George was a happy man.
He lived near the ocean. He wrote long letters to friends, when he wasn't tanning on the hot beach or swimming in the cool surf. He had a beautiful and faithful girlfriend. She visited him frequently. She visited him passionately.
Life, for George, was as good as it gets.
So George was not at all surprised, when the man in the white lab coat with the clipboard finally arrived.
“I’m sorry, Mr. L_,” said the man in the white lab coat, “it seems there has been some kind of mistake.”
“Yes, of course,” George replied, as he toweled off the ocean one last time. “I've often thought someone like you might arrive one day and say something very much like what you’re saying to me now.”
“Splendid,” the man in the white lab coat replied. “So I’m sure you understand, then, that there are certain rules, policies, and limits, when it comes to this sort of thing.” He scrutinized George’s record, as he spoke. “Too much happiness for one person. It’s simply not right.”
“Yes,” said George. “I've always felt that way myself. In fact, I've often held back from feeling as happy as I thought I could feel for that very reason.” He realized, he had only realized it now for the very first time.
“Well, you certainly haven’t been holding back lately. Have you?”
“No. No, I have not.” George remembered his promise to love her forever. “I thought I’d risk it. At least, this one time, anyway.”
“Well, I’m afraid you pushed your luck too far. After the last few months you've had, it simply could not be ignored.”
“Of course. I understand.” He turned to look at the horizon one last time. “What happens now?”
“Although rare, I can reassure you, yours is not the first case.” The man in the white lab coat tapped the clipboard authoritatively with a Number 2 pencil. “There are procedures already in place.”
“What about M_?”
“She’s falling in love with another man, at this very moment.” He made a sharp and satisfying stroke against George’s file. “She will forget you and your life together very shortly.”
“Will I forget her?”
“That, ultimately, will be up to you.”
“Oh,” said George.
“Come along. There’s a car waiting.”
George took one last long breath of ocean air and released it, making a sound not quite like -- but very similar to -- a sigh.
Thereafter, George sat in a windowless cubicle in a tired grey building in a muted small town on the edge of nowhere. Minute after minute, hour after hour, day after day, month after month, and year after year, he thought of the happiness she had given him.
Sometimes, it tore him open, carving an unquenchable hurt. Sometimes, it was enough to make him happy again, if only for a moment. Sometimes, he was trapped and sometimes he was free. It all depended on how he looked at it and, either way, in the end, it had been worth it.