Sunday, May 27, 2012

The matrimonial stakes.

2030 A.D.: What with the sudden and unforeseen aging of the population, a declining birthrate and the ever-shrinking tax base, the state has had to take some quite extraordinary measures.

After waiting in the queue for what seemed like hours, but it was really more like forty-five minutes, Edgar finally sat in front of the desk of Hugh Desrosier, a senior clerk at the Ministry of Love.

“I’m sure there must be some mistake.” Edgar was a shy, reserved person, not known for his assertiveness.

“What seems to be the problem?”  Desrosier inquired in a bored, yet courteous tone. “Already married? That seems to be happening quite a bit lately. Our tech people are trying to work out the bugs.”

Desrosier’s steely blue eyes, not unfriendly, but ruthlessly efficient, bored into Edgar’s from across the desk.

“It’s just that the thing is impossible. I have my elderly mom to think of, and my job keeps me out at all hours. My place is too small as it is.”

Hugh was aware the address on the file was a third-level walk-down under the glittering beachfront financial district.

“Honestly, I keep very irregular hours, and I have to keep running in and out, to look after my mom.” It was all irrelevant to Hugh.

Edgar tried again to explain his fundamental problem. He really wasn’t well-suited to marriage.

“My mom had a couple of heart attacks a few years ago. She’s diabetic, and I think she had a ‘TIA,’ which is a kind of mini-stroke, although the doctor says no. But that’s bullshit. She’s okay, really, it’s just that she needs a little supervision, and anything that deviates from routine sends her into a tizzy…”

“Well, it is a shock to the system sometimes when your number comes up.” Desrosier coughed in a dry manner. “But the love really grows on you. You’ll be amazed, and of course we never really assign anyone who is truly incompatible. Don’t believe all the horror stories you read in the tabloid-mainstream press. Don’t forget, they’re the ones who came up with disposable plastic one-time-readers to replace flyers, brochures, pamphlets, mailbox-stuffers, magazines and newspapers.”

“Oh! It’s really not a question of the lack of integrity of the media. It’s just that I’m totally unsuited to be with, um, a wife.” Edgar’s natural coyness reared its ugly head and he blushed furiously. “I mean, I’m not a virgin or anything, I was brought up in communal daycare just like any other normal child…but. But, it’s just that I figure she’ll live a lot longer and have a lot better life, you know, the longer we can keep her in her own home.”

Desrosier’s head bobbed up and down in sympathy; as if hit by sudden revelation.

“I am so sorry.” He tried diplomaticy. “You’re really in luck this month! We have a whole slew of really nice guys that we’re hoping to match up right now.”

“No! That’s not what I mean.” If he was cautious about sex, and love, and marriage, that certainly included all alternative forms of human relationship. “No, it’s just that she really doesn’t know what’s going on a lot of the time, and trying to explain anything to her is incredibly frustrating…but all she needs, really, is someone to keep an eye on her, and to protect her from utility-contract sales teams. They roam the neighbourhoods, demanding to see your gas bill, or your electrical bill. They’re just looking for elderly people to prey on, you know?”

“Well, then, I’m afraid I don’t understand the problem and if I don’t understand the problem, then I really can’t help you with it." He decided to start over. “So you just don’t want to get married?”

Hugh was trained to be non-judgmental, but firm.

“No!” A slightly-shaken Edgar had sweat gluing down the long blond forelock that he affected, as it went with the studious rimless glasses and his intensely medium-brown eyes, slightly larger than the average for a long-skulled human archetype.

“Doesn’t that seem a little odd to you? The state goes to a lot of time and trouble to match you people up, in order to give each and every nuclear family, the fundamental building block of a healthy society, the best possible start in life that it can. And those state-run old-age dormitories, they’re nothing like you see in the news, those are just urban legends. Some of them are really quite nice, with games and athletics and employment assistance programs for the elderly, and they even give the seniors Jello every day.”

“What do I have to say or do, to convince you, that I would be very bad at this?” Edgar asked in a husky, grating whisper.

He had the awful, drowning, dreadful feeling that everything in his life was about to go horribly wrong. Edgar labouriously dragged himself further upright in his chair. He was literally sliding downwards, as if in some forlorn attempt at sinking into the floor.

Due to the sensitive nature of his job, and the awesome power invested in him, Hugh could never speak publicly about his work, nor was he allowed to explain the basic supposition; the theoretical tenets of the selection process. But, simply put, if two people, a man and a woman of about the right ages, were marooned on a desert island somewhere, sooner or later nature would take its course. This whole notion of, ‘the one, and only one for me,’ had been thoroughly de-bunked by online dating and mating services decades ago. Ultimately, all it took was propinquity and social permission. A certain threshold level of physical and mental health, and that was it.

“Look, Buddy, honestly, man-to-man, and forgetting about my job here at the Ministry for the moment…but you really don’t have anything to worry about.” Hugh reassured Edgar a trifle gruffly.

