by Keely Shinners
Keely Shinners is a writer and editor based in Cape Town, South Africa. Their debut novel, How to Build a Home for the End of the World, is forthcoming from Perennial Press. You can find them at keelyshinners.com
The boy and girl have decided that they are going to sleep in the garage for now. There is a strange odor in the house that smells like nail polish. They carry their bed into the garage, clean the shelves of power tools, pull down the cobwebs, hang party lights. They cover the garage with pillows and blankets. The boy and girl cannot distinguish each other between the blankets. They are in love, the boy and girl.
In bed, the boy and girl touch each other often. They are always waking up halfway to finger each other underneath their underwear. The boy and girl smell each other’s fingers and do not recognize their own scents.
The boy and girl often wear each other’s clothes. The girl has cut her hair short, and the boy has grown out his hair long so that, from behind, they look the same. The girl wants to be as tall as the boy, so they break her legs and stick extra muscle in between her joints. They lie against each other and are perfectly symmetrical.
The garage is uninsulated. It is cold at night in fall. The boy and girl crawl into the same turtleneck sweater. Sometimes, they hold each other’s skin so closely that their skin peels off and grows back over both of them, like an infection healing over an earring.
This is not to say that the relationship between the boy and girl is purely physical. The boy and girl are always talking. They talk about dying, how they are afraid of it. They talk about feeling alienated from people outside of the garage. They talk about starting a band in the garage, a band called garageband, a band that only plays in the garage.
The boy and girl are working on a screenplay. The screenplay is about identical twins, except the viewer thinks they are one character. The truth isn’t revealed until the eleventh scene, when the twins meet for beers at a bar. Even then, the viewer might think the main character is talking to himself. For now, there are twelve scenes in the screenplay. The boy and girl do not know how to end the movie, if one of the twins will die, if they will both die, or if they will both live. The twins are both afraid of death, but they are also tired of their bodies. How exhausting it would be, to live in a body and know that its duplicate was far away, doing other things. How tiring it would be to look at your hands and know they were needed elsewhere, to stir sugar into coffee, to wedge clay, to make sandwiches. Death also leaves the question of how, and when, and where, and the boy and girl are too happy with each other to imagine these finite details of death.
The boy and girl do not need money because they are rich in blankets. This is something they say to each other as a joke. As rain starts to fall outside the garage, the boy and girl begin to sew together things within their reach. They make quilts out of old t-shirts, t-shirts out of old quilts, a mountain of pillows for their backs, slippers out of rose petals. They knit each other hats, gloves, sweaters, and socks.
They knit small socks, and the boy and girl consider having a baby.
They map the places on the body where the baby will take his inheritance. The girl says, “Your jaw is beautiful.” The boy says, “Your mole is beautiful. And your eyelid.” The girl takes his fingers in her fingers and says, “These hands are wonderful. Here,” she points to the wrinkles between the head and the heart, “and here,” where the life line diverges to the palm’s delta. The boy and girl love each other through the night with mouths and hands.
Weeks pass; the boy and girl are barren.
The girl asks, “Is it better to be a ghost or a shell?” The boy says, “Ghost is internal. Shell is external. The shell is selfless.” The girl says, “Then my body is a shell, curving in on itself forever and ever.” The boy and girl consider their separateness and feel dizzy.
They talk about going for a walk, to see what warm meals the families of the neighborhood are eating. They think they should maybe check on the house, to see if the nail polish smell has subsided. But the world is cold outside their blankets, so they decide to stay in the garage.
The boy and girl talk about building a bridge between their shoulders. They consider the possibilities of sewing their shoulders together.
One day, the boy and girl eat a blood orange in bed. The boy says, “Will you marry me?” And the girl says, “Yes.” The boy and girl don’t want to get out of bed, so they decide to marry each other with the orange slices. They slide their fingers through the core, stain the bedsheets purple. The boy and girl sew each other white wedding dresses out of the pillowcases, and they stain those too. The girl says, “I love you, boy.” And the boy says, “I love you, girl.” The boy and girl do not feel very afraid of death when their bodies are sticky with juice.
The honeymoon lasts all through the winter and spring. The boy and girl, who are now husband and wife, have sex until their bones turn to muscle and then to jelly. Even their teeth have gone gummy, so that they can only kiss and eat soft foods. They feed each other mashed potatoes with their fingers, and they laugh at their silly, infant faces.
For a moment, it seems as if the girl is pregnant, because she has stopped getting her period, but this is a daydream.
For a moment, it seems as if the boy is pregnant, because his period has finally begun, but this is also a daydream.
The flowers bloom. The boy and girl can smell the flowers from their room. It remains unclear whether the flowers can smell the boy and girl.
In the summer, when the humidity of the garage wrinkles the boy and girl into raisins, they decide they must finish the screenplay.
In the first draft, one twin dies in a car accident, and the second twin has to receive a very depressing call. This scene ends in silence, and it is unknown which twin died in the car crash and which twin is crying on the other end of the phone.
In the second draft, both twins die, at the same time, in two different places. One twin drowns in the ocean, the other in a bath, and the final images are very watery and confusing.
In the third draft, the twins set off on a road trip together, cutting across the country and back, and this forever, knowing exactly when and where and how to answer the question of the identical body.
The boy and girl decide that they will make the movie with all three endings, so that the viewer can decide.
When the screenplay is finished, the boy and girl throw a garageband concert. They would have invited many friends, but they haven’t seen any since the beginning of the nail polish smell. Softly, to each other, they pluck at stretched-out guitar strings and moan sounds. They have written three songs. The first song is about the pillows that they have sewn for the bed. The second is a song making fun of their gummy teeth, how they cannot sing very well anymore. The third song is about smelling each others’ fingers, this being the best one, for all the love in it.
By the time fall hits again, the boy and girl have woven into each other completely and into the pillows and blankets on their bed. They do not have to have sex anymore because they are always having sex. They do not have to eat any more soft foods because nutrients pass between their bodies automatically.
It is hard to tell who girl and the boy are anymore, if they are a boy and a girl or identical twins or lumps in a pile of blankets someone left to fray on a makeshift bedframe in a garage.
The leaves fall and do not think much of anything.
Eventually, despite their best efforts, the nail polish smell makes its way into the garage. The boy and girl wear gas masks for a while, but the masks give them nightmares, and the boy and girl miss their kissing.
The boy and girl learn to hold their breath for a long periods on end, until their faces turn green. The boy and girl try to breathe into each other’s mouths for a while, but this overheats them inside.
Sometimes, the boy wakes up in the middle of the night, tense and naked with the fear of dying. The girl wraps him in their blankets so that he need not be afraid for a little while. How tiring it is to love someone, to wake up and recognize something internal on another person’s face, to feel hungry in another person’s stomach, to feel so close to a body that is not your body.
In the first draft of this story, the boy dies from an allergic reaction to the nail polish smell, and the girl goes on a trip by herself, mourning the boy and the garage and crying often. In the second draft of the story, the boy and girl suffocate gently in their sleep, humming the love song about how their fingers smell. In the third draft of the story, the boy and girl fall into each others’ skeletons, becoming one, strong, solid body who gets rid of the nail polish smell, and opens a sandwich shop in the garage, and plays guitar for many happy customers, and this forever, because the body never dies.