Abraham's Arc - Part Four

“Nǐ de zuòbiāo shì shénme? Zuòbiāo?”

“What?” Abraham tried to type any of their words into his translator but what came out was gibberish. 

“I.S.S.” Broken english came through the radio.

“Yes. ISS!” he shouted.

“Nǐ de zuòbiāo shì shénme?” Abraham clicked on a link in the app that promised key phrases.

“Màn diǎn” he hurled imperfect Mandarin in their direction ““Màn… Diǎn” He said again more intently, urging them to speak slower.

“Zuò” They spoke each syllable forcefully, Abraham typed it in. “biāo?” He spelled it out phonetically in the dictionary. Nothing came back. He tried a different iteration. 

So byou

Zo biau

Zuo Biao

Then finally without the space

Zuòbiāo pinged -

“Coordinates” Abraham shouted “Zuobiao?” He repeated to confirm.

“Zuobiao.” They verified.

Abraham lunged to the flight deck and searched frantically for the few little numbers that indicated the ISS’s specific location in relation to earth. An impossible feat in space. One that NASA had mastered years before with the invention of the J2000 system. 

“Ten point six two five and forty one point two” Abraham shouted and repeated himself slowly. "Ten… dot… six… two… five… and… four… one… dot… two.” He hoped they knew English numbers, or this would take forever. 

It was an hour before their ship docked with the ISS and three Chinese cosmonauts emerged from the airlock.

One man pulled off his thick white helmet revealing a matte of sweaty hair beneath. He smiled. 

“Abraham.” He pointed at Abraham. “Kang.” He pointed at himself. 

Abraham clasped his hand and shook. “Very nice to meet you” He gushed and proceeded to the other two astronauts with the same enthusiasm as Kang introduced the two women: An and Chun. “I didn’t think I would ever see another human again.”

The three astronauts smiled and nodded politely, but without comprehension. 

Abraham looked around as they hung there, clinging to the walls of the ISS so they wouldn’t float into one another. 

There were just enough berths for all of them, but his food rations were just cut in quarters. Abraham began to count the months they had left. Perhaps even weeks. He considered the eventual nastiness of expelling each of them separately into space as they starved to death. The underlying complications of living the final weeks of your life with three people who didn’t share a common language and did not have enough time to learn it.

“Food?” He asked and indicated eating, opening his mouth and pointing inside it like a child. He was asking if they wanted to eat, but Tong turned into his ship and waved for Abraham to follow. Years of food packets lined the walls of the capsule. It was clear that the Chinese had stuffed as many people and as much food as they could in that capsule as a last ditch effort to save humanity from annihilation. If rationed they might have a decade, maybe more. That was long enough to learn Mandarin. That was long enough for them to learn English. 

    He pulled himself out of the craft and moved back to his computer. He typed into the translator and returned with a grin.

    “So,” he said in Chinese, floating in the center of the space capsule. “What do we do now?”

The End 

Abraham's Arc - Part Two

Part Two of Abraham's Arc. For part one click here.


Abraham thought about killing himself right as Earth was hit — trying to time his demise with the rest of civilizations'. But even though Abraham had himself seen NASA’s myriad of simulations using his own data that depicted time and time again the utter annihilation of all things living, and even though Abraham knew that humanity wouldn’t be able to survive even a tenth of the fire and radiation that they would have to endure upon impact, he still felt an impending duty to stick around and just see. The future was a vast uncertainty, and even if the inevitable occurred (he would always say if until the moment of impact) then he would be the only one left to mourn his entire species. And mourn he would.

He sat Shiva for all seven days after the asteroid hit even though he wasn’t raised religious. Always a devotee of science, he now felt compelled to turn to religion for answers in the aftermath. God created the earth in seven days, he recalled, and he would mourn it for that long. He didn’t bathe, he hardly ate, he decided a million times to ingest the cyanide capsule on the eighth day, but then changed his mind a million more.

He spent his days trying to achieve perfect equilibrium floating in the hull of the space station, surrounded by wires and nodules, and closing his eyes. When hours of that became tiresome, Abraham would hover in the observation deck of the Cupola and stare out of its seven windows at what used to be his home.

