Halleth and Me
by J. G. P. MacAdam
I can recall a time and a place — and a self — that was before I ordered Halleth. Like many young people of my generation, I believed in finding one’s true love, in finding that perfect match; indeed, I believed that everybody had one. It was such an embarrassment having to go out alone to eat, or to the movies, or to the park or anywhere, for that matter, in this modern, connected world of ours. And the Excelsior dating app promised nothing less than just that: the perfect match from any place, any time.
I remember the hot, tingling sensation that traveled over my entire body after I clicked the ORDER button and then sat back in my chair and massaged my eyes. I had just spent hours completing Excelsior’s personality tests. All their silly little puzzle games. All that data — of my mind, body and soul — feeding into their unique algorithm, which calculated and identified one’s soulmate.
I immediately began daydreaming about just who she was going to be. Perhaps a duchess from the eighteenth century? Or a young woman from ancient China? Or an actress from the not-too-distant future? Most people’s orders landed them a soulmate from about the same time and place as themselves. Statistically, I was likely to receive a soulmate within my age-range and ethnicity, and within my own historical period. So what — in all probability — could go wrong?
“Everything,” said my older stepsister, Sally.
“You’re screwed,” seconded Andrew, her 46-year old cockatoo, perched on her shoulder.
“Have you really gotten as desperate as that?” She fed Andrew a grape from her plate.
“Thank you,” he said.
“I mean, what if... well, you hear all sorts of stories.”
“But nothing else has worked, Sally. I’ve tried all of the other sites promising a soulmate here, in this now, but—”
“But you really think Excelsior’s promises will deliver any better?” said Sally. “Why, look at Andrew and me...” His feather crest lifted. “I found my soulmate just around the corner at the pet store.”
Andrew put his beak to her cheek and made a kissy-noise.
“Yes, you’re my sweetums, aren’t you?” Kiss. Kiss. Sally turned back to me. “Besides, Hagley, the cost—”
Andrew whistled. “Hide my credit card.”
“Yes...” I sighed, folding my hands, nodding towards Andrew. “I’ll be lucky to pay it off by the time I’m his age.”
Andrew flared his crest feathers and barked at me doglike until I, too, fed him a grape.
True, Andrew was a companion to Sally. And I had Squirms, my 12-year old orange tabby, but sue me: I wanted someone human to spend my life with!
Just then, I received an automated Excelsior email: “Your soulmate is on their way! They have chosen to join you in your spacetime. Be sure to purchase and download the following acclimation brochures.”
Excelsior, of course, gave me no further details, so I did what I could to ease my anxiety until my order arrived: I bought stuff. I bought a new suit, a bed for the spare room, those acclimation brochures, and — the day of delivery — a magnificent bouquet from a florist conveniently located right next door to Excelsior’s local delivery office.
Excelsior’s office had a transporter inside, at the time, and outside had formed a long line of other embarrassed-to-be-single individuals all holding their own bouquets. When my turn came, I stepped inside and right up to the transporter, beaming a grin and awaiting that flash of light which meant my soulmate had arrived.
There was a 24/7 wedding chapel just around the corner with Elvis — the real Elvis — performing the ordination. But perhaps she would like to get something to eat first? Or a bath? Or who knew what? I was ready for anything but confident she would be the one, that in but a moment I would meet the woman of my dreams.
The arc-flash of light filled the room and glazed over the technician’s goggles. The transporter quieted down — idling off with a final electric shrill — and a figure appeared out of the blue haze. The technician moved forward and took her hand. She was holding something in her other hand. He led her forward carefully since people brought from another spacetime are always quite disoriented at first.
After Excelsior determines your one and only match, they shoot out a drone capsule at near the speed of light. It’s all very wonky, but they explain that time is space and space is time. Therefore the farther you go, the faster you go, the more time you cross. Big physics ideas, I know, but just imagine the intergalactic forces you’d be put under upon your return in that capsule, then think of just how awful a case of jet-lag you’d have the next day.
In any case, her figure came forward out of the blue haze...
Something had gone wrong.
This couldn’t be her. This wasn’t even a her! It was a man, bearded, young like me, covered in blood and holding what I could only imagine was some sort of giant tusk.
“S-so-something must be wrong,” I said to the technician.
The tech only smirked. Then he spoke in a most professional tone: “Would you like to take advantage of our relationship counseling services, Mr. Shin? We can offer them to you at a rebate.”
“I... This can’t be my soulmate!” I threw the bouquet down and had half a mind to stampede out of there. I shouted that they needed to send that blood-covered man in nothing but animal skins back where he came from.
“I understand, Mr. Shin, but the probability of Excelsior making an error is three million to one. A statistical impossibility.”
I could not for the life of me find any words. Who was this thing they had brought to me across all time and space? I wanted my money back.
“Upon ordering your soulmate, Mr. Shin, you agreed to a no-refund policy as well as to accepting the legal guardianship of your soulmate. You are responsible for... er, him.”
My heart hammered up into my throat. My ‘soulmate’ was looking around in a daze. They said it took about 24 hours for transported people to become acclimated, mind and body, to this new time-space. But culturally, physically, emotionally adjusting, that was up to me. I had a whole anti-anxiety regimen — recommended through Excelsior’s brochures — worked out, but that was for my future lover, not this mistake!
