Nice Albert: Part 2
She went about calling people to stop by for the grill-off. In the meantime Albert had been marinating the meat, and they put on some dance music to get pumped up for the party. After he finished preparing the meat they pulled the glass patio tables away from the shed and hosed them down with soap. Penelope swept the chairs clean while Albert cleaned out the grill. Wasps had built a nest where the charcoal needed to go. A fat red wasp crawled out of one of the cells. He stood still. The wasp took flight. He flinched when it went straight for his face. At the last second it flew in the opposite direction, around him.
Albert wasn’t a naturally cruel man towards insects or vermin, but wasps absolutely deserved to die. Their crime: existing at all. There were at least three more he could see inside the outer cells of the nest. A leg, a pair of wings, a hind end jerking up and down. Carefully, and as quietly as he could, Albert took the bars out. He placed it on the little wooden stand beside him and with both hands poured charcoal into the grill. The wasps buzzed angrily but he gave them no time to retaliate. He doused the charcoal with lighter fluid and lit it with a wind resistant match.
He smiled down on the destruction for a moment. “Hey Penelope, what time is it?”
“Time for you to stop dawdling and pull out a few extra chairs from the shed.” She answered behind him.
He turned, grinning, “Them’s fightin’ words.”
She shooed him away. He went to the shed at the far end of the yard. He was pulling the door open when pain shot up from the tip of his left index finger, rode up the nerves of his arm, and pulsed in both shoulders. “Damn!” he hissed. He thought he had been stung by a wasp but when he pulled his hand up there was no stinger or red welt. He looked over at Penelope and found her cleaning something at the sink in the kitchen. She had not noticed his hesitation.
Disturbed, Albert quickly got the job done. He dragged out two chairs at a time and positioned a total of six around the large rectangular table. Finally done with his duties, there was time to wait and relax. He watched the fire in the grill until the sun vanished behind the trees. Penelope turned on the patio light. There was no unexplained pain anymore- he kept telling himself it was old age. The first of the neighbors arrived and he got up to greet them. It was the young twins down the street, Simone and Andrea.
I will not die today.
Albert validated his status as Master Grill and amazed the young women with insight into the world of marinated meats and the perfect wines to go with tonight’s dinner. The other guests arrived shortly after. The last neighbors were the Albright family, and then it was full dark. Nathan Albright II immediately went into cooking full swing.
Albert was drinking Guinness when a surge of heart burn almost forced it back out. He coughed after swallowing it down and hammered on his chest with a fist. Nathan patted his back, “Be careful there. I’ve saved enough lives today.”
“Yeah,” Albert gave his friend a thumbs up, “I’m good.”
The cookout continued and they finally ate when Nathan was done with his bratwursts and chicken breasts. Dinner was animated, but throughout the ninety or so minutes he was out there, Albert began to feel that something was terribly wrong. The pain in his finger grew to his hand and steadily pulsed up his arm and shoulders. The guests began to leave. He gave them all warm smiles and hugs and handshakes, promising to see them soon. “We have to do this again before it gets too cold outside.”
He had to save face for Penelope. He brushed the pain off as strain from the earlier lifting. Penelope did help with the manure bags but she could only lift so much. When it was the Albright family with Penelope on the Patio, Albert proclaimed he needed to use the restroom. In there he looked at his red face, the sweat blotting both armpits and chest, and told himself it was just the heat and anxiety. Don’t let he old gypsy get to you, hell, she’d probably be six feet under by now.
He pulled his wallet out of his pocket. Buried in the slot under his VISA debit and credit cards, his unused Planet Fitness card, was a plain index card. The only thing written on it was todays date in neat feminine print. He could hear her voice. He could not understand any words, but they were soothing and melodic. He could smell cotton candy and food truck Chinese. The card was hot to the touch. Shuddering, Albert slipped it back in his wallet and walked out of the bathroom.
In the living room he saw Cranium sitting on the coffee table and was struck with an idea. He beamed and took the box outside, “Anyone up for a handicapped match?” Everyone agreed but Patricia gave the limitation of one game. She was exhausted and her son needed to get to soccer practice in the morning. It was settled. Penelope was with Patricia. The two Nathans teamed up with Albert.
Fifteen minutes into the game Albert was going up for charades. He was sweating from all pores and couldn’t bring himself to smile. He was supposed to pretend to be John Wayne. He moved to put his hands on his hips and strut his pelvis out to start the famous walk, but he could only see his feet, not feel them. Oh God no. And then he mimed a couple finger guns. He could not feel his fingers. “John Wayne!” someone yelled.
