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