The bistro was intimate and sparsely furnished, an upscale eatery packed with the sort of younger well-to-do couples that made Jeffrey feel like an interloper. He had dressed up for dinner as though he were going to senior prom, but everyone else seemed to be dressed down in turtleneck sweaters and open-collared silk shirts that had cost more than his television.
Their waitress arrived without even a hint of a smile, unceremoniously dropping entree dishes on the table before Jeffrey, his wife, and the disembodied brain which sat atop a child's booster chair between them.
"More wine sir?" the waitress asked, and to Jeffrey 'sir' sounded distinctly sarcastic.
He hesitated. Did they charge by the glass at places like this or did they have free refills? He was suddenly sure that the eyes of everyone in the restaurant were focused on him, and the hot blush of embarassment spread across his face. He sheepishly lowered his head and nodded.
As Kate lovingly cut the brain's meal into bite-sized portions, Jeffrey peeled his eyes from the tablecloth and surveyed the other couples once more. Surely they could sense his inferiority, could plainly see that his dinner jacket was seven years old and that the color of his Wal-Mart belt didn't quite match the rest of his outfit. He had the sudden urge to bolt, to leave Kate and her brain sitting at this table dumbfounded while we got in the car and drove as fast and far as the road would allow him, maybe pausing along the way for some wonderfully classless drive-thru burgers.
No. Just stop, he thought. Stop the fucking obsession with money and status and try to enjoy yourself. You've set aside an entire week's paycheck for this night out with Kate and you're going to enjoy it. God knows you should be used to feeling inferior by now.
At that he returned his attention to Kate and the brain. She had finished cutting the veal parmesan and primly slid the plate closer to the booster chair, a content smile lighting her pretty face. The sort of smile he hadn't been able to give her for years. She was in her own little world with that damned brain.
"Why do you cut his food? It's not like he can even eat."
Kate snapped out of her momentary happiness, regarding Jeffrey with a wounded expression. Part of him was glad to see the smile gone. A real big part. The shame of this somehow fueled his anger.
"Jesus Kate, why do we even order meals for him, or bring him with us in public for that matter? What kind of genius idea was it to start doing that? It's no wonder you never finished college."
Kate cupped her hands over the parts of the brain where ears would probably have gone if it had them, and as the shock of her husband's comments wore off she found herself angry.
"You watch your mouth around him, Jeffrey! Can't you see that you hurt his feelings when you pretend you don't want him to go places with us?"
The brain, however, showed no signs of distress. The large and lidless eyeballs which sat on its frontal lobe were aimed blankly ahead toward the restaurant's brick wall, as was the lasergun which was meshed to the brain's side.
"That's just it," said Jeffrey, "I really don't want him around. I hate him. I hate the fact that you keep him on the pillow between us while we sleep at night. I can't count the number of times I've rolled over face first into that wet brain and awoke to its creepy eyes staring at me. I hate the fact that it just stares, that it can't communicate so we never know what it's thinking. It's revolting. I make this fact as clear as possible every day and yet you choose to ignore it. I wish you had left him on that country road to die instead of bringing him home. "
"You insensitive bastard."
"Yes, I'm the bad guy. I work six days a week to provide for this family and you sit at home all day with this... thing and show it more love than you show me. I swear Kate, sometimes I think you'd rather have sex with that brain than me."
The brain's eyes gravitated toward Kate without either of them noticing. It fixated on her firm breasts, the creamy skin of her cleavage on display above the low-cut neckline of her tight black dress.
"Jeffrey, you disgust me." Kate's voice had taken on a cold finality. This fight had been several months in the making and she had prepared her side of the argument in a thousand daydreams. She had been longing for the change that would come after the horrible things that needed to be said. "This 'thing' is the child I've always wanted. The child you could never give me."
"How can you say that?" Now it was Jeffrey's turn to be hurt. "How can you treat a brain with googly eyes and a laser gun glued to its side like a child? It's just creepy, not to mention potentially dangerous! We've never seen it go off, but for all we know that gun could actually work."
"Maybe," she began with the sinister raising of an eyebrow, "I'd be glad someone in my life wasn't shooting blanks." She took a long slow sip from her glass, and found it to be the most delicious wine she had ever tasted.
"How DARE you!" He slammed his fist on the table, and now the other couples really were looking at him. He composed himself, glancing around nervously.
"That's it," said Kate, "worry about what everyone else thinks. Pay more attention to them than your wife and wonder why she has to find love in the grey matter of a five pound mass of firing synapses." Her words came across in a conversational matter-of-fact way that scared Jeffrey. She was already distancing herself, putting up walls to make the breakup cleaner. Her eyes never left her glass of wine, and the bemused smile never left her face.
In that moment, Jeffrey wanted her more than he ever had before. He would have given anything to turn back the clock. To prevent the brain from entering their lives in the first place. Things had been fine before it came along... hadn't they? He wasn't so sure anymore. Rubbing his aching temple, he glanced sideways at the brain and was genuinely surprised to see that it was ogling his wife's breasts with its ridiculous ping pong ball eyes. The brain wants to screw my wife. I can't believe this is happening to me.
"Look Kate, this is insane. We can work our problems out. You know I love you."
"It's over." If she didn't press on and end this now she would be unhappy for months to come. They were past the point of no return. "I don't love you anymore and I will never love you again. It's really that simple. I want a divorce."
"So that's how it is. You want a divorce?" Jeffrey stood abruptly, his thigh slamming into their table and rattling the silverware. The brain's eyes were nervously darting back and forth between the two of them. "You've got it, you... you miserable cooze!" He dug into his wallet and slapped a credit card down on the table to cover the expense of their uneaten meal, making a mental note to cancel it in the morning. He had most definitely made a spectacle of himself now, but he thought fuck them. Fuck them all right up their perfectly groomed Prada assholes.
Jeffrey stormed off, then paused in the open doorway. The night air was bitterly cold. A particularly strong gale rifled through his hair as he looked back over his shoulder with an evil grin.
"Gee, Kate, I have a steady job and own a home. You have... what, maybe a room in your parents' house and no prospects? I wonder who'll be awarded custody of our precious little friend."
The brain spasmed in surprise, its lasergun firing a beam that bored into the brick wall in front of it and carried on into infinity.
Jeffrey let out a bark of mad laughter and stepped outside, then closed his eyes and collapsed with his back against the door. The tears came fast and hard.
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