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.

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

An Age For All Humans - First Pages

Remember last week when I said I couldn't remember the last time I was sick? Well, this week, I'm sick. Definitely jinxed that one, huh?

So in honor of Thanksgiving, and my feverish delirium, I proudly present the much anticipated first chapter of my book, An Age for All Humans. I hope you enjoy the sneak preview.

Parental Advisory: Explicit content

 

An Age For All Humans - Chapter One


They call Los Angeles a forty-five minute town, even though it usually takes an hour to get anywhere. It’s something people love to hate about Hollywood. During rush hour you could live five miles away from someone, and it would be faster to jog there than drive. But the sidewalks are all buckled and the smog coats your lungs and cars won’t stop at stop signs, so you’re pretty much signing your death wish. That’s what LA does, makes you sign away most of your life just to live there. 

In LA you can’t walk, and you can’t drive, and god help you if you try to bike someplace, so you get stuck. Stuck in a beige apartment with something someone defined as a balcony, but is really just a floor to ceiling window with a railing across it. Stuck in a relationship that sucks your life dry, stuck jobless, stuck passionless, stuck in the doldrums of poverty and boredom. 

The sun warmed my bare naval as I tipped back my plastic folding chair and propped my feet on the balcony railing. Oli stretched out on the floor next to me, his fuzzy white belly soaking up the spring sun. In LA, spring doesn’t mean anything, because it’s the same temperature all year round. It’s always warm, it’s always stucco, it’s always shiny, and it’s always plastic.

In LA you can disappear. If there’s one thing I like about the city, it’s that. There are so many people and so many cars that if you’re not famous then you’re anonymous. That’s why everyone’s trying so hard to get looked at, so someone will actually notice them for once. So someone might look up from their phones and think, oh my gosh is that… no wait… The up side is that no one notices if you stop at the liquor store for the second time that day to buy another handle of whiskey. And if you’re afraid they will, there’s another liquor store halfway down the next block. If not there, you’ve got the Vons, or the 711 or your neighbor down the hall. Maybe that’s one reason to really love LA, just for it’s plentiful whiskeyness.

My phone dinged, and I set down my handle of makers mark (I’d given up on glasses months ago) and picked my phone up off the spot on my belly.

Be home soon.

Oh great. Bobby’s coming home. I cap my whiskey and hide it in the bottom drawer of my dresser. Time to sober up. That was my life, drink all day, pretend I hadn’t all night. Bobby gets his share of drunk, but that’s usually after five. During the day, I’m on me time, and I get to do whatever I want.

My mom texts,

You coming up tonight?

Tomorrow. I text back

Okay. Play a word. 

I pull open words with friends and drunkenly spell out the word DRUNK. That’s ironic. Or was it? I wish Alanis Morriset had done a better job explaining irony in that song. I liked playing words with my mom, It wasn’t communication at its best, but it beat her calling me up every other day to make sure I’m still alive. And it was nice knowing that she’s still out there in the world too, like a pat on the back just to let me know she’s still there. I lay back on my bed and tried to form my next word.


“Babe?”

Oh, shit. Bobby. Did I fall asleep? 

“Hey.” I sat up sniffing myself maniacally to make sure I didn’t have any alcohol on my breath.

Bobby stepped into the room and kicked off his shoes.

“What are you doing?”

“Just changing, I’m about to go for a run.” I lied.

“Why don’t you change in front of me, nice and slow?” Bobby leaned over and kissed me on my neck, he made his way up to my chin, and then right before he hit my lips I turned away. 

“Bobby.”

“What?”

“I’m not in the mood.”

“Oh you’re never in the mood.” He took off his jacket and tossed it on the bed. “You smell like whiskey.”

“Yeah.” I said passively.

“Where is it?” I pointed to my bottom drawer..

He pulled out the bottle of makers mark and unscrewed the top.

“Want anymore?” I shook my head and flopped back on the bed. He took a swig and loosened his tie. “Cool.” Then he carried it into the other room like a trophy. All I heard was his ass flopping into our ikea futon, and the tv flick on. I closed my eyes again.


We hadn’t f***ed in over three months, though Bobby would probably say it’d been longer. I still counted that one time after Peter and Arielle’s wedding in January, but since neither of us finished, I can’t imagine he even remembered it. I got mine though every so often, I just wasn’t sure where, or if, he got his. I thought about giving him one last go before I left for a few weeks. My Oma (that’s grandma in german) just had heart surgery, and my mom had asked me if I would live with her and help her recover. Since quitting my job at Aster’s and the whole Ford commercial debacle, I was in no position to pay rent that month. Besides Bobby and I needed a break from each other. I planned on telling him that right before I got in my car and drove away. 

It was the cowards way out, and I knew it. But I don’t see any problem with being a coward. It’s called self preservation. Don’t run towards the bullets, run away. That’s the only way to survive in this world.


C. L. Brenton