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This story was submitted to The LoveReading Very Short Story Award 2019
They were born in between power cuts at opposite compass points. Elvira arrived to Stevie Nicks over a crackly radio in Glasgow. Scott was named for the literary icon, whose books his father kept in a mildewed garage in Devon.
Elvira soon became Vira. She collected bubblegum eyeshadow and Stephen King novels. Scott showed little interest in his father’s books, preferring astronomy and vinyl. Vira lost a tooth on a rounders pitch; Scott broke both arms on separate ice skating trips. Their weekends were idyllic, their schooldays haunted by bullies.
The library café was heaving with students seeking sanctuary from November storms. Vira asked if she could have the free seat. Immersed in Kerouac, Scott made no objection. She was studying her index cards when he finally looked up and realised she would be one of the greatest things ever to grace his life.
As Drama Society props manager, Scott wasn’t the sharpest sword in the armoury. The one he'd procured online for Joan of Arc - played by Vira - worked perfectly until opening night, when the plastic blade went flying and knocked Jude Smith to the floor. Vira improvised a divine resurrection.
Vira ran a hand over Scott’s body as if touching a gallery statue. They were terrified, and inexperienced, but it didn’t matter. Sweat shone through their hair; it didn’t matter. Didn’t matter. Didn’t matter. Did. Not. Matter.
Scott asked Vira why she was more concerned with glass ceilings than genocide. She asked why he never gave to homeless people. Their sparring matches opened wounds, as well as their eyes. They grew to love protest marches as much as country walks.
Three bank robbers, one briefcase of unmarked bills.
‘Stay cool and you’ll stay alive.’
Vira did exactly that.
After, amidst camera flashes on the pavement, blood on her teeth and gun smoke in her nose, she vowed never to waste another day.
Vira fainted halfway up the Andes; Scott almost fell off the Great Wall. They caught hypothermia in Iceland and vomited over the side of their Californian whale-watching boat. They screamed on a ninety-degree angle jeep ride through Brazilian sand dunes. Their spirits flew higher than planes.
Adulthood introduced all sorts of new questions: what should be recycled, whether driving was better than urban cycling, who to vote for, which charities were most effective, whether the stock market was a fool’s game. Whether Scott’s uncle would have still jumped if someone had noticed the signs sooner.
The one office job Scott ever held down put him off for life. The boss refused him a lunch break whilst swanning off for three-hour client meetings down the pub. The building passed its health and safety inspection only after Scott was sent on a quest to catch all the mice with a dustpan.
En route to their favourite picnic spot, Vira ranted about the head of Neurology. She griped about her melodramatic sister and estranged mother. She sighed about her snowballing student loan interest. When she turned around Scott was on one knee, sun glinting off a diamond. It was the first time he saw her cry.
She assumed it was a wrong number. But he called every night, after the dishes were done. Vira didn’t know him, but he knew what she wore, which room she was in, what she and Scott ate for dinner. Eventually the calls stopped. He never broke into the house, but he broke into her nightmares.
Scott asked why she never talked about her day at work, and how she could keep doing such long hours. Vira asked whether he really needed that third glass of wine. Scott asked why she’d stopped going to therapy. Vira asked when he would get a real job. Sometimes they threw things. Occasionally, one of them disappeared for the weekend without the other.
‘Three croissants? Crikey.’
‘You’re stuck with me forever, darling. Goodbye to calories, and all that.’
‘Do you feel old?’ Scott asked cautiously.
‘I feel magnificent.’
The morning she turned forty, Vira went back to Elvira.
Scott didn’t believe in ghosts until the first day in their new (ancient) house, when a kitchen cabinet opened by itself. Stairs creaked under invisible feet. Elvira didn’t believe him until their duvet pulled itself off the bed at three a.m. They briefly moved into a hotel.
The new (new) house was perfect. Elvira followed her tea’s steam trail in time with the dawn chorus, until it led her to a wolf crouched by the shed. Her mug shattered on the patio; the wolf was unfazed. It dragged a red cape out from under its paws and disappeared into the bushes.
Scott was distracted from writing by a cat mewling outside. He invited it in; it invited him out. It led him to a freestanding door in the garden, which he opened onto a coastline bedecked with golden boats and lilac geese.
‘Did Joe spike your coffee with LSD again?’
He didn’t mind in any case.
Elvira’s PAIA (Personal Artificially Intelligent Assistant) took some getting used to. It glided after her on morning rounds while she dictated diagnoses. She only trusted it when it ordered breakfast enchiladas, unprompted, after an overdrawn night shift.
Their accountant swore the books were in order, but Scott and Elvira were wiser than that. Many turned pages, red markings and cups of tea later, Scott placed a call. His six foot five nephew stood on the accountant’s doormat until he transferred back everything he’d pocketed.
‘Scottie, what do you think death will be like?’
‘Like nothing at all.’
‘I think it’ll be like the bottom of the Mariana Trench.’
‘No one’s ever been down there.’
‘Then we’re in agreement.’
‘What a nice change.’
Their last aircraft ride. Elvira and Scott held hands to the moon outpost and beyond. Noble martyrs to everyone on Earth; in each other’s eyes, they were who they’d always been, going out on the highest high, the biggest bang, and the brightest star they’d ever see.