CHAPTER NINE: AN ACCOMMODATION WITH SUSAN
I liked Philomena's house from the moment I set eyes on it, especially since it was surrounded by neatly-kept parkland on all sides. Neither over-large nor over-pretentious, her property was nevertheless sufficiently spacious to warrant the appellation aristocratic. As yet, Philomena hadn't had time to rearrange the interior according to her tastes, nor to get rid of a number of her late-mother's antique possessions. But she had assured me that my domestic preferences would also be honoured, should I decide to move-in with her.
Frankly it was highly unlikely that I would refuse, considering
how well we got on together. Besides, I
genuinely needed such a house and environment through which to step-up my war
on depression, the single most vexing inheritance from my solitary exile in
My wife was naturally upset when I informed her of my intentions and requested a divorce. For she hadn't anticipated such a drastic turn-of-events, even if she had surmised that my 'business in London', as she thought of it, wasn't strictly confined to artistic or literary matters. The tears that came into her eyes, with the onslaught of my revelations, had the effect of slightly softening my heart towards her, and induced me to ask whether, in parting, there was anything I could do for her, anything at all, no matter how difficult. She had evidently not expected this and was touched by my generosity of spirit. Yes, there was something I could do for her but ... and here she tactfully hesitated a moment ... it would involve the use of Shead's latest invention.
I might have guessed! The mechanical copulator was bound to enter into our affairs sooner or later. But how, I wondered, given that we were about to separate? "After all," I remarked, "I can't very well give you an artificially-induced pregnancy, knowing the child would be deprived of a father."
"No, it isn't quite like that," she countered, blushing stop-signals at me. "You see, I've been seeing Dr Richardson recently and ..."
Ah yes, of course! How could I forget? Yet how, on the other hand, could I confess to knowing all about it? Tactfully I feigned ignorance and, adopting as serious a tone as I could muster, bid her explain herself, which, to my ostensible consternation, she duly did, though not without an understandable degree of embarrassment in the process. For it wasn't simply as a patient that she had been seeing Dr Richardson, she informed me, but as his mistress and, well, she would continue to see him in this more pleasurable capacity for the foreseeable future. "But if you're genuine in what you say about being prepared to do anything for me, Jason," she added, almost as an afterthought, "then please grant me physical access to the mechanical copulator, so that I may acquire an artificially-induced pregnancy through a deposit of your sperm."
I was shot through with multiple misgivings. "But who will assume paternity of the child once you've had it?" I impulsively protested.
"Richardson will," Susan blandly informed me. "He'll think it's his. For I'll pretend he made me pregnant. I told you a few weeks ago that I was intending to have a pregnancy test from him, and so I am - though not before you've actually made me pregnant yourself or, rather, through the intermediate channel of the Shead contraption."
"But what if he refuses to countenance the child, and demands you have an abortion?" I objected.
Susan shook her head. "Frankly he's too deeply in love with me to demand any such thing, having already proposed marriage to me," she confessed.
"A couple of weeks ago, while you were away in
I blushed violently, but managed to play dumb.
So Susan continued: "But I had to disappoint him at the time because of my loyalty to you, a loyalty, however, which you now appear determined to break. Well, if that's how it is, and you're really set on obtaining a divorce, why shouldn't I respond to Dr Richardson's next proposal in the affirmative, thereby fulfilling his paternal ambitions? Once I tell him that you're about to divorce me over the affair, he'll almost certainly renew his proposal of marriage more ardently, not break off our affair from fear of upsetting or incommoding you. So, you see, a baby from you, which is something I've always wanted, could easily be attributed to him when the pregnancy becomes apparent."
I was still starkly incredulous. "But surely he'd be suspicious?" I suggested.
"Hardly," she replied confidently. "For I have already told him that you refuse, on principle, to give me a baby and could not, under any circumstances, be induced to change your mind. Now he, on the contrary, would be only too willing to oblige, bearing in mind his ardent love for me. He knows, moreover, that I really want one, which is an additional factor in his desiring to marry me and, as it were, deliver me from what he sees as your implacable selfishness. So if I told him I was pregnant, he would hardly be in a position to blame it on you. Admittedly, he might be a shade surprised that I had become pregnant after having assured him that my contraception was in order. But he would almost certainly accept the paternity of the child when it arrived - one white baby looking pretty much like another anyway."
I was as astounded by my wife's ingenuity as by her audacity, and could only admire her, despite my persisting qualms, both moral and practical. "Well," I said, after a brave attempt at reflection had foundered under pressure from her intensive gaze, "if you sincerely want a child from me, I suppose I shall just have to grant you one."
