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The Next Great Canadian Novel

Casa Festiva

By Gail WyliePublished 10 months ago Updated 10 months ago 9 min read

Larry stood at the gate, facing the house that he would call home for the next seven years of his life. Harvest meant that no one else was free to travel off the farm and so he had boarded the bus alone and then taken a taxi to this address. His parents had arranged for his housing at the university via a friend of a friend of a friend and this was it. An older home that looked like it had seen better days. He took a deep breath and reached for the latch of the gate.

A grey-haired woman answered his knock on the door. She inspected him gravely for a few seconds and then opened the door wider to invite him in. In a strong accented dialect, she introduced herself as Mrs. Antonio, the landlady and then told him that this would be the last time he would enter her home through the front door. His rooms and those of the rest of the students were accessed through the side door, which he would be expected to use.

She led him down a short hallway to another door, slid the bar aside that was holding it closed, and opened it. She stepped aside and waved him through and then closed the door behind him. As he listened to the bar sliding back in place, he realized he hadn’t even told her who he was.

Larry looked around the room he was standing in. It appeared to be a living room of sorts, with a couple of shabby couches arranged as a letter L in one corner of the room, a large television console in another and a table surrounded by a number of mismatched chairs on the opposite side. A doorway near the table appeared to open into a kitchen of sorts and a stairway led upstairs. Larry set down his suitcase on the floor, along with his portable typewriter, a graduation gift from his grandmother. He called out “hello, anybody here”, but no one answered. He decided to explore.

In the kitchen he found another door, this one leading to a small side yard, overgrown with pink and purple hollyhocks. A wooden sidewalk ran along a picket fence leading towards the front gate and back alley. This was obviously the door he was expected to use as a renter. Inside there was a kitchen range, a small fridge and a row of cabinets, each with a number from one to five on its door. A black telephone with a long cord hung on the wall alongside a cork board with nothing but a few tacks on it. Another door, in the back of the room, led to a half bath with a toilet and small sink on one wall and a washer and dryer on the other.

Upstairs he found five small bedrooms and one bathroom which definitely looked like it could use some love. Each bedroom held a single bed with a mattress, a bureau, a desk and a chair. None of them looked lived in. He went through each of them slowly, realizing that he was likely the first of the students to arrive and hoping that this meant that he was free to choose which of these rooms would be his. He decided on the one that had a window facing east. He always like waking up to the morning sun.

After bringing up his suitcase and typewriter to his chosen room he looked at the bed and realized that he needed to supply his own bedding. He hoped that leaving his suitcase on the bed and the typewriter on the desk would be enough to alert others that this room was taken. He went back downstairs and out the side door in hopes of finding somewhere to buy the items that he needed.

When Larry returned to the house, he could hear voices inside, as soon as he opened the door. He entered the living room to find two young men sprawled on the couches and another sitting at the table eating a bag of potato chips. A VCR had appeared on top of the television and the men all were engrossed in a movie that was playing. He stood awkwardly watching them for a few moments, but no one acknowledged his presence, so he headed up stairs with his purchases. His suitcase still sat where he had left it, so he unpacked, hanging his good clothes in the small closet and placing his t-shirts, socks and underwear in the bureau. Then he tackled the chore of fixing the bed with the pillow, sheets and comforter he had purchased and arranged the towels and facecloths on the top of the bureau, as there didn’t seem to be any other place to put them. When he was finished, he stepped back and looked at the room. It didn’t look very inviting, but it would have to do.

At that point the feeling of being all alone hit and hit hard. He sank down on the bed and buried his face in his hands. Was he going to be able to do this? As the oldest in a family of five siblings he had never been all alone before. And if he wasn’t with them, he had a whole community of neighbors and relatives that he shared his life with. And now he was here, in a big city, where he knew absolutely no one.

It was then that he heard his grandmother’s voice in his head. “Don’t be daft, my boy”. How many times had he heard that line throughout his life, whenever he was using excuses as to why he should not try something new. He was not alone. There were three young men downstairs that were likely waiting to meet him. Perhaps another was on the way, considering the number of bedrooms available. All he had to do was get up, grit his teeth, walk down those stairs and introduce himself. It shouldn’t be that difficult.

The final credits were running on the television screen when he reached the living room. This time all three men looked directly at him. He took a deep breath and said “Hello, my name is Larry Nelson. It appears that we might be roommates.”

The young man who had been seated at the table stood up and walked toward him, holding out his hand in greeting. “Hello, I’m Charles, first year poli sci major. Welcome to Casa Festiva.”

As Larry shook his hand he asked “Casa Festiva? What’s that about?”

