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It was a clean office consisting of white and gray furniture to drive away the common misconceptions, I suppose. I shook hands with the woman behind the table, Wanda, who guided us through the process thus far. She looked about sixty or so, but this company was mysterious in a number of ways, so she could have been thirty, maybe eighty, and we wouldn’t have known.
“Welcome back,” she said as April and I sat at the desk. She grasped her silver pen and slipped on her reading glasses as she clutched a clipboard of notes from our last visit. “I take it you’ve done some thinking as to the date?”
“We’re thinking sometime in the spring,” April said, holding my hand. She smiled at me. “We want to know when’s a popular date, though.”
“Well,” said Wanda, opening a cabinet on her side of the desk. She filed through some folders and pulled the one she wanted. “Traditionally, the days around Valentine’s day are popular.” She opened the folder and flipped through several pages within it, stopping at the sixth page. “December 21st through December 23rd, 2012 are a few other big days for us, too, but we might have all our spots filled.” She skimmed the document, then closed it and returned it to the cabinet. “Mondays are popular, too, as are Wednesdays and Fridays.”
“Very interesting,” said April. “I think we’ll stay with our original date, though, don’t you, honey?” I didn’t answer right away, slightly disturbed by this whole process, but I said, “Sure.” Wanda clicked the top of her pen and wrote something in her notes. She asked, “That’s the ninth of…?”
“Ah.” She smiled and swung back and forth in her rolling chair. “Any particular reason why you selected that day?”
“It just stuck out to us,” interrupted April. I didn’t mind, though. I didn’t care to answer the most of Wanda’s questions, but the process fascinated April, and understandably, she wanted to answer every question thrown at us. “Have many people selected that day?”
“For this year?” asked Wanda, studying the ceiling in thought. “I believe I’ve received forty-two orders for that day.” She smiled warmly at us. “Would you like to decide how the process takes place, or would you prefer I set it up for you?”
“Oh, just set it up for us,” said April, squeezing my hand. “I’m sure you’ll think of something creative.” Wanda burst into a grin and said, “Well, I admit, I do have a way with these things.”
“Oh, how so? What’s your best story?”
“Well once, I set it up so a king would eat his favorite meal—lampreys—and that was one of my greatest successes. Another time, I condensed nine orders from employees at a British brewery into one by flooding the streets with beer. Oh, but one of my favorites is this man who ordered the process done by toothpick. That one received a lot of media coverage.”
“Do you get media coverage often?”
“Sometimes,” she said, shrugging. “It depends on the person who orders from us. If they’re relatively famous, then we get lots of coverage, like this singer we just did. I collaborated with a few others on him, but eventually we reached a conclusion and decided that we would overdose him.
“There was so much media coverage. Let me tell you, we were swamped for weeks. You might know about him, even though he’s just a kid at present. However, I can’t disclose any names.” She shrugged. “Company policy.”
“I have a question,” I said, leaning forward. “What happens if we decide not to show up for our ‘appointment’?” Wanda glanced at her hands as they lay on the desk and laughed a little.
“The first time, we let you get away with it,” she said, “And we reschedule for a later date. The second time, you have to pay a fee, and that’s determined by your counselor, me, and a few heads of the company. The third time, we usually start getting serious, and things happen that make people so miserable that they turn insane, and then the process takes place.” With this, she handed us our form and said, “Please sign on the dotted line.”
April took the pen from Wanda and signed right away, but I looked at the form and felt something wrong about it. The form summed up the force of this disturbing company with its mysterious, omniscient presence that stood immune to time, and as I stared at the sheet of paper, I realized I couldn’t sign it.
“Sorry,” I said, April shocked by my resistance. “I’m going to have to think about this.” Wanda nodded sympathetically and said, “Take your time. It’s a tough decision: not everyone wants to know when and how we’ll come for them.” I appreciated her sympathy, but April turned cold, and as we walked from the building after saying our goodbyes, she said, “I can’t believe you.”
“What?” I asked as we exited the cool, white building and entered the sunlight. She looked at me, red-faced and upset, but I couldn’t comfort her. I wasn’t ready to agree to anything as solid as that sheet of paper just yet.
“You don’t want to die with me?” she asked in horror. “You think life without me will be the same or even better than life right now? Is that it?”
“No,” I said, unsure of how to calm her. “It’s just that I don’t want to commit myself to a date; a time; a place. I want it to happen eventually, sure, but I don’t want a contract to bind me to a fate I may or may not want. When it happens, it will happen the way it’s meant to, not according to a design drawn up by some company.”
“This is the company,” she choked, “That decides the fate of things.” She stormed to the car, screaming as she did so, “And if you can’t live without me, than you can’t live with me!”
She was upset, but I thought to myself, it doesn’t matter, she’ll be dead on the ninth. I drew up another contract a long time ago, that read, “’Til death do us part”, and that was all I promised.