"Thank goodness for that, darling!" Susan declared, becoming visibly relieved, and it seemed for a moment that we were almost on kissing terms again, despite the reality of an impending divorce.
"So long as I don't have to hear or endure the baby, I
can't see that my giving you one through the medium of the, er, mechanical
copulator really infringes my moral code," I conceded. "If
"I'm sure we will," Susan rejoined, smiling reassuringly through eyes and mouth. "This divorce proposal would seem to have come as a sort of blessing-in-disguise," she continued, "since I knew you would never consent to fatherhood yourself, even with the prospect of my achieving a pregnancy through artificial means."
I blushed even more violently than the previous time and feebly made to deny the accusation, but I knew, deep down, that she was right. Even the mechanical copulator, acceptable though it was from my point of view, would sooner or later have led to a real, live, screaming baby which I simply couldn't have tolerated, no matter how hard my wife tried to keep it from interfering in our relationship. I hadn't fully appreciated this fact until now, but Susan's intuition had cut through whatever false pretences I may have entertained on the subject. If our impending divorce now struck her as a kind of blessing-in-disguise, then I could only marvel at her previous loyalty to me ... in spite of my intransigence where children were concerned, an intransigence partly acquired during my solitary years in London, where I had constantly suffered from ill-bred kids playing and screeching in the adjoining alley, and partly stemming from fidelity to my artificial lifestyle as a transcendental artist, not to mention the fact that I had been an 'only child' who never knew his father and felt distinctly unattracted to the prospect of fatherhood within a regular family context - the underlying reason, in all probability, for my subsequent transcendental pretensions as an intensely artificial artist!
However that may be, the country or, rather, suburbs of Norwich had not had time to counter the overriding effect of my urban conditioning, for I was still radically transcendental, even though determined to regress to a less artificial, and possibly more natural, lifestyle in order to finally defeat my depression. Such a regression was only likely to happen, however, in the type of environment that Philomena's country house now promised me, and that was why I had jumped at the opportunity to move there with her as soon as possible. Personal expedience had seemingly got the better of ideological vanity and professional pride. For life in a quasi-aristocratic milieu, much as I generally loathed aristocratic criteria, would be a strong dose of natural medicine - stronger, by far, than anything I had swallowed to-date. Besides, the move would allow me to break connections with certain rather tedious people, like Major Saunders and Dr Richardson, as well as free me from Susan's somewhat bourgeois standards. I would doubtless have to make the acquaintance of one or two new neighbours in due course, but they might well prove more interesting or, at any rate, less boring than my current ones. Whether they would understand and appreciate my religious theories, however, was bound to be a dubious matter, even more dubious than where the estimable likes of Robert Dunne and Edward Shead were concerned! My Dalian, not to say Koestlerian, aversion to children would certainly surprise them, though not knowing how long I'd be remaining in the country, I couldn't be sure that the rural environment might not eventually produce a change of heart in me which, if it failed to lead to Philomena's becoming pregnant naturally, that is to say, through coitus, might at least result in the acquirement of a mechanical copulation for the express purpose of inducing an artificial pregnancy.... Which thought, logically enough, brought me back to Susan.
"So when would you like me to, er, introduce you to Janko?" I politely asked.
"Janko?" she repeated doubtfully.
"Yes, the name of the world's first mechanical copulator."
"Oh, well ..." she was evidently unsure of her bearings, but opted for the most ingratiating tack "... as soon as it's convenient to yourself."
I was on the verge of feeling my balls at this point but thought better of it, in view of the sensitivity of the issue. So I said: "Then you'd better arrange to accompany me to Shead's house one day next week, if possible without arousing the old bastard's suspicions. I'll take care of my part of the bargain in advance ... no, on second thoughts, while you're there. You need only take off your clothes, expose yourself to me in as seductive a come-on pose as possible, and I'll, er, provide Janko with the necessary quantity of sperm, taking special care not to waste any of it in the process of transferring it from my hand or whatever to his plastic pudenda. Once he's set up, you can offer yourself to his tireless lust with the aid, if desirable, of the biggest plastic circumcised appendage he possesses. I wish you every success in the matter."
"Thanks awfully," Susan responded, unable to suppress a degree of humour at my expense. "As long as this Janko functions properly, I shouldn't have anything to worry about."
"No," I agreed, and might have added 'but Dr Richardson will', had not discretion prevented me. I simply smiled reassuringly and left Susan to her knitting, relieved to have got everything off my chest at last.