William and Mary (short story)

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"William and Mary" is a short story by Roald Dahl, originally published in 1959 and included in his 1960 collection Kiss Kiss. It was later adapted into episodes of Way Out and Tales of the Unexpected.

Plot summary[edit]

The story begins with Mary Pearl receiving a note from her one-week departed husband, William. The letter tells how Landy, a doctor, approaches William, a well-regarded philosopher, about his cancer, six weeks before William's death. He suggests that William undertake a procedure, which he explains in great detail, that would mean his brain being transplanted from his body after death, and attached to an artificial heart. The brain would be bathing in a Ringer's solution. One of his eyes could also be hooked up so that he would be able to see. Although the doctor is uncertain whether the brain would regain consciousness, he remains hopeful. The brain, he says, could probably live as long as 200 years connected to the machine. William initially reacts violently to this suggestion, but by the end of their discussion has lightened up to the idea more. Thinking it over later, he is initially concerned with the idea of phantom limb, believing that as a brain alone he may be in terrible trauma, wishing for the use of his body. However, he writes, he eventually embraced the idea, being very fond of his brain and liking the suggestion that it could live on.

He had attempted to bring up the discussion with Mary a number of times earlier, but she had pushed him aside. His reason for the note then, was in the hope she might more adequately pay attention to what she couldn't in his own lifetime. He adds that by the time she reads the letter, the procedure should have been undertaken a week earlier, and suggests that she contact Landy. She does so and immediately begins to take care of him. The procedure had gone as well as could be expected, and William had regained consciousness within two days. His connected eye also appears to be functioning properly. Mary finds the previously dominating William to be attractive in his helplessness and wishes to take him back home. Landy, not at all expecting such a reaction, tells her she should stick to being a widow, and the story ends with William's future uncertain.

Mary has been depicted as rebelling against her husband's restrictions after his death: she has bought a television and is openly smoking, for instance, both actions condemned by William in his letter. As the story closes, William appears to see Mary smoke, and is infuriated by it, his eye clearly registering a look of fury. Mary blows the smoke of her cigarette in the eye. Mary's wish to bring William home with her can, therefore, be interpreted as a perverse desire for revenge against her controlling husband by flaunting all manner of previously-forbidden luxuries to him in his presently helpless state.