She knew his look of watchful apartness mirrored her own. She judged his humorous air to be an effort. He was making similar mental comments about her: she seemed to dislike these occasions as much as he did. Both had found out who the other was.
But they meant to have a lot of children. Both, somewhat defiantly, because of the enormity of their demands on the future, announced they “would not mind” a lot of children. “Even four, or five…” “Or six,” said David. “Or six!” said Harriet, laughing to the point of tears from relief.
She did not realize, as David did, how annoyed these two parents were. Aiming, like all their kind, at an appearance of unconformity, they were in fact the essence of convention, and disliked any manifestation of the spirit of exaggeration, of excess. This house was that.
“You want things both ways. The aristocracy—yes, they can have children like rabbits, and expect to, but they have the money for it. And poor people can have children, and half of them die, and expect to. But people like us, in the middle, we have to be careful about the children we have so we can look after them.”
Happiness. A happy family. The Lovatts were a happy family. It was what they had chosen and what they deserved.
Harriet said to David, privately, that she did not believe was bad luck: Sarah and William’s unhappiness, their quarrelling, had probably attracted the mongol child—yes, yes, of course she knew one shouldn’t call them mongol[…]David disliked this trait of Harriet’s, a fatalism that seemed so at odds with the rest of her. He said he thought this was silly hysterical thinking: Harriet sulked and they had to make up.
And she silently addressed the being crouching in her womb: “Now you shut up or I’ll take another pill.” It seemed to her that it listened and understood.
“Suddenly the little girl found she was alone. She and her brother had lost each other. She wanted to go home. She did not know which way to walk […] She wandered about for a long time, and then she was thirsty again. She bent over a pool wondering if it would be orange juice, but it was water, clear pure forest water […] She bent over the pool […] but she saw something she didn’t expect. It was a girl’s face, and she was looking straight up at her. It was a face she had never seen in her whole life. This strange girl was smiling, but it was a nasty smile, not friendly, and the little girl thought this other girl was going to reach up out of the water and pull her down into it.”
“A real little wrestler,” said Dr. Brett. “He came out fighting the whole world.”
Harriet found herself thinking, I wonder what the mother would look like, the one who would welcome this—alien.
“All right, all right—the genes have come up with something special this time.”
“But what, that’s the point,” said Harriet. “What is he?”
The other three said nothing—or, rather, said by their silence that they would rather not face the implications of it.
The new baby had of course been offered to everyone to hold, when they asked, but it was painful to see how their faces changed confronting this phenomenon. Ben was always quickly handed back. Harriet came into the kitchen one day and heard her sister Sarah say to a cousin, “That Ben gives me the creeps. He’s like a goblin or a dwarf or something. I’d rather have poor Amy any day.”
One early morning, something took Harriet quickly out of her bed into the baby’s room, and there she saw Ben balanced on the window-sill. It was high—heaven only knew how he had got up there. The window was open. In a moment he would have fallen out of it. Harriet was thinking, What a pity I came in…and refused to be shocked at herself.
“The trouble is, you get used to hell,” said Harriet. “After a day with Ben I feel as if nothing exists but him. As if nothing has ever existed. I suddenly realize I haven’t remembered the others for hours. I forgot their supper yesterday. Dorothy went to the pictures, and I came down and found Helen cooking their supper.”
He watched the children, particularly Luke and Helen, all the time. He studied how they moved, sat down, stood up; copied how they ate. He had understood that these two, the older ones, were more socially accomplished than Jane; and he ignored Paul altogether. When the children watched television, he squatted near them and looked from the screen to their faces, for he needed to know what reactions were appropriate. If they laughed, then, a moment later, he contributed a loud, hard, unnatural-sounding laugh.
She thought it not without significance, as they say, that it was Frederick who said, “Now look here, Harriet, you’ve got to face it, he’s got to go into an institution.”
“Then we have to find a doctor who says he’s abnormal,” said Harriet. “Dr. Brett certainly won’t.”
“It’s either him or us,” said David to Harriet. He added, his voice full of cold dislike for Ben, “He’s probably just dropped in from Mars. He’s going back to report on what he’s found down here.” He laughed—cruelly, it seemed to Harriet, who was silently taking in the fact—which of course she had half known already—that Ben was not expected to live long in this institution, whatever it was.
