Stories

The Arrangement

When I heard the knock I paused the PVR and went to the door, brushing the chip crumbs off my sweatshirt as I went. If somebody’s going to come to my door without calling first, they get me as I am.

I check the peephole and it’s a woman I don’t know. She’s fairly well-dressed in a suit jacket and skirt; I wonder what she’s selling. As I’m watching she bites her lip and knocks again.

“Hello?”

“Hi. I’m Vicky Morris; I’m here to see Riley Winters.”

Okay. I don’t see any guns, not that anyone would have a reason to shoot me, so I open the door. The owner keeps promising to put one of those security chains on, but so far nothing.

She gives me a wobbly smile. “So, is Riley here? I know I should have called first, but I figured I’d make a more fun impression if I just showed up. Are you his girlfriend?” She’s trying to glance around me into the apartment.

“I’m Riley Winters. What’s this about?”

“Awkward,” she bit her lip again, “I think there may be some kind of mistake. You’re kind of supposed to be a guy.”

“Pardon?”

“Well, my marriage notification says Mister Riley Winters. I think something’s amiss.”

“Yeah, me.” She stared blankly so I continued, “Now what’s this about a marriage certificate?”

“No, a marriage notification. It means we have to get married. Have you not got yours yet?”

“Would you mind telling me what the heck you’re talking about? I seem to be missing something.”

“Remember that bill that went through Parliament last year? The Genetic Sustainability Act, or something like that? Because people aren’t having enough babies, the government decided to start picking people at random, one male and one female, and arranging marriages.”

“Arranged marriage? That’s a total violation of my civil rights! No way the bloody government’s going to tell me who I have to marry!”

“It’s the law, though. There’s a big fine for not going through with it.”

“I’ll fight it in court! The government doesn’t have the right to come into peoples’ bedrooms and tell them what to do!”

She giggled.

“What’s so funny?”

“You said the government can’t come into people’s bedrooms. But if they had to verify that people were trying to have children…”

“Oh please! They wouldn’t…” I thought about the government. They would claim it was a disinterested observer, and he’d be standing there with a clipboard while you were making out, putting down little tick marks for each moan and gasp. “…yeah, they would. Cripes, this so messed up.”

“Maybe we could go down to the government office tomorrow and talk to them. I’m sure they’d be willing to see reason, what with having your sex wrong.”

“Yeah I guess. Where should we meet tomorrow?”

“Um…”

“What is it?”

“Well, I flew all the way from Halifax, and I didn’t book a hotel because I thought seeing as I was supposed to be getting married that…”

“You want to stay here. Fine. You get the couch.”

She hugged me. “Thank you! You’re great; I wish you were a guy!”

* * *

The next day we went down to the government building. Like most government buildings, it’s the epitome of style from thirty years ago. After almost three hours of waiting we were introduced to Mr. Peterson, a reedy young man who looked like he’d been let out of high school on a day pass. He took us to a small meeting room; eventually we were seated across a table from him and an old desktop computer.

“So what can I help you with?”

I gave him my best withering stare. “We’ve been ordered to get married.”

“And you’re not comfortable with the men you’ve been assigned?”

“To each other.”

“That’s not possible. The algorithm isn’t designed to produce same-sex couples. What’s your file number?”

Vicky handed him the notification. He looked it up on his computer and spent a few moments going over the data.

“Well, it all seems to be in order. Miss Winters, according to our records you are male. Is this a style of dress thing, or perhaps you’ve had an operation…?”

“No! I’m female and straight, and I have been all my life. Your system is wrong!” I thought a moment, “Where did you get that information?”

“It was a download from the tax department. I don’t see why that matters.”

I sighed. “The first year I did my own taxes I made a mistake on the form. Since then I’ve been trying to get it fixed. They still call me Mister Winters.”

“Well, there it is. Everything on the form and the notification is right and proper. My hands are tied; I hope you two have a wonderful marriage.”

“So there’s no way to stop this?”

“You could file an objection.”

“We’ll do it!”

“All right, on what grounds?”

“What grounds? We’re the same sex!”

“I’m afraid that’s not a valid reason. Same-sex marriages are legal here.”

“But you said the law didn’t allow for same-sex couples!”

“No, not the law, the algorithm. Now that the document’s been executed and signed, it’s a binding contract under the Genetic Sustainability Act. Individual reluctance was anticipated, so it was designed to be hard to get out of. The valid grounds for objection are pre-existing children, medically diagnosed infertility of one or both partners, or other reasons.”

Vicky spoke up, “Other reasons. Unless there’s something you aren’t telling me, Riley.”

“No. Other reasons it is.”

“Fine. I’ll get the particulars in a moment. I do have to inform you that in order for your objection to be valid you have to at least go through the motions and get married. You don’t have to ahh… consummate the marriage, though. When your appeal is resolved, if it’s successful, the marriage would then be nullified as of the date of its occurrence.”

“Uh huh. And if the appeal isn’t successful.”

“Then you’re married! Sorry, I don’t mean to be facetious; I know the appeal will be successful. It’s not like one of you is going to become pregnant.”

* * *

I stumble into the nursery. Amy and Hunter are hungry; I will be so happy when they start sleeping through the night. With some effort I get a baby girl nestled on each breast and they start suckling. Next time it’s Vicky’s turn to play momma cow.

My mind goes back to the judge’s ruling: appeal denied. The value of a stable family overrides our ‘personal issues’ in this instance. What were the odds we’d both get knocked up on our honeymoon?