Sci-Fi/Fantasy Flash Fiction: Heart-Right’s 100% Guarantee

Worried that your child may not choose the best life partner? Concerned about a potential Romeo-Juliet tragedy? Why take the chance? At Heart-Right, our professional DNA Design team can ensure that your precious bundle never has to worry about heartache or heartbreak in his or her adult life. With our patented system, falling in love with the right person is no longer an uncertainty — it’s a guarantee!

I stared at the contract in my hands. By the stove, my mother cleared her throat, her hands busy with the frying pan and the spatula. 

“You bought me a life partner before I was even born?”

She studiously pushed the bacon around. “That’s not how I would put it. Your father and I didn’t have a very stable relationship. We knew so many people, too many people, having problems. We just wanted to make sure that you wouldn’t have to go through that. I mean, it’s not like we paid for you to have enhanced vision or extra digits, you know.”

“But, Mom . . .” I flipped through the pages again, re-reading the terms. “This is . . . totally different than picking my hair colour and leg length from a catalogue. I mean, how on earth does a company even make a promise like that? This was twenty-odd years ago! Have they been tracking me?”

“Honey, everybody is tracked. You know that.”

Frustrated, I slammed the papers down on the table. “That’s not what I meant! You paid money to these people for some crazy scheme to make sure that one day I’d have a perfect love match, something that you’d approve of –”

“No, not just for our approval,” she replied testily, turning to face me. She brandished the spatula, ignoring the drips of fat onto her clean bamboo floor. “To save you from the problems of trying to find someone right. I don’t want you to end up being abused, like your grandmother did, or all alone like your Aunt Mitsy.” Her voice broke and she threw the spatula on the stove. “I don’t expect you to understand until you’re looking to get pregnant yourself, or until you actually are expecting a child of your own. That’s when you start to wonder what your baby’s future is going to be like. Wouldn’t you do the same?”

I shifted in my chair, slumping down. “Yeah, but this whole idea — it’s not possible. It can’t be.”

“The technology has been tested and it’s been successful for twenty-five years,” she sniffed, wiping her eyes. “We did our research before we registered and paid our money. We considered it an investment, like your college fund.”

“So how does it work?” I gestured around the kitchen, empty except for the two of us. Her pet canary sang a cheery tune in the sunlight. I wanted to throw it, in its cage, out the window. “Where’s my Prince Charming? Do I get a note in the mail or something? ‘You are cordially invited to meet your soulmate.’ I mean, what if I already met him — or her — how would I know? What if that person got killed or died from sickness before we even met?”

“Page six of the contract: if the party of second part is deceased at any time before contract fulfillment, or within five to ten years of the party of the first part’s birth (according to the parents’ discretion), a replacement partner will be selected and conditioned for the partnership agreement.” She turned off the stove. 

“It sounds like you’ve memorized the damned thing.” 

“I’ve read it over often enough,” she shrugged. She strained the bacon pan into the bio-energy generator. “More, lately. You were supposed to have met your husband by this point, but we hadn’t been notified of it.”

Damnit. Fucking tracking! I got up, not bothering to put the chair back under the table. There wasn’t a lot of space to pace in my mother’s food prep area, but I managed, even while avoiding the fat spot on the floor. “Why didn’t you ever tell me about this before?”

“I did! Well, I tried,” she protested. “Don’t you remember the stories I used to tell you?”

“Yeah, but I thought those were . . . fairy tales, Mom!” I snatched a piece of bacon and sucked on it furiously. “Jesus . . . I started dating in high school!”

“Yes, you did,” she sighed. I watched her pat the dishcloth around the bacon to soak up the grease. “Every time, I thought, ‘this is it!’ But then you’d break up. I was actually thinking of suing the company. I mean, the whole conditioning of the fetus through DNA manipulation is to make sure you’re only compatible with one other individual. But you — you’re compatible with everyone!”

I almost left the kitchen at that point. “Don’t make it sound like this is my fault!”

“Well, I don’t know whose fault it is.” She thrust the pan into the sink to soak. “The procedure is foolproof, 100% effective. They were getting down to three weeks left in the agreement to set up your first date with your ideal partner, genetically matched and psychologically designed to be the right one for you. If it didn’t happen, I was going to sue them for false representation. But it did! Your match arrived this morning!”

I watched my mother reach into a drawer and pull out a sealed envelope. A relic from another time, printed on real paper just like the contract. She offered it to me.

“I  . . . I have to pee,” I said lamely. I left the room, moving awkwardly down the narrow hall. I didn’t know what to do with my hands. 

What if I refused to go on the arranged date?

What if I went, just to satisfy my own curiosity (and her nagging), and it turned out we weren’t compatible after all? She’d definitely sue them at that point.

Because there was one thing I hadn’t told her. I didn’t know how to tell her. I was already in love, had been for years, and it was a precious jewel I kept close to my heart, away from her prying eyes and gossipy tongue. 