The blue and green marble swirled with white was now a spherical ashy storm cloud. He could only imagine the devastation beneath it. Even if anyone had survived the initial hit (there was the possibility that boats positioned in the Indian ocean would be far enough away from the blast to survive) they would surely suffocate hours later once the smoke and ash overcame them. In decades, when the dust finally settled anyone who was still around would emerge to a scorched earth. A barren land without vegetation or drinkable water, and it would certainly be centuries more if not millennia before the earth produced a viable habitat again. The reality was that humanity - unless it had a bunker full of generations of food and water and waste disposal - would never make it. And that meant he, humanity’s lone ambassador, would suffer the same fate.

On the eighth day, Abraham returned to his logs. He tapped on the cricket tank and touched the tender cotyledon of the just sprouted Kale. He considered that he might be the Noah’s Arc of this end of days but then smiled to himself. Repopulating the earth with crickets and Kale would be the seven plagues all over again. He tucked himself into his bunk and watched an episode of Law and Order next to a creased picture of Abbey and Jordan. He savored every minute.

If he wasn’t a modern Noah then the ISS was at least a time capsule floating around the dead planet like an omen. One day it would be his tomb and any unlucky life form that became curious about the metal space ship orbiting a dead planet would surely find an over population of crickets, a crop of badly eaten kale, a decomposing human body (perhaps also partially consumed by crickets) and a smattering of humanity’s greatest artistic achievements: Several downloaded language dictionaries that translated any number of International languages to others, one hundred and three episodes of Law and Order: SVU, all the seasons of Lost, The Lethal Weapon series, Ms. Congeniality, The Best of Kenny G, Now! Three, and the entire discography of Ke$ha. 

These were the people who would accompany him through the end of his life - Olivia and John solving serious crimes in a serious city. He wondered if they ever dreamed while filming episode ten season thirteen that this would be the final record of New York. That it would remain the only proof that Manhattan ever existed, that earth ever existed.

He packaged the movie file and beamed it into space. He felt meaningful doing it like he was sending out earth’s obituary. He felt the cyanide capsule in his pocket took it out and considered it.


Stay tuned next week for more of our astronaut's adventures!

 

C. L. Brenton

Abraham's Arc - Part One

Since the past few weeks have been fraught with disaster I thought a little end of the world saga might be of interest. Enjoy, and try not to let it stress you out!


Watching the world end wasn’t the most important moment in Abraham’s life, but it wasn’t the least significant either. There was the day he met Abbey, the moment he left the atmosphere for the first time, the feeling of holding a person, a brand new person, moments old, and christening them with a name. It was every moment after that when he and Abbey would watch Jordan finger Cheerios and revel at the thought that they together could create the very fingernails and nerve endings needed for such a complex task.

Then there was this. A static video call. Abbey sobbing while Jordan sat in her lap her brow furrowed glancing between Mom and Dad. Tears spilled out of Abraham’s eyes and he wiped them away with his sleeve before they could form bright wayward orbs of saltwater that floated athwart the ISS. He spat I love you’s through the static.

“I love…” Abbey sobbed clutching Jordan harder than ever. And with a flash of white yellow light came the eerie sound of an entire civilization destroyed. Then black. Abraham cried for days.

*  *  *

“We can’t bring you back,” Alvin had told him days earlier after they finalized humanity’s fate. “It’s just too dangerous.” He shook his head and Abraham was unsure if he’d rather be on Alvin’s side of the conversation or his own. At least Alvin would be able to go back to his family and face mortality with them. “We can’t predict your trajectory…” He trailed off. “It’s safer up there. If all our models are accurate.” Alvin tried to smile a comforting smile, but he was unsure if he would rather be in Abrahams place instead of his own.

“I want to come back.” Abraham spoke softly. 

Alvin inhaled and said the only two words that made any sense to him. “I know.” 

Abraham steadied himself and tried to remember his training. Every emergency procedure they had practiced trained him to stay alive in space. What if the aircraft loses pressure? What if a crew member gets sick? What if you have to spend six days in a space suit? His training had provided him tools to survive infinite scenarios, none of which had included the complete annihilation of life on earth.

“We’re going to send up some more supplies, but listen,” Alvin said thoughtfully and knotted his arms across his chest. “If we don’t see you on the other side of this you have permission to use protocol 9022A.”

The if they both knew was almost certainly a when, but there was something comforting about painting the inevitable eludible like if they were strong enough, or patient enough, or smart enough earth could narrowly avoid disaster. But the die had been cast, and though men and women worked tirelessly on grand solutions none of them had worked, and none of them would. 

Now the end held this - Protocol 9022A. Abraham traced the outline of the cyanide capsule in his pocket. One that had been issued on the day he got his space suit. One that had been with him on missions and ISS stays and launches and reentries. One he had never considered ingesting.

