The Savage sat down beside the bed.

‘Linda,’ he whispered, taking her hand.

At the sound of her name, she turned. Her vague eyes brightened with recognition. She squeezed his hand, she smiled, her lips moved; then quite suddenly her head fell forward. She was asleep. He sat watching her—seeking through the tired flesh, seeking and finding that young, bright face which had stooped over his childhood in Malpais, remembering (and he closed his eyes) her voice, her movements, all the events of their life together. ‘Streptocock Gee to Banbury T …’ How beautiful her singing had been! And those childish rhymes, how magically strange and mysterious!

A, B, C, vitamin D:
The fat’s in the liver, the cod’s in the sea.

He felt the hot tears welling up behind his eyelids as he recalled the words and Linda’s voice as she repeated them. And then the reading lessons; The tot is in the pot, the cat is on the mat; and the Elementary Instructions for Beta Workers in the Embryo Store. And long evenings by the fire or, in summer time, on the roof of the little house, when she told him those stories about the Other Place, outside the Reservation: that beautiful, beautiful Other Place, whose memory, as of a heaven, a paradise of goodness and loveliness, he still kept whole and intact, undefiled by contact with the reality of this real London, these actual civilized men and women.

A sudden noise of shrill voices made him open his eyes and, after hastily brushing away the tears, look round. What seemed an interminable stream of identical eight-year-old male twins was pouring into the room. Twin after twin, twin after twin, they came—a nightmare. Their faces, their repeated face—for there was only one between the lot of them—puggishly stared, all nostrils and pale goggling eyes. Their uniform was khaki. All their mouths hung open. Squealing and chattering they entered. In a moment, it seemed, the ward was maggoty with them. They swarmed between the beds, clambered over, crawled under, peeped into the television boxes, made faces at the patients.

Linda astonished and rather alarmed them. A group stood clustered at the foot of her bed, staring with the frightened and stupid curiosity of animals suddenly confronted by the unknown.

‘Oh, look, look!’ They spoke in low, scared voices. ‘Whatever is the matter with her? Why is she so fat?’

They had never seen a face like hers before—had never seen a face that was not youthful and taut- skinned, a body that had ceased to be slim and upright. All these moribund sexagenarians had the appearance of childish girls. At forty-four, Linda seemed, by contrast, a monster of flaccid and distorted senility.

‘Isn’t she awful?’ came the whispered comments. ‘Look at her teeth!’

Suddenly from under the bed a pug-faced twin popped up between John’s chair and the wall, and began peering into Linda’s sleeping face.

‘I say …’ he began; but his sentence ended prematurely in a squeal. The Savage had seized him by the collar, lifted him clear over the chair and, with a smart box on the ears, sent him howling away.

His yells brought the Head Nurse hurrying to the rescue.

‘What have you been doing to him?’ she demanded fiercely. ‘I won’t have you striking the children.’

‘Well, then, keep them away from this bed.’ The Savage’s voice was trembling with indignation. ‘What are these filthy little brats doing here at all? It’s disgraceful!’

‘Disgraceful? But what do you mean? They’re being death-conditioned. And I tell you,’ she warned him truculently, ‘if I have any more of your interference with their conditioning, I’ll send for the porters and have you thrown out.’

  By PanEris using Melati.

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