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Hot Desk Extract: The first day

Read Tuesday, 15 Feb 2022

As part of the Wheeler Centre’s Hot Desk Fellowship programme, Rae White worked on a YA speculative verse novel. Welcome Home is set in a fictional Queensland town. It focuses on the lives of two transgender teenagers, Kai and Em, who have a strong and intimate platonic friendship. 

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The first day

When I’m sad or can’t sleep

at night, I think of the first day

I met Em.

 

I’m wandering home from school

on a side of the street

I wouldn’t normally walk on.

 

I’m not sure what compels me

to deviate to where there isn’t

a footpath. But there I am

shuffling along

I’m not sure what compels me

to deviate to where there isn’t

a footpath. But there I am

shuffling along

looking at my feet,

looking at the way

my school skirt billows

            ghost-like

                        around my knees

when I hear this rustling of dry leaves

and a low humming.

 

There’s a house beside me

one I haven’t noticed

before – a bold tall mansion

flanked by an overgrown garden

and wrapped in an iron fence.

 

A person stands in the garden

singing softly, kicking crisp leaves

underfoot.

 

They’re wearing baggy cargo pants,

an oversized shirt tied in knot at hip.

Their cropped brown hair

is almost a bowl cut

and I wonder if they’ve stepped

straight out of the 90s.

 

I’d been trying to be more conscious

of not gendering people

as soon as I see them.

If I don’t like assumptions

people make

about my appearance

            I can’t imagine

            others like it either.

 

That’s when they look up

blinking against sunlight.

They smile at me.

There’s genuine warmth

in their face like in that moment

despite not knowing me

they’re happy to see me.

 

Hey there, they say.

 

I squeak something back

a strangled hey, before moving

closer to the fence.

 

I grasp one rusted bar in hand,

clear my throat to get some strength

behind my voice, Do you live here?

 

They step closer and I notice their eyes

are a milky shade of swirly blue.

 

Something like that, they say
with a smirk, it’s more like
the house owns me.

I do, it’s my house.

 

You own it? I say, gobsmacked

someone who looks my age

could own a house already.

 

Something like that, they say

with a smirk, it’s more like

the house owns me.

 

I laugh and they grin back at me.

 

What’s your name and pronouns? they ask.

 

I stop laughing and it’s like

my goddamn heart

            has stopped.

Breathing feels difficult suddenly.

 

I’d been reading all this stuff

on the internet about pronouns

and how asking people is important

but until now I hadn’t experienced

any real world examples.

 

Then there they were

right in front of me

a stranger asking a question

            I never thought I’d hear.

 

My mouth feels cluttered

and words tumble out

like I’m a vending machine

with too much change inside.

 

Kai and … I don’t know yet.

 

I’m Em, they say, short for Emma

a name I may or may not

bury soon. They laugh

and it sounds guttural

like hail.

            And I use they/them.

 

I nod, repeat quietly,

they … them …

 

It’s okay to not know

your pronouns yet.

You don’t ever have to choose

if you don’t want, Em says.

 

Then, Do you want

to come inside and have tea?

 

One statement, one question – both things

I’d needed someone

to say to me for a very

            very long time.

Applications are now open for 2022 Hot Desk Fellowships. Click here to find out more. 

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The Wheeler Centre acknowledges the Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung people of the Kulin Nation as the traditional owners of the land on which we work. We pay our respects to the people of the Kulin Nation and all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Elders, past and present.