Nice Albert: Part 1
Albert Gregory Fleming’s day began with the laughter of children. He awoke to find himself alone in bed. His fifty-eight year old ears picked out two distinct noises; his wife Penelope clattering around in the kitchen while preparing breakfast and the smashing of pumpkins. It was two minutes to nine and his stomach rumbled when he smelled blueberry muffins and turkey bacon and eggs.
Albert threw the rose colored sheets off of himself and sat up in bed. The children were his neighbor’s kids from across the street. He could see them holding rotten pumpkins close to their chests. A wave of anger flashed over him; had his pumpkins gone bad this early? He didn’t do anything yet. He wanted to see what they would do. For the moment they were backing away from each other like two dueling gunmen in the middle of a desert town.
The boy in the khaki shorts and black shirt was Nathan Albright III, son of Nathan Albright II. Albert didn’t know the other kid. Nathan charged early with a war cry, startling the other boy. The two boys collided and there was a hollow pop! as the pumpkins exploded between them. Seeds and greenish orange innards spilled out all over their bony chests and onto their feet as both crashed into the ground. They sat in the grass for a moment and Nathan laughed. The other little boy scowled, picking seeds out of his brown hair. His white shirt was more orange now.
Albert laughed at their troubles and went to the window. He opened it quietly and his laughter died down. “Where did you get those pumpkins Nathan?” he yelled out, as angry as he could. The kid didn’t see Albert’s satisfied smile. Nathan’s mother Patricia was going to have a field day washing the kid up.
“Dad bought them early and they got rotten! Mom let us break them. I didn’t steal your pumpkins!” Nathan Albright III hollered breathlessly.
“Good!” Albert slammed the window down in mock anger and walked into the bathroom to brush his teeth.
“Albert,” his wife said from behind him. He watched her from the mirror.
“Wahg?” he asked, mouth full of toothpaste.
“They didn’t steal your pumpkins.”
He finished and rinsed and spat. He turned and bumped into a good morning kiss. Albert smiled and kissed her back. She smelled like coffee. “I love you,” he said.
“I love you too.” She answered through the kiss.
He pulled back. “I have to pee. Shoo,”
When Albert finished he followed his nose out of their room, down the hall filled with pictures from their past. He paused at the picture of him and his friends twenty years ago. David was the on the far left and ironically the leader of their group- in a leather jacket and jeans and a brown shirt. David, the hard smoking, heavy drinking bad boy with no heart. Next to him was Albert himself, the tallest of the group. David had picked him up from work and he was still in his khaki pants and bright yellow shirt. Carla was in the center, with a pink tank top and black jeans. Next to her was David’s friend, Lucas, in all denim and a blue shirt. The last woman was Carla’s little sister, in a dark colored dress that didn’t fit well with the image. He didn’t remember her name.
They were at the state fair and had asked a passing clown to take their picture for them. The clown graciously accepted and joked around with the camera; sticking his thumb out in front of the lens, turning it around on himself in frustration and accidentally blinding himself with the flash. Albert was four beers in and shaking with laughter. The kicker was when the clown finally stopped goofing around told them, “Say supercalifragilisticexpialidocious three times fast!”
The picture turned out great. In the background he could see the Ferris wheel with its gaudy lights, and the neon sign for the gypsy fortune teller. His acid reflux kicked up remembering that woman.
“Albert?” Penelope asked.
He looked at her. She poked her head around the corner, “You alright there? You need your coffee?”
“Yeah.” He grunted. He went into the kitchen, to the island counter and piled his plate high with turkey bacon, scrambled eggs, and a blueberry cheesecake muffin. Penelope had cut up peppers and diced tomatoes into the eggs with a handful of shredded cheese. “This is good,” he said through a bite.
“I’m glad you like it,” she said.
The gypsy woman was really bothering him again. He almost saw her welcoming smile in the coffee. He could still remember the options written on the sign posted outside her lavish, crimson and violet tent. YOUR FUTURE. YOUR DEATH. YOUR ROMANCE. YOUR GLORY. Alma was her name and she sat at a small foldable table when Albert and his friends approached. She was eating chow Mein from a take-out carton and delicately wrapping the noodles around the chopsticks. He remembered her smile that hadn’t quite made it all the way to her eyes.
And then he was back, looking at his coffee and taking a sip. The sun was out, it wasn’t night anymore, and he couldn’t smell funnel cakes and hay and body odor.