“Captains orders?” He asked and Alvin nodded stoic, his lips pursed in a permanent frown.

Albert and The Brain - Finale

The world was dark, and fuzzy blobs wooshed past them at incredible speeds, Bright white blobs, incandescent yellow blobs, fuzzy red blobs that flashed yellow and then green were all just beyond Albert’s perception as they chugged down the road.

“Do you think I’m crazy?” Albert turned to the brain in the front seat of the car, anticipating an answer, yet hoping there wouldn’t be one.

“I don’t know.” Helen sounded exhausted, and Albert tried to determine if her voice was reflecting off the car like it used to from the passengers seat, if her voice was carried up to his ears from her place on the rough leather, or if it was merely echoing off the inside of his own thick skull.

Albert tapped on the brakes, and blinked at the passing signs and lights. He couldn’t make out anything, but he turned anyways. Someone honked, but the road seemed clear. Fuzzy but clear. 

“Do you think I’m real?” The brain asked Albert hesitantly as they sailed toward somewhere.

Albert shifted the car into fourth. If the brain had asked him that just hours before the answer would have been obvious. 

“I don’t know.” Albert said, and exhaled. He took another right.

They arrived at a bridge either by fate or by muscle memory, Albert did not know. It was a long bridge, an ancient bridge, one flanked by bright yellow street lamps arcing into the black sky, peeling into the scattered flickering starlight of a million homes pressed into the hillside across the bay.

He pulled the car over and lifted the parking brake gently. 

“What are we doing?”

“Remember when we were just kids, and we came out here on cold nights.” Albert thought back on it, it had been fifty years since they stopped on that bridge. “We stared at the bay and we wondered what life would be like.”

“Is this the bridge? I thought we went to the eastern bridge…”

“Remember what you promised me?” Albert cut her off.

“That we’d only have two kids instead of three?” She chuckled.

Albert shook his head. “Helen, I’m trying to be serious.”

“Okay, be serious then.” 

“You promised me…” Albert stared out the car window past the bright lights of the bridge to the moonlit bay. Light played with the water, gleaming silver across the windswept waves. “That you wouldn’t die before me.”

The brain was silent, but Albert went on. “I always thought I would go first,” He said. “I was supposed to go first. But it was you.” He unbuckled his seat belt and glanced at the brain. “I’ll never get over that.”

It was just a mushy brain then. Just a gray mass, bobbing there, a little more worse for wear than the day he brought it home. Flecks of flesh peeled off it’s membrane like the whole thing was disintegrating. It looked dustier, browner yet Albert knew every curve, every wrinkle, every discoloration on every lobe. He knew the brain like he used to know Helen’s body, her scars, her folds, the exact location thick black hairs would emerge from her chin. 

This brain didn’t have a mouth, it didn’t have ears or eyes, it was sitting so low in the seat that it couldn’t see out the window even if it wanted to. How did Helen know which bridge they were on, how did she know anything?

A semi rushed past them, rumbling the car, and the disintegrating flaps of brain swayed like the thin transparent cilia of a jellyfish until long after it had gone.

Albert opened his car door and got out.

“What are you doing?” the brain called from the front seat. 

He ran a hand through this thin gray hair as he rounded the car and opened the passenger door. He leaned across the brain and unbuckled her seatbelt, he pulled her into his arms and ambled to the edge of the bridge.

“It’s a beautiful night, isn’t it.” The brain continued in Albert’s embrace. Albert didn’t respond. It was a beautiful night. 

“Helen.” Albert set the brain on the thick stone railing and peered over the edge. Frigid wind whipped him in the face and made him gasp. He looked at the water, deep, dark, black, and so far away it almost looked soft. “I don’t know what’s real anymore.”

“Sure you do.” Helen said, “I’m real, you’re real, this is real.” There was fear in her voice now, a waver of concern that palpitated her words.

“I don’t know.” Albert looked over the edge again. “I think I’m crazy. I think you’re crazy. I think all of this is crazy.”

“You’re not crazy, this is just us, it’s just us!”

“I can’t speak to a brain forever.” Albert pressed his toes between the balusters of the railing and held tightly to a thick suspension wire above him as he leaned over the edge again. The waves and the wind made him want to vomit, and he pulled himself back.

“Sure you can.”

“I can’t.” Albert stroked the glass of the brain and furrowed his brow, “I don’t know what’s real.” He said again.

