Swanston & Bourke

Words by Allee Richards
Illustration by Ella Shi

Sometimes I stare at strangers on public transport, and I start to date them in my head.

On the tram today you are clean and intact, like a newly completed puzzle. Your backpack is a cube and your clothes are all straight lines and unobnoxious bright colours. The only circles are your expensive-looking headphones. They play music that is overly produced, and that you’ll say I’ve never heard of. Your face is like a wall in an exhibition: a clean surface with two thick black frames each mounting opaque brown spheres. I untuck my shirt and reveal the stain I hid behind my waistband in the morning.

I always wanted one of those relationships that starts with hate, like Katherine Heigl has. We won’t hate each other, but I will hate the things you like and you will hate the things I like. We will disagree on every book and film, because even though you study maths or engineering or something, you’re more opinionated than anybody with an Arts degree.

We will be disagreeing about a pair of jeans and I will threaten to spill my wine on them. Your firm, pale arm will snatch my glass and I will giggle and glare at you and say, ‘Spill it on me, this top was two dollars.’ We will kiss fast and the first time we have sex you will be on top and you will push angrily. We will revel in our differences with the wonderment of babies. When people ask about us I will shrug, ‘Oh well, you know what they say: opposites attract.’ We will share knowing smiles, because I enjoy being purposefully daggy and you enjoy telling me that it’s all an act. We will leave parties knowing our friends are talking about us and we will have arrogant sex; over and over we will say, ‘Not like that, like this.’ But we will spoon afterward, always. Our only likeness will be the way we lie in bed, hunched back and bent knees, a pair of question marks.

Because we’re working, I’ll become more like me and you will become more like you and we’ll be caricatures of ourselves. When the adrenaline of disagreement wears off I will find it harder to laugh at your teasing and harder to laugh while I tease you.

On the last day of our relationship I will be in your shower staring at the different sized bottles lined up like a gang of bullies. When I leave your house we will both know we’re broken up, even though we don’t discuss it and will never discuss it. I’ll tell people that I dumped you because you use more expensive cleanser than I do (‘he was just too materialistic’). I will feel impotent and odd like a naked stem after a child stole the petals—you love me, you love me not.

You’re ready with a tailored cigarette and a silver lighter as you step off the tram at Swanston and Bourke. You walk away with subtle and choreographed swagger, oblivious to what you’ve done to me. I call you a pretentious fuck, but I guess I’m one too.