“I can’t believe this!” I shouted, and continued shouting more or less the same thing for, oh, about the next hour or so. But after speaking to the manager and the counselor and the lawyer, I learned the futility of complaining to the conglomerate of Excelsior. They showed me the contract, right out of the spacetime pod, where my ‘soulmate’ had signed in greasy, bloody handprint on the line marked next to the box: Meet my soulmate in their spacetime. I sighed, figured it could’ve been worse. Suppose I had opted to meet him in his spacetime? I took this obviously Neolithic man by his cleaned-up hand, and we walked together out of the Excelsior office and into the world.
The other customers, having heard my shouting, now stood gawping at what I was walking out with. I then heard them, over my shoulder, requesting cancellations of their own orders...
A week later I was still shouting into my phone demanding someone at Excelsior fix this but they all, kindly, professionally, informed me that the caveman living in my spare bedroom with the kitty litter box was indeed my one and only soulmate.
I believe I sank into a thick depression during that time.
I was forced to assume the role of legal caretaker of a man who had no inkling whatsoever of our modern world. Yes, it was a difficult time. Sally laughed. Andrew barked. Only Squirms seemed pleased, because he had another warm body to lie on at night. But that left me cold and in the dark, in my own room, feeling even more alone than ever before.
Halleth — at least that was the one sound he kept referring to himself as — didn’t speak English, of course but, what was worse, he barely even spoke his own language. He was surprisingly calm when the intergalactic jet-lag wore off. I didn’t have to use the anti-anxiety regimen at all. But he was hungry, and our food upset his stomach. So I had to retrieve raw steaks from the grocery store for him, like feeding time at the zoo.
I had to show him how to use the toilet and the shower, as well as the language teacher on the computer. He was, of course, dumbfounded by all of this, at first, but it was no less than a miracle how quickly he picked things up.
We settled into a routine, Halleth and me. I went to work during the day while he stayed home and learned English. I caught him, one night, sitting in a pair of my jammies, staring at me studiously while I prepared dinner on the stove. Then, when I came home the following evening, I found him cooking slivers of chicken in olive oil. Astonishing! I didn’t even have to show him. He had learned by watching me.
A white, straight-toothed grin spread across his shaved, dimpled cheeks and he invited me to try some. It was good, covered in curry which he had found in the pantry; showing me the bottle and sniffing the brown spice through his dexterous fingers in delight.
Then it hit me: When did I buy chicken?
Halleth took me by the hand and showed me. In the backyard, I found a basket upside-down with a stick and a tether and some birdseed scattered about. Halleth reached his hands under the basket-trap and pulled out a pigeon.
“Ingenious,” I said, tonguing a piece out from between my teeth. “Is this legal?”
I didn’t know and still don’t, but that’s how Halleth and me came to have pigeon on a regular basis.
There were other surprises like that in the ensuing weeks. But, all in all, we settled into a routine. Halleth, once learning to speak English, was full of questions, and though I was often frustrated with many of his more inane ponderings, we yet managed a mutual relationship: he’d help with the chores during the week and I’d take him out somewhere on the weekends.
At some indefinable point in time, I realized I was not who I was before. I was not lonely anymore, that was for sure. But more than that. I realized that I was becoming a new me. A better me. Halleth and me became like roommates, then friends. In some small way, I even became grateful for Halleth. And that gratitude opened the door to other emotions I didn’t even know I had.
I caught him looking at me while we were gardening one day. He had a knack for breeding plants; something he inevitably learned in his yabba-dabba-doo days. He’d insisted on starting a garden and I, of course, had complained. “A garden? Oh good, one more chore in an already busy week.” Halleth subsequently ignored me and planted the garden anyway. We were working in it, that day, when I caught him looking at me in that strange, mesmerizing way of his.
He didn’t stop looking at me when I noticed him. We held each other’s gaze and I began noticing the sheen of sun across his long brown-black hair. The glint of light in his brown eyes.
I caught myself then.
What was I thinking? Impossible. Absolutely. Statistically. Galactically impossible.
Well, I don’t need to tell you that what is impossible is only minutely probable, and then can become an unbelievable certainty, which can then transform into: How could it have been any other way?
Halleth and I have been married now for twenty-five years. And I thought, in commemoration, that I’d pen this little story for you all to read. We have two children, adopted, and Halleth works down in the community garden. His accent is still quite thick but I’d say, all in all, he’s a miracle himself in how well he’s adjusted. What more, in celebration of our twenty-fifth anniversary, I booked a vacation for the both of us: a honeymoon cruise through spacetime-three eras in three weeks! An offer exclusive to Excelsior clients, of course.
However when I showed Halleth the itinerary, he was more than a little taken aback. “No, not there, not then,” he told me.
“But it’s where you’re from,” I insisted. “I want to know about your life — about who you were — before.”
Then I remembered a time and a place — and a self — that was before I ordered Halleth, and I, too, could see why Halleth would not want to go back to where, when-who-he was.
Now that we’re a little older, and a little wiser on one another’s soft points, we decided to tour just the recommended spots: Ancient Egypt, where Halleth got nearly entombed alongside Ramses II; Victorian England, and 1980’s America, where we attended a live Culture Club concert for some reason I can’t understand anymore.
Though, I think as a result of our trip, Halleth will now tell me — sometimes, late at night, after we’ve tucked the kids into bed — about his life in his past... in our past... and let me tell you, it’s no life for you or me. It’s sheer survival.
I will end this now and add only that neither you nor I, nor any modern humans, should ever consider any notions of noble savagery whatsoever. The only notion we should consider, I think, is: we’re all human. No matter the time, no matter the place — no matter whether we go in search of ourselves, or in hope of another — we’re all human.
Copyright © 2019 by J. G. P. MacAdam