Humanity held a referendum on free will. The rule, according to the cosmos, was that the question had to be clear and concise, so the question was: Given the stresses of day to day life and the oppressive nature of choice, would you support the removal of your freedom to make choices for yourself.
In some jurisdiction there were other ballot initiatives. There were several about legalizing marijuana and one about gay marriage, and one about whether or not people and corporations should be able to own water.
Sixty-one percent of voters were in favour of keeping free will, but there was only eighteen percent turnout, so a law was passed compelling everyone to vote in a new referendum.
The second time around seventy-six percent of people voted to ditch free will. The result surprised a lot of people, even though not one major political or corporate figure came out in favour of free will. Consumer advocates didn’t like free will either, because which product to buy caused enormous stress on people. A lot of money went into advertising and lobbying for the removal of free will.
The twenty-four percent who wanted to keep free will said that they should be able to keep theirs. They said that a collective vote on something like that was invalid and furthermore it was fucking stupid. They claimed that their right to free will would be trampled by the tyranny of the majority, but the judges ruled that the question was clear and the results binding.
It’s been twelve years since humanity lost free will. By every metric we have things have improved. Governments are more responsible, crime is way down and people are healthier and happier. Stress and sick leaves have dropped eighty-eight percent, and nobody agonizes over what brand of toothpaste to buy.
By law, humanity has to hold a new referendum on free will every four years. If you ask around, people are in favour of regaining free will, and all the popular politicians promise referendums and demand a return to free speech, but in three referenda so far, not a single vote has been cast for free will.
People bitch about that. They say its clear that their will isn’t allowed to prevail at the ballot box, and they say the worst thing humanity ever did was give up its free will, but it’s clear that it’s the best thing we ever did, and it makes me happy that those who control us now recognize that we can’t be trusted to make the right choices for ourselves.
I was a success. Nothing huge or anything. I wasn’t president of the United States, and I didn’t win a Nobel Prize or anything, but people said I was a success, and when my head swelled up the doctor confirmed that it was due to success. He said that success had gone to my head and that that was what was causing the swelling. He said it was a pretty common side effect of success.
The doctor said he wished I’d come to him sooner, because maybe he could have operated, but my head was fully two-and-a-half times the size it had been, and he couldn’t operate like that. He said he didn’t even dare install a shunt because it could cause my head to explode. He said all I could do was take ibuprofen and fail at a few things.
The doctor seemed like an idiot to me. I took ibuprofen because my head hurt like hell all the time, but it was obviously stress related, so I followed up on my success.
Over time, the swelling went down a little bit, but then my ego started to grow. I’d go places and it would be hard to get through the doorways. After my ego ripped out the doorjamb at my in-laws’, I had to start leaving it outside.
It was disorienting being without my ego. I’d sit in rooms and watch stuff happen and I’d have no idea why I was there or what any of it had to do with me. I took up smoking so that I could go outside to be with my ego.
I went to see a bunch of doctors, and they all said it was success. They said success affected everyone differently. They said some people couldn’t sleep and some people suffered sexual dysfunction, and some people were fine, but swelled heads and inflated egos were the most common side effects. They said that failure was the only way.
I started a campaign to warn people about the dangers of success. I wrote a book telling my story and published pamphlets explaining the side effects of success and how to spot the symptoms. The campaign has been a total failure. I’m broke, and people think I’m nuts, including my wife who’s left me. The whole thing is a lucky break. Otherwise I’d still be dealing with blinding headaches and an ego that wouldn’t fit in rooms. I might even be dead. Instead I feel better than I’ve ever felt. My doctor says I’m in good shape for a person half my age.
Leah and I were in love, and it was amazing. People said so. People said that love was powerful, and especially ours and we should harness it. They said we could do great things if we harnessed our love.
I always said yeah, we could, but Leah took it seriously. She looked into it, and found a website that explained how to use the power of love to run your home, and maybe the homes of others. The website called it pink energy, and it said that pink was the new green. We signed up and our love was fed into the grid.
