Season One, episode one is now live! You can listen to this episode on all our usual platforms, including iTunes, SoundCloud and YouTube. If you haven’t subscribed yet, make sure you do so to make sure you don’t miss an episode!
Full transcript below…
Hi, I guess. Wow, this is weird. I’ve never really payed much attention to my voice before. But I guess this is why I’m doing this whole voice recording thing. I hate hearing my voice played back to me, which isn’t the best if you want to be a TV journalist. I don’t really mind seeing myself on screen — it’s just when that gets paired with my voice and… ugh.
Anyway. That’s why I’m doing this. Podcasting. Is this going to be like when everyone had videoblogs back in 2011? I guess this isn’t really as cringe because it’s not like I’m broadcasting to the world — look at my amazing life! or My life sucks! This is just… for me. Unless, you know, universities want to get a snippet included in my applications. They love people who look like they’re doing stuff as a hobby but look! It can double as extra credits to get me into my dream course!
I’m such a cliche.
I guess I should introduce myself to any potential listeners. My name’s Megan Chen. I’m 17, and I’m in Year 11 at Westbury Grammar.
This is starting to sound like a wanted poster. But instead of Sirius Black’s face, it’ll be mine.
Yeah, and I’m kind of a nerd. But it’s 2017! Nerds are cool now, remember?
Sorry, I’m rambling.
I’d been wanting to start doing something like this for a while now, but I don’t really think my life is very interesting. Like, at all. I go to school, I do my homework, I help my parents. I spend my free time listening to audiobooks and reblogging fan art from my favourite fandoms on Tumblr. My whole life kind of revolves around getting into a journalism course at Melbourne Uni. It’s what I’ve wanted to do my whole life, ever since I saw my mum being called to the office at all times of the day to chase a lead. Except she works in print and I want to do TV.
But… I had to start this sometime, and if there’s any point in my life that has been marginally exciting, it would be tonight. It’s crazy, right? Nothing exciting ever happens in books on a Tuesday night. Tuesday nights are notorious for being horribly, plainly, boring. Tuesday nights are worse than Monday nights, because at least on Monday, you can celebrate getting through undeniably the worst day of the week. It’s worse than Wednesday nights, because you’re over halfway to the weekend. Thursday nights are great because you know Friday is ahead — the second best day after Saturday. And, of course, Friday and Saturday nights are the nights for parties and going out and pretending you won’t have to live through the whole boring routine the next week, and the week after that, and every week for the rest of your life.
But tonight… tonight was different.
It started like every other Tuesday night.
I had debate practice after school, like always, which people expect to be a chore but it’s really not. I mean, it looks good on my uni apps, but as a naturally argumentative person, I enjoy it. Before you get the wrong idea, I don’t think I’m rude, or even particularly sassy. I just like having a good conversation. Too many people at school think it’s just easiest to agree with what other people say, but isn’t it more fun to discuss the pros and cons of something? To throw facts at one another and rebut what they’re saying, even if you don’t believe it, but for argument’s sake?
See, I told you. Nerd.
The free pizza we get each week is pretty good, too, though.
And then, like most nights after my extra curriculars, I headed to the art gallery near our apartment. It’s convenient, living in the heart of Melbourne. It’d be nice to have a garden, I guess, but I’ve lived in apartments in the city my whole life. With mum working on Southbank and dad at a hospital in Fitzroy, it’s the perfect location.
But being in the city all the time can be exhausting. Everyone’s always rushing places. There’s always sirens or people shouting or trams dinging. Sometimes, it feels like the gallery is my only refuge.
There’s something so soothing about being surrounded by all the paintings in perfect quiet. I either listen to an audiobook or start working on my next assignment, but everything seems more calm with the white walls and the silent appreciation of whatever masterpieces are on display that month. The people know me there now. There’s this old guy called Simon who always watches over the part of the gallery I’m in. He’s really sweet.
But tonight, he wasn’t there. Maybe he had a night off or was transferred to another part of the gallery. There was a part of me that felt kind of betrayed. It’s stupid, I know, but I got used to him being there. He was almost like the granddad I never had. Both my dad’s parents died before I knew them and my mum’s parents are still in Nanjing, so I don’t know them that well. We’ve visited a few times, but it’s not the same. My Chinese is about as good as my dad’s — which is basically hi, how are you? and do you have sweet and sour pork? My parents never pushed me to learn Mandarin when I was younger, so I never bothered. I kind of wish I had, now.
And even though Simon never baked me cookies — is that even what granddads do? — I still thought he’d tell me if he was leaving. I didn’t even see anyone as I first walked in. The gallery was quiet for a Tuesday night. Normally there was a few people milling around before it closed at seven. It is getting colder now, though. There’s a frost in the air each morning that settles on the windows of the train that I board to get to school. I have to wear my Ravenclaw beanie to save my ears from getting frostbite. Even my coffee, which I wouldn’t be able to function without, isn’t enough to heat me from the inside out.
