It was beside him on the pillow when Blair awoke in the morning, grinning at him inanely.
“What are you doing on my pillow?” Blair asked.
It seemed a logical question. It turned to face him and said “What are you doing on my pillow?”
“Hey, I got here first.”
“My dear, if you think that gives you extra rights, I think you’ll soon find that you are mistaken. At any rate, it seems that the two of us may as well do our best to get along, seeing as we’re sharing like this.”
It spoke with an upper class British accent, well-rounded vowels. It was a toff.
“We’re not sharing. You’re encroaching”, said Blair huffily. “After all, it’s my neck you’re using.”
“Just because you got here first doesn’t necessarily mean it’s yours. Anyway, it’s not just your neck I intend to use, but your entire body. And I’ll have you know that I paid good money for the use of that body. Nobody warned me that I was going to get stuck with a whinger.”
“Paid good money? Whadda ya mean paid good money?”
A switch flicked on in Blair’s mind and he groaned.
“Oh God, you’re not one of those immortality freaks are you?”
“I may be a lot of things, but I most certainly am not a ‘freak’, as you put it. I paid three million pounds to be grafted onto you. And I’m grateful, I really am. I wouldn’t be here otherwise. But you can benefit from me. You can learn. I’m older than you are. I have more experience.”
“How old are you anyway?”
“What year are we?”
“That makes me precisely one hundred and fifteen.”
“I thought graftees were meant to be informed when they were being grafted onto? Isn’t that the law?”
“They made an exception with you and me. I paid to be bought back as soon as the technology was available, and to be matched to the most suitable candidate, which happened to be you. In short, dear boy, my money over-powered your will.”
“But that’s terrible. You can’t go around doing exactly what you want just because you’re rich.”
“Oh, don’t be so naïve. Don’t worry, you’ll adjust. You couldn’t fix me a cup of Earl Grey, could you, that’s my boy.”
Blair hated being patronised.
“Fix your own bloody tea. And you can make me a cup while you’re at it.”
“Oh, I see. Like that is it. Very well then.”
Through no volition of his own, Blair felt his legs fling over the edge of the bed and hit the floor. He fought the other mind, struggled to move his body in the opposite direction but, despite his age, the other man was stronger and was winning the fight to drag the two of them towards the doorway.
“Give up control,” hissed the head. “Let me drive. We’ll never get anywhere with two of us steering. Christ, this partnership looks like it’s going to be worse than my fourth marriage.”
“How do you think I feel?” spat back Blair. “I’ve been invaded in the most brutal manner.”
“We’re lucky we didn’t bloody well bump you off,” the head muttered as the two men, with the one body, made their clumsy way down the stairs. “You should thank your lucky stars you’ve got me on board. With my financial expertise I could make you a very wealthy man. Even if I have been out of the game for nearly twenty years.”
Blair made his mind inert and watched, partly in fascination, partly in terror as the older man took the jug to the sink, turned on the tap, filled the kettle and settled it in its electric cradle.
“So,” said Blair, when the two men were seated at the kitchen table, sipping their tea. “How long have you been in nitrogen for then?”
“Oh, about ten years I was one of the first. A pioneer. I was completely compos mentis at a hundred and one, though I’d had two heart attacks and I knew my body was about to go. Rich as Croesus. That was in 2021, so yes, ten years. I’d had a good life, but I didn’t want to go. Terrified of what lay beyond, you see. Heaven, hell, purgatory or just a great nothingness. I had no idea. But I didn’t want to find out. So they lopped off my head and whacked me on ice, bio-technology caught up with me in 2029 as you know, and hey presto, here I am. They should’ve brought me back sooner, but as I understand it, they were too busy trying out the technology on North Koreans first. It’s not right, to treat a race as guinea pigs. All those abominations that were produced, all those failures. Still, their loss is my gain. I’m one of the first great successes m’boy. Cheers.” And he clinked his mug of tea against Blair’s.
