Joe pulled up to the building in a borrowed pick-up. Beside him sat his daughter amid pillows and blankets. The truck was loaded with all their possessions. It was moving day.
The girl looked up at the brick three-story building. Gino’s Used Appliance & Furniture shop was on the bottom left and Florence’s Tailoring & Dresses on the right. The front entry had worn marble steps and an old glass door surrounded by leaded panes. The stone plaque over it read “The Florence Building 1933”.
Gino came out of the furniture shop, arms waving and yelling.
“Hey! Hey! Movin’ inna today! Hey! Pull-a-da-truck-arounna-back!” he bellowed while throwing his short, muscled arms to the right. Joe pulled the truck into a narrow drive. The back was tidy: a gravel driveway with a six-bay brick garage. There was grass edging and numerous half barrels with tomato and pepper plants in them.
Gino burst out the back door.
“Hey Joey! Come on! Backa-da-truck-uppa!” he continued bellowing while he flung his arms in wide circles .
“Who is that guy, Daddy?” she asked, a little frightened.
“That is Uncle Gino, Amber,” said Joe, gingerly backing up the borrowed truck.
Before Joe could set the brake, Gino opened the tailgate and heaved two boxes on to his shoulders. It went quickly; Gino worked twice as fast as Joe and there wasn’t much to move in.
Their apartment was on the second floor, over the dress shop: a living room, kitchen, bedroom and sunroom which would be the girl’s. It was bright with tall windows and a polished wood floor. The stairs and the hallway smelled of lemon wax and old wood. Such a familiar and comfortable smell!
“Have I been here before, Daddy?” she asked, blocking Gino carrying a stack of boxes taller than himself.
“Yeah, sweetie, years ago,” grunted Joe trying to get past her with a chair.
She had no memory of this except the smell. It was good. While she inhaled she heard a piano playing from the third floor, a baseball game coming from a radio in the back. The front door opened and closed. There was the noise of traffic: a bus, cars, a motorcycle. Gino yelled to her father, his deep, laughing answer came from their apartment. The sounds and smells gave a sense of place and of something else sharply missed: comfort. In this place her wrenching losses were less monstrous.
They left the wreckage of failure: a tan mini-mansion next to a tan mini-mansion across from another tan mini-mansion continuing down their cul-de-sac. In each driveway, an SUV and a sedan. Empty streets were quiet as death during the day. The huge houses entombed their occupants at night. Most neighbors were on a nod-and-wave basis. This was her mother’s dream of success. The girl became Amber in the suburbs, her mother thought her little friends would like it.
Everything changed when Joe’s company folded. Their enormous debt took on a life of its own but her mother wouldn’t stop shopping. There were constant fights about money. Bills piled up along with notices then ceaseless calls from the bank. No help came, no economic rescue and they lost it all.
The “Bank Owned” For Sale sign was humiliating. Auctioning their furniture, cars, computers and appliances was surreal. Her friends posts on their MySpace and facebook pages about “Amber’s livin’ on the streets” was shattering. But her mother screaming she wouldn’t be married to a loser or go back to the slum was destruction; she saw her father’s face when her mother said it.
She found serenity. The sturdy walls and heavy doors felt permanent. The smells were deep. Tiny black and white tiles in the entry had a dull sheen from years of wear and the brass mailboxes were scratched around the keyholes from innumerable misses with keys in hurried hands, all testimony to endurance. The bell over the dress shop door jingled with each customer. Gino’s bellowing broke up the hours of the business day. These little things happened for years and as the years went on, those who lived there realized the little things were actually the big things.
Up the back stairs came a small but strong woman, older than she appeared. She stepped quickly to Amber and drew her into a warm, full embrace.
“My Angelina,” whispered Nana.
“You know my name!” she said, beginning to cry.