He nodded, grateful someone finally got it. He wasn’t even paying attention to them. It was growing darker to. “Is there something wrong with the light, it look darker to any of you?” he asked.
“No, it looks fine.” Nathan Albright III said mildly. He was staring at Albert like a hawk watching a mouse.
“Oh, never mind then.” He said.
There was an awkward silence as he stood there in the middle of the patio. “I’m going to get another beer. Anyone want one?”
“Sure,” Penelope said.
“I’ll help, I want another one too.” Nathan Albright III stood up and followed Albert into the house.
It was no cooler inside than it was outside. Albert spread the collar of his damp shirt over his neck, trying to wipe some of it away. He went to the fridge, bent down, and got the cold drinks out. When he stood up, Nathan immediately took the beers from him and set them on the counter.
“Are you feeling alright Albert?” Nathan asked.
“Just a little hot.”
Nathan looked down. Albert looked down and saw that his hand was gripping his left arm again. He didn’t feel or even think about it happening. “Give me your left wrist.” Nathan said. Albert complied. Nathan took his wrist and squeezed tightly with his fingers- this Albert could feel and it was not comfortable. The skin under Nathan’s fingers paled. “Inhale. Now exhale, slow. I want you to repeat that evenly. In out in out. There you go.”
Nathan let go of Albert’s wrist. Albert was suddenly very aware of his heartbeat in his ears. It was rapid. His mouth was going dry. He really, really wanted the beers sitting behind Nathan. He wanted all three of them. He wanted to just chug them down right there in the kitchen.
“What’s the prognosis doctor?” he asked with a joking tone.
Nathan sighed. “Albert you are having a heart attack.”
Albert’s stomach dropped and his vision tunneled, darkening Nathan’s face. “What?” he choked.
“I need you to go lie down on the couch.” Nathan then led Albert to the couch and set him down. Albert stared up the ceiling fan with wide eyes, a decorative green cushion under his head. “Try not to move too much. Do you have any aspirin in your house?”
There was noise at the door. Nathan turned. Albert lifted his head to see Penelope standing at the sliding door with Patricia at her heels. “Albert, what’s going on?” Penelope asked with a frightened, cracking voice.
Nathan stood up with a grimace, “Patricia, I need you to call 911.”
Penelope gasped. “What?” she shrieked. She rushed forward to Nathan’s side and gripped Albert’s clammy hands.
“Albert is having a heart attack.” Nathan continued calmly to his wife. Patricia nodded urgently and went outside.
Penelope’s mouth opened, closed, and opened again but she could find no words. “Penelope,” Nathan said loudly. He put a hand on her shoulder to get her attention. Her wild, watering eyes focused on him. “Do you have Aspirin?”
“Advil gels,” she blurted.
“That’s not the same,” Nathan said.
In the meantime Albert was trying to say something, anything. A thousand messages fluttered through his head. But he couldn’t grasp them. There was too much going on. He felt light headed. If Penelope had not been shrieking in her panic Albert wouldn’t have heard over his heartbeat. Now that he was focused- oh damn, this is what a heart attack feels like, it fucking hurts- all he could hear was that irregular beating.
“Nathan,” Nathan ordered his son. Again, Albert strained to hear him. “Run to the house and get the aspirin, now.”
“Albert,” Nathan said, “Stay with me, all right? Look at Penelope. Stay with her.”
Albert looked at Penelope through blurry, watery eyes. He blinked the tears away and smiled at her. “I’ll be fine.” He said.
“Penelope, stand behind the armrest.”
She did as was asked and leaned down, looking into his face. She held both sides of his burning face. Tears dripped down onto his forehead, his nose, and a few fat salty drops into his open, gaping mouth. She said something but he couldn’t hear it. The world was so dark. Sleep was really inviting. His eyes twitched and he struggled to keep them open. If they closed and his world became full dark he knew he wouldn’t be back. But no! He widened his eyes and got a good view of Penelope. Her blond hair frizzed by the humidity, the running mascara, the smudged red lipstick she always wore. He wasn’t going to let it all go. Was he?
He never stopped staring into Penelope’s face. She looked up once. Nathan Albright III came into view and handed his father a bottle of aspirin. Penelope lifted him into a sitting position. “Albert?” Nathan asked. He shook Albert’s shoulder hard. “Albert? Albert, you need to chew and swallow these.”