“Please don’t call me m’boy. I’m forty-two. I’ve got a good career as a financial analyst.”
“And that’s where I can be of invaluable assistance.”
Blair ignored him.
“Just the one marriage – failed, but I’m not one of those who goes in for a whole string of wives, serial monogamy…”
“Oh, don’t knock multiple marriages. Wives are like nappies. When you’re done, chuck it away and get another. Best approach. It’s the most sensible thing to do, you know. But don’t over-exert yourself with too much thinking. You’ve just undergone a very major operation and you need to rest. For both of our sakes.”
“But work,” said Blair. “They’ll be wondering where I am.”
“Don’t worry, my friend, that’s all been taken care of. They have been informed that you will be out of action for at least two months.”
“But what are they going to say, when they see my like this?”
“They’ll think you’re a hero. A pioneer, like me. We’ll be the toast of the town. And wildly successful at that.”
Blair eyed the head sceptically.
“If you say so,” he said.
“What was it like?” he asked eventually. “Being, you know…suspended?”
“Oh, I can’t remember a thing. The last thing I recall is kissing my sixth wife goodbye and heading off to the hospital. Speaking of which, I wonder if she’s still alive. She was a good deal younger than me.”
The head wasn’t the only one having problems remembering. Blair had no recollection of the operation. They had come for him at night-time, that he could remember; his door being knocked down, the heavy feet up the stairs. They’d konked him out with a general anaesthetic and he’d woken, in his own bed, with this extra head. Such grafting was illegal, of course it was. He was the victim of somebody else’s crime. The solution was simple. He would have to have the head removed at the soonest possible opportunity. He would not tell the head, of course. He would wait till it was asleep and then book himself in at the hospital.
For the rest of that day, Blair felt very tired, as if the head was draining him of energy. He supposed it took extra effort to keep two brains functioning and he resented the head for all it demanded from him. He didn’t want to know its name. That would be getting too personal, and would make things more difficult when it came time to lop the head off.
The head was bossy. It wasn’t content with the fact that it had been brought, Lazarus-style, back from the dead. It wanted to rule the roost. It wanted to have a say about everything, from what was cooked for dinner, to when the vacuuming was done, to the date when Blair would be ready to go back to work. It was a terrible nag.
“Haven’t you brought that washing in yet? Get out in that garden and give it a good weed – your oxalis is going crazy. Remember to water the dahlias.”
Blair wanted to be rid of it as soon as possible. One night, about two weeks after the head had arrived, he waited till it was sleeping and then picked up the mobile and dialed the hospital.
“I want to book myself in for an operation,” he whispered to the woman on reception.
“I’m sorry, I can’t hear you.”
“I want to book myself in for an operation,” he repeated more loudly.
“Oh, well I’m afraid that patients can’t actually book themselves in. A doctor has to do that.”
“But I can’t get to a doctor. It’s complicated, please. Just get me an operating theatre and a good surgeon.”
“I’m afraid we can’t do that.”
He hung up abruptly and sulked back down in the bed. The head was beginning to awaken.
“Did I hear you say something about an operating theatre?” it said sleepily.
“No, you were dreaming. Go back to sleep.”
“Because I’m warning you, my boy, you don’t want to mess with me. I have protection. I know people.”
The head decided that it wanted to try and track down its sixth wife. It went online and searched the white pages for a Bessie Richardson. If it was the right Bessie, she was living nearby in Kensington. The head dialed her number and was overjoyed to find that he’d tracked his wife down. She hadn’t remarried and she was very much looking forward to getting together with her husband. Blair heard the head inviting his wife over for dinner that evening. He’d never seen the head as happy as it was upon hanging up the phone.
“Oh, my darling wife,” it sang. “Reunited again. Oh, she’s alive, she’s alive!”
It busied itself finding candles with which to decorate the table and searching through Blair’s rather scant recipe collection in order to find something tasty to prepare.
