Storytime: Halfway House.

November 11th, 2015

It was a good dim grey evening of late fall-on-winter and it was a long walk from nowhere behind and a long walk to nowhere ahead when the little yellow light popped up next to the road.
Funny place for a light, I thought. Funny place. No buildings there yet, no homes. Just half-built suburbs, empty shells leaning on shells with gaping windows and unroofed foundations and garages that were just timber frames. Funny place to find any sort of light there. Loose plumbing pipes and empty unwired fuseboxes and no paint to be found for all the rice wine in America. All the workers had gone home already, left their butts and taken their cars. Funny place for a light after all the ashes had cooled off already.
So I walked up to the light on the last bits of my heels that didn’t ache and I knocked at the half-built door and they let me in.

There were there of them, all half-built themselves: a mother, a father, and a child, and they’d just been sitting down to supper. But it was no trouble, they said. No trouble. They could use another person at table anyways.
“Especially a nice full-bodied one like you,” the mother said. She was smiling, I think. It was hard to tell: she had no teeth and only half a lower jaw. No wounds, just gaps.
I told her it was no trouble and that I was happy to be here and it was a very nice house they had.
“It’s alright,” grunted the father. He toyed with his half-empty glass of water, twisting it between the three fingers of his left hand. “But I’ll be straight with you: it’s not what we would have wished for. It’s part of the deal.”
I wanted to ask about the deal, but he was distracted trying to swallow with a missing throat, and I was distracted by the child’s incessant drumming of the table, and the mother was distracted with scolding the child for incessantly drumming on the table, so it was all a wash and instead I focused on eating.
There was a half-glass of water, and half a baked potato, and a heel of bread. I ate some of all of them, to be polite. The child took my leftovers; it was a hungry little thing, and quick with a fork despite having only one arm and no eyes.

After dinner we sat down on two-legged three-legged stools in their living room, which had a roof but no ceiling, and they showed me their possessions and their pride.
“This belonged to my step-cousin-twice-removed’s half-aunt, before she was divorced,” said the father. He handed me a broken pipe; the stem was missing.
“And THIS was given to the family by someone who was very nearly our friend,” said the mother. She handed me a 500-piece jigsaw box that held 250 pieces.
I rattled the box experimentally and glanced at the child. It smiled, and waved a legless action figure triumphantly.
I told them I was very impressed that they were doing so well with so little.
“Oh, it’s no fuss, really,” said the mother. “You just have to remember that it’s half-full.”
“Oh, there’s nothing we can do about it anyways,” said the father. “It’s all half-empty, but that’s just how it is.”
We talked long into the night about uncertain and ephemeral things, like politics and tastes in food and whether or not things could get worse or better. Then, as the mother excused herself to visit the bathroom (which had no bath yet), I asked the father what the deal was.
“Oh,” he said. “That. Well, you know how much it costs for a house these days.”
I did.
“And you know how hard it is to get that sort of money these days.”
I did.
“So we put in half of it instead. Got a half-built house. And they said that was fine, but we’d have to do everything by halves as well. So we’re stuck like this.”
Really? For how long?
The father shrugged. “Until it’s finished.”
At that moment the mother returned and informed me that since it was so dark out and she half-thought she’d seen a coyote or two outside, perhaps I should stay the night.

I slept in a small room on short sheets and a couch, and I woke up to find some leftover breakfast waiting for me. Some eggs with no yolk and toast with no crusts and some skim milk. There was no butter, but there was plenty of margarine.
The mother was missing. “She’s at work,” the father explained. “Part-time, but it’s all we’ve got to get by on.”
The day was too humid and almost murky. We sat on the discarded lumber pallet that was the back deck and watched the child ride a saw horse, brandishing broken sticks at fearsome enemies like trees, dirt, birds, and the sky.
“It always does that,” the father said. He’d just finished brewing us some lukewarm tea in a shattered kettle that whined instead of whistled. It was a sluggish brown, but it tasted like grass.
“It’s made from grass,” he told me.

It was evening again after that. They had no afternoons there. The clouds hadn’t been installed yet.
“Same thing with weeks and months,” the mother explained to me. She’d been too tired to remove her Tim Hortons cap until she’d gotten home; it was hanging on the functional side of her chair. “It’s always a Tuesday here. Somewhere in November, I think. We don’t have a calendar.”
They did have one of those big sticks you make notches in to track days on, though; just like Robinson Crusoe. I checked along its length and sure enough, nothing but a long list of Tuesdays.
“What year is it?” I asked them.
The father pursed his lips: the only set in the family. “Does it matter?” he asked. “I think it was nineteen-ninety-nine when we moved in. It’ll stay that way until they’re finished.”
Dinner was half a pizza, cold in its box. Lots of leftovers, but the child ate them.

You can stay here if you want, they told me at breakfast.
I was a bit surprised to hear that.
You can stay here as long as you want to.
I was still surprised to hear that. But then I remembered that walk out there I’d been on and I decided no, no. That wasn’t anything to be in a rush for.
I could afford to sit down and let my time take itself.

I’m in the house next door these days. Well, it’s not much of a house. No roof, so I’m in the basement, and the plumbing, wiring, and paint aren’t in.
But at half-price it was a steal, and the neighbours are alright. And every half-built family needs a half-built family friend.
I’ve barely been here and already I fit right

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