Every Monday the green folders came, and every Monday the green folders went. Sherlock was aware of the pile's shifting height on the corner of Mummy’s otherwise immaculate desk, but he never touched them. He never touched them, and he never wanted to hear about them.
Mummy, of course, had other ideas. So did Daddy and his older brother Mycroft, but they were easier to ignore than Mummy.
Sherlock hadn’t touched them since the very first ones had arrived, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t curious, because of course he was curious. He knew they were stuffed with sheets of paper, information typed up neat as a pin, and he knew there were photographs, usually black and white headshots, sometimes colour candids. He knew there was one handwritten personal note, as well, and a small card with several check boxes. He’d tried once to check one of those boxes, but even though he had checked the box that said “NO INTEREST,” it had signalled to Mummy that Sherlock was interested in the process, so now he left it all to her.
He would generally wait an hour or two after the courier came so that Mummy would have a chance to go through them herself, and then he’d sneak into the library under the pretence of picking out or returning a book to one of the dozens of built-in shelves, and he’d peek. That’s all he would do. Peek.
With one glance Sherlock would know if the stack was growing or shrinking, because every Monday the courier would deliver more green folders, but he would also take some away with him. Sherlock had yet to figure out how to intercept the courier and give him all the folders, but he supposed it didn’t really matter. The green folders would keep coming. They’d keep coming until Sherlock picked one.
This was why Sherlock often found himself seated at luncheon with a small pile of folders just to the left of his plate. He might never touch them, but that didn’t keep Mummy from talking about them. Over grilled asparagus and seared tuna steaks, Mummy would call out names.
“Oliver Greenwald, have you heard of him, Sherlock? No? How about Thomas Putternan? His father was at Oxford with Daddy. No? Sheldon Longchamp? Surely you’ve heard of him? Well then, I expect you to look at these and let me know by tomorrow teatime to which I should extend an invitation.”
But Sherlock never would.
Sherlock was never going to until he absolutely had to, but as of yet the Government hadn’t made The Programme obligatory. Everyone knew they might, that it was probably a matter of time and some low-level analysis done by some half-witted committee before they moved forward. Would it at some point become law? It could.
It had started in the years after Brexit when the United Kingdom had all but floated down the English Channel into some morass of unknown political and economic backwater. British expats had come flooding home looking for the jobs left by the immigrants who were expected to leave but never actually did, because why would they? England was their home just as much as anyone else’s.
And then the United States of America had gone to hell in a Trump-held handbasket, and that sealed the deal. The expats from the USA came home in the thousands, and Theresa May had grabbed at the chance to keep them there. She could only produce so many jobs, only build so many housing developments, but if she could keep the British married to each other, perhaps she could keep them, and their British offspring, on British soil. And wasn’t that the whole point? To give the United Kingdom back to the British?
Families who participated were matched by tiers, and those tiers were determined by the applicant's score on an inventory filled out by themselves and their parents. Education, career, income, ancestry, property and other assets, number of children; all of this was put into a computer where it was processed and mangled by an algorithm which then spit out a tier. Sherlock, of course, was in the highest tier, as were the people who came sniffing around his door.
Successful matches resulted in enormous tax cuts for the family, and in some cases, promises of tax breaks for that family’s generations to come. Other benefits could be bestowed at the agencies discretion. Sherlock had heard of property being granted, significant discounts on homes, and in one case, the as of yet unconceived offspring of a couple going to the top of the waiting list at Broadhurst, Knightsbridge, and other high-demand, posh nursery schools.
Sherlock had read the news as it trickled out to the public, first scoffing, then incredulous. No government should serve as a matchmaking agency, not for any purpose whatsoever, and if that’s what was going to happen, he would stay well away. He hadn’t, however, anticipated his mother’s eagerness to participate. She had all but jumped at the chance to marry off her eccentric younger son, registering Sherlock immediately with their local Oxfordshire County agency and filling out all the necessary paperwork for him when he refused to do so.
It could have been worse. In the beginning, when the folders first started arriving after his 18th birthday, they were green and blue. That had been almost laughable, but to laugh would have shown amusement, and there was nothing amusing about the blue folders. It had only taken a quiet word between always-interfering Mycroft and Mummy for the blue folders, and names such as Missy Kennedy, Cookie Clement, and Glinda Morganthaler to disappear altogether. Sherlock thought it might halve the number of folders that arrived each week, but Mummy simply filled in the gap with even more green folders.
Sherlock had even considered calling The Agency from which the folders came himself to tell them that he was no longer available, but he knew that his word would mean nothing over those of his mother and that The Agency would know he was lying anyway, because if The Agency didn’t have the information, the information didn’t exist. That, at least, was the impression he'd gleaned from the thick pamphlet that had come with the first batch of folders, over two years ago now.
The British Isles Guide for Society Arranged Marriages
Chapter Four: Proper Reporting of an Arrangement
Section 3, Article iii: Until such time as both families report the agreement of an arrangement to The Agency through certified post or face-to-face reporting to a Representative at the Office of The Agency, neither candidate shall be removed from the Roster.
Sherlock had considered what was referred to as ‘timing out,’ as well, but the BIG-SAM, as it was referred to, was very clear about his likelihood of doing so.
Chapter One: Eligibility
Section 2, Article i: Candidates may opt out of the Roster on or after their 21st birthday, but only if at least one of the Candidate’s parents also agree to the removal. This is highly unrecommended.
Mummy would never change her mind, and that meant Daddy would never be allowed to change his. At age twenty and three months, Sherlock had nine months to try to win Daddy over, but his efforts were half-hearted given the likelihood of success.
So, the folders kept coming, and Sherlock kept not looking at them, because what was the point in meeting someone who would ultimately reject him for being himself in the first place? Mummy, however, did look at them, and if Sherlock didn’t inform her as to which candidates he’d be willing to meet, Mummy would pick them herself. Sherlock couldn’t always escape the meetings, but he could make himself as unappealing as humanly possible, and so he did. Experiments with sulphurous acid and pig intestines rendered his clothing unacceptable; refusing to shower or brush his nest of curls was another no-no; making his violin screech and scream was definitely off-putting; being twenty-five minutes late didn’t impress people, and neither did his tendency to deduce the less savoury aspects of one’s personality within ten seconds of meeting someone.
Eventually, Mummy caught on and started to schedule appointments without telling Sherlock. Then, she would wait for the candidate outside the front door of the manor and when the unlucky fool arrived, Sherlock would be called down for some errand or another. She fooled him twice that way, but there was nothing she could do about his boorish behaviour, and after that Sherlock simply stopped showing up when she rang for him.
And so it went. Sherlock scanned the size of the pile of folders to assess the potential influx of candidates but refused to review them himself. He escaped most encounters by the skin of his teeth and riled Mummy to epic heights of irritation.
He wondered then, on a fine spring day in April, what it meant when he passed the library, poked his head in, and saw only one green folder on the lower left corner of Mummy’s immaculate desk. Sherlock wondered a lot of things. He wondered why he’d never heard the doorbell, and who let the guest in, and where Mummy had gone. He wondered how the man had known where to go, and why he smelled so good, and why Sherlock lost the ability to speak when the man spoke.
After all, he’d only said five words.
“Sherlock Holmes? I’m John Watson.”