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Life Sentence   By: (1925-1990)

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Life Sentence


Illustrated by DICK FRANCIS

"Happy New Year!" she cried. But how often should one hear it said in a single lifetime?

Outside, bells were ringing. "Happy New Year!"

The mad sound of people crazed for the moment, shouting, echoed the bells.

"Happy New Year!"

A sound of music, waxing, waning, now joined in wild symphony by the voices, now left alone to counterpoint the noise of human celebration....

For a while, Oliver Symmes heard the raucous music of the crowd. It became a part of him, seemed to come from somewhere inside him, gave him life. And then, as always, it passed on, leaving him empty.


The door to his room opened and a young looking woman, dressed in a pleasant green uniform, came in and turned up the light. On her sleeve she wore the badge of geriatrician, with the motto, "To Care for the Aged."

"Happy New Year, Mr. Symmes," she said, and went over to stand by the window. In the mild light, the sheen of her hair attracted attention away from the slight imperfections of her face.

She watched the crowd outside, wishing she could be a part of it. There seemed so little life inside the prison where the only function of living was the awaiting of death. "To Care for the Aged." That meant to like and love them as well as to take physical care of them. Only, somehow, it seemed so hard to really love them.

She sighed and turned away from the window to look at one of the reasons she could not be with the rest of the world that night.

He sat bunched up in his chair like a vegetable. She could have closed one of her hands around both his arms together. Or his legs. Bones and skin and a few little muscles left, and that was all. Skin tight, drumlike, against the skull. Cheeks shrunk, lips slightly parted by the contraction of the skin. Even the wrinkles he should have had were erased by the shrinkage of the epidermis. Even in a strong light, the faint wrinkle lines were barely visible.

After a moment of looking at him, she put a smile back on her face and repeated her greeting.

"I said, 'Happy New Year,' Mr. Symmes."

He raised his eyes to her for a moment, then slowly lowered them, uncomprehendingly.

"He looks just a little bit like a caricature," she said to herself, feeling a little more tenderness toward him. "A cute little stick man made of leaves and twigs and old bark and ..."

Shadows. For so long there had been shadows. And for a time the fleeting passage of dreams and past memories had been a solace. But now the shadows were withered and old, debilitated and desiccated. They had been sucked dry of interest long ago.

But still they flitted through his mind on crippled wings, flapping about briefly in the now narrowed shell of his consciousness, then fading back among the cobwebs. Every once in a while, one of them would return to exercise its wings.

"Did she say, 'Happy New Year?'" he wondered. "New Year's?"

And, at the thought of it, there came shadows out of the past....

Young Oliver Symmes laughed. The girl laughed, too. She was good to hold in one's arms, soft like a furry animal, yielding and plush of mouth.

"I love you, Ollie," she said; the warmness of her body close against his.

He laughed again and wrapped her in his arms. He owned her now, owned her smile, her love for him, her mind and her wonderful body. She belonged to him, and the thrill of ownership was strong and exciting.

"I'll always love you, Ollie. I'll love only you." She ran her fingers in and out of his hair, caressing each strand as it went through her fingers. "I love the strength of your arms, the firmness of your body."

Again he laughed, surrendering all his consciousness to the warm magic of her spell.

"I love the shading of your hair and eyes, the smooth angularity of your tallness, the red ecstasy of your mind." Her fingers slipped down the back of his neck, playing little games with his flesh and hair... Continue reading book >>

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