“Coq au vin,” it declared. “Just the ticket. She always used to love a good bit of chicken. Now, you will be a good boy and keep quiet for the evening, won’t you. I don’t want you doing or saying anything to put her off. It’s been a while since we…you know.”
The head had the audacity to wink.
“This is awful,” said Blair. “I have to be party to you seducing your wife.”
“It’s not that bad. You can have your tea beforehand if you like, that way it won’t be so torturous for you, watching us eat.”
“It’s not the food I’m worried about. It’s the…”
“I’d do the same for you. Any time you want to have a lady over, just let me know and I shall vacate my mind. I’m quite good at it. You won’t even know I’m there. That’s what I expect you to do for me. Just put yourself elsewhere, on a beach in the Maldives or in some savannah. Think of England.”
Blair was horrified. He mustered every ounce of his will and tried to fight the head as it set about preparing that evening’s dinner, but he was overpowered at every turn. It was as if he was sitting at a chessboard, opposite some master, who could predict, and counter, his every move.
At quarter past seven the wife arrived. She wasn’t Blair’s cup of tea at all and the thought of having sex with her terrified him. She was one of those artificial women; fake, faintly claw-like nails, thick layers of make-up and coiffed blonde hair that looked like a wig. Blair had eaten a quick dinner of two toasted sandwiches. He hadn’t felt that he could keep anything more substantial down.
“Darling!” she greeted her husband. “Oh, it’s been forever.”
She engulfed him in a bear hug, then stood back to survey Blair’s toned body.
“My didn’t you do well! Is he clever?”
“Above average but no great genius.”
“It’s not the brain that matters though is, it? I saw on the television that they were making advances in the area of research that would help bring you back to me, but I didn’t dare to hope…”
“Sit down,” said the head. “Sit down and let me bring you a wine.”
She sat, he brought her a drink.
“So,” said the head. “Tell me what you’ve been up to since I was put in nitrogen.”
Blair did his best not to listen, but it was impossible. He listened to the wife rabbiting on about how difficult she’d found life without her husband, though he’d provided for her very well materially, of course. She’d been so lonely, she said, no warm body to curl up to at night.
“But it’s all been worth it, because now I have this,” she said, squeezing Blair’s bicep.
Blair, who was a regular attendee at the gym, found himself wishing that he’d run to flab instead, maybe then he would have held less appeal to the medical men who had considered him such a prime specimen. And less appeal to this ghastly woman who was squeezing his arm.
After the dinner was consumed, the head took his wife to bed. Blair hated every minute of it. He felt completely out of control and was disgusted by the grunts and groans of the couple. The worst part was that it was his body that was being aroused, his flesh that was inside that hideous woman. He was being used.
In the morning, there was a champagne breakfast for the head and his wife and Blair was not invited, though the food went into his stomach of course. The two throats joined as one just below the voice box.
It is impossible, thought Blair, to go on like this. I must rid myself of this abomination. He would have to be careful of course. If he fed it poison, his own blood stream would be affected. If he attempted to sever it with an axe or a knife, Blair himself might bleed to death. He couldn’t suffocate it because the two of them shared a set of lungs. He would have to do something that would kill off the brain, without killing his own body. It was impossible. He couldn’t think of anything.
As it turned out, he didn’t have to think for long. Somebody was kicking in the door. There was a brief struggle, an injection, and Blair’s brain was shut down forever.
Laura Solomon’s novel Instant Messages (2010) was shortlisted for the Virginia Prize and the Proverse Prize. Among three earlier novels, An Imitation of Life was published in late 2009. Commended poems include “The Latest Lighthouse Keeper” (Ware Poets Competition, 2007), “You Will Know When You Leave” (shortlisted, Bridport 2008 Poetry competition) and “Apocryphal” (runner up, Edwin Morgan International Poetry Competition). “Pythia Gets the Blues” was a runner up in the Essex Poetry Festival Competition. Her short story collection Alternative Medicine was published in early 2008
Her site: laurasolomon.com