“This is real!” Helen’s voice was getting higher, more concerned.

“I don’t want to do this.” Albert shook his head. The wind was so strong he could barely hear her. 

“Then don’t.”

“Forgive me Helen.”

He leaned over the edge.

“Albert. Don’t.”

And he thrust the brain off the railing and into the cold night. He watched it tumble for a moment, catching sharp light on it’s shiny metal lid. Then it stopped spinning, it hung in the air like it was flying, and for a moment Albert thought it would fly back to him. 

He could barely hear the splash over the wind, and he certainly couldn’t see it, but Albert knew it was over. He stared over the edge, and tried to catch a glimpse of Helen floating along the bay, but there was nothing, and if there was Albert wouldn’t be able to make it out anyways.

Guilt filled him like a soreness, then mourning, then fear. Helen was gone from his life again, and Albert had killed her, murdered her with his own two hands. Her company, her voice, her breath was gone. And Albert would never be able to forgive himself for that.

He tucked himself back in the car and let himself cry. He let himself cry for the Helen he had lost a year ago, and he let himself cry for the Helen he lost today. He let himself cry out of relief that he abolished the voice, that he wasn’t crazy, and he let himself cry out of fear that maybe he still was. Albert was alone again.

He started the car and wiped his eyes.

“Sure glad we got rid of that thing.” Helen’s voice came out of no where. “It was really starting to cramp our style.”

 

Tell me what you thought of Albert and the Brain at facebook.com/clbrenton

 

C. L. Brenton

Albert and the Brain - Part 4

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?”

“No.”

“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!!!

Albert and the Brain - Part 3

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.

Albert and the Brain - Part 2

Albert and the Brain - Part 2! If you missed part one click here.


The first few days after bringing it home, the brain remained in the front seat of Albert’s car in the garage. Frankly he’d forgotten it was there until he spotted a wedding picture of his wife, and hurried to the garage to pull it out of the big Apex bag. The jar was a little warm, but the brain seemed to be in fine enough shape. As much as a floating brain could be, anyway.

Albert placed the brain on his kitchen table, amidst the piles of bills and coupons, sympathy cards, and old receipts. A catch-all for his life, a sieve for information that constantly got clogged. When Sunday rolled around and the grandchildren were just hours from their weekly visit Albert shoved the whole mess of letters and cards and bills and magazines into the trash and stared at the brain. 

It was a nice brain with deep grooves, and coils of gray almost slightly peach colored rope twisted along the sides. It looked, Albert supposed, like most brains did. Like his brain did. Except this one seemed bigger than normal. He pulled the jar toward him and pressed his nose to the glass. The curve of the jar didn’t seem to be augmenting the brain, either. Albert smiled and he let it linger for a moment more than he normally did.

Helen was small but fierce, dainty but wildly intelligent, so it pleased Albert that her brain was quite a bit bigger than he had imagined. 

He picked the jar up, a heavy sloshy thing, and carried it around the house. He could put it on the television, but it seemed too dangerous for both the TV and the brain. Perhaps the hall table? Too cluttered. By the bathroom sink? Helen always placed freshly cut flowers there, so she must have liked it, sort of. Maybe in the kitchen? Too cannibalistic. He shuffled to the middle of the living room carpet and looked around. His eyes landed on the mantle above the fireplace. Home to other forgotten well loved things, once precious objects, abandoned treasures, Dusty wedding photos, the ashes of his mother and hers, the brass rooster she’d purchased on a long ago trip to Egypt. Albert pushed the urns aside and heaved the jar onto the mantel.  He turned it gently so the brass plate bearing Helen’s name shone front and center. 

He wiped a thick finger across the plate and muttered, “There we go.” He surprised himself with the sound, a voice that hadn’t penetrated the house in days. Was he talking to himself now? They said widowers had a hard time dealing with loneliness, but Albert had been lonely ever since Helen got sick. He didn’t go crazy because of it. He coughed out the lingering tickle in his throat and stomped back into the kitchen.


“Dad!” mirth filled the house, giggles and warm sunlight pushed through the front door. Did anyone bother to knock anymore? Alfred was reading the paper in the living room. Well, pretending to read. The paper was pulled across his lap but he hadn’t read a word in fifteen minutes. He was staring at her, he was staring at the brain floating in goo. He could have sworn he saw it move a half hour ago, he could have sworn it swiveled twenty degrees of it’s own volition, and now it pointed right at him. He’d been staring at it ever since.

