Playing Stories — Chapter 16: Love is All Around

Chapter 16: Love is All Around
from a 1967 single by The Troggs
posted at 01:17, 28 February 2019

My mind’s made up about the way that I feel
There’s no beginning, there’ll be no end

Good evening, sir. May I take your coat, madam? Yes, it is indeed cold outside. This cold wind has been something of a bother this past week, and we have received complaints about the faulty heating inside here as well. But first let our staff here take your coat, and do please remove your shoes: our founders did not approve of random items strewn on the entryways. Are you comfortable, miss? My name, dear sir? It is of no consequence: we are here to serve our clients, and we do not believe imposing our own burdens upon those who require our services. Any more questions? No? Then welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to the Club of the Lonely Hearts.

Our founders? A Mr. Lennon and a Mr. Eliot. You may know them as artists in the world outside… oh, we were surprised that they knew each other too. It seems that they both understood two of our most human desires: to be a part of something, and to feel wanted in this world. I daresay that the club we represent has fulfilled the first of those longings, at least.

Here is our reception hall: I believe you are familiar with Mr. Richardson here? Why, madam, there is no need to feel surprised. Mr. Richardson himself is also a frequent client, well-endowed bachelor as he is. He has come and gone as his romantic fortunes waxes and wanes: he has just broken off with his fourth boyfriend, and now he is staying here to wile away the time. Oh sir, do not sneer at his dressing gown. You are allowed to come as you are. Besides, he was desperate and unsure of where to go.

A few ground rules before we enter, since you are new to our club. You must not converse with any of your fellow club members: your solitude is precisely why we allowed you to enter. The casual remark is allowed, but if you strike up conversation with any patron, then we must ask you to leave. Intimacy is anathema to us: of course we see it as an integral part of society (in fact, we fight on the same lines as the lonely) but this is not the place for it. Our environment is specifically made, madam, so that you can spend your time in perfect isolation.

Perhaps sir would like a moving picture, to watch all alone in one of our viewing rooms. We have a fine selection of films from across the ages. Casablanca, for instance: the sight of Ingrid Bergman and Humphrey Bogart is always guaranteed to remind you of how lacking in a companion you are. Or perhaps madam would like to bitch on about that condescending co-worker who gets all the praise, who routinely shows off her latest accessory in the office, or the latest bonus she has got, or the latest compliment her superior has expressed. Should you have any problems, feel free to sit down in a corner and weep — no, this is fine, we expect this. Unlike the people out there who have no time for you, our staff are always on hand to provide tissues, and to let you wallow in your own sadness.

Music, madam? Naturally we have music, and this violin conc — ah, I see. No, madam, we do not have anything with vocals. Unfortunately, we only allow background ambient music on the premises. Instrumentals, of course, or backing tracks. If you do seek entertainment, then perhaps the cinema or a good book would be a good choice: there are plenty in the bar. Why yes of course we have a bar, sir, much of our guests consume alcohol — it might be one of the most popular rooms in our club, and in times like these, the leadup to Christmas, it may be hard to find a seat here. But the rule remains: no talking to each other. Instead, you may engage our bartenders, who are willing to listen — listen, but not talk back. I am the only person allowed to talk to you, being the most junior recruit here. My lack of experience ensures distance: as soon as I assume familiarity with anyone here, icluding either of you, I lose my impartiality, and can no longer be of service.

I see that both madam and sir have not even looked at each other tonight. Perhaps you would like to spend some time away from one another? Ah, you are not acquainted? Well, let us keep it that way — one word to each other, and I’m afraid you go out the door. Of course, should you want to enjoy a more salacious form of entertainment, then the bedrooms upstairs are at your disposal. Do not look so scandalised, sir, we believe in sexual liberation, and guests here are allowed to have sex with each other. And after all, as one of our patrons, Monsieur Gainsbourg, once said, “l’amour physique est sans issue”. But there is one rule: all these liaisons must be carried on in complete silence, and after one of you has been satisfied they must leave the room immediately. As I have said, it is paramount that intimacy is not achieved here.

Well, I think that about tells you everything. No, madam, we are open all year round. Christmas just happens to be one of the most popular times; so is Valentine’s Day, and Thanksgiving is also popular with some of our American patrons. The only requirement for entry is loneliness. As long as you feel that your life is wretched and the solitude unbearable, as long as you feel that there is a void left unfilled in your tiny apartment, you are free to enter. You can mingle with anyone you like, observe the people here at the safe distance you desire, always close enough to touch, but you can never come into contact.

And with time, you will perhaps realize that loneliness is not merely a thing that comes and goes: it is an encircling maze, with familiar paths you choose to discover, time and time again. I speak hypothetically, but what if, during a moment at the bar, you found yourself irresistibly attracted to the young woman sitting next to you? Would you keep your lips sealed, as the rules bid you do… or would you break the silence, talk to her, try to understand the reason behind her presence? This is, of course, taboo here in the Club and you will be ejected immediately, into the cold darkness outside. But if this bridge out of your own blinding darkness were to be offered to you, would you board it and leave? I speak not of love, you understand… not everything personal must be romantically related, a fact that few of our patrons seem to remember.

I do not know the answer to that, sir, we always leave the decision to our clients. They are the persons who lack intimacy.

Is this place not for you, then? You two desire each other’s company? That is a shame, but I am sure that other places will provide an experience just as satisfying — even more so, if I may say so. I hope my service has not been a disappointment tonight… ah, thank you, madam, you are too kind. Merry Christmas, sir and madam, and have a good night.

As for you… we welcome anyone who has a lonely heart, and we await your return: yes, we already know you will come back, long before you yourself know it. You may say differently now, but sooner or later, so many of our patrons rejoin us, sick of their loneliness, but never able to join a conversation, never able to pucker up the courage to ask somebody out. Anyway, if you should ever require our services again, our doors are always open. After all, where else can you go?

You do your stuff and I’ll do mine. You know how much I hate false optimism. Thanks for trying though.

That panel’s become loose again. Will need fixing soon.


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