‘I don’t see why not,’ he answered. ‘It’s the same brain. It’s alive. It’s undamaged. In fact, it’s completely untouched. We haven’t even opened the dura. The big difference, of course, would be that we’ve severed every single nerve that leads into it – except for the one optic nerve – and this means that your thinking would no longer be influenced by your senses. You’d be living in an extraordinarily pure and detached world. Nothing to bother you at all, not even pain. You couldn’t possibly feel pain because there wouldn’t be any nerves to feel it with. In a way, it would be an almost perfect situation. No worries or fears or pains or hunger or thirst. Not even any desires. Just your memories and your. thoughts, and if the remaining eye happened to function, then you could read books as well. It all sounds rather pleasant to me.
‘It does, does it?’
‘Yes, William, it does. And particularly for a Doctor of Philosophy. It would be a tremendous experience. You’d be able to reflect upon the ways of the world with a detachment and a serenity that no man had ever attained before. And who knows what might not happen then! Great thoughts and solutions might come to you, great ideas that could revolutionize our way of life! Try to imagine, if you can, the degree of concentration that you’d be able to achieve!’
‘And the frustration,’ I said.
‘Nonsense. There couldn’t be any frustration. You can’t have frustration without desire, and you couldn’t possibly have any desire. Not physical desire, anyway.’
‘I should certainly be capable of remembering my previous life in the world, and I might desire to return to it.’
‘What, to this mess! Out of your comfortable basin and back into this madhouse!’
‘Answer one more question,’ I said. ‘How long do you believe you could keep it alive’
‘The brain? Who knows? Possibly for years and years. The conditions would be ideal. Most of the factors that cause deterioration would be absent, thanks to the artificial heart. The blood-pressure would remain constant at all times, an impossible condition in real life. The temperature would also be constant. The chemical composition of the blood would be near perfect There would be no impurities in it, no virus, no bacteria, nothing. Of course it’s foolish to guess, but I believe that a brain might live for two or three hundred years in circumstances like these. Good-bye for now,’ he said. ‘I’ll drop in and see you tomorrow.’ He went out quickly, leaving me, as you might guess, in a fairly disturbed state of mind.
My immediate reaction after he had gone was one of revulsion towards the whole business. Somehow, it wasn’t at all nice. There was something basically repulsive about the idea that I myself, with all my mental faculties intact, should be reduced to a small slimy blob lying in a pool of water. It was monstrous, obscene, unholy. Another thing that bothered me was the feeling of helplessness that I was bound to expenence once Landy had got me into the basin. There could be no going back after that, no way of protesting or explairing. I would be committed for as long as they could keep me alive. And what, for example, if I could not stand it? What if it turned out to be terribly painful? What if I became hysterical? No legs to run away on. No voice to scream with. Nothing. I’d just have to grin and bear it for the next two centuries. No mouth to grin with either. At this point, a curious thought struck me, and it was this:
Does not a man who has had a leg amputated often suffer from the delusion that the leg is still there? Does he not tell the nurse that the toes he doesn’t have any more are itching like mad, and so on and so forth? I seemed to have heard something to that effect quite recently.
Very well. On the same premise, was it not possible that my brain, lying there alone in that basin, might not suffer from a similar delusion in regard to my body? In which case, all my usual aches and pains could come flooding over me and I wouldn’t even be able to take an aspirin to relieve them. One moment I might be imagining that I had the most excruciating cramp in my leg, or a violent indigestion, and a few minutes later, I might easily get the feeling that my poor bladder – you know me – was so full that if I didn’t get to emptying it soon it would burst.
I lay there for a long time thinking these horrid thoughts. Then quite suddenly, round about midday, my mood began to change. I became less concerned with the unpleasant aspect of the affair and found myself able to examine Landy’s proposals in a more reasonable light. Was there not, after all, I asked myself, some thing a bit comforting in the thought that my brain might not necessarily have to die and disappear in a few weeks’ time? There was indeed. I am rather proud of my brain. It is a sensitive, lucid, and juberous organ. It contains a prodigious store of information, and it is still capable of producing imaginative and original theories. As brains go, it is a, damn good one, though I say it myself. Whereas my body, my poor old body, the thing that Landy wants to throw away well, even you, my dear Mary, will have to agree with me that there is really nothing about that which is worth preserving any more.
I was lying on my back eating a grape. Delicious it was, and there were three little seeds in it which I took out of my mouth and placed on the edge of the plate.
