My wife and I walked at a quick pace along the drab corridor. We walked with the briskness of two people who would rather not be walking together, and who definitely did not want to be walking towards what they were walking to. Along the corridor were posters, each was coloured in black, grey, and red. Here and there was a touch of pale green, but it did nothing to improve
them. The message on each was quite clear - one read "You Are Not Special" another; "We Honestly Don't Care" and after that; "Your Monetary Value Is All We're Interested In". Some had smiley faces and images of cute animals, but like the green, they did little to lighten the mood. On and on the posters went, all the way down to the plain steel door, with an even plainer steel sign reading, 'Department of Truth'.
Gingerly I turned the handle. I opened the door to let my wife in, who characteristically ignored me and walked through without a word of thanks. I followed her into the room beyond. Almost amazingly, the room was even more dull than its corridor. Directly in front of us was a wide reception desk, behind which sat a stern looking teenager painting her
nails the official government sick-green. Upon reaching the receptionist I gave a polite cough. Like my wife, she ignored me. I coughed again, and then again. After a few moments the teenager looked up and said, 'Can you not read?' 'Why, yes', I replied, astonished at such rudeness. I continued, 'We are here to see Dr. Ottley.' She gave a humph in return, 'If
you can read, then why don't you do as the sign says.' And she pointed with an officially-coloured official hand to an official sign on the wall behind her. It read; 'Please Ring The Bell For Assistance'. My wife and I looked at each other, and then at the sign, and then at the bell that sat in front of the receptionist, who was looking at her nails. My wife rang the bell and the receptionist looked up smartly.
'Welcome to the Department of Truth, how may I help you?' My wife gave her best cold smile and said sweetly, 'Yes, dear, you may. We are here to see Dr. Ottley. For marriage,' she paused, 'Aid.' The receptionist returned her a smile even more glacial, set about digging out the necessary forms which she pointedly handed to me (which I immediately handed to
my wife). She said curtly, 'Certainly, just fill out those forms, sign to have your credits taken from your account and then follow the signs to the left.' After doing so, she returned to her nails, clearly she was done with us. So, we followed the signs to the left of her through an unmarked steel door and down yet another corridor. This corridor had no posters, there
was no need for further advertisement of the Department's services. Instead, on either side were doors. Each was wooden and painted in an unnatural colour, and above each one was a plaque that indicated what was inside. Above the first was 'LAWYERS', and then 'POLITICIANS' on the next. After that were 'PARENTS OF SUCCEEDING CHILDREN' and 'PARENTS OF FAILING
CHILDREN'. Interestingly, there was more wailing behind the former. Passing the fifth one, my wife gave a satisfied humph, 'At least we aren't going into that one.' It was the 'PEOPLE WHO THINK THEY ARE COMPLICATED' door. Finally we reached the 'UNHAPPILY MARRIED' door (after first passing the 'SUPPOSEDLY HAPPILY MARRIED DOOR'). After our
door was the 'FAILED ACTORS ' door, but no-one cared about that one. Knocking on our door, there was a sharp 'Come in!'. Opening it I muttered, 'Wonderful, another receptionist', and my wife told me to be quiet. Prepared this time, we ran the bell, handed over our forms, and sat in the seats to which we were indicated.
We sat stiffly amongst all sorts of couples, some young, some old, some somewhere in-between. Occasionally a new set came in, one couple entered with a pet parrot that kept squawking 'Oh, baby, yes. Alice!'. Eventually, our names were called and we were sent through to see the good doctor. We had paid an awful lot of credits to see Ottley. One of
our friends had gushed that she was the best in the business. Apparently, Ottley had made her and her husband realise that they not only mildly disliked each other but wholly despised their spouse. We were ushered in by another office worker and seated in front of a plump, merry-looking woman in what seemed to be a handmade pink cardigan. I wasn't sure if the lumps in it
were part of her or the design. She smiled at us warmly in turn and began, 'Mr and Mrs Bourke -' 'I prefer my maiden name, Slothe.' Interrupted my wife. Dr. Ottley smiled again, made a brief mark in her notebook, and started again, 'Mr Bourke and Ms Slothe, welcome. I am so glad you have decided to see
me because I am paid an awful lot to see you. Now, what would you like to discuss in our allotted, ' she checked her watch, 'seven minutes and thirty-four, no, thirty-two seconds?' She looked at us expectantly. Feeling insecure and obliged to say something I said, 'Help.' At the same time, my wife said, 'Divorce.' Unfortunately for me, she said 'divorce' louder
and more firmly than I said 'help', and it was immediately decided that separation was the next course of action. Numbly, I filled out my half of the divorce form, and the newly legal Miss Slothe filled out hers. As she was completing the child and pets section, she turned to me and said, 'By the way, I'm keeping the dog.' 'But you can't do that!' I cried,
'Omelette is my dog, I've had him since I was a boy.' Miss Slothe reflected on this for a moment, and replied, 'Yes but he likes me more.' 'He does not.' I objected, nearly rising from my chair. 'I am afraid he does,' said my now ex partener, 'I went to the vets a week ago and had him truth-tested over who he
prefers. It's me.' She looked smugger than the day I told her I'd been fired from my job, which I suppose should have sent warning bells ringing. 'But, but, how?' I stammered, he was my dog, how he could he possibly prefer this cold-hearted, cruel, unforgiving ex-love of my life? Apparently, the answer was a simple one, Omelette was a dog.
'I fed him steak when you were out.' That seemed to settle the matter, and there was no arguing with the vet's truth-test. Upon seeing my face the doctor tried to comfort me, 'I wouldn't worry, Mr. Bourke. Two hundred and forty-seven percent of marriages end this way, it's all very acceptable.'
'How can two hundred and forty-seven percent of marriages possibly collapse?' I asked in astonishment. 'There's only one hundred percent of married couples, well, married.' Dr. Outlet nodded good-naturedly, 'I suppose so, but we like to take extra precautions with these sorts of things. It's like sandwiches. You see?' I did not see, but my wife,
apologies, ex-wife was looking at her watch, indicating that a debate on nuptial semantics was not required. And I was still terrified of her, so, I nodded. 'No you don't understand, Mr Bourke, and your systematic lying is why I am also giving all ownership of your property and shared credit account to Ms Slothe - '
Now as my ex-wife, my ex-wife interrupted, 'Miss Slothe, please, I for one wish to be completely transparent about my marital status.' She and the doctor shared a particularly sickeningly sweet smile. 'Of course, Miss Slothe.' said the doctor, motioning for us to leave. Holding open a door that we had not come in from, she continued, 'But if you do continue to lie, please do
visit one of my colleagues. They will be happy to provide you with a truth serum. Tell them I referred you, if not I will have to report you to our safe-guarding team, good-day." And with that, our seven minutes and thirty-four, no, thirty-two seconds were up, and we walked out of the Department of Truth. Miss Slothe turned to me one last time, 'Oh, Alex, could I have
your house keys, please.' It was not a request, 'So I don't have to change the locks.'