“Are we going to plant the squash today?” he asked.
“Yeah, when it warms up.” Penelope said. She was looking at him with her head cocked, blonde hair draped over one shoulder.
“Are you sure you’re alright? You sure are out of it.”
He shrugged. “I’m fine, I swear. Just thinking,”
“What are you thinking about?”
He ate a couple of pieces of turkey bacon before answering. “It’s not bad.”
She only smiled.
Albert gave her a reassuring smile. He let out a little sigh. She was smart. He needed to act normal and pretend today may not be his last day.
He didn’t remember much about his session with the gypsy woman. He only remembered eventually sitting in front of her and the stack of tarot cards between them… he remembered her asking to cut the deck, and then she was telling him the exact date of his death. Normally he wouldn’t have believed in that sort of thing; premonitions and fortune tellers, but all of his other friends had died on the exact day she predicted. Today was his day, according to the Gypsy woman.
David took a shotgun to his face three years ago, the most recent one. Five years ago, Carla was in an accident on a busy freeway, knocked into oncoming traffic by a drunk driver. Six years ago, Lucas died of a heart attack. Now out of their group it was only him and Carla’s little sister, who had wisely opted for the ROMANCE option. It felt like the universe had purposely thinned them out, but his disbelief caused migraines if he thought about it too much.
He got up after emptying his plate and grabbed another slice of turkey bacon from the pan. It blistered a small part of the roof of his mouth. “Damn!” he cursed and ate quickly. By the time he was through getting a glass of ice water Penelope was opening the sliding glass door. She stood there basking in the sunlight which did interesting things to the dark blonde hair curling off of her shoulders.
“It’s going to be a good day.” She said quietly.
He grunted his agreement, looking out at the yard, and the patio. The patio… The patio… The grill. He laughed and clapped his hands together, “I know what we should do!”
Penelope gasped, “What?”
“Nathan and I haven’t had a cook off in almost a year.”
“That’s true,” She nodded. “Are you sure you can beat him this time?”
“Don’t doubt me.” He narrowed his eyes. Albert thought for a moment. He was better at burgers but Nathan was really good at dogs and sausages. He’d have to grill like his life depended on it. He laughed to himself.
“Albert, Albert… Albert!” Penelope was snapping her fingers in his face.
"Your eyes are twitching.”
She shook her head, “My god, honey. I need to get you Adderall or something.”
“Adderall is for college students.”
“Uh-huh. We’ll need to figure out how to invite people over.”
He threw his hands up, “Easy. We’ll tell Nosy Marty we’re having a party, and the whole neighborhood will know by noon.”
Penelope gasped in fake shock, “Albert! He’s not that bad!”
“Yes he is.”
“OK, he is. I’ll take him some muffins and let it slip that we’re having a cookout. You call Nathan and make sure he’s up to the challenge.”
The conversation died off again while they cleaned up. But a question nagged him. “Penelope, what would you do if I died?”
She bumped her head on top of the dishwasher in shock and backed up, furiously rubbing the back of her head. “Sorry,” he said.
“I don’t know. Travel, I suppose? I’ve always wanted to see Australia and New Zealand.” Penelope replied. “That’s awfully morbid for a sunny Friday morning. Are you planning on dropping dead soon?”
Albert could only shake his head and force a stiff laugh.
It was almost ten when everything was done. She took a shower and he went outside on the front patio. He wedged a disgustingly cheery garden gnome in front of the door to keep it propped open. Albert was perfectly content sitting in his garden chair, thinking of nothing.
At 11:30, Nathan Albright II walked out of his house and took a short cut through his yard to the car. He was short, wiry looking man with a badly receding hairline and a perpetually distracted look about him. Nathan Albright III followed him while his wife, Patricia, watched from the doorway. The boy was holding a box that looked a little too large for him. He held the box against the side of the car until his father opened the door.
“Hey Nathan, you ready for another grill off?” Albert called out, standing from his chair and walking down the driveway.
The father smiled wryly. “When?”
“Today. Seven o’ clock,”
Nathan looked at Patricia and she nodded. “Sounds fun,” she paused, “It is Friday.”
The father got into his car and peeled out of the driveway and down the street. Nathan Albright III was still holding the box in his hands. A moment later tires screeched and his father pulled back into the driveway. “Come on, put it in!” He opened his door from the front.
