Half-heard, chapter 20

A weekly serial novel

Tuesday morning. Sticky, airless heat. The too-dirty house was still recovering from Welnot's moratorium on the bathrooms. In the air was the damp smell of a vacant cottage and beach towels. Narrow beams of yellow-white morning light shining through greased, dusted and palmed living room windows onto Gertraud and Sarah's post-adventure pizza box from the night before. 

That Friday evening roommate meeting was coming soon, so that also meant it was the end-of-the-month mass expulsion of all roommates' disposable funds—with the exception of the big beneficiary William and his rural family trust. 

The roommate in charge of handling the rent was to bring it to the nearby proprietor Chet Mackie, a large, baby-faced man always in a bowling shirt and an NYPD flexi-cap. Chet was very odd, as seems to be the mill-run way for any landlord you come to have in a city, and you wondered how exactly they were able to maintain their finances when they're such whackjobs, while you're by all counts a normal person and still don't even have to so much as bend your knees to walk under the poverty line. 

Chet's given name was Claus Levantako. His family came from the Greek island of Tinos in the early 1900s and over the decades came to own a sizeable portion of the north end's student properties, a chunk of which Claus had inherited in his early 30s. Claus/Chet was a home-recording aficionado and burgeoning YouTube star who from his basement-studio desk chair sang a whole lot of pop-country songs in a southern Georgia lilt about America's troops, September 11th—despite having never set foot in the contiguous US of A or having any relatives down there in the lower 48 to speak of, and Katrina (the hurricane, though if the metaphor was ever lost on any peace-signing commie Canadian it'd still just be another country song about a malevolent honky tonk woman who—in Chet's words—"swept away my chevy / 'n' drowned out all my screams / when you broke through our levee / 'n' washed 'way mah dreams"). It was one of those infrequent visits with a person that was compounded with dread and a guilt for dreading it, but always wound up being, in some measure, kind of nice and comforting. The way he was so open and off-the-latch with his (unbeknownst to him) idiosyncratic weirdness made you feel kind of warm and sheltered in it all, like you could maybe let your patriotism fly free in his make-believe southern stable and just enjoy yourself. 

The roommate in charge of rent also had to get to the bottom of whatever esoteric email money transfer security question Alex Stuart's portion of the rent was accompanied by. In the past, Alex had provided the roommates with previous what-the-fuck level queries: tracking down the full name of Alex's first cousin on his mother's side (Caroline Alexandra Ann Dawn Marie Elizabeth Stephenson Stuart), naming the street Alex was born on (trick question: it was not a street at all, it was a cul-de-sac, the answer simply: "N slash A," the slash having to be phonetically typed since INTERAC's cybersecurity team does not allow for the use of ASCII special characters for myriad reasons. On the phone with INTERAC's nasal-drippy nerdsquad, Trevor and Leland were regaled with reasons like "the SQL injection threat vector makes passwords with special characters an issue since the security answer passwords are stored as clear text and not coded text" and "so you don't get confused when remembering what special characters you used,: what the name of the MC5's first self-penned song was (which, of course, anyone at all could tell you that the A-side of their first single was "I Can Only Give You Everything" from 1966, like, duh. But herein lies another error on a technicality—though it was their first recorded cut, it was Northern Ireland's Tommy Scott and Phil Coulter, Van Morrison and Them's principal non-band songsmiths who wrote that track), and most recently, "What is going on with A. Welnot?" (see security answer number two). Which was the only thing anyone could still say about it, as any time anyone really tried to talk to him about it, he looked at them with that look like you were crazy for not seeing it already. 

And in his room, Welnot still slept. The bag lying beside his bed. Slowly as the midday heat intensified and the hardwood squeaked like campfire kindling the roommates woke up. They patted their faces clean with tap-water and pulled their hair through the webs of their fingers. Slowly they half-consciously re-entered the mostly jobless infinitude of hours that only felt different or new because of the fracture in time caused by the night's sleep. Next door, Myles sat by the television set, excited for Friday's get-together where he'd finally get to meet his best friends.

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.

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