Howard Kent looked at his young and beautiful wife and felt the weight of the years rest on his shoulders. In her eyes he saw his heavily lined face and sagging, stooped shoulders.
They stood just inside the long, narrow reception room of the Human Rejuvenation Plant. Potted palms and formal chairs reminded one of a Human Disposal unit.
“I have a confession to make, darling,” he said.
“Oh, no, Howard. Not now. I take for granted you’ve done the usual things in your youth.”
“And we needn’t have hurried so, as you can see. Now we’ll probably have to wait hours in this perfectly dismal place.”
She looked as young and fresh as he looked old and dusty, he thought, so out of place in this kind of establishment.
He had always loved small women. Leah was small and vivacious and dressed a year ahead of styles. No matter what happened, he’d never regret having married her.
“But this is something I should have told you before,” he said.
She put her hand on his arm. “I’ve been perfectly happy these past six months. Whatever it was, I forgive you.”
“It’s not that. I’m talking about my age. I didn’t think you’d marry me if you knew how old I really was. I put off telling you and figured you’d see my birth certificate at the wedding ceremony.”
“I never even looked at the silly old thing.”
“Well, darling, I looked at yours and felt a little guilty in marrying a young girl of twenty-three. But the fact is I’m sixty-five. I’ve been rejuvenated before.”
“I rather suspected it when you started aging so suddenly last week,” she said. “Before that you didn’t look a day over thirty. But it doesn’t matter.”
“It’s worse than that, Leah.” His face worked convulsively. “I’ve been here twice before. This is my third trip.”
“I’m too modern to act shocked, Howard. If you didn’t want to tell me before, dear, it’s perfectly all right.”
“Look, darling!” Perspiration stood on his forehead. “You don’t seem to understand. But then you never could add or subtract. Now listen carefully. Each trip clips five years off your life span.”
“Everyone knows that, of course. But it’s better to be young...”
“It’s better to be alive than dead,” he said harshly.
“But your doctors have given you a longevity span to the age of ninety.”
“Suppose it was eighty, instead of ninety?”
“Oh, dear, you worry too much,” she said. “Doctors don’t make such mistakes.”
“They can’t give me a guarantee. You see, three of my ancestors died from accidents. The prediction of ninety years is based on the assumption that they would have lived a normal life-time.”
“They make few guarantees. You know, all of you men are such babies at a time like this.”
“Yes, but if it is eighty--then, I’ll come out not a rejuvenated man, but just a handful of dust.”
“Oh, that can’t happen.”
“Look at it this way.” He paused a moment while taking in her youthful appearance. “From now on I wouldn’t look much older. Just a little grayer and perhaps more stooped. Then, I’ll have what’s left of my longevity plus the five years this rejuvenation would clip off.”
“Why, Howard, dear.” Leah sounded shocked. “You don’t know what you’re talking about. An aunt of mine elected that choice and it was perfectly horrible. She drooled the last few years of her life and was helpless as a baby.”
“Why didn’t they use Euthanasia?” he asked.
“The courts decided she wasn’t capable of making a rational decision.”
He wiped his forehead. “That would be a long time off, darling. We’d have so much time together in the next fifteen years.”
“But what would it be like if you were crippled with arthritis or some other disease?”
“You could divorce me if that happens.”
“I can also divorce you if you don’t go through with rejuvenation. You know it’s the law.”
“You wouldn’t do that.” His face was more lined than ever.
“Don’t be silly, dear. Nobody gets old these days. Who would remain our friends? Why, everywhere we’d go, people would point us out. Oh, no, life wouldn’t be livable.”
“That sounds like a cruel and calculating decision to me,” Howard said. “Either I take a chance on dying or you’ll divorce me.”
“You have no right to make such an accusation. I married a young man who said he was thirty years old. Six months later I discover he’s sixty-five. Now who’s cruel and calculating?”
“Please, darling, I didn’t mean it. Look,” he pleaded, “I’ll even sign permission for you to have a lover. There’s that young fellow that’s always around. Maybe it’s happened already.”
She stood back from him. “Howard, you’re being perfectly nasty. Just like an aged person you read about.”
“Five million dollars, and all of it yours when I die a natural death.” He put his hands in his pockets.
The street door opened just then and a young man came toward them with a light springy step.
He offered his hand to Howard who took it slowly. “How are you, skipper? And you, Leah? I came as soon as I got your message.”