Between traffic lights the night is dark and shapeless. My father’s van feels like a dented spaceship, dad and I strapped in like astronauts jetting through nothingness. He drives silently, hands tight on the wheel. The weight of my question presses into the space between us, warping the air.
I told my parents who I am tonight. That it’s over with my boyfriend, and I have a new love — a girl. I told them I am a lesbian.
The light in the kitchen was bright as a spotlight. Younger siblings lurked in the doorway, glad to be off stage. I made it sound careless, old news. I hid it in between chatter about my new life out of home. But still it stole my breath away. The words I’d skirted around for so long on the inside, squirming with shame and fear, anything but that …. The words that I was daring to try on, that I’d said aloud to a chosen few, that felt like a rickety bridge to tomorrow … those words burst alight like sparklers in front of my family, dazzling and dangerous. Lesbian. Girlfriend. Gay.
I don’t remember exactly what they said, because my gaze was stuck on the worn grain of the kitchen table and my ears were roaring with the echo of terrible truth. I don’t remember, but it was something benign — awkward and anxious, but benign. Mum gabbled platitudes and dad said nothing. My siblings sniggered behind their hands. We finished dinner, swallowing any other words with the rice. The dog ate the leftovers and the news went on the TV. My brother and sister shot up to their separate adolescent bolt-holes. I strove for insouciance. We cleared the table and let the dynamite sink back under the surface.
Now Dad is driving me home and my heart feels like a ticking bomb. He talks about the economy and politics, but all around us I feel the ghosts of his sneers, his jokes about fairies and poofters. When he gets to the rise of China and its entry into the global market, I can stand it no longer.
‘What do you think about my sexuality?’ I blurt out.
Dad squirms like a fish on a hook. He casts around desperately, but interest rates and the mining boom can’t save him now. There are miles to go before we get to my place. And mum is not there to hide behind. He clears his throat and adjusts the side mirror, but there are only shadows behind us.
‘Of course — er — it’s unthinkable for me. To be with a man. And it would be unthinkable for your mother to be with a woman.’
There’s a long galactic pause full of unthinkables. Dark matter spools past outside the windows.
‘But I …. I suppose I have to accept your — er — sexuality,’ he croaks. And I know he means it. From the bottom of his baffled un-pc heart, he means it. And he goes on meaning it, proving it, until the day he dies.
There’s a long silence as we both breathe out. A silence that settles in, lightly, easily, ghost-free. The air around us now is rich and alien, yet strangely breathable. In it we sit side by side, like explorers in a dented spaceship, easing over the rim of a new galaxy into tomorrow.
Joo-Inn Chew is a writer and doctor working in general practice and refugee health. Her work has been published in various anthologies and magazines, most recently in Blak Inc’s Growing Up Queer in Australia, edited by Benjamin Law. Joo-Inn lives in Canberra with her partner and two kids.