Once the brain started talking it was hard to get her to shut up. She was in constant conversation with Albert, and, though Albert loved the company, he found it hard to get much else done. Sometimes he would prop a book in front of her to read, but he would have to return every few minutes to turn the page, which wasn’t much of a break if he really thought about it. Sometimes he would play a record on the old phonograph for Helen and he’d come back moments later to her crying, wishing she could dance again. Then Albert would pick her up tenderly and waltz her around the room just like they used to after the kids went to sleep and their song came on the radio.
It was during this act of tenderness that Annie burst through the front door without knocking. It was early evening, likely not a Sunday, although Albert couldn’t keep track of the days anymore, and Annie was neither expected nor particularly welcome. Albert clutched the brain to his chest and stared at her.
“Dad, thank God you’re okay!” Albert furrowed his brow and tried to calm the pounding in his chest.
“What are you talking about?”
“I’ve been trying to call you for days!”
“No she has not,” Helen’s voice was muffled. Albert pulled her away from his chest and propped her up on the back of the couch.
“The phone never rang.”
“Well I’ve been calling.” Annie tossed her purse on the console table in the front hallway and made her way through the house mumbling “Where is it… where is it?”
Albert looked at Helen. “We should have never given her a key.”
“She’s our daughter Albie.”
“Funny how children start to turn into your parents.”
“Don’t I know it.” Helen said, but instead of taking comfort in her words, Albert suddenly ached to see her smile.
“Dad?!” Albert followed her voice into the family room.
“What?” He asked from the doorway.
“First of all, your place is a mess.” Albert entered the room and placed the brain on a stack of magazines that covered the coffee table.
“I’ll clean it up.”
“Second, your phone was unplugged.”
“It was?” Annie pointed at the cable dislodged from the jack in the wall by a fallen book. “Huh, fancy that.”
“Didn’t you notice something was wrong when you hadn’t talked to me in a week? Or… or anyone for that matter?”
“Don’t you get lonely?”
“No, he has me!” Helen interjected
“Honey, you’re fine company but it’s not really all that satisfying.”
“Well that’s not very nice…” Annie began, flummoxed at her Father’s brazenness. Then she looked at him. Albert was staring intently at the brain.
“Not Satisfying?” the brain scoffed, “Aren’t you happy I’m back?” Albert rolled his eyes.
“Of course I’m happy, It was just different when I could hug you, when we were a team. Now it’s like we’re on a constant phone call.”
“Dad, who are you talking to?”
Albert glanced back to his daughter. She was looking at him with a look no parent ever wants to see on their child’s face. It was a confounded look, a mix of concern and annoyance, worry and exasperation.
“Dad? Did you hear me?”
“Yes.” He hesitated filing through all the possible answers. “Your mother.” He said finally, definitively.
“What are you talking about?”
“I’m talking about your mother, Helen.” Albert looked at Annie sternly. Was she losing it? He couldn’t handle another family member losing their minds.
“Are you talking about the brain? Dad?”
“Yes, I’m talking about the brain. Your mother.” He was starting to get agitated now. Annie comes barging into his life just to judge and annoy?
“What is she going on about?” Helen piped in from the coffee table, “Annie I’m right here.”
“Did you hear that? Annie you have to listen.”
Albert wrapped an arm around Annie’s shoulder’s, pulled her toward the brain and pressed a finger to his lips.
“Annie I’m right here.” Helen shouted. “Annie listen to me, can’t you hear me?”
Albert raised his eyebrows at Annie as if to say see? See what I told you. But Annie just looked dumbfounded. Struck in a way all children are struck when they discover their parents are fallible, squishy human beings who may or may not be going insane.
More next week on Albert and the Braaaaiiiin!!!