She didn’t answer.
‘I can tell you now that everything went pretty smoothly, one way and another. Far better, in fact, than I was entitled to hope. It is not only alive, Mrs Pearl, it is conscious. It recovered consciousness on the second day. Isn’t that interesting?’
She waited for him to go on.
‘And the eye is seeing. We are sure of that because we get an immediate change in the deflections on the encephalograph when we hold something up in front of it. And now we’re giving it the newspaper to read every day.’
‘Which newspaper?’ Mrs Pearl asked sharply.
‘The Daily Mirror. The headlines are larger.’
‘He hates the Mirror. Give him The Times.’
There was a pause, then the doctor said, ‘Very well, Mrs Pearl. We’ll give it The Times. We naturally want to do all we can to keep it happy.’
‘Him,’ she said. ‘Not it. Him!’
‘Him,’ the doctor said. ‘Yes, I beg your pardon. To keep him happy. That’s one reason why I suggested you should come along here as soon as possible. I think it would be good for him to see you. You could indicate how delighted you were to be with him again – smile at him and blow him a kiss and all that sort of thing. It’s bound to be a comfort to him to know that you are standing by.’
There was a long pause.
‘Well,’ Mrs Pearl said at last, her voice suddenly very meek and tired. ‘I suppose I had better come on over and see how he is.’
‘Good. I knew you would. I’ll wait here for you. Come straight up to my office on the second floor. Good-bye.’
Half an hour later, Mrs Pearl was at the hospital.
‘You mustn’t be surprised by what he looks like,’ Landy said as he walked beside her down a corridor.
‘No, I won’t.’
‘It’s bound to be a bit of a shock to you at first. He’s not very prepossessing in his present state, I’m afraid.’
‘I didn’t marry him for his looks, Doctor.’
Landy turned and stared at her. What a queer little woman this was, he thought, with her large eyes and her sullen, resentful air. Her features, which inust have been quite pleasant once, had now gone completely. The mouth was slack, the cheeks loose and flabby and the whole face gave the impression of having slowly but surely sagged to pieces through years and years of joyless married life. They walked on for a while in silence.
‘Take your time when you get inside,’ Landy said. ‘He won’t know you’re in there until you place your face directly above his eye. The eye is always open, but he can’t move it at all, so the field of vision is very narrow. At present we have it looking up at the ceiling. And of course he can’t hear anything. We can talk together as much as we like. It’s in here.’
Landy opened a door and ushered her into a small square room.
‘I wouldn’t go too close yet,’ he said, putting a hand on her arm. ‘Stay back here a moment with me until you get used to it all.’
There was a biggish white enamel bowl about the size of a washbasin standing on a high white table in the centre of the room, and there were half a dozen thin plastic tubes coming out of it. These tubes were connected with a whole lot of glass piping in which you could see the blood flowing to and from the heart inachine. The machine itself made a soff rhythmic pulsing sound.
‘He’s in there,’ Landy said, pointing to the basin, which was too high for her to see into. ‘Come just a little closer. Not too near.’
He led her two paces forward.
By stretching her neck, Mrs Pearl could now see the surface of the liquid inside the basin. It was clear and still, and on it there floated a small oval capsule, about the size of a pigeon’s egg.
‘That’s the eye in there,’ Landy said. ‘Can you see it?’
‘So far as we can tell, it is still in perfect condition. It’s his right eye, and the plastic container has a lens on it similar to the one he used in his own spectacles. At this moment he’s probably seeing quite as well as he did before.’
‘The ceiling isn’t much to look at,’ Mrs Pearl said. ‘Don’t worry about that. We’re in the process of working out a whole programme to keep kim amused, but we don’t want to go too quickly at first.’
‘Give him a good book.’
‘We will, we will. Are you feeling all right, Mrs Pearl?’
‘Then we’ll go forward a little more, shall we, and you’ll be able to see the whole thing.’
He led her forward until they were standing only a couple of yards from the table, and now she could see right down into the basin.
‘There you are,’ Landy said. ‘That’s William.’
He was far larger than she had imagined he would be, and darker in colour. With all the ridges and creases running over his surface, he reminded her of nothing so much as an enormous pickled walnut. She could see the stubs of the four big arteries and the two veins coming out from the base of him and the neat way in which they were joined to the plastic tubes; and with each throb of the heart machine, all the tubes gave a little jerk in unison as the blood was pushed through them.
‘You’ll have to lean over,’ Landy said, ‘and put your pretty face right above the eye. He’ll see you then, and you can srnile at him and blow him a kiss. If I were you I’d say a few nice things as well. He won’t actually hear them, but I’m sure he’ll get the general idea.’
‘He hates people blowing kisses at him,’ Mrs Pearl said. ‘I’ll do it my own way if you don’t mind.’ She stepped up to the edge of the table, leaned forward until her face was directly over the basin, and looked straight down into William’s eye.
‘Hallo, dear,’ she whispered. ‘It’s me – Mary.’
The eye, bright as ever, stared back at her with a peculiar, fixed intensity.
‘How are you, dear?’ she said.
The plastic capsule was transparent all the way round so that the whole of the eyeball was visible. The optic nerve connecting the underside of it to the brain looked like a short length of grey spaghetti.
‘Are you feeling all right, William?’
It was a queer sensation peering into her husband’s eye when there was no face to go with it. All she had to look at was the eye, and shekept staring at it, and gradually it grew bigger and bigger, in the end it was the only thing that she could see – a sort of face in itself. There was a network of tiny red veins running over the white surface of the eyeball, and in the ice-blue of the iris there were three or four rather pretty darkish streaks radiating from the pupil in the centre. The pupil was large and black, with a little spark of light reflecting from one side of it.
‘I got your letter, dear, and came over at once to see how you were. Dr Landy says you are doing wonderfully well. Perhaps if I talk slowly you can understand a little of what I am saying by reading my lips.’
There was no doubt that the eye was watching her.
‘They are doing everything possible to take care of you, dear. This marvellous machine thing here is pumping away all the time and I’m sure it’s a lot better than those silly old hearts all the rest of us have. Ours are liable to break down at any moment, but yours will go on for ever.’
She was studying the eye closely, trying to discover what there was about it that gave it such an unusual appearance.
‘You seem fine, dear, simply fine. Really you do.’
It looked ever so much nicer, this eye, than either of his eye used to look, she told herself. There was a softness about it somewhere, a calm, kindly quality that she had never seen before. Maybe it had to do with the dot in the very centre, the pupil. William’s pupils used always to be tiny black pinheads. They used to glint at you, stabbing into your brain, seeing right through you, and they always knew at once what you were up to and even what you were thinking. But this one she was looking at now was large and soft and gentle, almost cowlike.