Mr Albert

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Mr Albert

Short Story

by Paul O. Jenkins

Every night, just as it got dark on the island, Mr. Albert would climb up the stairs and visit him in his bedroom. There, in a low scratchy voice, he’d tell the boy his favorite story. The large man would start with his back to the boy as he set the scene, and then as he came to what he called “the good part” he’d turn and face him with a theatrical flourish.

“The Sandman rubbed his little hands together and said in a voice that was little more than a whisper: ‘now I’ve got your eyes, and they’ll make a nice meal for my children. Not too chewy, not too crunchy. Just right.’”

That summer they were all together on the little island called Nantucket. Mr. Albert worked with his father at the university back home, and they were here to write a book together. Mr. Albert was a very large man whose shirts often spilled out over his pants. He had long hair, was funny, and the boy liked him, even if the story about the eyes scared him. Everyone seemed to like Mr. Albert, and the boy had noticed that Mr. Albert’s wife was very pretty. Sometimes when she smiled at him, the boy felt dizzy and happy and wanted to run away.

During the day, when the boy ran up and down the dunes in his bare feet, the beach grass was scratchy, and the sand grew in between his toes. Sand was everywhere on the island. No matter how much the boy tried to wash it off, it clung to him like a second skin. It crunched in his mouth when he ate peanut butter sandwiches, and he found it in his underwear before changing into pajamas. But worst of all, it got in his eyes. He couldn’t wait to get home to Minnesota.

Their last night on the island, his father and Mr. Albert threw a party. There was no bedtime story, so the boy had trouble falling asleep. Downstairs the adults were making what his mother used to call a “racket.” She used to tuck him in at night while his father wrote books and smoked cigars.

The sand was in the bedsheets and scraped his bare legs. It seemed to be alive and have a mind of its own, drifting everywhere freely, making things uncomfortable for everyone it had decided to torment. Finally, the boy drifted off. He dreamt that he was walking with his mother back in Minnesota. Her hand was soft in his until suddenly it was not. He saw Mr. Albert’s wife somewhere in the distance, and her eyes captured him. She was smiling, and he awoke to a feeling he’d never known before, one that left him feeling dirty. He wanted to make it go away but nothing he tried worked.

Downstairs, he knew they were drinking. His father liked an orangey-brown drink best that he poured over ice. Mr. Albert’s drinks always looked like water, and were decorated with a green slice of fruit that smelled a little bit like lemons. There was no music, but the boy heard lots of voices. He wondered what Mr. Albert’s wife was drinking.

He went to the window and raised it so that he could look at the moon and feel a little wind. On the window sill, he saw the sand scurrying about in crazy patterns. Pushed by the Nantucket wind, a few grains flew up into his eye, and he tried to blink them away. The sand seemed to be chasing itself, playing a game he didn’t understand. Other people knew what to call things, but now that he and his father were alone, the boy had trouble sorting out his thoughts. Nothing was his anymore. Everything seemed to belong to someone else. He wasn’t even sure he was himself anymore.

Now he heard Mr. Albert shouting at another man. The two men were saying words his mother had asked him never to use. Beneath him, in the moonlight, he saw Mr. Albert push the other man. Then they were wrestling. It didn’t seem fair because Mr. Albert was so much bigger than the other man. As they jostled each other, they hit a handle, and the clean-off shower came on.

The boy had never seen a real fight before. He knew some boys didn’t like each other, but he had never imagined that adults might behave this way. The two wet men below him didn’t seem very good at fighting. They kept slipping, and used their mouths to shout as much as they used their hands to fight. Mr. Albert suddenly raised a hand to his face with a cry of pain. The other man saw this and punched him hard in the stomach. He stood over Mr. Albert a moment, then walked away. The boy saw Mr. Albert on his knees, and he seemed to be feeling for his eye.

Even though he had been told to stay in his room, the boy threw open his door and ran downstairs. Everyone had a glass in their hand, but he didn’t see his father. He wondered again what Mr. Albert’s wife might be drinking, but ran outside without even looking for her.

Mr. Albert was sitting in a puddle, and the shower was still on. It seemed to be raining on Mr. Albert. “Look,” he said to the boy, with a laugh. “The Sandman tried to get my eye, but his kiddies will just have to go hungry tonight.”

The boy took three steps forward and joined the man in the shower. He didn’t know if his friend had one eye or two now, but he thought it didn’t matter. His laugh was still the same, and the boy remembered his mother telling him that laughter was good medicine. The water felt wonderful as it ran over his head, his neck, and finally down to his feet. The boy laughed along with Mr. Albert as he watched the sand run from in between his toes.

He felt clean again and knew now that anywhere you were, the wind blew things in your eyes.

nantucket harbour 2
About the Author

Paul O. Jenkins lives in New Hampshire and increasingly in the past. His poems and short stories have appeared in numerous journals including The Avalon Literary Review, The Northern New England Review, Straylight, Blue Unicorn, Nebo, BarBar, The Chamber, and The Field Guide.