ACT II: And for that little guy, that little kid who heard the rest of the pre-meeting from the vents in the dust-laden and dampened basement, he heard A. Welnot sniffling to himself and mumbling maniacally while everyone else was lost during his time there by the bathroom door. He sat down by himself most evenings stretching into nights with the face of a grandparent locked into a radio program, craning his elongated neck to his right, ear into the vent, with a look of concentration on something lying elsewhere.
Little Myles McElroy, four foot six in height, with a disproportionate giraffean sort of neck, size 10 velcro sneakers fitted to his narrow feet with woolen hiking socks his grandmother bought for him four years anterior. He had to hold himself back from running up the stairs and introducing himself to these six people he had come to learn so much about through the home's vent ducts. He had to throw his face into his knees and hold onto the bottoms of his feet and squirm to keep from running upstairs and jumping right into bed with Will and Leland when he heard their soppy pillow talk and harmless cheap shots against the rest of the household.
He had to rub his hands together excitedly and satisfy his urges by daydreaming about sitting in on Sarah's kitchen confabs where she and her classmates traded tidbits and chewed each other's heads off over the what they thought about the season's biggest movie. He pitied Welnot for his fixation on his antagonist Alex and for his nosedive into paranoia, and thought Trevor was the most unintentionally funny person he had ever heard.
He knew it wasn't permitted, though; he knew that making himself known would open a real sizeable canister of shit on everyone's day, including his ill—like death warmed over—mother. They'd know it was him who opened the fridge and broke the egg (he just wanted to see what they filled their bellies with), then Alex mistook the egg mess for his own doing in his mottled state that morning. They'd know it was him who bunged up the first-floor can (he snuck up there one night when there was no one on the ground level and couldn't risk being caught by flushing).
Picture this kid, five years prior, face to his knees with the most peculiar body you've ever seen mashed into birthday boy Dougie McEarney's mom's closet during what he thought was a real pro-level round of birthday party hide-and-seek.
Myles never thought he'd be invited. He sat swathed in long waving skirts and blouses that waved to and fro over his cake-covered face waiting to be the last one caught. So proud of himself, almost giggling at his own expertise, but feeling so sorry for how clueless the seeker. The seeker, one of Dougie's usual sidekicks, was even looking in the room he was hiding. Myles could see through the crack between the closet doors and had to hold his breath behind a couple of sheer blouses. He watched him half-heartedly toss over a cushion, look behind a door and turn over a book before he announced, "Guys, I can't find him!" Myles couldn't believe it.
But the goon did notice him in there. There, in the old mother's bedroom decorated like a turned-over jewellery box reeking of thick perfume, the goon noticed the dollar store bright orange shoelaces cutting across the floor from underneath the closet door and felt that same sort of pang you feel in your gut when you see a heartbreaking newscast during a channel surf; the kind of gut-wrenching sad thing you don't have the interest or energy to internalize but still makes you cringe and tighten up before you can quickly cast it out of sight. He saw them out of the corner of his eye as he was exiting the bedroom to go downstairs where Dougie and his friends were fervently waiting for the boy to come downstairs to let them know they pulled off their plan.
All the while, Little Myles sitting low with all his limbs tangled around themselves and swaying back and forth—so excited to be doing so well at this game and so happy to be part of the gang for once, even though, he thought, he wasn't so much part of it when he was hiding in here masterfully. In the closet Myles beamed with glee, thinking he was responsible for so much commotion. He imagined everyone running from room to room together like Search and Rescue volunteers trying to find him. Turning over couches, flipping over chairs.
But they weren't. They were just glad he was hiding, and eventually forgot they even pulled the prank on him.
The new chapter of Half-heard is published in The Coast—newspaper version—every Thursday. One week later it is published here online. So it's easy to catch up online, but best to stay ahead in print.