Carsten ten Brink | Albert’s Day Off

The grandfather clock struck. Albert studied himself in the mirror, adjusted his tie. The parting in his graying hair was perfectly straight. His white sideburns were freshly cut. The slate-colored suit still fit.

He walked down the unlit hallway, past the wooden grandfather clock that his parents had received as a wedding gift, past the wall of framed photos lovingly hung by his mother during his childhood and past the faded, innocent drawings of houses, pets, and nuclear families.

In the kitchen Albert heated milk in a pot on the gas-ring; into a second pot, already filled with water, went two brown eggs. White bread, two slices, moved from breadbox to toaster. The kitchen table had two places set, each with its own small Sylvester plate, Tweety eggcup, spoon, glass and mug. He poured orange juice into the glasses and banana Nesquik powder into the mugs. When the toast was ready, he cut the pieces into rectangular slivers, an equal number on each plate. He cracked and peeled the tops of the two eggs, poured the warm milk into the mugs, stirred until no lumps remained. He sat down and ate.

He poured the un-drunk orange juice and Nesquik into the sink, slid the uneaten egg and toast slivers into the bin underneath, washed both sets of breakfast dishes. As he dried his hands the left one twitched.

In the living room, Albert picked up his school bookbag, with Scooby-Doo in Shaggy’s arms on the side, and sat on the small wooden chair, the bag on his lap. Two plastic Spider-Man lunchboxes rested on the table.

He sat motionless, his feet crossed at the ankle underneath the chair. Weak light entered through the curtains. Occasionally the silence was interrupted by the noise of a heavy vehicle.

The clock struck twelve. Albert carried his Spider-Man lunchbox to the dining room. He ate his PB&J and apple slices, drank his milk, and returned to the chair.

The clock struck four. He unlocked the door at the end of the corridor. Inside, the wallpaper’s bright blue stars-and-planets motif matched the bunkbeds’ quilts. An olive-green volume marked “Stamps” lay on the low square table, accompanied by an empty frosted-glass perfume bottle resting on a folded pillowcase. Albert knelt, opened the album to the first page with its colorful stamps: Mickey, Minnie, Goofy and Pluto, each with different denominations. One by one, with tiny tweezers, he examined them.

His hands gripped the perfume bottle that he had hidden inside the pillowcase, the pillow with which he had struck the skull of his older brother, who hadn’t wanted to share.

The clock struck six. Albert placed the bottle back on the table, closed the album, stood up, knees at first stiff, and left the room. In the hallway he took down the wooden-framed photo of his brother Cam proudly escorting Albert to his first day at school, both in their grey uniforms.

He waited there, holding it, for the taxi that would take him to the cemetery.

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