A dribble of spit hung between the corner of his mouth and the t-shirt he’d dressed himself in yesterday.
The day before his brain fell out.
Julie remembered him yesterday, all words, facial expressions and functioning. When movements were second nature and there was no need to worry if he needed the loo.
The ambulance people, one woman, one overly tall man, had wanted to take him to the morgue. “He’s dead,” the woman had said, “Technically.” But even they couldn’t quite convince themselves. His heart still pumped. His lungs still drew breath. His eyes still portrayed some kind of soul within them, even if they didn’t seem to focus fully. But there was no denying the fact that his brain, like a washed up jellyfish on a rainy Blackpool beach, was lying on the bathroom floor. The overly tall man had scooped it up in his rubber gloved hands and put it into some freshly dishwashed Tupperware. Julie appreciated this. She wouldn’t have liked to do it herself. And they could have called the police, reporting a mentally disturbed wife who couldn’t accept her husband’s bizarre not-quite-death, asking them to please just leave him where he was and she’d decide what to do with him. But they didn’t. Instead they helped her move him onto the sofa, positioning his occasionally lolling head on a cushion and propping the rest of him between the arm of the sofa and a pile of nearly new fluffed up pillows from what was once her father’s room, now the spare bedroom. They’d advised her to call his GP before they left. An attempt on their part to feel they’d passed responsibility in a professional manner, thought Julie. Whatever made them feel better. They left in a baffled hurry, glad for another urgent call to attend.
Since then Julie had run a cycle of puréed food administration, awkward bed pan positioning, and dribble wiping. She’d thought her carer days were over when her father passed, and never considered it was to be good training for emergency husband-sans-brain care. She’d managed to find an endless supply of Top Gear on the telly, and even though he was mostly unresponsive, her husband developed a subtle twitch every time Jeremy Clarkson put his foot down. The faster the car, the bigger the twitch. So Julie decided anyway. For breakfast he’d had puréed marmite on toast. She had to tilt his head backwards slightly to make sure it went down okay. He could swallow, at least. His eyes didn’t move from the TV either. At lunchtime she puréed some beans. Her husband liked beans usually, although the aftermath from the other end was never pleasant. But needs must, thought Julie. She ladled a small amount onto a spoon and held it to her husband’s mouth. But he refused to open.
She tried scrambled eggs, mushroom soup, spaghetti with tinned meatballs, various cereals, even bacon sandwiches, all blended to a paste, none of which her husband would allow into his mouth. By tea time she’d run out of ideas. It was clear he didn’t want anything she offered. She stood in front of the dim light of the fridge and sobbed. Her husband’s brain sat on the top shelf in its Tupperware home. If he wouldn’t eat, how could she keep him like this? Maybe he didn’t want to be like this. Maybe he didn’t want to be alive. Half alive. Whatever it was that he is. Her thought process was interrupted by a gurgling sound coming from the front room and she rushed from the kitchen, leaving the fridge door wide open.
Half sat, half crumpled, her husband had somehow managed to get himself right in front of the TV. He seemed to be transfixed by the screen, and occasionally he issued a delighted grunt. Julie was amazed. He hadn’t moved an inch by himself since she’d found him in the bathroom yesterday. She didn’t think he could. She crouched next to him on the floor and said his name, looking for movement in his face. But there wasn’t any. Just a fixed stare, directed at the screen. A long gurgle, then a grunt. Almost excited, Julie thought. The screen’s contents had replaced Top Gear with some generic cookery programme. A stressed looking chef was dealing competently with a large plate of offal, handling the slimy blubber proficiently and chopping it into small strips which she then placed into a heated frying pan. The dark liver smoked as she did so. Then some bloodied heart. Some rubbery kidney. Then a slice of brain. Julie’s husband let out an excited gurgle again. The corner of his usually dormant mouth twitched.
“You can’t be serious?” said Julie, to no response.
The two of them watched the offal sizzling on the screen, trembling and popping within the hot fat. He didn’t react to the liver or the kidneys or the heart. Only to the brains. Julie didn’t need much more evidence of what her husband was thinking, and, without hesitation, and in some kind of manic haze, she collected her husband’s brain from the Tupperware in the fridge and heated a large frying pan on the stove top.
As consciousness came to her she recalled her last feelings of satisfied comfort at having got her husband to eat something before she fell asleep on the sofa next to him. The exhaustion had hit her almost as soon as he’d finished the last mouthful she’d fed him. She remembered how his arm had felt just as it did before, when she’d snuggle up to him in front of the telly, as if he was still normal, as if he was still the husband she’d married. The comfort of this must have sent her into a deep sleep, she thought. The low hum of a familiar tune brought a smile to her face in her dazy half-awake state. Her eyes were still heavy, but the smell of bacon and eggs tickled her nose, nudging at the sleepiness. As her brain kicked into full consciousness it started dealing with the facts it had been presented in its hazy waking. The humming was still there, ‘A Groovy Kind of Love’, she believed. One of her husband’s secret playlist tunes. The smell of bacon was still there, with overtones of frying egg whites, just about crispy, not burnt. Like her husband used to make. Her eyes snapped open, but before they could take in any more information to give to her poor confused brain, the living room door opened and in bustled her husband.
All standing up and walking.
All coordinated and not dribbling.
Carrying a tray.
“Good morning, my love,” he said, coherently. Julie couldn’t reply. It was all she could do to sit upright to get a better look at this phenomenal occurrence standing in front of her, smiling brightly.
“You looked so exhausted there on the sofa this morning I thought I’d make you breakfast. Not as much bacon as I thought we had, so you’ve only got two slices. Sorry.” He placed the tray on Julie’s thighs. “I’ve made you extra toast instead, and there’s some of that thick cut marmalade you like there too. Do you want coffee or tea?”
Her husband seemed confused at the lack of response from his wife, especially with the expression of disbelief she seemed to have on her face. Not one he’d seen of a morning before.
“Julie, coffee or tea?”
Julie stuttered an answer, but immediately couldn’t remember what she’d said. Then she said, “How are you feeling today?”
Her husband looked quizzically at her. “Well, I’m fine, thank you for asking.” He giggled slightly and kissed her forehead, then began rearranging the cushions on the sofa and moving the blanket he’d tucked his wife up in earlier that morning. “Bit of a headache actually, but some breakfast will probably sort that out. Are you all right, Julie?”
“Er, yes. I’m…” She wasn’t, but she said it anyway. “Fine.”
“You seem concerned about something.”
“Oh, it’s nothing,” she said, adjusting the tray on her lap. “I just wonder sometimes whether we know everything there really is to know.”
“Bit philosophical for this time in the morning,” laughed her husband as he left the room to finish the drinks in the kitchen, from where he shouted…
“You know, if you think like that too much your brain will fall out.”