So I guess it was no real surprise that people would rather turn on the heater and snuggle up on the couch binging the latest series of Orange is the New Black. But the gallery is my safe place. It’s almost like I can leave my anxiety at the door. For just a little while, the clenching of my heart and those nagging thoughts give me a moment’s rest.
I was sitting on the wooden bench in front of one of Monet’s masterpieces, listening to Sherlock Holmes on my phone. I had my notebook open on my lap and I was meant to be brainstorming ideas for my English speech, but my hand seemed to want to doodle instead of write. I was drawing Sherlock and John running through the Moor, away from a monstrous hound. Sherlock’s head was a bit too big and John’s arms were disproportionate to his body, but it was fun. It was something I didn’t have to worry about being graded — it was just for me. I’d never taken art class in school. I mean, why waste that subject slot when you could be doing something that could get you into your course? Art didn’t really seem like a prerequisite for journalism to me.
I paused the audiobook and stood up to stretch. My blazer was tight, but I was too cold to take it off. It was almost seven o’clock anyway. My parents would be expecting me home soon, that was unless they got called into work or something. They didn’t really have fixed work hours.
But that’s when I noticed someone standing in front of one of the walls. There was just a sliver of them was visible — there was one of those pillars with artwork hanging on it blocking the person from view. They were wearing all black. I guessed it must have been another invigilator but…
Their shoes. That’s the thing that looked out of place. I didn’t even realise it at the time but I was stepping closer to them. Their paint-speckled black sneakers felt almost sacrilegious in a place so clean and sterile, with not a single drop of paint out of place.
And not just that. The paint-speckled foot was tapping… in beat? Was that… music? Coming from headphones? I hadn’t heard it before with my audiobook playing. I mean, I didn’t even see this person when I came in.
I told myself to relax. If it wasn’t an invigilator, it was just another visitor. Nothing weird about that. Surely people would think I’m the strange one here. I lingered around this gallery like a bad smell.
Okay, that person was seriously starting to freak me out. I couldn’t help it. I knew it was stupid — to be scared of someone in the gallery. I knew I was safe here — it was my safe place — but something felt off. I…
I had to leave. It was almost seven anyway, and there’d be an announcement over the loudspeaker soon, saying they’d be closing up for the night. I stepped back to the bench and piled everything back into my heavy schoolbag, zipping it up and throwing it over a shoulder. The key rings on my bag jangled ominously in the silence. Ugh, god. I’m so awkward.
My hands were clenched into fists in the pockets of my blazer as I rounded the corner, and then I saw her. For a moment, she didn’t see me. Her eyes were downcast — thick eyeliner extending out into wings sharp enough to cut open hearts. Choppy brown hair with a fringe that looked like it would almost fall into her eyes. But that’s not all.
She was an invigilator after all — she must have been new. No one else’s uniforms still had the crease marks still in them. There was flecks of paint on her pale arms where she had rolled them up.
That’s when she realised someone else was in the gallery with her. Me. I was there, just staring at her like an idiot. But by the time I came to my senses, her eyes snapped to mine. They weren’t piercing blue eyes like all those crappy romance novels. They were just brown, unreadable. Her lips curled up — into a smile? A smirk?
I grinned back, probably showing too much teeth. Ugh, I hate the way I smile when I’m caught off-guard. Like when my friends take a photo of me, catching me unaware, and I’m just so… cringe. It’s just another thing I can’t control. Another glorious thing to add to the ball of anxiety inside my chest.
And when she looked at me, I swear my heart started beating double-time. I didn’t think anything else of it then, but maybe not everything was to do with my anxiety? Maybe there was… something else?
Ugh god, I can’t stop smiling. Thank goodness this is just audio and not a video — I probably look deranged.
But I’m getting to that part. That’s why tonight was so… unexpectedly good, I think? It’s not like tonight was the best night or my life or the night I found my true love, but it was… kind of what I needed. Sometimes you just need to know you’re not invisible, you know? Like you can be someone outside of who everyone else expects you to be. Sometimes I feel like I haven’t been me in a long time.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. No, the world didn’t explode into fireworks when she smiled at me. But I won’t deny that when she said ‘hey’, there was a flutter in my chest. I paused, my feet stuck to the gallery floor. There could be so many nuances in a simple ‘hey’. Was she saying goodnight? Was she just acknowledging my existence? Would I seem rude if I ignored her? Did she want to talk to me?
Like usual, my mind was churning at a million miles an hour and I felt like I’d lost all ability to speak English. My ‘hey’ was a few beats too late and I felt my cheeks heat up. Ugh I’m so embarrassing.
‘What were you listening to?’ she said.
I told her it was just an audiobook. You know, nerd alert. She laughed, but not unkindly. I didn’t ask, but she told me her favourite band released a new album today. I didn’t know invigilators could listen to music on their shifts. Or wear dirty shoes. Or lean against the wall like she was doing.
Yes. I said all of that, and I totally sounded like her supervisor.
