They drove on. The villas thinned out and disappeared as they climbed into the woods. Alan drove slowly, in third and second gear, squinting to the boundary of the beams thrown by the headlights. Cars overtook them, flying into the bends at impossible speeds. After a time Alan parked in a scoop of extra space between the road and the steep slope. He switched off the engine and the lights and got out. There was no moon. He could still see faintly, maybe by the stars, maybe by the glow of the town a long way below them now. The parking place was not level; it sloped back sharply. Alan probed with his foot in the old leaves and found a half brick. He wedged it under one of the back tyres.
    They sat in the front seats and ate and drank. In the blackness beyond the windscreen they saw a pattern of tiny flashes, like they were on stage, at a silent moment in a concert, looking down at an arena-sized audience spitting with cameras.
    What’s that? said Alan.
    Fireflies, said Deirdre.
   One of the insects sailed in through the open window. Its arse flashed cold green fire.
    Get, said Alan, trying to wave it off.
    Leave it alone. It’s harmless.
   Harmless? With a name like firefly and an arse that flashes on and off?
    They laughed. Their laughs fell away into the silence of two.
    We shouldn’t have left him, said Deirdre.
    I know. It was the right thing and it was the wrong thing.
    It was the wrong thing.
    Yeah, it was the wrong thing.
    He might’ve come back from where he was.
    No, said Alan. He’d gone. He was more than just old. He was gone. He was such a good man...he was good at being happy, wasn’t he? He was an expert. He made it look easy. But it isn’t, is it?

Originally published by Polygon of Edinburgh in paperback in 1995: republished by Canongate in August 2008.

Read Gavin Wallace’s review from The Scotsman

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