“There you are!” Albert folded his paper and placed it next to him on the couch. He heaved himself up and embraced his oldest daughter, Annie. Her kids wrapped themselves around his waist and squeezed.

“Hey Dad, how are you?”

Albert looked up at the brain. Going crazy, probably. “Fine.”

Annie matched his gaze. “What’s that?”

“More like who’s that.”

“Okay.” She said it slowly. Was craziness hereditary?

“Mommy why’s there a brain in a jar up there?”

“Is it halloween?”

Alberts grandchildren approached the fireplace with curiosity.

“No it’s not halloween…” Annie said for lack of a proper explanation.

“That’s your grandmother’s brain.” Albert said as tactfully as possible.

“That’s Nana’s brain?” The older child, Marcus, his white shirt already stained in three spots, balked at it.

“Ew! Why did Nana keep a brain around!” Stacy clung to the trim of her pink skirt and recoiled.

“No honey, that brain was in her head.” Albert tried to explain it gently.

“Dad, could we maybe…”

“No it wasn’t.”

“You have a brain right, sweetheart? And I have a brain?” Stacy nodded. 

“Dad.”

“What? I’m just trying to explain it.” Albert knelt next to Stacy. “You see, when your Nana passed on they took her brain out of her skull to do some studies on it, and then they gave it to me, so I could have a little piece of her here on earth.” Stacy screwed her face into a ball.

“Doesn’t she need her brain in heaven?”

Marcus piped in quickly, “Nana didn’t go to heaven.” He sneered. “She went to that place with double hockey sticks. That’s what Aunt Martha says.”

“Marcus!” Annie finally piped in. “Will both of you go play in the backyard for a few minutes.”

“Mom I’m not done looking at the brain!”

“You can see it later, Stacy, I need to speak to your grandfather.”

The children disappeared from the room, the warmth and the sunlight went with them.

“Am I in trouble?” Albert hunched his shoulders again, a life long pose he took comfort in.

“Dad what is… how did you end up with this? Why would you keep Mom’s brain?”

“I don’t know. I didn’t want the damn thing… They were going to throw it away.”

“What?”

“They said they were going to throw it out with all the other medical waste.”

“So you kept it.”

Albert ran a hand through is thin gray hair. “I guess.”

“This is weird.” Annie took a step toward the brain curiosity overcoming her wariness.

“I know.”

“Well could you put it somewhere the kids won’t see it?”

“They already saw it.” Annie turned toward her father. He had never been a weirdo, just a quiet, introverted, curmudgeon. A lovable one, but still a curmudgeon none-the-less. To keep a brain on the mantle was so unlike him, but grief was a powerful thing. It could unhinge a person.

Albert exhaled and stared at the carpet his hunched shoulders like big gray orbs in his sweater. Annie turned back to the gray mass on the mantle. 

“Kind of big isn’t it?” She ran a single finger over the brass plaque on the jar.

“Helen was smart.” Albert shrugged and tore his gaze away from the carpet. He watched her then, his oldest daughter, thirty-three and the spitting image of Helen when she was that age. Though Helen was still teaching and she had three kids by then. Their two sons took after Albert, but Annie, she was Helen through and through. He tried to picture Helen after her mother died, staring at the yellow urn on that same fireplace mantel. It was so many years ago, but it came back to him in a single snapshot. Her hair curled behind her ear, her eyes red from crying, Albert’s hanky balled up in her left hand, she was the picture of youth then, even in her most trying times, she was always an infallible beauty.

“Hey Mom,” Annie stroked a finger along the glass and in that moment Albert saw the brain give Annie an almost imperceptible nod.

 

C. L. Brenton

Albert and the Brain - Part 1

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.

A Perfect Morning

Another week of hard work and butterflies gone, and I am still immersed in an epic hack up of my novel. It is painful and overwhelming and inspiring and exhausting, but it is worth it, and in the end it will be wonderful.

Enjoy


We live in Stoker’s castle. We are dim and it is colder than we expected. Like a tomb or that place where they heap dead bodies and innocuously call a freezer.

I don’t want to spend another minute in there but he likes the sound of it. He thinks the dripping is evocative and strange, the architecture ornate and gothic, the floor tiles laid perfectly for such an early 13th century extravagance. 

I stare through the barred window and try to convince myself this isn’t a dungeon and this isn’t our tomb. 

