Albert, in fugue

Albert looked carefully at what was to be his last booger, although he didn't know it.  It had taken him several minutes to extract it whole from his left nostril.  It lay on his finger in a certain amount of snot, a tiny piece of candy in a stain of watery milk.   Albert was 38, but not of a mind to understand even the passage of time.  He continued his study of the booger, while sitting on his perch, the ninth step of the stoop where he sat, in all Seasons, watching.  Not talking though - Albert didn’t seem to have words.  But watching, ... he was very good at that.

Years ago, when TV entered his life, his grammy had tried to get him off that stoop, off that ninth step, and inside their 4th floor apartment, not so much to protect him against the weather, for she daily knew how to dress him, feed him and keep him clean ... but because of the gangs and the drugs and the shootings.  But Albert didn’t take to TV, and she eventually understood that that quiet uninvolved innocent was in love with that street.  That was his TV, and he needed nothing more than her help in being feed and loved and the days and evenings on that stoop, on that perch on that ninth step, and, of course, the street.  

Once, years ago, before big Mike went upstate for life, some younger bangers had started to hassle Albert, bored and needing someone to torture for fun.  Big Mike then made The Law, as he called it.  And the neighborhood accepted The Law, and passed it on, so no one bothered Albert on his stoop, on that ninth step, whatever the weather.

Even so, ... it was okay to ask him a favor or two.  To say, “Hey, Albert, could you take this fiver and go down to the Bodega and get me a this or a that, and one for yourself too”, and Albert would go, slowly, for his other oddity, besides the mind that seemed not, was his size.  By the age of ten, Albert was bigger than big Mike.  At 38, he was maybe six feet and eight inches or so, and over three hundred and fifty pounds.  Albert was huge.  He didn’t walk, but shambled.  Slow, steady, tireless it seemed.   A dozen times a day someone asked him to go to the Bodega, and those journeys and what he ate after, helped maintain him in his huge.

Grammy had a hard time keeping him in clothes though, so a part of The Law eventually involved that as well.  Castaways were brought to Grammy, and she took them apart and reassembled them as needed.  Except for shoes.  Shoes were harder, especially when it became a thing - that thing about tennis shoes that cost more than a color TV.  Albert didn’t care about the shoe thing, but his indifference didn’t keep him  from wearing out his shoes, shambling down that street to the Bodega, and then back to that ninth step on that stoop, several times - every day and in every weather.

But big Mike had set an example, and the whores on the corner, opposite the Bodega, made it part of their contribution to keep Albert in shoes.  In fact, there was always a kind of excitement on the street, when the neighborhood knew the girls were getting the new tennis shoes, and it became a thing to make it a present, and wrap them up, and people would gather.  Albert liked shoe day, although he didn’t seem to have that name either.  On shoe day he would smile, something he seldom ever did at all.

All the same, he would carefully unwrap the present and put on the new shoes.  People waited while he tested them, and the girls always gave some flash money to one of the younger ones, to give to Albert for the shoe day test to go down to the Bodega and get something.

Then, one late Fall day, Grammy died.

No one knew for days, until one of the girls noticed Albert had been wearing the same clothes for awhile, and so one of them went up the steps of that stoop, up the four flights of stairs, and found her body. 

A kind of vague uncertainty came to the street.  Albert would come out of the apartment everyday, go to that ninth step, and sit.  People increased asking him to go to the Bodega and encouraged him to eat milk and fruit and not so much all the candy and sodas and such, but no one wanted to go into that empty apartment and help Albert undress, and bathe and all the other personal intimate things that Grammy must have done. 

One of the older girls had tried, but Albert had turned around and frowned when she followed him one evening into the apartment, and she became scared and backed away, and then left.  The landlord came by too.  Wanted to know who was going to pay the rent, now that Grammy’s social security was not coming anymore.  The landlord tried to talk to Albert about this, but Albert just stood up, on that ninth step, looked down at the landlord several steps below, neither frowning or smiling or talking, and the landlord blinked a few times and then went away too.

At the Bodega, where the neighborhood gossips thrived, there was much discussion.  Speculation was all over the place.  The street was disturbed, although Albert was still everyday on the stoop and on that step.

Of course, none of this Albert seemed to understand, even when he took that last fresh booger of his life, and tasted the joy of eating it.

As if Grammy’s death was a kind of sign, the neighborhood had started to change.  A new pimp took over the girls on the corner.  Some younger bangers beat up the owner of the Bodega for not paying on their newly implemented protection scam.  And, Albert started to look shabby.  Clothes torn and dirty.  Face and hands dirty.  He became a kind of shabby shambler on his less and less frequent trips to the Bodega.  The street seemed to get darker.  The sun came out less.

A cultured person might have said that Albert had been the street’s Buddha, and now their Buddha was dying right in front of their eyes, and the peacefulness of his reign was vanishing.

Then came the day of the last booger ... the day Albert died.  

The pimp that had been beat out of running the girls on the corner across from the Bodega came back, from a short stint in Rikers Island.  He brought a gun.  The two pimps begin a running gun fight up and down that street, while people hustled indoors ... except for Albert who still sat on his stoop, on that ninth step.

One of the younger whores was shot, right at the bottom of the steps in front of Albert.  Albert then came off that stoop, without being asked to go to the Bodega.  He became this shabby shambling hulk, walking toward the shooter, who had been for a few weeks the new pimp.  The pimp reloaded, and shot Albert.  Shot him and shot him and shot him.  But Albert didn’t stop, and when he got to that pimp, Albert just picked him up, carried him over his shoulder down the block to the Bodega, and threw him in the dumpster out back, like a bag of trash.

Then Albert sat down, right there.  The pimp tried to climb out of the trash, but each time he did, even though he shot Albert a couple of more times, Albert just stood up and pushed him back in.

When the police got there, they arrested the pimp, but by then Albert was gone, dead.

For the longest time afterward, that ninth step on that stoop had flowers and other mementos on it.  The longest time, ... so long that the why of it was even forgotten, and no one knew anymore that why.  But still, it was a kind of Law, so always someone kept it going, even in winter.