Winning Write-a-Thon Entries 2024: Second Place

“We’re Soulmates” by Victoria Chen
Winning Write-a-Thon Entries 2024: Second Place

They were an odd couple, the elderly man and woman that lived at the end of the road in the precariously tilting turquoise house with the bright pink shutters. And honestly, Frankie thought as she walked her dog—a bad-tempered, overweight Pomeranian which the shelter had named something generic (Bella? Snowball?) but that Frankie had titled Her Royal Highness,—they didn’t belong in this upscale neighbourhood at all.


The man was tall and round and perpetually smiling. The top of his bald head was impossibly smooth—Frankie had to remember to ask him what product he used to keep the wrinkles away—but his face was creased with a thousand little lines and spattered with a thousand little age spots, like a map that might hold the secret to some great treasure. The woman was small and thin and unnaturally energetic. The one time Frankie had tried to talk to her, she’d practically spewed trivia and what seemed like random nonsense in a dozen different languages until Frankie, concerned for her sanity, had excused herself. Later, she learned that the woman was a linguist, and had taught at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for over forty years before retiring last spring. Good thing I went to Harvard, Frankie thought, shuddering at the idea of attending lectures at MIT (the less prestigious Top Ten university in Boston, as all good Harvardians knew) hosted by her new neighbour.


And yet, when Frankie saw the two walking together, it seemed like their oddities were, if not diminished, then softened. The way the man held the woman’s hand as they strolled slowly up and down the block, as if they had all the time in the world. The way the woman set his tea out on the porch every morning as Frankie and Her Royal Highness made their daily rounds. The teacups, Frankie noticed, all bore the image of small cartoon birds, which a quick Google Lens search identified as the product of some linguistics experiment. Frankie had a secret fear of birds, ever since a seagull had stolen her lunch and left some of its lunch on Frankie’s head as a gift. The “gift” had taken her an entire afternoon to wash out. The fear she had yet to get rid of. But these teacup birds—or rather, wugs, according to Google,—were cute, Frankie had to admit. 


Each day, as Frankie pulled frantically on Her Royal Highness’s leash to keep the dog from sniffing at anything and everything, she wondered at how two people could be so happy together. So imperfect, in a world that demanded perfection (that reminded Frankie—she had to fix her social media profile when she got home). The constant pressure, the stress, the outside judgement was driving her absolutely insane. 


Maybe that was why today, she didn’t just turn around and walk by the old couple having tea on the porch. Maybe that was why she was now climbing the steps to their house without invitation. Maybe that was why Frankie was now standing in front of the old woman, her mouth hanging slightly open as she tried to figure out how best to formulate her question.


Finally, Frankie managed, “Are you two in love? Like truly, fairytale ending, happily-ever-after in love?” 


The old woman smiled, revealing a missing tooth, and an infectious sparkle in her light brown eyes that Frankie hadn’t noticed during their last meeting. “Well, what do you think?”


“Are you two married?” Frankie knew she was stalling, but asking another question in return was a tactic that had worked on her professors back in her Harvard days, so she was willing to give it a try.


This time, it was the man who spoke. “Oh, goodness no!” Then he laughed, a big, booming laugh that shook the table and made all the teacups tremble. 


Frankie was surprised. “Just friends then?” She’d completely misjudged the situation, and now she felt awfully embarrassed. Wasn’t that something elderly people did? Find a companion when they were too old to handle living on their own? She squashed the thought down. It was disrespectful of her, judging people based on their age this way. “I am so sorry, I’ll just . . . leave now.” Frankie attempted a smile, but it turned out more like a grimace. Her Royal Highness barked, the only sound filling the ensuing silence.


The woman shook her head. “Let me tell you something, dear. It’s possible to be married and not love one another. It’s possible to be unmarried, and love each other more than anything in the whole wide world. Things aren’t always as they seem.”


Frankie nodded, the realisation sinking in along with the woman’s words. “So, just out of curiosity, what do you call yourselves?” She asked.


The couple shared a look, and it was filled with so much love and quiet contentment that Frankie didn’t know how she ever could’ve thought they weren’t together.


Finally, the man looked up.


“Why, isn’t it obvious,” he asked.


“We’re soulmates.”


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