharon.” Mom points to Sharon. “She’s

twelve.”

Sharon forces a smile, adjusts her glasses, and twiddles

her thumbs.

“And this is my youngest, Jessica.” Mom points to me.

“She turns nine next month.”

I force a smile, hold my pose like a mannequin on display

at a clothing store, and fold my hands.

Mom smiles proudly at each of us, her eyes commanding

us to behave. We try our best to look like good girls

for Mom. If the woman doesn’t like us, she won’t let us

live in her house.

“Very nice girls,” the woman says in a soft voice with

a warm smile. Her eyes assess Jennifer, Sharon and then

me. She nods approvingly.

“Do you girls make a lot of noise?” she asks us, and

before we can answer, she turns to Mom and says, “They

must bring friends over.”

“Oh no, they hardly have any friends,” Mom says.

“What? I have friends.” Sharon frowns at Mom. I elbow

Sharon. “But they don’t come over,” she adds.

“And if they do, they are very quiet,” Mom says. “They

are good girls.”

The woman smiles and nods. “They look like good

girls.”

My sisters squirm. I stay still. We know we aren’t good

girls.

The woman’s son says something in a language we

don’t understand. He waves his hairy arm and gestures

towards the hallway. The woman nods and smiles at him.

“Do you want to see the basement now?” she asks and

rises from the couch.

“Yes!” Dad shouts and jumps out of his seat.

 

“We need to make some changes,” Dad told us over dinner.

“What changes?” Jennifer asked, scooping up a spoonful

of rice and Mom’s signature Filipino dish, chicken

adobo.

“Well, first we need to move to a smaller place,” Dad

started to explain.

“Where?” Sharon asked and took a sip of her juice.

“We found an advertisement for a basement apartment

near the laundromat,” Mom said, adding more

chicken adobo from the pot into the bowl in the centre

of the table.

“A basement apartment? A basement? How will we all

fit?” Jennifer asked.

“It has two bedrooms. You and your sisters will share

a room,” Mom said as she took her seat at the end of the

table next to Dad.

“I can’t share a room with them. They’re losers.”

My father glared at Jennifer. “You will have to.” Dad

can look scary when he scowls.

“Why do we have to move?” Jennifer folds her arms

and leans back in her chair.

“Because I lost my overtime hours.” Dad said and

ruffled his hair. He often worked overtime. His regular

hours and Mom’s income was not enough to support our

family of five. “Downsizing will help us save money.”

Mom rubbed Dad’s back. “This will only be temporary,”

she said.

“How temporary?” Jennifer asked.

“Maybe one or two years,” Mom replied. “We will have

to see.”

Jennifer dropped her fork. “It was bad enough when

we moved to Canada and I had to leave all my friends.

Now we’re going to live in another family’s basement?

How embarrassing. What if they go to my school?”

“Embarrassing or not,” Dad said, “it’s what we need

to do.”

The woman leads us to a door underneath a spiraling

staircase. The door opens to another set of stairs that

lead to the basement. She flips on a light switch. Mom

follows her down. I stay close behind. The woman flips

on another switch at the bottom of the stairs. Fluorescent

lights reveal salmon-coloured walls and tan-coloured

tiles with criss-cross patterns. The main area has

one tiny, rectangular window. I can see only the bottom

of the fence outside.

“Here is one of the bedrooms.” The woman opens a

door to a carpeted room with a single bed. No windows.

“You can fit bunk beds against that wall.”

If we put bunk beds against the wall, there would only

be enough room to walk in between the beds.

Jennifer opens the closet. It’s shallow and only big

enough to fit half of Jennifer’s wardrobe alone.

The woman shows us the kitchen with a bar area and

then the washroom. The washroom has a sauna and

whirlpool. It’s the biggest room in the basement.

 

I sit in the back of the U-Haul trying to escape Mom’s

and my sisters’ commands to move this and that. A row

of detached houses stand in front of me. They remind

me of the green Monopoly houses Jennifer always manages

to line up on Boardwalk and Park Place whenever

we play. The houses on Nova Crescent have box-shaped

bodies and triangular heads, all the same distance apart.

They all have one-door garages, paved driveways and

windows facing neatly mowed front yards.

We unpack and my sisters and I settle into our new

room. Jennifer zips open her suitcase. Scissors scratch

the wood of the bottom bunk as Sharon carves her signature

rose. The door squeaks open and then slams shut

as Dad carries boxes down into our basement apartment.

Zip, scratch, squeak, slam: the noises of our new lives.