It turned out that our love was powerful. Our love was so powerful we were able to power our entire block, and hydro gave us money every month. People didn’t believe us when we told them. They said they’d never seen anything like it. Leah checked the numbers, and we had the third most powerful love in the country. There was a couple in Scarborough and another one in Jonquière.
I said I didn’t think they should be releasing those numbers, and Leah said why not. She said didn’t I want to know where our love stood? I said I didn’t really, and Leah stroked my hair and said she was glad to know. She said we had the third strongest love in the entire country and there were thirty-some million people in the country, so third was pretty amazing. I said yeah, and I said she was right, but I couldn’t help thinking about it.
It meant that the couple in Scarborough and the couple in Jonquière were more in love than we were, and the couple from Scarborough had been number one or number two in the country every year for the eight years the program had been in existence, and I felt pressure to try and maintain our position.
Also, despite heavy advertising, only thirty-two percent of lovers were harnessing the power of their love, and so that was four more couples, and maybe more. Some people said not giving a shit about the grid and the environment was the sign of a really intense love.
In our second year on the grid, the power of our love faded dramatically. The Scarborough love was back on top, and Jonquière was second, but we were forty-fourth, and we were getting way less money back on our bill. In November, after delivery and debt retirement charges, we owed twelve cents.
Leah asked me what was wrong. She said she was sure that she loved me as powerfully as ever, which meant either we were blocked, or I didn’t love her as much as I had before. I said I loved her as much as ever, and I didn’t know why our output had shrunk so much. I said maybe we just needed to get away for a bit or something.
Leah thought that was a good idea. She said money was tight for a vacation, but if it got us back to producing like we had before it would be worth it, and we went to Paris and London for two weeks.
After our vacation, our production went up, but it dipped again in March and in April we wound up owing nine dollars and seventy-one cents.
I said the bill was bullshit, and maybe we should disconnect from the grid and pay for our electricity the same as everyone else. I said it wasn’t that we weren’t in love, it was the pressure of comparing our love to other people’s. Leah said that was absurd. She said we loved each other, right? She said harnessing that love was doing good in the world, and she wanted our love to do good in the world.
We stayed on the grid, but our production kept going down. In October we only produced six kilowatt hours of energy. Leah said that that wasn’t enough. She said clearly I didn’t love her anymore, or at least not enough, and that was affecting her love for me, and how could we be together without love?
I told Leah I still loved her. I said maybe I was just feeble. I said how could any love stay that powerful for that long, and Leah said the couple in Scarborough managed it.
Leah left me in January. She found a new boyfriend in June. Leah and her new boyfriend have the most powerful love in the country. They’ve produced more energy than any other love in the country five years running.
I’ve dated a few women since Leah. I always insist that we stay off the grid, because it ruins relationships, but it’s because I haven’t been that in love with any of them. If I was ever so in love that I thought I could challenge Leah and her boyfriend, I’d plug into the grid in a heartbeat, so Leah could know how it feels.
I woke up in the middle of the night and my heart was on the floor in the bedroom doorway. I looked at my heart and wondered what the hell it was doing outside of my chest and on the floor, and my heart said never mind, just follow it.
I looked over at Mark, and my heart said never mind him either. My heart said that Mark was even worse than Noel, and if things had been up to my heart, I never would’ve gotten involved with Mark in the first place.
I threw on some jeans and a top and followed my heart. My heart slid down the hallway to the stairs and then it rolled down them. I yawned and said it was two in the morning and where were we going? My heart said Jesus I was repressed, complaining already when we hadn’t even gone anywhere. It said I was nearly forty and I’d never once listened to it, and we weren’t either of us going to live forever.
Downstairs I grabbed a pair of flats and my keys. My heart said I’d better grab my wallet and a purse too, because we were going to be gone awhile, so I did and then my heart opened the door and led me down the street.
We weaved through a bunch of side streets in the Annex and then into Little Italy and then into Kensington. I asked several times where we were going, and my heart said it wanted to wander for a bit. Eventually it stopped outside this one house on Augusta just the other side of Dundas.
