I’ve always had mixed feelings about this town. Well, since I was about fourteen I’ve had mixed feeling about this town. It was the year I was old enough to start thinking about the world, about life. It was the year I lost my virginity to Annette Wheeler, both of us half-drunk in the Lion’s Park down on Burnett Street. I’d wanted it then, something to boast about in the schoolyard. Something to make me fit in with all those yokels in that dusty, three pub, one church town. I felt kind of sorry for her the next morning, sorry that I’d been using her.
I found out that afternoon just how different I was. I told James that we had ‘done it’, he was my best friend; he laughed, slapped me on the shoulder. Made sure all the other guys knew. We called her a slut after that. I was the toast of the town’s teenage boys for a week or two.
Until they asked me what it was like. I gave all the usual details, the intimate ins and outs of the ten minutes it took to lose my virginity. They hung on every word, and I could tell, despite their boasts and their lies to the contrary: I had been the first. Annette Wheeler. She was my first, and I told them everything.
Told them about the rum and coke cans stolen from the bar fridge in Dad’s shed. Told them about the damp grass, about the lies I told her (“I’ve always, you know, liked you”, and “It’s alright, I’ve done this before”), about how she believed me. I told them how hard it is to roll down a condom one-handed, about how I read the instructions four times the night before but still couldn’t get it right. I told them about Mr. Davies, the chemist, giving me a ‘yeah sure kid” stare when I bought the packet of “EXTRA LARGE.” I told them about the queasiness, about the lingering sense of shame and guilt. Someone asked “what are you, queer or something?” and I blushed through their braying laughter.
I left town when I was seventeen, ten days after I graduated from high school. But Murdegen was never far from my mind. I would always considered it home, would always dream of home, of sunburnt skin, horseshit and flies. I came out to my parents the night before I left. Mum took it quite well, all things considered. Silently weeping the way she did when Nanna died; burying her face into Dad’s faded sky-blue rugby jersey. He swore, fists clenched and veins popping out of his neck, pulsating white underneath his shock of red hair. He went down to the Royal, drank half the bar and told everyone, shouting and cursing into pint after pint. The next day James wouldn’t look me in the eye when I went to say goodbye, though I felt the stares of the rest of town as I loaded my shitty little canary yellow Mazda to make the long drive to the city, to university and a new life.
It didn’t really feel like four years since I had left. Mum was on the phone every Wednesday night, 7:15 sharp. It never really felt like I had gone anywhere. I’d replaced the five paved roads with mile after mile of concrete ribbons, three pubs, one church and a general store for horizon-girding, mirror skinned concrete towers holding up the roof of the sky, but it still felt the same way it always had, just on a larger scale. Mum begged me to come home for Christmas this year. Dad had ‘forgiven’ me, though I hadn’t done anything wrong. I could bring a ‘friend’ along too. The subtext was clear: two single beds in the spare room, an uneasy truce to make Mum happy. Dad was at the Royal when Michael and I ‘blew into town.’ That much hadn’t changed. Neither had the locals, wide-eyed when Michael held my hand, dragging their kids to the other side of the road, carbon-copies of their grandparent’s bigotry.
Dad was at the bar when we walked in, and had been so for some hours, judging by the ruddy colour of his cheeks and the way he shouted across the room: “Here he is, my son the fucken’ poofter!”
I’m never going back to that shithole town.
Murdegen. Population 759.