‘I’m going to do it,’ I said quietly. ‘Yes, by God, I’m going to do it. When Landy comes back to see me tomorrow I shall tell him straight out that I’m going to do it.’
It was as quick as that. And from then on, I began to feel very much better. 1 surprised everyone by gobbling an enormous lunch, and short after that you came in to visit me as usual.
But how well I looked, you told me. How bright and well and chirpy Had anything happened? Was there some good news?
Yes, I said there was. And then, if you remember, I bade you sit down and make yourself comfortable, and I began immediately to explain to you as gently as I could what was in the wind.
Alas, you would have none of it. I had hardly begun telling you the barest details when you flew into a fury and said that the thing was revolting, disgusting, horrible, unthinkable, and when I tried to go on, you marched out of the room.
Well, Mary, as you know, I have tried to discuss this subject with you many times since then, but you have consistently refused to give me a hearing. Hence this note, and I can only hope that you will have the good sense to permit yourself to read it. It has taken me a long time to write. Two weeks have gone since I started to scribble the first sentence, and I’m now a good. deal weaker than I was then. I doubt whether I have the strength to say much more. Certainly I won’t say good-bye, because there’s a chance, just a tiny chance, that if Landy succeeds in his work I may actually see you again later, that is if you can bring yourself to come and visit me.
I am giving orders that these pages shall not be delivered to you until a week after I am gone. By now, therefore, as you sit reading them, seven. days have already elapsed since Landy did the deed. You yourself may even know what the outcome has been. If you don’t, if you have purposely kept yourself apart and have refused to have anything to do with it – which I suspect may be the case – please change your mind now and give Landy a call to see how things went with me. That is the least you can do. I have told him that he may expect to hear from you on the seventh day.
Your faithful husband,
PS. Be good when I am gone, and always remember that it is harder to be a widow than a wife. Do not drink cocktails. Do not waste money. Do not smoke cigarettes. Do not eat pastry. Do not use lipstick. Do not buy a television apparatus. Keep my rose beds and my rockery well weeded in the summers. And incidentally I suggest that you have the telephone disconnected now that I shall have no further use for it.
Mrs Pearl laid the last page of the manuscript slowly down on the sofa beside her. Her little mouth was pursed up tight and there was a whiteness around her nostrils.
But really! You would think a widow was entitled to a bit of peace after all these years.
The whole thing was just too awful to think about. Beastly and awful. It gave her the shudders.
She reached for her bag and found herself another cigarette. She lit it, inhaling the smoke deeply and blowing it out in clouds all over the room. Through the smoke she could see her lovely television set, brand new, lustrous, huge, crouching defiantly but also a little Self-consciously on top of what used to be William’s worktable.
What would he say, she wondered, if he could see that now?
She paused, to remember the last time he had caught her smoking a cigarette. That was about a year ago, and she was sitting in the kitchen by the open window having a quick one before he came home from work. She’d had the radio on loud playing dance music and she had turned round to pour herself another cup of coffee and there he was standing in the doorway, huge and grim, staring down at her with those awful eyes, a little black dot of fury blazing in the centre of each.
For four weeks after that, he had paid the housekeeping bills himself and given her no money at all, but of course he wasn’t to know that she had over six pounds salted away in a soap-flake carton in the cupboard under the sink.
‘What is it?’ she had said to him once during supper. ‘Are you worried about me getting lung cancer?’
‘I am not,’ he had answered.
‘Then why can’t I smoke?’
‘Because I disapprove, that’s why.’
He had also disapproved of children, and as a result they had never had any of them either.
Where was he now, this William of hers, the great disapprover? Landy would be expecting her to call up. Did she have to call Landy?
Well, not really, no.
She finished her cigarette, then lit another one immediately from the old stub. She looked at the telephone that was sitting on the worktable beside the television set. William had asked her to call. He had specifically requested that she telephone Landy as soon as she had read the letter. She hesitated, fighting hard now against that old ingrained sense duty that she didn’t quite yet dare to shake off. Then, slowly, she got to her feet and crossed over to the phone on the worktable. She found a number in the book, dialled it, and waited.
‘I want to speak to Mr Landy, please.’
‘Who is calling?’
‘Mrs Pearl. Mrs William Pearl.’
‘One moment, please.’
Almost at once, Landy was on the other end of the wire.
‘This is Mrs Pearl.’
There was a slight pause.
‘I am so glad you called at last, Mrs Pearl. You are quite well, I hope?’ The voice was quiet, unemotional, courteous. ‘I wonder if you would care to come over here to the hospital? Then we can have a little chat. I expect you are very eager to know how it all came out.’