“Haven’t a clue, but I believe it was given this name many years ago when Mrs. Antonio first opened the rooms upstairs to university students. Festiva means party, so I assume there was a lot of that going on at some point. The name has been passed on ever since. At least that is what my brother told me. He lived here until he got his degree last year. Now it’s my turn.”

By this time the other two men had also stood up and advanced to where Larry was standing.

“Keith McAulay, law” said the first as he shook Larry’s hand.

“Patrick O’Reilly, English. Hoping to get into journalism.” said the second. “And what about you?”

“Medicine”, replied Larry. “Been interested in it ever since I watched my grandfather slowly die of cancer. I want to be able to find some answers, so that people don’t have to suffer so much.

“Well good luck with that“ said Keith. “First year?”


“Me too.” He looked at the others and they both nodded.

“Wow! I believe this is the first time in ages that everyone living here is a first year student” said Charles. “That means we can stay together for at least four…”

His sentence was interrupted by the sound of the bar scraping on the door to landlady’s quarters. They all turned and looked as it opened. A dark-haired youth strode through. “Hello, everyone” he called out. “I guess I used the wrong door. I’m Tom and I’ve got some unpacking to do. Can you help?”

A variety of affirmative responses came from the men and then Charles asked “are you parked in the front? There’s a parking space in the back which will make it easier for us. I’ll show you the way.”

They all trooped towards the side door and stepped out into the side yard. Charles and Tom headed to the front while the others stood silent, looking around. In a few minutes the jeep horn sounded in the back alley. They headed in that direction to help out.

As they rounded the corner, Larry stared at the jeep in amazement. It was packed full of all sorts of stuff. Blankets, pillows, suitcases, an assortment of different sports equipment, bags of groceries, and boxes of books. There were far more things that Larry could ever imagine needing. As he helped the others carry them into the house, he was glad that he had arrived first, so that no one else would see how little he had brought with him.

In no time at all the jeep was almost empty. Tom pulled out six hockey sticks and handed them to Larry.

“Are you a physical education major or planning on being on the university hockey team” he asked as straightened them out, in order to carry them comfortably.

“Oh no” replied Tom. “I’m in engineering. I hear that the girls all go for the engineers and that’s what I am really here for. Party time! These are for street hockey. I wasn’t sure that anyone else would bring theirs. so I come prepared. We are going to have to have some way to run off excess energy. What better way than through a fast game of street hockey. I hope that the old lady don’t mind,” nodding his head towards the front of the house.

“Well, thank you. It seems like you have thought of everything. I hardly brought anything with me, especially things like hockey sticks.

“Oh, you can thank my Mom. Her little boy was leaving home and she was determined that he wouldn’t want for anything. I told her it was too much, but she wouldn’t listen. Oh well, I’m sure we will make use of it all in some way in the coming months! In the meantime, the hockey sticks were my idea. Got to be ready to have some fun, too.”

That night Larry lay in his bed, staring at the ceiling and thinking about the day he had just lived through. He’d always had trouble sleeping in a strange bed, so he wasn’t worried about being awake. And there was so much to think about it. After everything had been moved from the jeep to the living room they decided to stroll down the street to the center of the university. Charles pointed out the various buildings that they would have to know about in the coming days: the Student’s Union Building, the different faculty buildings, administration, bookstore, a small cheap photo-copy shop, and the sorority that had the reputation of having the most fun-loving girls on campus as members, according to his brother. As they moved through the maze of buildings, Larry wondered if he was ever going to figure it all out. At least they had Charles with them and didn’t have to learn it all from scratch. They ended up in the ‘best’ pizza parlour in the city where they shared a large meat lovers pizza washed down with pints of beer. As they ate, Larry sat back watching the others interact so easily with each other, telling jokes and funny stories of the summer they had just gone through. One would never know that they were all strangers only hours before. He envied their ease of social interaction and wondered if he would ever be able to do it himself.

What he didn’t know, in this moment, is what would happen over the coming years. How each of them would be molded in unique ways by the lessons taught, not only in the classrooms but also through the experience of living together. How their belief systems, goals, and values would be shaped by university life. How these four men would become his dearest and most dependable friends while they were on campus, sharing not only their successes but also failures, frustrations, joy and sorrow, often living at the edge of exhaustion as they each strove to get their degrees. And how this friendship would continue on for the rest of their lives, culminating in a battle. A battle that challenged every part of who they thought they were. A battle they never dreamed they would need to face together, forty years later.


About the Creator

Gail Wylie

Family therapist - always wanted to be a writer. Have published books on autism. Currently enjoying trying my hand at fiction. Loving the challenges of Vocal. Excited to have my first novel CONSEQUENCES available through Amazon.

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