Albert found himself spending much more time in the living room as the days went on. He would read the paper, fold the laundry, eat his lunch, all in the presence of the brain. He couldn’t quite explain how it made him feel less lonely, how it made him feel like he was leaving Helen out if he didn’t spend his leisure time where she could watch. The brain started to feel to Albert more like his wife reincarnate than an inanimate organ, so when he said “Good morning” to her that Wednesday, he didn’t feel like that much of a fool.
That single good morning led to a nightly goodnight. Which led to an I love you before he went to sleep, which led to Albert carrying the brain up the stairs to his bedroom and placing Helen on the bedside table. He couldn’t bear to think of her spending her nights all alone in that eerie room with the streetlight casting a saccharin orange in the cool dark. Instead she spent the night, near him, the suspension gel refracting the tiny green light on Albert’s radio into waves of aurora borealis on his wall.
When Albert spoke to the brain, he was sure the brain listened. He had seen it move of it’s own volition so many times now that it neither surprised nor worried him. For Albert, the brain had a personality, for Albert, that personality was Helen. Even when she was alive Albert could predict her reactions before she could think them, and it wasn’t much different in death.
Albert would sit on the living room floor balling socks and then, after a moment say, “I know, I know you don’t have to say anything.”
Then, he’d unball the socks, and fold them together like Helen liked. The brain always seemed to nod in approval.
When Annie came by with the kids the next Sunday, she sent them out back and spoke to the brain while Albert fixed them all tuna fish sandwiches. He could hear her from the kitchen, whispering updates and worries that she’d never dare tell him. They were almost like prayers the way she murmured them, running her fingers along the edge of the jar like a rosary.
“We just got Marcus tested, I hope he doesn’t have ADD but at the same time, it would be nice to medicate his behavior once and for all…”
Albert felt himself smile, a sensation he was not at all used to, and a feeling that hadn’t struck him in years became suddenly overwhelming. At that moment, while he made tuna fish sandwiches in the kitchen, watched his grandchildren playing in the yard, and listened to his daughter speaking to her mom in the other room, Albert felt a warm ball of happiness grow in his chest. After that, it was hard to shake.
Albert had a companion in Helen’s brain that he’d never had before. A friend who satisfied all of his needs, and needed very few of her own. He would sit with her for hours and not once would she nag him about the length of his beard, or her need to go shopping to buy a new hat. For Albert, it was the best of marriage without the compromise. For Albert, the arrival of Helen’s brain was the best thing that had happened to him since meeting Helen herself.
When the brain actually started speaking to Albert, it didn’t come as a shock. Helen’s voice just rippled back into his life as if it had always been there, as if she had always been speaking to him, but now Albert finally took the time to listen. She would recount long detailed stories about their past, trips Albert never took with her and could not have remembered on his own. She told him she loved him, she complimented his pasta dinners, she suggested he make a side of broccoli. Albert’s very best friend had returned. The woman he knew before illness and Alzheimers, the girl who rode on the handlebars of his bike to the ice-cream parlor, the woman who plucked errant hairs from his eyebrows when they were getting too shaggy.
Here she was, still bearing witness to his life, just as they had promised all those years before. In front of people most of whom were long since dead. What had happened to their brains? Albert wondered as he shelled peanuts on the lawn, his bowl of shells set on the jar’s cool flat top. How permanent was death if you could just exist in a jar full of gelatin?
“Not permanent at all.” Helen said slowly. “I wonder how long I’ll live this time.”
“Maybe forever.” Albert slurped a peanut out of it’s shell “Maybe when I die I can be a brain too, and we can gather dust on a shelf next to each other.”
“Just like life,” Helen said and Albert smiled.