A World Where All Men Are Named Harry
a short story by Leslie What
You arrive at the Dating Zone, a little later than intended, and go immediately to the dispenser for a number. Though it is almost noon, the number is only 49, meaning the counter has been reset -- at least once -- to zero. The room is full, yet oddly silent, with hushed whispers and screaming babies competing to be heard above clatter of back office keyboards. You take your seat and glare at the sign above the front door reminding you Today is Your Lucky Day!
It would be nice if management had the sensitivity to change that message every few years instead of rubbing it in, but these days, sensitivity is considered gauche. A Dating Zone counselor would tell you without sympathy, "That's the way it is in the love industry. Seller's market. Deal with it. Next!" Still, it would be nice.
Too bad someone doesn't take a gun to that sign, and while they're at it, put everyone in the office out of their misery. You feel guilty enough about your situation as it is. You're getting on in years and still haven't found love.
What if your mother was right? What if you don't deserve happiness? But maybe your mother, rest her soul, was wrong. Today is your lucky day, at least that's what the sign promises. In a while, the receptionist calls your number. You stand, take a deep breath, and approach her with the hope that you don't look too anxious. She slides a clipboard holding several forms across the counter. Staff has thoughtfully attached a pencil with a string so short you can't chew the end of it while you mull over questions like, "Do you prefer a tall? A medium build? Do you like your Harrys in a jogging suit or dressed for work? What's the longest time period you've ever stayed with one Harry?"
You narrow down the choices, trying to be honest even when you know that makes you look bad. Maybe this time things will all work out, maybe the fortieth time will be a charm -- it could happen -- it's happened to people you've read about, people you know, your best friend, in fact. You hand back your answers and return to your seat to wait. And wait. And wait. There's a steady stream of counselors hurrying from their desks to the bathroom. They're pissing on company time -- on your time really, since you indirectly pay the bills -- and there's nothing you can do about it. You'd visit the bathroom yourself, but if you miss hearing your name called you'll have to re-schedule your appointment yet again and that's even more stressful than having to pee. You cross your legs and do your best to ignore the feeling of pressure. Self-control is always easier with enough motivation.
Round two, the lineup, is held in the small auditorium. You sit in a folding chair beside eleven others who share your predilection for big Harrys with dark hair and full beards. Handy, able to fix things. Smart, but not over-educated -- two years of college. Everyone knows the type. A counselor takes orders for drinks. "Make mine a diet," you say. Several shoppers murmur in agreement.
Before you hangs a purple curtain, masking a one-way mirror. The MC, wearing a black sequined tee shirt under leather lederhosen (shiny shoes, no socks), stands on a platform. He grabs a mike from its stand and tosses it into the other hand. "Welcome to round two! May we now present our bevy of beefy boys! All Harrys. All the time. Choose yours today!"
If you were in a better mood you'd think about laughing.
The curtain opens as a light is switched on; the Harrys are posed, illuminated from above as if works of fine art. A group sigh rushes like water from your side of the window. The person to your left starts the questioning in a timid voice.
"Harry Number Nine...are you a lucky guy? And if I choose you will I be lucky?"
The Harry scratches his head. He's broken into a sweat and you can tell he's nervous, but trying not to show it. "Am I lucky?" he echoes. The counselors have taught all the Harrys this technique -- called reflection -- and they repeat every question in an attempt to make you believe they've understood you. "Am I lucky?" Harry asks again. "I suppose you could say I'm lucky just to be standing here." He smiles as if he's given the perfect answer. He's looking at himself in the mirror, though it is supposed to look like he's looking at you. He winks. The questioner giggles.
What a bunch of losers.
Someone from behind you calls, out of turn, "I'd like to ask Harry number twenty something." Then a little hemming and hawing before, "What do you think is the secret to a successful relationship?"
Harry number twenty doesn't pause to take a breath. "What is the secret to a successful relationship? Communication," he says, "respect, and maybe after that comes physical attraction."
This Harry is a few pickles shy of a jar.
It's your turn to ask the next question. You've been a little cautious since that last bad experience with that disgruntled postal worker, and want to take your time. You wish there were some better way of doing this, some more exact method, maybe even scientific. You want to make the right choice, whatever that is. You notice one guy staring at his feet, his lips pressed together like he's trying his best not to sneer. You haven't a clue as to why you feel so immediately attracted to him. "Harry Number Seven," you say, "give me three good reasons why I should pick you and then give me three better reasons why I shouldn't."
Harry Number Seven cracks a knowing grin. "You want a reason? Fine. I'll give you just what you want. One: I enjoy cooking and cuddling. Two: I get along swell with my mother. Three: I have a magnetic personality, at least that's what it said in my last fortune cookie."
You notice he has nice teeth. Reason number four. "Answer the rest of my question, please."
"Oh," says Number Seven, looking dour. "Do I have to?"
The MC shrugs. "Sorry. Rules."
"Okay," says Number Seven. "It's kind of personal, but okay. Okay. One: I've been traded in hundreds of times. Two: You might say I've, er, uhm... had a quite an effect on twelve of my last fifteen dates, at least that's what they tell me, the ones who can still talk, I mean."
There's a disapproving outburst from the behind you and a couple of shoppers hurriedly leave the room.
Your heart races. "Reason number three?" you prompt.
Harry flashes a boyish grin meant to be endearing. It works. "Three," he says, "I don't have any regrets about anything I've done. Four: I'll do it again. To you, unless you stop me."
The lights go out and the MC blathers on about technical difficulties while the counselor refills your drinks. "How'd he get through screening?" someone asks, and a someone answers, "How did any of us?" In a few minutes, when the lights go back on, Harry Number Seven is gone. Gone, but not forgotten. Someone, you forget whom, once said, "Love Ain't Nothing But Hate Misspelled." It's taken a lifetime, but finally you see the logic in that statement.
There's no question about whom you will pick. Number Seven is a psychopath, but he could be your psychopath. You are convinced that he can make you feel alive, at least for a while. The two of you deserve each other, that much is obvious.
You mark down NUMBER SEVEN as your first, second, and third choice. He's got exactly what you want; he told you so himself, and even you know better than to keep looking for a poodle when there's a pit bull scratching at the door. Maybe it's finally time to let the dog come in.
You're turning over a new leaf. After all, Today is Your Lucky Day. For too many years you have been living on the edge, trying to straddle that line separating loser from victim. But no more. Because this Harry is the one you have been waiting for, the Harry with exactly what it takes to push you over.
© Leslie What 1999, 2001.
"Picture a World
Where All Men Are Named Harry" first appeared in QUANTUM Speculative
Fiction from Obscura Press: http://www.quantumsf.com/
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