The Infallibility Booth

The candy-striped envelope had arrived URGENT post-marked August 21st 2085, the day after his thirtieth birthday. He hadn’t been surprised and when his neighbor caught sight of the telltale mail, she’d smiled at him reassuringly as if to say, “This is probably for the best, Teddy. It’s been an inordinate amount of time since you had someone.”

He’d taken the envelope inside and, after moving the pile of clean laundry off his only chair, he collapsed into it. Delicately opening the envelope, he found the date and time of his coupling along with the heavy coin he’d use to reach her from inside the Infallibility Booth.

Although he had felt a sense of resignation or apathy at the imminent arrival of his sentencing, his mother had been relieved.

“There’s nothing to be ashamed of,” she’d chided over the phone. “Your uncle was sentenced on his thirtieth birthday too and look what happened to him. Runs that very successful bed and breakfast right outside Camden, doesn’t he?”

She was right. He knew she was right. How many single friends of his had been happier having turned thirty and undergone the coupling? Just about every morning, he’d see a friend from high school or college during his Facebook rundown who had been to his or her own sentencing. They were always on a hike or something AND invariably had a dog! He’d always wanted a dog.

The government was right to have executed the order back in the 2020’s. Afraid of mirroring the population decline taking place in Japan during the early 21st century, the government had decided that any single man or woman over the age of thirty with no prospects would be assigned a soul mate by implementing a tremendous algorithm designed by the best mathematical minds the United States had to offer. Thanks to the government, he now had the opportunity to live a hopeful and fulfilled life. Once he had his soul mate, he could focus on the bigger things, like his career and cultivating hobbies. This would, simply put, streamline his opportunities.

So now, a week later, he stood on the outskirts of Shell City in a field that his GPS chip powered by Google Exist had lead him to. Lined up with other newly turned thirty year olds he took a deep breathe and blew on his hands in the hopes of making them less clammy. Thumbing the coin he’d use to connect with his soul mate, he couldn’t help but feel a sense of melancholy. Perhaps it was the double-sided coin, showcasing two hands holding one another on one side and a broken heart on the other. Perhaps it was that he’d always hoped to find her organically, like in the movies. Reaching for a head of synthetic kale at the grocery store or helping her elderly grandmother at the Medicaid red box. He played the interaction out in his head.

“Can I help you, ma’am?”

“I’m quite alright, thank you, but have you met my beautiful granddaughter? She’s bilingual and doesn’t even talk about it all that much. My… you two make a stunning couple.” At this the two young lovers would amorously lock eyes as if to say That’s our crazy grandma!

Alas, it was not meant to be. He was at his sentencing now, determined to get on with his life, with his wife.

He surveyed the field and its thirty or forty occupants. Youngish people of all shapes, shades and sizes milled around the Infallibility Booth.

The booth was a stark white cube that looked like the larger cousin to one of those old timey phone booths he’d seen at the Museum of Dead Empires. He always marveled at how much time those previous generations had wasted walking to a phone booth when now he could call someone by simply thinking of them. Atop the booth, a pristine white weathervane in the shape of a heart spun wildly, although there was no wind.

Standing in the shade of the booth stood a nebbish young man wearing coke bottle glasses, an ill-fitting cardigan and crinkled khakis. He seemed to be having trouble breathing and every ten minutes he would take an inhaler and press it to his face, breathe deeply, and then exhale while muttering to himself. After each drag of the inhaler, the young man would close his eyes and massage his temples. Teddy couldn’t help but smile at that.

Someone giggled behind him and he turned to meet the eyes of a very pretty woman with bright frizzy red hair and a rash of freckles across the bridge of her slightly upturned nose and big green eyes. He smiled at her and raised his eyebrows as if to say, “Get a load of this guy” and she reciprocated by raising her eyebrows as if to retort “This is all a bit silly isn’t it?”

Teddy turned away and smiled to himself, glad to have someone to share in this with, even if it was a complete stranger. It helped to take his mind off how very scared he was. As the line moved forward, he turned to meet her eyes and extended his hand.

“Teddy.” And without waiting to hear her name, he barreled through. “Are you as nervous as I am?”

The redhead cocked her head and smiled, took his hand and whilst giggling, however forced this time, said – “I’m scared mostly. The overwhelming thing is that I have no idea what happens in that tiny white booth. I guess I’m going to walk in me and then walk out changed, one part of a pair. Like some salt and pepper shakers. My mom is ecstatic. Can’t wait to get me married and out of the house.” And then in a hushed tone “I don’t think this is right.”

******

Read more of Hugh Roberts’ fantastical tale in the next issue of Sheriff Nottingham, coming out November 12th on Amazon!

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