And then she did that thing with her lips where they just tugged up on one side, like she had a secret she couldn’t tell anyone. It was cute. She was cute. I don’t know why I didn’t…
Turns out she was doing some volunteer work for the gallery. I didn’t even know they did that kind of thing here. I thought, you know, you had to do an invigilator course or something, or at least know something about art. Apparently not for Desaray.
Oh yeah, I forgot to tell you. That’s her name. Dessie, for short.
She curled her earphones into her hand and flicked on her phone. She had to close up this part of the gallery. I told her that it was fine and I might see her around. We walked to the double doors that lead out into the foyer, but she closed them before I could walk through.
‘What’s going on?’ I asked.
She smiled. It was sort of subtle and perfect, and she took me by the hand, leading me through the gallery. We headed for the fire exit door. I looked around like someone was going to ask what we were doing, or like the fire alarm would go off. I mean, I didn’t even know where she was taking me then. But I followed her anyway. Her fingers were laced through mine. They were warm.
It wasn’t until we were in the cold concrete stairwell that she told me she wanted to show me the roof. I felt like I was already being too much of the teacher’s pet that I was at school, so I didn’t ask if it was allowed. It probably wasn’t, but she worked there, right? I mean, she was volunteering, at least.
When we got to the roof, she told me the real reason why she was here. I should have been angry, but I wasn’t. There was something about her that made me think I could help her. That if I could only be a part of her life, that I could fix it. I’m stupid, I know, but at that moment, the only thing I wanted was to stay on the roof with her for hours.
It was completely dark outside then, and all the lights in the surrounding buildings had been turned on. I had to wrap my blazer even tighter around me — the wind was bitterly cold. My teeth were chattering, but at the same time, the cold air felt nice.
Yeah, I’m one of those weird people that loves winter. I love being able to go out wearing scarves and long coats and boots. But third term had just started yesterday, so winter was on its way out.
And so yeah, we talked and… took in the view. I wondered why she took me up there. ‘To show me the view’, she said. It’s true I hadn’t seen the city from there before, but why me? Didn’t she have somewhere else to be?
But the truth was… she said she’d painted graffiti on one of the walls of the gallery. By accident! Like, I know you don’t just accidentally graffiti a wall, but she didn’t know it belonged to the gallery.
To cut a long story short, she told me that it was between her doing 120 hours of unpaid service to the gallery or get the police involved. She was starting at a private school this term and she said they’d take away her scholarship for sure if they found out by getting the police involved.
She got a scholarship for art. How ironic is that?
But being with her, talking to her… it was like someone saw me for the first time. She didn’t know me from school, as the girl most likely to be school captain next year, or the girl with straight As. She didn’t have a clue who I was, and that felt… amazing. Like I could be anyone I wanted. Like I could be me. That’s the only person I really want to be, to be honest. In the end, does anyone really want to be someone else? Sure, we can pretend all we like to be the class clown or the band geek or whatever, but do we all really want to play those parts? Wouldn’t it be so much easier if being ourselves was enough?
It was just us sitting there, no pretences getting in the way. No reputations to uphold. From what I could tell, Dessie didn’t seem like the type of person to put a mask on. There was something about her that was so raw and honest. It wasn’t like she was embarrassed when she told me what she did and how she ended up here, she just stated it like it was a fact and that’s how things were.
But at around 7.30, I got a text from my mum asking what kind of takeout I wanted — that meant Dad was probably at work. If he was at home, we’d probably be having gourmet noodles or something. He loves to cook. When he’s here, at least.
I told Dessie that I had to go, and so we walked back down the stairwell and through a door that led out into the carpark. I wanted to see her graffiti at least, but she pointed to the outside wall in dismay. All I could see was a painted black brick wall. I wondered what her graffiti was like. I wondered if it was amazing.
And then that was it. We both walked into the night, opposite ways. Looking back on it, I really should have got her number or her Facebook or anything. All I have is a name — Desaray — and the fleeting memories of tonight.
Mum and I had Indian for dinner. Now she’s on the couch watching Love Child, and I’m here, sitting at my desk and denying the fact that I haven’t made any progress in working out what I want to make my English speech on. I’m thinking maybe same-sex marriage, but I don’t know. It seems kinda cliched coming from me — the first openly gay girl at Westbury. Maybe I’ll do it on vegetarianism or feminism or global warming. Ugh. All those ideas are so overdone. I don’t know.
But anyway. I had a nice night tonight. I’m mad at myself for not getting Dessie’s number, but who knows. Maybe she’ll be at the gallery tomorrow night. I don’t know how long she’s done her community service at the gallery for, or maybe she’s just started, seeing as I haven’t seen her there until tonight.
We’ll see. I hope.
That’s really all I wanted to say tonight. I’m sure I’ll be recording more of these if something eventuates, or if my life suddenly becomes interesting. I doubt it, but you never know. Not if Dessie has something to do with it.
Until then, I guess.
Megan Chen, signing off.