The Lonely Hearts Division

5 min
Image of Fall 2020
Image of Short Fiction
Julia walked into The Paper Hound Bookshop. Julia loved books and every Saturday would spend the day discovering a new bookstore. She instantly fell in love with the store, she admired the floor to ceiling shelves with hundreds of books to discover. The shop was a quaint store with new, used, and rare books which was just what Julia wanted.
She took out her list of books she was searching for. Many of the books on her list she knew she was likely to find, but a vintage copy of The Wizard of Oz had been on her list for years. While it was not necessarily hard to find, she was looking for a specific copy. One that looked just like the one her grandmother had read to her when she was younger. Julia had lost hope that she would find it, but every Saturday she had a small amount of optimism.
Julia went straight to the front counter as she usually did and approached the clerk with her list. She saw a young man in his early thirties turn around to the front counter. He was tall, dark, and handsome. The kind of man you would see in any romantic comedy. Julia’s heart began to flutter. She had never been lucky with love. Ever since she broke up with Sam years ago Julia had been on three dates, all disastrous. She instantly looked at his ring finger and saw that there was no ring. Julia always did this. There was no point wasting anytime at her age fantasizing about a man who was married.
Julia wanted a movie romance. She had very high standards, but she often thought to herself, “why should I settle?” Julia was smitten with this man. As he helped her find the books on her list, she held her breath when he took her to the rare section to show her his copy of The Wizard of Oz.
“I have one edition, it’s my favorite book” he said.
As he handed Julia the book her heart began to beat faster and faster. It was the book she had been looking for. The book itself was not especially spectacular. The book was a mossy green colour with ‘The Wizard of Oz’ in the center of the cover, to Julia, it was beautiful.
“I’ll take it.” Said Julia and she followed him to the counter.
As she was paying, she introduced herself. The man was named Patrick and was arguably a bigger book lover than Julia. She seemed so comfortable around Patrick that she did not want to leave without asking him out. She had never asked anyone out before, but in that moment, she knew that if she wanted to see her perfect man again, she would have to.
“I know this might sound forward, but would you like to have dinner together sometime?” She cringed at herself and yet she held her breath as she waited for his response.
“That would be wonderful.” Replied Patrick as he smiled at her. They exchanged phone numbers and Julia left the store.
A week after meeting the man of her dreams Julia was giddy. For their first date he took her to a wonderful dinner, followed by a play. As the weeks went by her and Patrick’s relationship blossomed as they went from dating, to boyfriend and girlfriend, to saying ‘I love you’. Five months after they met at his bookstore they moved in together and started to talk about the future.
Julia was close to her family but was always reluctant to bring home a boy. Her older brother, Greg, was overprotective and her parents would always embarrass her. She knew Patrick would be a huge hit with her family and finally had the opportunity to show him off. It was Greg’s 40th birthday BBQ that weekend and she knew this was the perfect opportunity to introduce him to the family.
The only other boyfriend of Julia’s that had met her family was Sam. This was because he was best friends with Greg since university. Julia had not seen Sam since the breakup, which did not end well. Julia had been the one to end things. It took a long time before Julia stopped receiving late night calls from Sam asking them to get back together. She did not know how he would react to seeing her with her new boyfriend.
As Julia expected Patrick was a hit with her family. She loved how Patrick could carry a genuine conversation with anyone he talked to. She could see herself spending the rest of her life with him. Sam had not made an appearance at the party, Greg told her he was still single and not doing great. He had been drinking a lot which was one of the reasons she broke up with Sam. He was an angry drunk and had no ambition.
Everyone sat outside enjoying themselves. Julia was talking to her mother when she heard Patrick shout for everyone’s attention. Butterflies started fluttering in her stomach. Was he purposing? She told herself not to get her hopes up. While these thoughts came running in her mind she saw Patrick get down on one knee with the most beautiful ring she had ever seen. Before he could even finish his sentence, she screamed “Yes!”
Julia had never been so happy in her life. She hugged and kissed Patrick. Then her happiness vanished. She heard a voice she had not heard in years shout:
“For fuck’s sake!”
She looked to her left and saw Sam come in through the back gate. He had clearly been drinking.
“Sam don’t do this.” Said Greg.
Sam pushed past Greg and walked towards Patrick.
It all happened so fast for Julia. She watched Sam yell at Patrick, accusing him of stealing his woman. She watched Patrick trying to deescalate the situation. Sam started getting angrier and as she watched him throw his beer bottle to the ground, she missed the fist that he aimed at Patrick. She missed Patrick duck and missed the fist hitting her jaw, knocking her out.
Julia awoke in a drab colorless hospital room with a man in his 50’s looking over her.
“Welcome back Julia. My name is Dr. Frazer. You signed up for our simulation study which has now ended. We will give you some time to get your bearings before Dr. Powell discusses your experiences.”
“Is Patrick alright?” Asked Julia. She was confused and groggy.
“Julia, Patrick isn’t real. He was a figment of your imagination. Months ago, you signed up to be one of the first to trial our new simulation technology which is a life like experience where you get exactly what you wanted.”
Julia sat in silence as Dr. Frazer left the room. Patrick seemed so real. He had to be. He was everything Julia had wanted in her life. She had been so lonely before. Julia quickly grabbed her things and snuck out of the doctor’s office.
Julia took the bus to The Paper Hound Shop. She would get there, and Patrick would hold her in her arms and tell her it was all a bad dream. She walked into the shop and it looked the same as it had in the simulation. She headed straight for the counter and saw exactly who she was hoping to see, Patrick. He looked different than he did in the simulation. His face was clean shaven, and he dressed differently. Julia grabbed a book off the shelf and went to buy it.
“Hello, did you find everything okay?” Asked Patrick. He did not know her. Her heart sank when she saw the wedding ring. This was real. Not her perfect world. In the real world he did not love her. He loved someone else. Julia thanked the stranger and walked out the store.
Julia did not know what to do. She did not want to live in this world. One where Patrick loved someone else. One where she was alone. Before she could think clearly, she found herself back at the doctor’s office. In her room again. No one had noticed she was gone. She turned on the machine and changed the switch that said ‘Temporary’ to ‘Permanent.’ Julia heard the rumble of the machine and then was finally at peace.

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