When another pedestrian stumbled into Carmen, she immediately exclaimed, “Do mermaids get hiccups?”
“Ee, by goom, thart’s summat,” the stranger replied.
They looked at each other for a moment, and both shook their heads.
“Sorry I bumped into you,” the stranger said.
“No problem.” And they both proceeded on their separate ways.
The words on the inside of Carmen’s right wrist, the first words her soulmate would ever say to her, were “My postilion has been struck by lightning.” All of her life she had been waiting to hear those words. Presumably her destined one was waiting to be asked if mermaids got hiccups.
She had checked the local Registry, of course, gone to the filing cabinet labelled Mus-My and not found her soulmate’s first words to her. And surely her soulmate would have looked in the Do-Dot drawer for her if they lived in this city, but no one had yet knocked upon her door and said, “My postilion has been struck by lightning,” when she answered. And so until now, she had resigned herself to wait until she had the chance to travel. Clearly her soulmate did not live in her hometown.
Carmen continued down the sidewalk. As she did, a little girl, perhaps four years old, waved at her. “Hello!” the child said, too young to have learned to refrain from speaking when it wasn’t necessary. Carmen nodded and smiled, remaining silent as she continued on her way.
The world would be such a noisy place if soulmarks didn’t give incentive to choosing one’s words carefully.
“Honey, remember what I told you?” her mother said quickly as Carmen passed. “‘Hello’ should never be the first thing you say to a new person!”
“Okay,” the child said cheerfully.
“Neither should ‘okay’!” her mother admonished.
Carmen shook her head with a chuckle. It was difficult when people met their soulmates in early childhood, before they had learned to watch their words. Things like “yes” or “look out” were inscribed upon their arms and they had to just hope that their counterpart had a more exotic phrase on theirs. The word on her mother’s arm was a simple “Yes.” Thankfully, her grandparents had only had to worry over that until their child reached the age of three and asked the little boy next door, “Do you want to eat these roses?” And the doctor had assured his parents that roses were not toxic to humans shortly after the delivery. So all was well.
In school, children were taught to construct a phrase no one would ever have any reasonable occasion to say and utter it upon meeting any stranger. Teachers would check the results against the local Registry in case a phrase was already reserved and the child had to revise theirs. There had been a local incident a couple of decades back where two different people had chosen “Can pigs jump?” as their phrase and an awkward misunderstanding had resulted. The movie subsequently made about it was very funny, but it hadn’t seemed funny to the participants at the time.
(“Tektites, the natural glass formed by meteorite impacts, were once known as ’teardrops from the moon’. Will that be one ticket or two?” the young lady behind the ticket counter had said to Carmen. Carmen had been disapppointed; the girl was cute.)
Carmen’s brother Frederick had a phrase in French on his arm, and so he had begun studying the language as soon as he started school and moved to France after college. In Carmen’s opinion, there was still too much margin for error. Her future sister-in-law might be in Canada, or Haiti, or Switzerland, or two dozen other countries.
She might even have been in one of Freddie’s French classes in elementary school, but at least that hadn’t happened.
But thanks to new technology, such misunderstandings might soon be a thing of the past. People would be able to create soulmate phrases that were completely unique in all the world. And people would be able to find their soulmates easier than ever before.
Carmen was going to be an early adopter, but she believed that soon everyone in the world would register their soulmate phrase on one of these new-fangled “computers”. And then soulmates would be able to find each other no matter where they were in the world. They could meet while still children, recite their phrases at each other, and then get on with their lives untroubled until they were grown up and ready to wed.
Carmen turned to enter the Registry of Soulmarks and approached the front desk.
“Do mermaids get hiccups?” Carmen asked.
“I like carraway seeds on my steak,” the receptionist replied. They both shook their heads and the young woman went on, “Are you here to register on the computer?”
“Yes,” Carmen answered, relaxing as one always did after those first phrases were recited.
“Please fill out this form and then put it onto this stack.” The receptionist gestured to a basket. The stack of forms wasn’t very high. “Our technicians will enter it as soon as possible. It shouldn’t take more than a couple of days. Make sure your contact information is correct in case we find your match.”
“Thanks,” Carmen said, taking the clipboard and choosing a chair. The form was simple. Name, address, phone, her phrase, her soulmate’s phrase.
On her way out, a man entering the building informed her that armadillos were the only animals besides humans which could get leprosy.