“He’s a little child,” she said. “He’s our child.”
“No he’s not,” said David, finally. “Well, he certainly isn’t mine.”
While she was part of the general relief, and could hardly believe she had been able to stand such strain, and for so long, she could not banish Ben from her mind. It was not with love, or even affection, that she thought of him, and she disliked herself for not being able to find one little spark of normal feeling: it was guilt and horror that kept her awake through the nights.
“Shit,” said the young man, meaning her being there.
“Literally,” said Harriet as the door opened on a square room whose walls were of white shiny plastic that was buttoned here and there and looked like fake expensive leather upholstery. On the floor, on a green foam-rubber mattress, lay Ben. He was unconscious. He was naked, inside a strait-jacket. His pale yellow tongue protruded from his mouth. His flesh was dead white, greenish. Everything—walls, the floor, and Ben—was smeared with excrement. A pool of dark yellow urine oozed from the pallet, which was soaked.
She cried out, “Yes, but you didn’t see it, you didn’t see—!”
“I was careful not to see,” he said. “What did you suppose was going to happen? That they were going to turn him into some well-adjusted member of society and then everything would be lovely?” He was jeering at her, but it was because his throat was stiff with tears.
Now they looked at each other, long, hard, seeing everything about each other. She thought, All right, he was right, and I was wrong. But it’s done.
She said aloud, “All right, but it’s done.”
“That’s the mot juste, I think.”
David came back to sleep in the connubial room. There was a distance between them. David had made and now kept this distance because Harriet had hurt him so badly: she understood this. Harriet informed him that she was now on the Pill: for both it was a bleak moment, because of everything they had been, had stood for, in the past, which had made it impossible for her to be on the Pill. They had felt it deeply wrong so to tamper with the processes of Nature! Nature—they now reminded themselves they once felt—was at some level or other to be relied upon.
But the last thing before they slept, the other children locked their doors quietly from inside. This meant Harriet could not go to them to see how they were before she went to bed, or if they were sick. She did not like to ask them not to lock their doors, nor make a big thing of it by calling in a locksmith and having special locks fitted, openable from the outside by an adult with a key. The business of the children locking themselves in made her feel excluded, forever shut out and repudiated by them. Sometimes she went softly to one of their doors and whispered to be let in, and she was admitted, and there was a little festival of kisses and hugs—but they were thinking of Ben, who might come in…and several times he did arrive silently in the door way and stare in at the scene, which he could not understand.
“You think Ben is a throwback?” enquired Dr. Gilly gravely. She sounded as if quite prepared to entertain the idea.
“It seems to me obvious,” said Harriet.
Another silence, and Dr. Gilly examined her well-kept hands. She sighed. Then she looked up and met Harriet’s eyes with “If that is so, then what do you expect me to do about it?”
Harriet insisted, “I want it said. I want it recognized. I just can’t stand it never being said.”
“Can’t you see that it is simply outside my competence? If it is true, that is? Do you want me to give you a letter to the zoo? ‘Put this child in a cage’? Or hand him over to science?”
Paul was even more difficult than Ben. But he was a normal “disturbed” child, not an alien.
“We are being punished, that’s all.”
“What for?” he demanded, already on guard because there was a tone in her voice he hated.
“For presuming. For thinking we could be happy. Happy because we decided we would be.”
“Rubbish,” he said. Angry: this Harriet made him angry. “It was chance. Anyone could have got Ben. It was a chance gene, that’s all.”
“I don’t think so,” she stubbornly held on. “We were going to be happy! No one else is, or I never seem to meet them, but we were going to be. And so down came the thunderbolt.”
These days the local newspapers were full of news of muggings, hold-ups, break-ins. Sometimes his gang, Ben among them, did not come into the Lovatt’s house for a whole day, two days, three.
He was not someone easily overlooked…and yet why did she say that? Everyone in authority had not been seeing Ben ever since he was born…When she saw him on television in that crowd, he had worn a jacket with its collar up, and a scarf, and was like a younger brother, perhaps of Derek. He seemed a stout schoolboy. Had he put on those clothes to disguise himself? Did that mean that he knew how he looked. How did he see himself?
Would people always refuse to see him, to recognize what he was?