Imagine if love was illegal?

Alex Turner-Cohen’s ‘Imagine If’ column looks at implications for the future, and radical experiments from the past. Image: UTSoC Creative

Alex Turner-Cohen’s ‘Imagine If’ column looks at implications for the future, and radical experiments from the past. Image: UTSoC Creative

In a world where love is a crime, what happens when you catch the feels? Alex Turner-Cohen explores vulnerability and betrayal in the first instalment of her ‘Imagine If’ column. 

The feelings associated with romantic love make one vulnerable and more susceptible to the terrible phenomenon known as ‘heartbreak.’ As such, falling in love is hereby outlawed for the protection of all.” — The Romantic Protection Act (2048) Section 66. 

Sabina and I would laugh about it. “Someone in the Authority must have had a really bad breakup,” she’d say behind closed doors. But then every morning I’d put on my newly-ironed uniform, lace up my military-grade boots, and pull my Kevlar vest over my head. All jokes about the Authority — society’s leadership cabinet — would be cast aside. 

It wasn’t my job to question the Authority. As an officer of ARTEMIS, I just had to arrest those who did. 

That’s what I was doing right now. Sirens flashing, alarm blaring, we raced through the streets in our paddy-wagon to attend a Code Red — a Grade 4 love infringement. Technically this wasn’t an emergency but my colleague Brody liked speeding. I sat in the passenger seat, mentally braking, my foot tapping mid-air every time I thought a crash was imminent. Brody loved the attention — it gave him an ego boost, a power trip. He smiled sharkishly as we drove. 

But I wasn’t smiling. Not today. Doubt pulled the edges of my mouth into a frown. Uncertainty. Hesitation. This had never happened before. I’d always known what I was meant to do: follow orders, get promoted, trust the system. 

“Oi,” Brody said, winding down his window and making obscene gestures at the car in front. “Get out of the way. We’re ARTEMIS. Don’t give me an excuse to arrest you.”

The car pulled over pretty soon after. 

ARTEMIS was a law enforcement agency, but we specialised in only one crime — romantic love. We secretly monitored couples considered in the danger zone through informants and surveillance equipment, acted on anonymous tips and confiscated contraband (such as romance novels, movies and songs). Perpetrators were sent to rehabilitation centres. 

Not all love was outlawed. Citizens were still permitted to love siblings, parents and children. They could have kids, as long as the Authority chose their reproductive partner (most people were only children as a result). Everyone could still have sex. There was a difference between love and lust. But we could not, under any circumstances, fall in love. 

The agency had been named after Artemis, the Greek virgin goddess who was said to hunt down those who were in love. 

But society had other names for us. Love police, buzz kills, anti-Cupids, forever-virgins. I laughed about it with Sabina (especially about the virgin bit.) The sayings didn’t bother me. I knew I was doing a vital service for society. Until now. 

The van swerved dangerously as Brody took a bite of his breakfast burger, sitting in a paper bag in his crotch. A bit of ketchup dribbled down his chin onto his black ARTEMIS uniform.

“Brody, you’ve stained your shirt. Better clean that up, it’s against protocol.” 

“We can’t all be as neat as you, Christoph,” he grumbled. 

Brody and I couldn’t be more different. He had a beer gut whereas I looked like a gangly school boy in my uniform (Sabina assured me I looked lean rather than scrawny). Brody’s black hair was long and greasy. My blonde hair was closely cropped in a military buzzcut. 

“So I was thinking,” Brody said. “We send these crims to rehabilitation centres. But what do they actually do there?”

“I heard all emotions are drilled out of them.”

“But they’ll keep reoffending, won’t they? Everyone knows that criminals never really escape their immoral past. So I reckon we ought to lock up these love birds and throw away the key.”

I snorted. Brody was so unlovable, I realised, that he couldn’t understand. “These people aren’t serial offenders, you know. People generally only fall in love once.” I added quickly: “at least, that’s what I’ve heard.”

The vehicle reeked of Brody’s burger patty so I wound down my window. Wind ruffled my hair and my eyes watered. I didn’t know if that was from the wind or something else. 

We drove the rest of the way in silence. Once we reached the address, Brody simply stopped the van in the middle of the road. He flashed his badge as a shopkeeper came over to protest. 

The perpetrator lived on the tenth floor of an apartment block. There was no lift (much to Brody’s annoyance) so we walked up the concrete steps. Our footsteps were rhythmic. An executioner’s drum. 

I rapped on the door and opened my mouth to say the usual spiel. But no sound emerged. 

Brody pushed me aside. “What’s gotten into you?” Turning toward the door, he shouted: “ARTEMIS. Open up. We have reason to believe that you’ve broken the Romantic Protection Act.” Glancing down at our case file, he added: “Sabina White, you’re under arrest.”

Knowing her name was in an official ARTEMIS arrest warrant made me feel sick. I shuddered. 

Three nights ago, as I brought Sabina a cup of tea in the morning as I did everyday, she had said those forbidden words: “I love you.”

Instead of panicking, I’d replied: “Love you too.”