I thirst for Sunday mornings, I crave the bouyance of a Wednesday afternoon. I want silence and exuberance, solitude and company, a flood of ideas and a quiet mind. I am a thousand scientific notions - Entropy, chaos, decay, dichotomy.

Sometimes before he wakes up, I sit outside and soak in the morning. The dog flops in the grass, his nose twitching, delighted at the intricate smells of a quiet day. The birds are all a titter, chittering graceful unglorified tunes without reason. Singing made up songs just to sing. Just for the joyful noise of it. 

He wakes and speaks as if nothing matters but the stench of his own words. 

Then it’s too hot, the dog licks his asshole uncomfortably, the skin on my forearms seethes as if they’re on fire. The birds squawk uncontrollably and I imagine our yard as a hellish paradise with no escape. A secret garden drowning in flame.

I think about that as I shiver, and watch him stare at the buttresses flying overhead. He and I are cowards stuck in the middle of the beginning of the end. The scars become us, don’t they? Like tiny little bandaids polka-dotting our cancered skin. 

This way.

He pulls me down another hallway away from the group. Ancient suits of armor are held up by god-knows-what and it’s all I can do not to poke them and see if they’ll just fall down. I follow him to a tapestry beyond a series of stanchions barely barricading the path.

Where?

I whisper, but I don’t really care. I’m just glad to get away from the stink of farts and belly burps that is a group tour in Europe. I walk past the same stone bricks we’ve stared at all morning and I wonder if scar tissue could ever get cancer. If in the end, maybe all we are is a mottled ball of them.

When he turns to me, I see it in his eyes. Then I taste it on his lips. And somehow, the hellfire and the frigid halls become one entire life. Somehow, as my heart beat slows, the stone brick hallway folds into our kiss. All of it lingers, and then slips away like a morning.

 

C. L. Brenton

When Instructed

When I was at Jury Duty last week I ate lunch in the beautiful gardens behind the Walt Disney Concert Hall. A young couple was having their wedding photographs taken there, and I sketched their portrait in words. Enjoy!


Mirthless and faceless they only touch when instructed. Her nails are still wet, his tuxedo is too new it itches. Her long white dress must be carried along side her as if she were surrounded by and floating in a white puffy cloud.

Dad videotapes the whole affair on an old camcorder. He wants to remember every piece of today, from the way the blue fountain shoots out sunlight instead of water, how his wife holds the bouquet of pink haphazardly as if she were an incompetent hand maiden, a bored complacent intern.

They think they have resigned to nothing but they have resigned to everything. The photographer babbles on in Chinese. He places her creamy hands around his bronzed neck, and they don’t smile. He doesn’t touch her unless instructed.

The photographer poses her fingers one by one. This is true love, he thinks, fingers like this, neck like this, now tilt your head and smile. Smile at him. He presses a chipped nail, he moves dad filming a flower by the root of a tree out of the shot.

Click click click.

Instinct takes over when a silky white petal falls in her hair and he delicately removes it. The light shifts, a breeze presses the long spines of branches out of the way, and ruffles the poised leaves. 

The photographer corrals the bride and groom, this way, this way. 

Mom places the bouquet back in her daughter’s hands and scoops up the folds of her dress exposing her cherry blossom legs that blend right in with her small shoes.

They are mirthless and robotic. They don’t smile unless instructed, move unless instructed, laugh, bend, fight, lust unless instructed. They don’t hold hands, yet they move carefully.

We have to return that suit in good shape 

You have to have that dress for the rest of your life.

Dad films the way the light reflects off an impossibly tall glass building, he films the leather ruffle on her unscuffed shoes, he films mom bundling up the folds of her dress, the fountain again, the way it shoots out sunlight instead of water. They are eerily silent, eerily somber for such a beautiful day, a beautiful time, and a beautiful place.

The photographer runs up ahead and captures the nothing of this moment. They will treasure it forever, it will hang in the tapestry of their lives for eternity. Sometimes she will wish to go back there, sometimes he will wish it never happened at all.

Her pearls catch on something, a zipper maybe, a button, they pause. Mom lets the white fluff of her dress pour back to the ground and she delicately unhooks them and presses the pearls back to her neck.

Click click click.

Dainty elegant fingers scoop up the folds of her dress, and they walk along again as if she were floating in and surrounded by a cloud.

The awe of a white gown and a black tux follows them through the expanse of quaffed gardens.

Behind them, laughter fills the void in their wake. Families wander through with their own cameras, their own love, their own mirth, and they touch each other whether they’re instructed to or not.

 

C. L. Brenton