The city's cold air rested itself in the cracks of the city. It filled the negative spaces between walls like a vapourous caulking, filling mailboxes and surging north and south at the Barrington and Spring Garden intersection. The painful, palpable chill that smacked against your face cloaked the downtown down-and-outers that piled on top of each other in the stairwell to the shisha bar. And with its palpable force, pushed the night's friendless and lone stragglers like Myles home, walking in a forward-falling motion, as if every step a misstep. It was another night that moved too fast to grasp and hold onto or turn around. Filled with faces that passed by before he could work up the gall to speak, or explain why he looks the way he does. No time to tell them he's OK about his neck, that it isn't a big deal and they shouldn't be bothered, or that he doesn't mind his jowl-y cheeks, or his rough and reddened skin. Coatless and alone, he walked tensed and tightened, pulling every part of him in close so not a shred of cold could creep in. Chin and ears sat atop chest and shoulders. His forearms, cheeks and nape of his neck purpling from the cold.
And the night of the Northwood household's pre-meeting meeting was as unseasonably the same as Myles' botched night out. And in this unkind, uncharacteristic night was an unhinged Welnot, soaring at ground-level like a madman through the streets. And in that night after the roommates had decided upon Friday as the date of the roommate meeting, Welnot was moving as if spiraling downward with the aid of the night's soaking, cold wind. His thoughts and frustrations fixed themselves all on one single point in the universe, the smug hot-to-trot face of Alex Stuart.
At Northwood, Gertraud was standing by the upstairs bathroom door to the other, hunched over on this 50 degree angle like she was ready to spew in the hallway. From under the second bathroom door, which until an hour ago had still been caution-taped, barricaded by junk and deemed out of bounds by an increasingly unstable A. Welnot, they could hear Alex Stuart thrashing his appendages portways and starboard, and gleefully humming off-key to the songs of Seaside FM's Yacht Rock hour. Swamped in bubbles, he was celebrating the first time Welnot has left the house in days and promised himself he wasn't going to come out until his skin was furrowed and folded all over like an old prune.
Sarah walks upstairs and sees her, "Uh, oh, hey. Is everything—"
"—Not good," Gertraud blurted in a breath, her face pale and clammy. "I have to choose my words carefully. I think if I talk too much my body will involuntarily—" And then a fart like brrraaammmp shot through. The brrraaammmp-ing disappeared and left the two of them in the hall staring at each other, Gert already looking physically destroyed and clenching every muscle to retain her molten sewage. The scene looked horrific there in the dark hallway. If anyone had been watching they might've thought there was an Exorcist-esque standoff happening between Sarah and a possessed intruder fresh out of the Mayflower loony-bin.
Sarah—a little too embarrassed to acknowledge the fart first—couldn't find an unrelated thought to express at all to pretend that she didn't hear it while the splish-splash sounds of Alex bathing crawled out from under the bathroom door. Gert hung her head and sighed, holding her stomach, "I'm sorry," she pleaded as beads of sweat dripped down.
"How long's he been in there?"
"About 25 minutes. Door's locked, Captain & Tennille's cranked. He's not going anywhere. He's a sociopath."
"You look like you're about to explode, Gert! You gotta go," Sarah, frightened at the prospect of what she might have to help clean up if Gertraud was so much as poked.
"Ugh, no shit." She bent over further, letting out a deep moan.
"Oh, god, oh god," Sarah started pacing back and forth with her hands out like she's looking for something, "We gotta get you downstairs."
"Don't touch me!"
"OK, OK, OK. But we have to—"
"Won't help. Something happened down there the last few days that rendered that bathroom dangerous and kaput, Sarah. Whatever A. kept un-flushed in there looks like it's growing eyes and teeth now, and the toilet's totally clogged."
Then Sarah had a moment of sheer incandescence. "OK! Get ready, I'm lifting you up! Come on! Off we go now."
Outside, Welnot was still surging through side streets and alleyways like an electrical current. He'd been on his way home for hours, having taken every scenic route or discursive turnaround there could be between South Park and home, now somewhere far north on Barrington near the water.
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.