The house looked familiar. My heart said of course the house looked familiar. It said we’d been to a party there a few months ago. My heart said it was where the cute guy, Francesco lived. My heart led me up to the door and then it banged on the door until Francesco came down.
Francesco was groggy. It took him a minute to figure out who I was, and he seemed confused by my heart lying on his front stoop, but he let me in.
He asked if I’d had a fight with Mark, and I said I hadn’t. I said it was just that I was finally following my heart after all these years and my heart had led me to him. Francesco seemed okay with that. He didn’t seem weirded out by it, and he didn’t try to take advantage of me. We were together for two weeks before we had sex.
Mark came looking for me, but my heart always went the other way when it saw him coming, and I felt compelled to follow it. Francesco and Mark got into a fight over the whole thing. Francesco came out on top and Mark said fine, but I wasn’t getting any of my stuff, and he was changing the locks.
Two months after I moved in with Francesco, I found my heart on the floor in the bedroom doorway in the middle of the night again. I said what now, and my heart said Francesco was hot, sure, but he was kind of an idiot, even more than Mark was, and what was it with me and always having to be with a man?
I said men were easier for me to attract than other women, and I liked them better than other women, and my heart said I was missing the point entirely. My heart said to follow it, and to bring my wallet again and maybe a few clothes. It said I was hopeless, and it should have done this a long time ago.
I followed my heart down to the water and over to the Island Airport. From there I followed my heart to New York and then on to Europe. My money started to run thin in Europe. My heart said not to worry about that. My heart said I was following it, and that was worth more than anything else I could be doing with my life.
The money ran out in Istanbul, and I got stuck on the street. My heart shrugged and said it was doing its best. It said it bet I’d never felt so free as I did now, and it was true.
My heart and I found a woman who offered to put us up for the night. She gave me food and wine and she didn’t cut me off when I’d drunk too much, and my heart got all nostalgic and wanted to go home.
The woman helped me to get a job working in one of the markets, but the pay wasn’t very good and my heart got impatient and led me to a brothel where I could make way better money and get us home sooner.
It took three months to save up the money to get home. I followed my heart to the airport in Ottawa and into a cab, and then to the park by my parents’ place. My heart led me to the swings and then the slide and then we dropped in on my parents.
A few nights later, when I saw my heart on the floor in the bedroom doorway, I went and scooped it up. My heart said what was I doing? It said it was good to visit home sometimes, but surely I didn’t want to be stuck there with my parents for the rest of my life.
I threw my heart in a dresser drawer and sat with my back against the drawer until morning. My heart banged on the drawer all night and begged me to let it out.
In the morning, I went out to the mall and bought a box for my heart, and mostly I keep the box locked. I moved back to Toronto and got a job and except for Mark and Francesco, I’ve gone back to my old life.
I even let my heart out now and then to keep it happy. I keep it on a leash when I do though, just in case, because I may not be able to live without my heart, but I can’t be wasting my time following it.
I loved Amelia. Amelia loved me too. Not for long. We loved each other for a couple of months and after that we decided it was better if we were just friends. Amelia wants to be in love with me again one day. I want to be in love with her again one day, but I won’t be. I’ll never love anyone again, even Amelia, no matter how much I want to.
Tom was a friend from high school. Tom was a dick, which was why he made it big on Wall Street.
Tom came by my place one night when Amelia and I were in love. He was in town because his dad was having a bypass. Me and Tom went out to dinner to a place in the market that played nothing but the Beatles the whole night.
They played Money Can’t Buy Me Love three times and every time it played Tom got this weird look on his face. When it was on the third time, Tom asked me if I’d found love. I said I had. I said it was early, but I was pretty sure I was in love with Amelia. Tom said Amelia from high school, and I said I’d just run into her at Planet Coffee and she looked the same as in high school except with better hair and nicer clothes.
Tom said he wasn’t in love, and I said maybe it was because he had money. Tom said it was that. He said it was amazing the naïveté of people who thought like that. He said he could understand the Beatles, because they were only musicians, but when he thought of the Rothschilds and the Rockefellers and the Carnegies and all the great capitalists of the last couple of hundred years, it amazed him that it hadn’t occurred to them. He said he wasn’t worth a hundredth of what Buffet or Gates was worth, but watch and see. He said they weren’t even interested. He said they hadn’t even thought about it, and that would make it easy. He said he hoped things worked out between me and Amelia, and he picked up the cheque.
