‘Are you quite sure he’s conscious?’ she asked, not looking up.
‘Oh yes, completely,’ Landy said.
‘And he can see me?’
‘Isn’t that marvellous? I expect he’s wondering what happened.’
‘Not at all. He knows perfectly well where he is and why he’s there. He can’t possibly have forgotten that.’
‘You mean he knows he’s in this basin?’
‘Of course. And if only he had the power of speech, he would probably be able to carry on a perfectly normal conversation with you this very minute. So far as I can see, there should be absolutely no difference mentally between this William here and the one you used to know back home.’
‘Good gracious me,’ Mrs Pearl said, and she paused to consider this intriguing aspect.
You know what, she told herself, looking behind the eye now and staring hard at the great grey pulpy walnut that lay so placidly under the water, I’m not at all sure that I don’t prefer him as he is at present. In fact, I believe that I could live very comfortably with this kind of a William. I could cope with this one.
‘Quiet, isn’t he?’ she said.
‘Naturally he’s quiet.’
No arguments and criticisms, she thought, no constant admonitions, no rules to obey, no ban on smoking cigarettes, no pair of cold disapproving eyes watching me over the top of a book in the evenings, no shirts to wash and iron, no meals to cook – nothing but the throb of the heart machine, which was rather a, soothing sound anyway and certainly not loud enough to interfere with television.
‘Doctor,’ she said. ‘I do believe I’m suddenly getting to feel the most enormous affection for him. Does that sound queer?’
‘I think it’s quite understandable.’
‘He looks so helpless and silent lying there under the water in his little basin.’
‘Yes, I know.’
‘He’s like a baby, that’s what he’s like. He’s exactly like a little baby.’
Landy stood still behind her, watching.
‘There,’ she said softly, peering into the basin. ‘From now on Mary’s going to look after you all by herself and you’ve nothing to worry about in the world. When can I have him back home, Doctor?’
‘I beg your pardon?’
‘I said when can I have him back – back in my own house?’
‘You’re joking,’ Landy said.
She turned her head slowly around and looked directly at him. ‘Why should I joke?’ she asked. Her face was bright, her eyes round and bright as two diamonds.
‘He couldn’t possibly be moved.’
‘I don’t see why not.’
‘This is an experiment, Mrs Pearl.’
‘It’s my husband, Dr Landy.’
A funny little nervous half-smile appeared on Landy’s mouth. ‘Well…’ he said.
‘It is my husband, you know.’ Ihere was no anger in her voice. She spoke quietly, as though merely reminding him’ of a simple fact.
‘That’s rather a tricky’ point,’ Landy said, wetting his lips. ‘You’re a widow now, Mrs Pearl. I think you must resign yourself to that fact.’
She turned away suddenly from the table and crossed over to the window. ‘I mean it,’ she said, fishing in her bag for a cigarette. ‘I want him back.’
Landy watched her as she put the cigarette between her lips and lit it. Unless he were very much mistaken, there was something a bit odd about this woman, he thought. She seemed almost pleased to have her husband over there in the basin.
He tried to imagine what his own feelings would be if it were his wife’s brain lying there and her eye staring up at him out of that capsule.
He wouldn’t like it.
‘Shall we go back to my room now?’ he said.
She was standing by the window, apparently quite calm and relaxed, puffing her cigarette.
‘Yes, all right.’
On her way past the table she stopped and leaned over the basin once more. ‘Mary’s leavingnow, sweetheart,’ she said. ‘And don’t you worry about a single thing, you understand? We’re going to get you right back home where, we can look after you properly just as soon as we possibly can. And listen dear…’ At this point she paused and carried the cigarette to her lips, intending to take a puff.
Instantly the eye flashed.
She was looking straight into it at the time, and right in the centre of it she saw a tiny but brilliant flash of light, and the pupil contracted into a minute black pinpoint of absolute fury.
At first she didn’t move. She stood bending over the basin, holding the cigarette up to her mouth, watching the eye.
Then very slowly, deliberately, she put the cigarette between her lips and took a long suck. She inhaled deeply, and she held the smoke inside her lungs for three or four seconds; then suddenly, whoosh, out it came through her nostrils in two thin jets which struck the water in the basin and billowed out over the surface in a thick blue cloud, enveloping the eye.
Landy was over by the door, with his back to her, waiting. ‘Come on, Mrs Pearl,’ he called.
‘Don’t look so cross, William,’ she said ‘softly. ‘It isn’t any good looking cross.’
Landy turned his head to see what she was doing.
‘Not any more it isn’t,’ she whispered. ‘Because from now on, my pet, you’re going to do just exactly what Mary tells you. Do you understand that?’
‘Mrs Pearl,’ Land; said, moving towards her.
‘So don’t be a naughty boy again, will you, my precious,’ she said, taking another pull at the cigarette. ‘Naughty boys are liable to get punished most severely nowadays, you ought to know that.’
Landy was beside her now, and he took her by the arm and began drawing her firmly but gently away from the table.
‘Good-bye, darling,’ she called. ‘I’ll be back soon.’
‘That’s enough, Mrs Pearl.’
‘Isn’t he sweet?’ she cried, looking up at Landy with big bright eyes. ‘Isn’t he heaven? I just can’t wait to get him home.’