‘Switch’ by Jay Anderson
I’m a safe driver; maybe not a particularly good driver, but a safe driver. Except when I drive to Kalgoorlie.
I push my burnt orange Kia Rio to one-sixty and give the bogans in their beat-up Holden Commodores a run for their money. Six-hundred-some kilometres separate Perth and Kalgoorlie but I make the distance in five hours more often than not.
If someone asks me why I say it’s because the drive is unbearably long, and I’m just making it more bearable.
I don’t know why.
Sometimes I think I’m trying to get there fast so I can be out of there fast.
Not a lie then, it’s about what I can bear.
“Are we there yet?”
This is may be the seventh time Daisy has asked me; the first two instances amused me, but now I’m getting irrationally irritated.
A sign flashes by:
I inhale and bring my shoulder blades together to stretch my back against the seat. Prickly pain.
As we get close to town I switch to fourth and drop down to 70. I wonder about the mechanics of a car – how it works. Sometimes I imagine my guts are made of the stuff cars are made of. But I don’t really know what cars are made of, so I imagine metal and gears and bits and pieces sliding in and out of each other.
Switch: fourth to third to second to first, as I come to a stop at the traffic light on the edge of town.
Switch: a me capable of existing here.
There are no other cars, no one else. Empty streets; wind washes through them and they’re whistling my name.
I pull up to Daisy’s parents lot.
“Cheers for the lift,” she yells, swinging her pea green backpack over one shoulder, “I’ll see you tomorrow night!”
I reverse hard out of the red-dirt driveway and barrel towards Keegan Street, where the family house endures.
A myriad of folk swarm the Goldbar on the weekend because it’s the only place to be; on the cramped dance floor I measure my movements
I get ready quickly; I don’t reckon I dress particularly well, but I do so quickly. Except when I’m in Kalgoorlie.
I pull all of the clothes I’ve brought out of my scratchy suitcase and tug them on and off in variation until they’re all strewn across the floor of my childhood bedroom.
My jeans are too tight I can’t wear a pink shirt I should wear black why don’t I have black clothes.
Suitcase sacked, nothing left, I tip-toe into my brother’s room to rummage through his clothes.
I snatch a t-shirt from the back-left corner of his wardrobe and pull it over my head.
My brother, or my mum, or my sister will tell me off for stealing it and ask why and I’ll say it’s because I don’t have any clothes to wear.
I don’t know why.
Sometimes I think I’m not me in Kalgoorlie; when the Welcome to Kalgoorlie sign blinks past I collapse in on myself, like a butterfly crawling into a cocoon. Shrinking.
Not a lie then, it’s about who I can be.
The low humming of my phone vibrating on the bed snaps my gaze away from my form in the floor-to-wall mirror of my sister’s bedroom.
Daisy’s voice crackles through the line: “Are you ready? I’m out front.”
“Yeah, be there in a sec,” I say.
I stare at myself for thirty-three more seconds.
Loose blue jeans and black t-shirt on a body that looks like me but isn’t.
The emptiness in the room threatens to swallow me; “That’ll do,” I whisper to it.
And I twist on my heels, turn off the light and head out to meet Daisy.
I’m a confident dancer; I don’t know if I’m a good dancer, but I do so confidently. Except when I go out in Kalgoorlie.
I reign my hips in and make sure my arse isn’t too low to the ground.
A myriad of folk swarm the Goldbar on the weekend because it’s the only place to be; on the cramped dance floor I measure my movements: I become acutely aware of the way my boots stick to the booze-soaked floorboards and how my body interacts with the booze-soaked bodies on it.
Nobody has asked me about this but it’s only because nobody can tell.
I pretend by guzzling beer and throwing back vodka and swallowing colourful pills that make my eyes feel like sinking. All of it fizzes in my gut and makes my wariness dissolve.
You gotta be drunk at the G-Bar. That’s what they say. What I say. What I do.
Why do I hold back at the Goldbar? Because I’m not drunk enough.
I don’t know why.
Sometimes I think I need the grog to wash me out.
Not a lie then, it’s about how safe I feel.
“Do you wanna dance?” Daisy asks.
“Nah,” I say before taking a drag of my durry, “I just wanna have a couple and chain-smoke.”
In the fractured light of the Goldbar courtyard Daisy looks disappointed.
“Maybe in a while,” I offer.
To my left I can see looks-like-Ed-Sheeran watching me while I absent-mindedly roll another cigarette.
He starts to cross the courtyard and I look down and pretend I need to watch my fingers roll the tobacco.
Ed Sheeran asks me for a paper and I say of course and he flashes thank-you-smiling teeth and Daisy rolls one too and we’re all smoking and chatting and laughing.
Eventually, two of his friends join us; they’re buying us drinks because me and Daisy are povo uni students and they’re loaded miners, but they all need papers for their durries and now I’m paper-guy and I feel good.
A pint of beer. A screwdriver. I feel great.
A pint of beer. A pint of cider. Another beer. I feel drunk.
There’s a difference.
They want to know if Daisy and I are together.
“We’re just friends”, she says.
They ask again.
“We’re just friends,” I say.
They ask again.
“He’s gay,” Daisy snaps.
Those words are loud. They sound loud and taste loud and smell loud and feel loud. It feels like the entire Goldbar is blaringly silent, like every single sweat-licked body is staring at me and I stop breathing and nothing is happening and my stomach is churning and it isn’t because of the booze.
But they don’t care. They say okay and they’re happy because now they can have a crack at Daisy and the fear subsides. But not completely.
And we keep drinking and talking and laughing and then we say goodbye and I’m in a taxi and I’m stumbling towards the bed that I spent the majority of my life in.
Thank you for visiting Kalgoorlie flashes by and I’m picking up speed.
“Did you have a nice time?” Daisy asks.
I hesitate while I stretch the heavy limbs of my battered body. Prickly pain.
“Yeah, I did,” I say, “But I’m glad to be heading back.”
Switch: to fifth and I’m pushing 80 to 100 to 120 to 140 and we’re barrelling towards Perth.
Switch: a me that doesn’t have to exist here.