“Dad,” Annie said “The brain isn’t talking to you.”
“Sure she is.”
“Dad,” Annie paused counting her words, budgeting them like precious coins. “The brain isn’t Mom.”
“Her names right on the side here.” He turned a finger around the rim of the jar.
“Mom’s dead.” Annie inhaled. She didn’t like saying the words either, they cut her as much as they cut him. Smearing salt into their communal wound.
Albert sunk into the couch and pressed his palms on his forehead. “She talks to me, Annie.” He said to the carpet his shadow darkening the stains on it’s blush oriental flowers. “She keeps me company.”
“Dad, are you sure that her voice isn’t just… in your head?” He looked up at her, poor sweet Annie, her brow knit so tightly the letter T was chiseled between her eyes.
“No, no sweetheart,” Albert was questioning everything. Why hadn’t he before? He just took it for granted that his dead wife was speaking to him through the brain. He just knew, somehow intrinsically knew that it was true. And now Annie derailed him he wasn’t sure what to believe. “She tells me things I don’t even know about.” He remembered slowly all his reasoning all the logical leaps he made. “Like remember when she went to Turkey? And she brought us back all those evil eye bracelets to ward away spirits. She was telling me where she bought those, the exact bazaar, I could even take you there.”
“Dad.” Tears welled in Annie’s red stained eyes, and she didn’t brush them away. Albert’s heart buckled. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d seen Annie cry. She was sixteen, maybe, still living at home. She usually let the tears flow with Helen. Helen knew about all the boys, Annie’s mean friends, and the constant battle of growing up, but one night, when Helen and Annie got into a fight, she came crying to Albert, in his workshop. He had never felt more like a father than he had that night. More than on nights throwing the baseball with his sons in the fading light of the street outside their house. More than walking her down the aisle at her wedding. These were requirements, necessities of fatherhood, but that night he was a father in the way that TV fathers are. A friend, a companion, a pal. He let her sip from his beer as they talked, comfortable as old friends, hesitant as new lovers. Now Albert was the one who was making her cry, and there was no Helen here to back him up.
The thought pounded into him.
“I’m here sweetheart,” the brain cooed, and Albert wrapped his arm around Annie’s shoulders.
“What’s wrong, honey?” He tried to pretend that it wasn’t his fault, that she was crying for some other reason, some other outside occurrence.
“It was you.” She sniffed, her words quiet and insecure. “You took that trip to turkey with Mom.” She wouldn’t look at him, but Albert stared at her averted eyes. “You bought all the evil eye bracelets and brought them home.”
“That was your mother, I distinctly remember it.” But he didn’t remember it. With the vividness he pictured it could have been him. And all this time he thought…
“The brain is not speaking to you.”
“She is, honey, I’m sure of it.”
“Sure I am.” The brain piped in. Helen’s voice calmed Albert suddenly she was there, and she had been there all along.
“Look, I thought the brain would help you in the beginning, it even helped me grieve, to know there was a little bit of mom left in the world. But this has gone too far.”
What was Annie asking? That he get rid of the brain? The brain that still spoke to him, even if it was in his head, she still spoke to him. Albert still felt something when she did.
“Who cares how she’s speaking to me, she is! I can hear her, she’s the only thing that makes me happy anymore! Isn’t that worth something?”
“Not if you’re hearing voices, Dad, not if you’re going mad. You have to see someone. You have to get rid of the brain!”
“I will not!” And he wouldn’t. Even if he was going mad, why couldn’t he just let her go mad in peace? Blissfully naive, happily married, wonderfully codependent on a brain.
“He will not!” Helen called from the jar, “Just listen to her, you spend years raising someone and then just like that you die and they want to get rid of your brain.”
“I know, sweetheart.” He said it out of instinct, calming his lifelong partner next to him. Annie cocked her head and stared at him her face crumbling.
“This is insane.” She said her voice breaking under the weight of her tears “I’m going to call Dr. Aurelias.” Annie crawled over to the phone and waited for a dialtone. Annie was calling Helen’s doctor from when she started to lose it. A doctor of the mind, an expert on brinks and sanity. If Albert was going crazy, he wanted to be the last to know. If this was insanity than he didn’t know what saneness was. A lifetime on pills and lying on smelly leather couches was not what he had planned. Flying on the edge of death for years was not the sort of life he wanted. He would go out with dignity, not like Helen, not like disintegrating veiny bedridden Helen.
“Hello may I speak with Dr. Aurelias’ on call nurse?”
Albert scooped up the brain and scurried into the garage hoping the old Chevy would start without a lot of fanfare. Annie rushed after him, dragging the cord from the telephone behind her. The engine turned over and sparked quickly. Albert threw the car in reverse and careened down the driveway.
“Dad where are you going?” Annie had dropped the phone on the stairs and chased after him. “Dad! Stop!” She pounded on the hood sobbing. “Daddy! Where are you going?!”
Albert didn’t know where he was going, but he knew he would be going there with Helen. Albert stared behind him, concentrating on not hitting the neighbor’s fence, or Helens petunias. Helen reminded him of this from the passenger seat, buckled in with great but hurried care.
“Dad!” Annie screamed and ran after him. Albert waved instinctually as he flicked the car in first and puttered down the street.