His world was a blur of outlines. Nathan Albright II’s face was a useless, convulsing blob. He finally nodded. He couldn’t keep his head up. Penelope kept his head straight. Two dirty tasting pills were shoved into his mouth. He chewed them slowly and only got them caught in his dried throat. “Patricia, water!” Nathan Sr. barked.
She was already there. Patricia poured a little bit of cold water down his throat. It helped a little. She pulled back and suddenly the Gypsy took her place. She sat on the edge of the couch, where Nathan Albright II had been standing.
Albert’s eyes widened, “Why are you here?” he murmured. His voice echoed through his heartbeat and sounded as loud as a rock concert. She didn’t answer. The Gypsy pushed him back down with Nathan’s manly hands. She was in a black lace dress with ropes of jeweled necklaces around her throat. She wore gold and silver rings on every finger, and had a small full color tattoo of a monarch butterfly on her left shoulder.
“ALBERT!” she screamed with Nathan’s voice. “STAY WITH ME ALBERT!”
With Penelope’s voice she screamed. “Albert, I love you so much. I love you! I love you! I love you!”
The Gypsy smiled sadly and leaned closer to him. The only old part of her exotic, young face were her eyes. He felt insignificant staring into them for too long and tried to look around. Nothing but vague, undulating outlines. And the colors! Patricia’s pink sundress and Penelope’s gold hair. He could feel nothing but the Gypsy’s mint scented breath as she pulled him off the couch. There was darkness. For a long time the Gypsy led him through the dark, holding both of his hands and walking backwards on an empty plane.
Her smile comforted him along the short odyssey.
After a long time he finally spoke up. “I’m dead and you’re Death. Am I getting that right?”
She licked her lips before answering. “No. Yes.”
“What? What do you mean I’m not dead? What are you here for then?”
“You are unconscious. Ten minutes have lapsed since you passed out.”
Albert was stunned, it felt like they were walking for much longer. “You will be officially dead in three… two… one.”
Albert woke up to an extreme pain in his chest. Fluorescent lights blinded him. He turned his head away and looked out the window of a hospital room. The sky outside was cloudy, but it was daytime. A heart rate monitor was beeping at him, 92bpm. He did not know if that was bad. He breathed heavily as if he had a nightmare but he remembered almost nothing of going under. All he remembered was the darkness after his heart attack.
“Albert?” Penelope asked softly. She put his hand on his shoulder and he turned his head. He smiled. It was a much more beautiful sight than the sky or the heart rate monitor. She was wearing her pink windbreaker and tight jeans.
“Are you trying to give me another heart attack woman?” he joked. His voice was a whisper out of his dry throat and heavy tongue.
She could not speak, only emitting a small, “Hmm.” She smiled and hugged him tight. She gave him a full kiss on his lips. Her rosy perfume drove him wild and he returned the kiss, running his hands through her long hair. When she pulled back he slowly sat up in bed. His chest protested. He finally realized he was shirtless. A large gauze covered his left breast. He frowned at it.
“I thought I had died,”
She nodded. “You did Albert,” she said. He had to strain to hear her. “You were dead for eighteen minutes. You were unconscious before the ambulance arrived. Nathan performed CPR on you until they got there. You died on the way to the hospital. But they were able to bring you back.”
“I heard your ‘I love you’ tirade before I went under.”
Penelope sadly smiled. She was crying during their conversation. She had lipstick on, but this time there was no makeup to smear. He was exhausted, but he did not want to let her know how afraid he felt. The Gypsy had come for him, but he was still alive and he did not know what that meant. How long was his death postponed? Would it be days, weeks, or years? He shook his head. Maybe worrying about a question he could not possibly ever answer would just give him another heart attack. He accepted that he was with Penelope again, but he had to make sure…
“What happened after?” he asked her.
“You were sent into surgery. You needed a triple bypass.”
He nodded solemnly. “I’ll give you some time to recover,” Penelope said, “I need to let Nathan know you’re awake.”
“Before you go, can I have my wallet? Is it here?”
She nodded and pulled it out of her purse. She did not ask a single question about why he wanted the wallet. She simply handed it to him and let him do his own thing. She went out the room door and closed it.
Penelope was gone and he had time to pull out the Gypsy’s calling card. He frowned. And then he laughed. The heart monitor registered a bump in his heart rate. Get rid of it! Throw it out! Forget it all! Both sides of the card were blank.