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.
“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.”
“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.
“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.