Tom went back to New York and bought love. Not like you’d think. He didn’t pay someone to hang out with him and fuck him and tell him he was the cat’s ass. He bought love outright and then he licensed it back to people.
That’s why Amelia and I aren’t in love. We were, and then a lawyer showed up in an Armani suit with a Gucci briefcase and a cease and desist order on behalf of Tom. I told the lawyer to go fuck himself and two weeks later, Amelia and I were in a courtroom on one side, and Tom and a bunch of lawyers in Armani suits with Gucci briefcases were on the other.
One of Tom’s lawyers got up and told the judge how the plaintiff and the defendants were old friends, all three of us, and the plaintiff wasn’t seeking damages at this time, and that the plaintiff would be happy to provide us with a license like everyone else.
Amelia and I talked it over. We crunched the numbers and we just couldn’t afford to be in love. Amelia said we were close. She said a couple of years and a couple of raises and we’d be fine. We just had to stick it out until then. I said sure. I said I knew we’d get there and I wanted to get there, because I still really liked her, but the truth is I’ll be damned if I’m giving a red cent to Tom.
The bastard’s by far the richest man in the world now. My parents split up, because the cost of being in love was too much for their retirement savings to bear, and Amelia’s parents are going broke to keep their love alive, and it pisses me off, because Tom was already rich, and it’s one thing to charge Disney royalties for all the dreck that they put out, but to sap people’s savings just so they can love is really low.
And it’s not because Tom’s never known love. He told me once in grade twelve that he was in love with Amelia, and Amelia told me yesterday that she’s moving to New York to love Tom, because she can hear the hesitation in my voice when we talk about being in love again.
My mom was in a bar one night and this old drunk came up and hit on her. He told her he was an angel, “an archangel actually,” he said, and my mom, who wasn’t born yesterday, told him to prove it.
He was drunk and he was indiscreet and he said sure he’d prove it. “What if I could tell you something about yourself that I couldn’t know,” he said. My mom said she might believe him and he told her about how she’d had a daughter thirteen months before me who’d been stillborn.
My mom said that didn’t prove it. She said there weren’t a lot of people who knew about that, but there were enough it could get spread around. She said if the angel could make it so her daughter had lived, that would prove it.
The angel, who was actually an archangel, was drunk and he was indiscreet and he asked my mom if she’d go to bed with him if he could make it so her daughter’d lived. “If you can make that happen, I’ll sleep with you,” my mom said.
The archangel made it happen and my mom slept with him and now I don’t exist. It turns out that since my parents already had a kid, they didn’t feel a rush to do it again. My little sister still exists. She’s a year and a half older than she was before, but they decided close enough.
My older sister’s done well for herself. She has a PHD in physics and she holds a research chair at Cambridge and she’s not even forty. It’s rubbed off on my little sister too. Before, she was working at a restaurant downtown and going to school part-time. Now she’s a concert pianist. She’s performed all over Europe and the US and people say she’s a genius.
Nobody knows anything about what happened except my mom who’s pleased as punch because I made twelve bucks an hour doing demolitions and apparently I dragged everyone down with me.
The angel got in a lot of shit for the whole thing. Apparently angels aren’t supposed to do stuff like that. The angel used to be an archangel and now he’s not. Now he doesn’t even have wings. He genuinely seems to feel bad about what happened, though. He’s trying to make amends, but he’s a drunk.
He calls at four in the morning all the time to say how sorry he is. He’s always drunk when he does it. He says he just wasn’t thinking and my mom may be older, but she still does that to a guy.
I’m not really pissed at the angel anymore, or at the situation, just depressed. It seems the world really is better off without me. My family definitely is, and I can’t stop thinking about that. That’s why I’m always awake at four in the morning when the angel calls and it’s why I always pick up, even though I know he’s drunk.