Cold prickles washed over me. 100% effective — what if I met this guy, and I did fall for him, just like my designers had planned? Biologically and psychologically matched from pre-birth . . . could I handle being in love with two people at once? Was that even possible? 

It wasn’t fair. The whole point of the program was that I wouldn’t have to choose. 

I locked the door the bathroom and studied the window, debating whether I’d be able to fit through it as well as I’d been able to when I was fifteen.

The 9-year-old’s Boyfriends, or a Look at the General Philosophy of Romantic Love

Well. I wish I had recorded THAT conversation.

And I face a slight ethical dilemma in sharing this with you, because when she saw that I was transcribing what we’d talked about, she didn’t want me sharing the story with anyone but her grandparents. And honestly, I won’t give you all of the details, because even though she’s only nine, I get it. It would be like taking a page from her diary (if she had one) and posting it online for all the world to see. Too personal, even for someone not quite an adolescent.

But my Bridget — my precocious, adorable, creative, maddening nine-year-old — has been describing to me the three (THREE!) boyfriends she has had so far in school.

Now, I know that the childhood definition of “boyfriend” changes substantially when you’re into the teenage years, and there’s perhaps a subtle distinction between a teenage boyfriend and an adult boyfriend. But the central idea is still the same: a chosen, special companion, singled out from all others for individual attention and care, playtime and comforting. Forget the physical intimacy of those old enough to partake: it’s enough that your partner will hold your hand, when you’re a kid.

Hell, I still love it when my husband holds my hand. Maybe that in of itself is a gesture of intimacy. After all, you wouldn’t normally hold a stranger’s hand, or very often, a friend.

But back to Bridget.

This conversation all came about while she was playing with playdough, and at some point she started singing the lyrics to Taylor Swift’s “Blank Space”, and she asked me why Dad had fallen in love with me. I said I didn’t know and she’d have to ask him. Then she said she thought it was because he wanted to be tortured.

O-o-o-kay.

I don’t know, maybe there is something to that. Science has shown that powerful chemicals are at work in the process of choosing / pursuing a partner, and the concept of lovesickness has been chewed over by countless poets and authors and songwriters. That lyric, “Boys only want love if it’s torture” — so often, we (boys and girls and most of us in between) crave that which is most out of reach, forbidden, or dangerous, because that suspenseful high resulting from the risk makes our hearts beat faster and those stolen moments all the sweeter. Who wants a love that’s easy? 

Look how many romance novels and movies and plays are all about the struggle. The angst. The “what-if” and “better-not” and “you’ll-get-in-trouble” of it all. My nine-year-old is already experiencing some of these things, even though they are limited to heads resting on shoulders and hands being held at recess. For her, dating a boy isn’t yet about anything more than those simple, brief acts that make them both happy. After all, she’s never spoken to me about making a boy hold her hand who didn’t want to (we have had a couple of conversations about the idea of consent — guess we’d better keep going!), or been devastated by losing her favourite’s attentions. 

So . . . if romantic love is about finding companionship with someone who makes you feel special and cherished, but experience suggests that we only get that through emotional and physical struggle, deprivation, and mistreatment, is it still romantic love if it’s a couple of elementary school kids who say they’re boyfriend and girlfriend for a few recesses at school? Is that something that we should deride as being cute and harmless, or take seriously?

I vote for the latter. Because I remember liking liking boys and girls when I was in elementary school, and the struggle that went along with deciding whether to admit to those feelings. Opening yourself to that gives those who are cruel a fresh chance to spike your most vulnerable spots. No matter how much you want to show that you like someone more than everyone else does, maybe by blending your personal space bubbles by joining your hands, you’re taking a risk that bringing the feelings out in the open will encourage the other kids to make fun of you. Or get you into trouble, particularly if your school has a no-touch rule. Or start rumours about you. No, romantic love is a serious business even when you’re a child, perhaps even more so in some ways than for adults who are not exposed to the wolf-packs of the playground twice or three times a day. 

I told Bridget tonight that I wish she had told me some of these things when they’d happened, but I understand and respect why she kept them to herself. And I hear my mother’s own voice in my words. My daughter is developing her capacity for and understanding of affection beyond her immediate and extended family, growing her ability to love others for themselves. She has given herself (and I have reinforced) boundaries for expressing her feelings. And for now, it’s a stable course. Interestingly, too, her experience so far has been completely different from my own: her way of seeing others, her ability to make those romantic connections, her attitude when the connections are over, all are separate from my own memories of kindergarten through grade 3. This doesn’t mean I have less to worry about — instead, I have to start considering alternatives that she might go through. I can’t just imagine her in situations like those I experienced, and that’s awesome. What’s less awesome is that I’m now in some unfamiliar territory as a once-girl and now-woman, pushing 40 in a world substantially different than the one in which I grew up, raising a daughter to be confident, self-aware, etc. If she was more like me (as my son is), this job wouldn’t be as much of a challenge. But who ever said parenting shouldn’t — or couldn’t — be challenging?