I'm working on a few short stories now, slightly longer form than what I've been doing, but an important form to master. Albert and the Brain will be a three (or four) part series over the coming weeks. I hope you enjoy it!
When Albert watched it float in that tepid syrupy liquid, it just looked like a brain. How anyone’s entire life could fit inside of it, Albert did not know. Her memories were flighty bits of smoke, her ideas lightening bolts, her smile just a wave of warmth. How could all of her fit inside of any one thing? Let alone that ugly grey jello mold.
He stared at it for a while, the brain. It was suspended behind thick glass, above a small plaque that emblazoned the words Helen Gurgich. He winced at the name. Why did she ever stoop so low and take his? Helen Copeland sounded so much better, but she'd insisted, and Helen always got her way.
"Mr. Gurgich." A man in a speckled lab coat jolted him back to the sterile white room. Albert had forgotten the man was even there staring at him through thin rimmed glasses, wearing what looked like broccoli soup splattered on his wrinkled white lab coat. Albert peered at the name tag on his chest. Associate, it read. What kind of damn name was that? Associate.
"Would you like to take it, erm,” He coughed awkwardly, “her with you?
"For what?" Albert shrugged. His gruff nature had always been off-putting to Helen, and had only gotten worse during her five year decline. Albert liked the feeling of it, to be brusque like a rusty toothed edge. He fell into it so easily.
"Some people like the company." The tech said and shrugged as well, though his shrug wasn’t nearly as gruff as Albert’s.
"It's a brain."
"So you don't want it then?"
"No." They both stared at the floating gray blob, Albert stared rather disgustedly, the tech rather scientifically. The latter pulled the jar toward him and unscrewed the large metal top with both hands. "What’ll you do with it?"
The tech stepped on the foot lever of an orange medical waste can by the table, and watched the lid flap open.
"We usually just dump them with the rest of the medical waste."
"You throw her away?" Associate stared into the trashcan, trying to count the hours he would have to endure before he ate lunch, trying not to count the number of other appointments he had with other bereaved loved ones, as he gave them a simple impossible choice. Brain or no brain. When he was hired for this job, he was told he would be a scientist. He would have a lab coat and a name tag. They didn’t tell him his lab coat and name tag would be shared with three other lab guys depending on the hour. He pursed his lips.
"I see how it is.” Albert gripped the flat metal table. “You just throw other people's brains in the trash."
“Well do you want to take it?" the lab tech lowered the lever of the trash can slowly.
“I guess I have to.” Albert hunched his shoulders deeper. He could hear Helen’s voice screaming in his ear. You let him just throw my brain away? He recoiled at the thought. "I don't know what I'm going to do with it, but I'll take it.”
"I'll bag it up for you," Associate said and screwed the lid of the jar back on nice and tight. Then he collected a large white paper bag emblazoned with the words Apex Laboratories and placed the jar inside.
"What do most people do with them? The brains?" Albert asked as the tech pushed the bagged brain toward him.
"I don't know exactly.” The tech never knew what people did with them after they walked out the door with their brains. Tossed them in the ocean? That’s what he would probably do. “My mother's ashes are on my fireplace mantle. That's a nice spot…"
Albert nodded and pulled the brain bag off the table.
“Alright." He said feeling the heft of the brain pulling his arm toward the ground.
“Alright" Mr. Associate forced a smile and snapped off his latex gloves. "Have a nice day Mr. Gurgich."
Albert Gurgich pushed open the door and into the sunlight. He tipped his hat forward and squinted. Where is that giddamn car?
His sixty-seven Chevy, now dull and covered with dust sat right where he left it in the blue lined handicap spot. It had been years since he'd driven it, but he was pleased to find that morning that it ran like a dream. He plopped the brain's bag in the front seat and eased himself behind the wheel. The leather of his bucket seat was cracked in perfect alignment with his behind, and it fit like an old baseball glove.
Helen would have been wanted this, he thought as he looked at the bag, to be rescued from the trash, right? Though he couldn’t imagine what she would say if his floating brain jar was offered to her if he died first. She would have thrown his brain out in a heartbeat.
He leaned over the center console and peered in the bag staring again at his wife’s unholy vessel, then he reached across the car and yanked the ratty old seat belt around the jar.