Moving to the New House
by Victoria (Woskoff) Bestock
One day after I got home from pre-school my mother and father and sister walked and walked and walked across five or six streets, until I was tired. We went into a house so I thought we were visiting someone, but there was no one home. That was weird. You aren't supposed to visit if the people aren't there. The rooms were empty and our voices echoed when we talked. The floors were wood, the walls white. There was a screened porch off the kitchen looking out to a green lawn in back. There was no furniture; everything was spare and clean and silent. But there was also nothing to play with.
My sister found a staircase behind a door that I thought hid a closet, and we crept down, unsure where to find a light switch. But unlike the basement in our house, which had cement walls and was a storage space for junk, this one was a real room. There were two windows facing the back lawn, up high, because most of the room was underground. There was a laundry area, with a washing machine and a mangle. Wallpaper decorated the walls and maroon tile covered the floor. and there were two closets, side by side. They were empty. My sister and I played tag until my parents said we were ready to leave.
We walked back home but it was far and I was tired so my father carried me on his shoulders the last two blocks. It was late so my mother started cooking dinner and listening to the news. It was wartime, and nothing would distract my mother's attention when the news was on. I went into the living room to play with my sister. After a while she said,
“You know that place we went to today?”
“What about it?”
“We’re moving there. We’re going to live there.”
That was ridiculous. You can’t live in an empty house. It didn’t have any furniture. It didn't have any of our things. Anyway, we lived here, on 46th street, like always.
“You’re a liar,” I said. “I don’t believe you.”
The next day I came home from preschool and everything was normal. My mother made dinner and listened to the news and yelled at me not to interrupt. My sister made up fantastical stories. We did the dishes and I played with my toys and dolls and went to sleep. I got up, secure in having my home had not been snatched away. Verna had just been teasing. Then one morning a few weeks later instead of going to preschool my mother walked me to that strange house again.
It wasn’t empty though. It had a sofa and chair in the living room, and the walls had been painted gray except for one dark green wall. There were no pictures on the walls, no bookcase or books, no knickknacks but the kitchen now had a table and four chairs, and in the bedroom stood beautiful maple beds with decorative carving on the headboard and matching dressers, also maple, also ornately carved. I’d run my hands over those carvings a million times—I knew them intimately. These were my parents’ beds.
My parents stood in the living room and talked and pointed and argued and ignored me. I got bored.
“When are we going home?” I asked.
“This is home.” Verna said.
Why hadn't anybody told me? I asked. Why hadn’t I had a chance to say goodbye to my old home? The new place was bigger and the paint wasn’t cracked, but it had an empty feel, not cozy like the 46th street house-- my house.
“Where’s my bed?” I asked, but no one told me. I opened the door to the staircase hidden behind the door in the kitchen and went down to play. There was a small bed and a very high bed with drawers under it, and a little dresser in between. I wanted the tall bed but Verna claimed it, saying I couldn't get up and down easily-- I was too small. Still, it was nice to know I had a real bed now and not a crib anymore and I loved having that large downstairs room as a play place. The house on 46th street had a basement but it was just for the furnace and to store junk. It wasn't a real room like this one.
I went back upstairs into the kitchen and my mother was making lunch. Across a lawn some children my age sat around a low table wearing pointy party hats and eating cake at a table. Someone’s birthday. I felt very lonely. I wanted to play, but I was now many many street crossings away from my friends.
“Go over there and join them,” my mother ordered.
I didn't want to. I was too shy to just go over when I didn't know anyone. I felt guilty about being so shy. How could I just go and join in on a birthday party I hadn’t been invited to, hadn't been taken to by a parent who knew the other child's parents? I could hear the children sing the Happy Birthday song. I missed Dana, who was my friend at Progressive School. She lived on 46th street.
“Go on,” my mother said, impatiently. “Don’t be such a scaredy cat.”
I would have loved to be part of the fun they were obviously having but it didn’t feel right. My mother kept urging me, then insulting me for being too shy to meet the other kids. I felt like a complete failure as a person.
The next day I took my trike all around the center court, which was a lawn in the middle of the group of houses. A small path ran around it, though there were two steps at one end where I had to carry the trike down and two on the other side where I had to carry it up again. I passed the house where the party had been the day before. A very short girl was playing alone in the yard.
“Hi,” I said.
“Hi,” she said.
“I just moved here yesterday”
“You missed my party.”
“I saw you. How old are you?”
“I’m 5 now.” She looked so tiny I couldn’t believe she was older than me!
“I was four last May.”
“OK. What are you doing?”
“Just digging. What are you doing?”
“Riding my trike around.”
“Did you see the summerhouse?”
“No what’s that?”
“It’s a place with flat stones just down those steps. It’s where we play. C’mon. We can see if anyone else is there.”
I walked the trike down to the end of the center lawn, and carried it down the two steps, and there between some bushes was the entrance to a flagstone patio. Three girls were playing there, and I was pretty sure two of them were girls I’d seen from across the court at the party the day before.
We played Mother May I and I made up a game I called Big Boxes using the flagstones of the summerhouse. Kathleen, who was much older, seven years old maybe, came by later and we all went to her house and she dressed us up in costumes and made up a story for us to act out. By the time all the mothers stuck their heads out the kitchen doors and called their kids home for dinner I knew every kid in our court.