And we paused. For a moment we just smiled. 

Then the panic hit. We’d broken the law. As an ARTEMIS officer, I couldn’t stand by and do nothing. 

Yesterday I’d made an anonymous tip to the agency. I said I’d overheard Sabina White saying “I love you” over the phone. But I’d never expected to be the one arresting her. 

We waited at Sabina’s door for a minute. Then two. No answer. I remembered many an occasion where I’d stood outside that very same door, wearing an easy smile and holding a bottle of wine. This time I had come with a gun at my side. 

Brody drew his weapon and braced his shoulder to break down the door.  

“Wait!” I said, my voice almost cracking. “I’m going in first.”

Brody bowed mockingly. I stepped in front. He was a bit trigger happy for my liking. I didn’t draw my gun. I smoothed back my hair, then kicked the door three times before it swung off its hinges. 

I scanned the room. It was virtually the same as three days ago. Half-made jewellery lay scattered on the floor, in the cracks of the couch, on the dining table. Something I’d learned quickly was to wear shoes at all times in a jeweller’s apartment. A bracelet lay finished on the mantlepiece. I knew Sabina had been making that piece for her sister. Our blue armchair was still there, which Sabina and I squeezed into to watch TV at night. The white flower in a vase was thankfully still alive. I’d found it on the street and given it to her (just because she’d look after it better than me). I was tempted to go over and water the flower. 

If I hadn’t known better, it was as if nothing had changed.

Sabina’s cereal was half-eaten on the table. It looked like she’d left in a hurry. Or had she?

“I don’t think she’s here,” I called to Brody. “Let’s come back later. Perhaps our intel was wrong.”

No sooner had I said that when I heard a whack and Brody shouting “Bitch!” 

Sabina ran from the bathroom. She held a tennis racquet which I assumed she had used to surprise Brody. Even though it looked like she’d just woken up, she was still effortlessly beautiful. She had curly hair, startlingly pale skin and a little scar on her chin that I liked to think gave her face character. I could make out the stubborn set of her jaw which softened when her gaze snagged on me.

“Christoph,” she murmured, voice breaking with relief. “Have you come to rescue me?”

Then she noticed I was holding handcuffs. And that I was in uniform. 

“I wondered how they knew,” she said, confusion etched onto her features. “It was you all along. But why?”

“Because what you said was dangerous,” I whispered. 

Just then Brody came out of the bathroom, holding his head. “Stupid bitch got me.” 

Sabina put up no resistance as Brody jerked her arms behind her back and cuffed her. She was like a limp doll. 

“Go and get the first aid kit in the van. I’ll sort out the perpetrator,” I told Brody. 

“But that’s against protocol —”

“I said I’ll handle it.” 

Brody nodded slyly, happy that he could just relax in the van. On his way out he picked up some jewellery and shoved them into his trench coat. 

“Why didn’t you say something, give me away?” I asked once he’d gone. 

She laughed bitterly. “Because that’s not what you do when you care about someone…when you love someone.” The resignation in her voice was worse than anger. 

My hand accidentally brushed hers and it reminded me of all the times we went out. Public displays of affection were banned, but she used to brush my hand every time and then smile cheekily. She convinced me it was only an accident so how was it breaking the law? 

She looked at me sadly. “Just for once, for me, couldn’t you have broken your precious rules?”

She couldn’t know that I’d spent days struggling with the difficult business of love. I’d started experiencing uncomfortable side effects including lack of sleep, bouts of unexplained euphoria followed by self-doubt, obsessive thoughts, neediness, vulnerability and twinges of jealousy. I couldn’t stop thinking about her, the way her hair smelled like strawberries after she washed it, how her forehead crinkled when she laughed. The law was meant to protect innocent people like me from this emotional turmoil. I didn’t like the way she made me feel — like I was out of control. The way she made me want to break the rules.

“Love is a disease,” I finally said. I didn’t know whether I was saying it to convince her or myself. 

She looked up at me, eyes glassy and emotionless. “The Authority has it wrong, you know. Love doesn’t hurt.” She paused, and the last words she uttered to me were: “But betrayal does.”

***

That night, I stood in Sabina’s apartment on the tenth floor. Her flat was empty and dark; the electricity had been turned off. The clean-up crew had come in the afternoon and put all her belongings into storage. She was all but erased. The apartment was ready for a new occupant. 

I walked to the window and heard a crunch underfoot. Reaching blindly, I discovered a finished silver necklace in the gap between the carpet and the wall. I held it sadly, feeling its contours, the perfect workmanship, the love that had been poured into this necklace. I slipped it into my pocket. The only piece I had left of Sabina. 

I could still smell the strawberry shampoo from her hair. 

And I wondered if the Authority had protected me from the terrible phenomenon known as ‘heartbreak’ after all. 

Alex Turner-Cohen is a second-year journalism and creative writing student. She’s the mother of dragons (well, twin pugs) and many stories. A huge GoT fan, she wants to write her own fantasy epic one day. When she isn’t writing you can find her at home, trying to persuade herself to go to the gym.