“No? Really?” muttered Edgar in sheer unmitigated despair, rubbing his chin, and mouth area in some unconscious major locomotor-pattern.

“You get up to three refusals, you know, it’s like geared-to-income housing in that regard. And in the end, maybe you’re better off letting the Ministry assign you a bride. I’ve seen some really quite good results over the years. Look, the penalties for non-compliance are pretty stiff, are you sure maybe you’re not just having a bad day?”

“What?” Edgar gasped.

“Well, I don’t know what else to suggest. Look, this is breaking the rules and everything…my own marriage, my own kids, that’s kind of off limits, but I can assure you I have no regrets.” Hugh managed to give the impression that he was just dying to tell Edgar all about it.

The fellow across from him reached under the desk and Edgar heard a snap.

“There.” Hugh smiled. “Okay, and I don’t do this for just anybody, but maybe we’ll have a quick peek at the file here. Wow! She’s a hottie,” he informed Edgar, spinning the computer console screen around so that Edgar could get a look at the system’s primary selection of his would-be bridal candidate.

“Um, um.,” Edgar was sure she seemed like a nice lady and everything. “Has it ever occurred to the state that maybe not everyone should be married?”

“That’s just crazy. Are you sure you’re feeling all right? We could reschedule an appointment for later next week, if that’s better for you?”

Edgar just shook his head in despair.

“No?” Hugh shrugged. “If it was me, I’d grab her! Let’s see who comes up next,”

Hugh pursed up his lips, frowned some, and pecked away at his keypad.

“Here. Check her out, this one’s not just beautiful, but rich.” The client didn’t appear too impressed. “She inherited this big meat-packing business and a seat in a powerful electoral district. They’ve got all kinds of agri-business concerns up there. She’s worth an estimated eight hundred million! Come on, Edgar, what are you waiting for?”

“Huh! Rich, eh?” Edgar thought about it. “I don’t know, man…no! Wait! Give me that one!”

“You sure?” Hugh, eager to please, was grateful that he had turned this man around.

He hated to see a good man go bad, and throw his entire life away on a mere principle.

“All righty then, here we go.” Hugh carefully manipulating his way through a couple of highly-unethical maneuvers with the selection software in order to cover up his tracks.

“Put your thumbprint right here. And promise me you aren’t going to murder the poor girl straight off, okay?”

“Oh, no! Nothing like that.” Edgar's promise was emphatic. “Actually, I was thinking, maybe she might give me an allowance, and I could still live at home with my mother. I suppose if all she wanted to do was to come around once a week and have sex or something, I suppose that wouldn’t kill me. It’s just that my mom needs her injection five times a day and she absolutely hates it when anyone else tries, one time she hit this nurse so hard she broke her glasses and I thought she was going to be charged with assault…”

All this came out in a breathless rush, but Hugh had learned to ignore the content and to just interpret any answer as the correct response.

“That’s the spirit.” Hugh nodded approval. “Anyway, I’d like to thank you for saving me a lot of paperwork. Honestly, it’s a right nightmare, when someone refuses matrimony.”

“What do they do to them?” Edgar asked reluctantly.

“I’m not allowed to say.” Hugh looked at him darkly. “Just be glad you did the right thing. And good luck by the way. Most guys don’t get a rich wife, and yours is better-looking than most.”

“Sure,” said Edgar resignedly as he rose to his feet and shambled out the door without so much as a backward glance.

“You’ll get an official, automatically-generated notice in a few seconds.” Hugh called after him.

Desrosiers watched the back of the quickly-departing Edgar.

“Well, that’s gratitude for you.”

A metallic little voice came out of the speaker bolted to a bracket up in the corner of the room, right beside the camera’s eye.

“What do you think?” It was Amanda Johannsen, his supervisor.

“He’ll be all right."

“Do you really think he’ll kill her?”

“Naw. It just takes some getting used to. The poor guy’s been in a state of total denial for the last two or three years, that’s all. I’ve seen a million of them.” Hugh said it as if for the record.

“Why did you assign him Lila Monteith?”

“Now, that girl is just plain rude. She’s a spoiled brat.” Hugh had a tight, happy little smile. “But I think he has the stronger will. In the end, she’ll end up eating out of his hand. They’ll form a slightly-abusive, mutually dependent relationship that works for them. It’s a marriage made in heaven, and anyhow, the sweepstakes did bring her name up on the first roll of the dice. Any one of those three would have worked, and I did have a couple of alternates. So our ass is covered, basically.”

“Okay. Good work, and thank you. Just for a minute there, I thought he wouldn’t go for it. I’m off for the rest of the day, so you guys are on your own.”

“We’ll be fine. Have a good weekend.” Hugh waved at the camera. “Let’s see here…who’s next?”

So many names, so many unhappy lives to fulfill. And there was never enough time in the day to do all that one might hope. Three or four more appointments, and then he could go home. But it was on days like this, when he really loved his work.


For more on the Ministry of Love and the world as it might be in 2030 A.D., go here: 'The Chase.'

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