I walk home from work on a chill midwinter night, music tucked inside my ears, wind whipping my hair and skinning my lips; a night when the sky is so dark and so deep you feel the earth will defy gravity to rid you from its surface, to fling you out into the depths. It’s dizzying and exhilarating. Nowhere in the world do I feel lonelier than in my hometown; an environment so familiar I can reproduce every detail behind closed eyes, where I feel any absence with the startling burn of a fresh wound. Where days, weeks and months become so routine that one wrong step, one new route, or one missing link attracts the gaze of a curious spotlight amid the ordinary gloom.

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‘Would you date a guy with a really camp voice?’ I ask as we pass a tall, smartly dressed young man speaking to his friends with certain flair. ‘Ummmmm, would I date myself, you mean?’ he answers with a sly sideways glance, ‘why yes, yes I would.’ I try to protest that he doesn’t sound that effeminate but I’m cut off. ‘Sometimes on the phone people think I’m a woman, you know. Like, they’ll ask my name and when I tell them they say, “oh, that’s an interesting name for a woman”’. I howl with laughter on the fourth floor of Westfield, tripping over my penny loafers with glee.

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For a while in my mid-teens I was very afraid and spent a lot of time inside, alone. That should be the dictionary definition of agoraphobia, not ‘an abnormal fear of being in crowds, public places, or open areas, sometimes accompanied by anxiety attacks.’ But there you go. Inevitably I’m asked ‘What were you so afraid of?’ but I didn’t know how to answer then and I don’t know how to answer now, half my life later. The only way I can articulate it is actually hopelessly inarticulate: I was afraid of everything that could happen. So I stayed inside where I felt safe.

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We grew up together. We hid under the kitchen table and ate slice after slice of buttered bread together. We collected tadpoles from the pond and watched them grow into frogs together. We drew endless sketches of dream wedding dresses with Disney Princess puffy sleeves and full skirts together. We swung round and round on the Hills Hoist together. We got in trouble for swinging on the Hills Hoist together. We played Peaches in Super Mario 2 together. We mastered Sonic the Hedgehog together. We turned seven years old together. We went to primary school together and sometimes ate lunch together. We hung out after school together and on the weekends we lived together. We turned our noses up at the tentacles lurking in exotic seafood soup together and gorged on Tiny Teddies together. We went to slumber parties together. We played characters from Beverly Hills 90210 in annual home movies together. We took fistfuls of after dinner mints from the Black Stump restaurant together. We played wonky piano duets together. We turned ten together. We went out in matching outfits together. We learned all the words to The Little Mermaid soundtrack and belted them out together. We fasted the 40 Hour Famine then refueled with her mum’s sublime Filipino cooking together. We wandered through the crowds at our parents’ parties together. We dreamed of being Belle and Ariel and Princess Jasmine together. We became obsessed with Michael Jackson together. We went to high school together. We took a photography class and spooled film in a dark room together. We turned 21 together. We worked together and when we hated our jobs we rallied together. We held each other close at her father’s wake and we cried together.

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When I lie in bed at night, I wonder who reads my stories. Outside my circle of friends, who text and email and call to heap too-generous praise, I wonder who reads until the end. I wonder how the stories make them feel. Maybe hungry, maybe happy, maybe a little bit sad; I hope they feel something. I wonder about my grammar, unchecked by subs, if it is (was?! were?!) correct. I wonder if they’d tell a friend or come back next week to read again.

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I once read that Nick Cave started a Bad Seeds song with the words ‘I thought I’d take a walk today…’ because he was feeling uninspired and decided to let his mind wander. What followed is the rambling, ferocious, hysterically brilliant, ‘Oh My Lord’, including this insanely wonderful verse:

“Now I’m at the hairdressers, people watch me as they move past

A guy wearing plastic antlers presses his bum against the glass

Now I’m down on my hands and knees

And it’s so fucking hot!

Somebody cries, ‘What are you looking for?’

I scream, ‘The plot! The plot!’”

So I thought I’d take a walk today…

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My Uncle Art liked a bet on the ponies. He lived in a flat near Randwick Racecourse and I remember thinking he was the coolest because his name was Art, but also being scared of him because he was really old. My Aunt in Canada changed her name from Charity to Cherry. I don’t know why and I’ve never met her to ask, but it strikes me as a curious, delicious, choice. My Uncle John had a fight with my mum a few years ago and now I refuse to talk to him. No one likes to be patronised, John. My Aunty Mavis lived in Sawtell and used to bring out a massive tray of lollies every time Mum took us to visit. I miss Aunty Mavis most.

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In the back seat, I lean my head back and lightly close my eyes. ‘Faith’s asleep,’ I hear my brother tell my mum. I pretend that I don’t hear him and continue ‘sleeping’. He tosses out an insult to test me; my eyelids flutter but I keep up the ruse. I like being in the car with my family, listening as they chatter and argue in front of me. My mum squints at and questions the GPS on her dash-mounted smart phone while my brother obstinately tells her to go a different way. For as long as I can remember he has sat in the front passenger seat, to avoid getting car sick, while I sit in the back, in my own quiet world, watching as the streets change and the cars flash by.

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