Albert let them have at it in peace, knocked the garden gnome from its place, and walked back into the house. The front door and the back door were directly across from each other. He passed the living room, a small half bathroom, and the kitchen before stepping onto the patio. Penelope was weeding their new box garden. It was beside his pumpkin patch that stretched out along the side of the patio.
Only a few of the pumpkins were ripe, the others were still young. He looked down at them and wished he could have enough to sell at the farmer’s market. Otherwise Penelope would bake pastries; her wildly popular pumpkin scones.
“I gave Nosy Marty his muffins and told him about the cookout. I’m sure he’s lit up the neighborhood grapevine by now. Is Nathan on board?” She asked him.
“He’s game. I told him 7 o’clock.” Albert told her, rocking back on his heels.
“Are you going to help or just lurk about.” She said, looking up at him.
“You seem to have the weeds on the run.” he retorted, “I wouldn’t dream of meddling with your system.”
“Well, bring the bags of manure over here.”
They had a large patio and he saw the bags of manure piled up against the gate. They were ten feet away.
They had bought the three bags yesterday afternoon but it had been too hot to do anything other than pitch them over the side, and now he regretted not hauling them further into the back yard. He failed at flexing his flabby biceps- while he wasn’t weak; seventy five pound bags were stretching his limit. “Alright,” he said. “Let’s do it!”
He trudged through the ankle high grass, subconsciously telling himself to mow next week. He put his back against the fence and used it as leverage, picking the bag up with his knees.
The bag was chest level when Nathan Albright III came up to him like a midget hit man and screamed, “Mr. Flemings I got something for you!”
Albert screamed. All seventy five pounds of the manure slipped out of his hands. Thankfully the bag didn’t explode over his shoes but the air that wafted up almost hurt as much. The old woman who had told him the date and time of his death had not mentioned horse droppings. He turned around and hooked his arm over the fence to keep his balance.
“You almost killed me early boy!”
“Sorry,” Nathan said, “My mom sent me over.”
Albert saw the paper towel wrapped around something sticky in Nathan’s arms. “What do you have there?”
“She said these are my really, really, really, really late apologies for stealing a couple of your pumpkins last year.”
Nathan narrowed his eyes. “You know I only stole two!” he raised his voice.
Albert laughed and waved his hand to calm the boy down. “I know you did, I know you did. What did you get me?”
The boy struggled to keep the treats cradled in his arm as he unwrapped them. They were Rice Krispy treats, large and evenly cut with a deft hand. “There’s pumpkin seeds in them. I had the idea. My mom said it was called irony.”
“Did she now? Hey Penelope, come see what we got from the little kid across the street!”
“You don’t need to yell darling, I’m right here.” Penelope said from behind him.
“We made some for you to,” Nathan told Penelope. She took them from his arms.
“Tell your mother I said ‘thank you’ for her gift. That’s very sweet.”
“Okay, well I have to go now.” The boy didn’t wait for either Albert or Penelope to say bye before running off to his own yard.
“Nice kid,” Albert said.
Penelope helped him get the bag of manure off his feet. They sat on the porch steps and ate the Rice Krispy treats, two each, before setting off to do yard work. He poured manure for the new squash plants and she put in the seeds. It was sweaty, back breaking work. After cooling off in the living room, under the fan, they both left for the grocery store.
When they got back he did a double take when he saw what time it was. Five o’ clock. Past his death date. He put the meat on the counter and prodded at his chest to make sure his old heart was still working. It was. Albert thought back to the night he had met the Gypsy woman. Did she say five o’ clock? Did she say tomorrow? Did she say next year? His head started pounding in fear. He wasn’t ready to go. He wasn’t ready to leave Penelope. He smelled the hay and manure for the horses, and he smelled the funnel cakes and fried foods. And the crowd! Oh, the crowd; he could smell them now, with their body odor and cigarette smoke and beer.
He heard her shoes on the linoleum and busied himself with the meat. It gave him enough time to act natural. “I’m going to start making calls. Although, I think our best bet for a crowd is word of nose. Once you and Nathan get grilling, all the boys will be in our yard.” She said.
“We should have gotten stuff for milkshakes.”
His phone rang. Albert glanced down at the meat in his hands. Wordlessly, Penelope reached around him, and answered the phone. She had a short conversation with Nathan Albright II and hung up. “He said he would bring potato salad and drinks. He also asked if you could marinate the meat for him. He’ll be a little late tonight.”