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My brother comes to visit on a Saturday night. The weather has been hot all day, lingered around and stayed until late. The man I’m living with has an apartment on the ninth floor of an old hotel in the shady part of the city. I don’t mind it. It’s convenient, and a whole suburb away from my ex, so there’s no possibility of awkward run-ins. I’m grateful for the distance those few kilometres provide. The man I live with is ten years older. I’m fond of him, but I’m also very lonely. Not because I don’t have close and loving friends and family but because my needs are excessive. Nothing is ever good enough. I always want more. I thought it would go away someday, this relentless appetite. But no. What never went away was my constant self-judgement, while my brother never failed to impress.

I’d spent the afternoon trying to work on my paper, but the light from the window was distracting, and I ended up going out onto the balcony and clipping my toenails instead.

The pieces fell onto the floor and I swept them up and tossed them over the balcony. I didn’t care that they’d land on the balcony of the apartment below. It is probably full of pieces of human. Dead pieces. I like to imagine that area filled with parts of us that mix in with parts of strangers we’ve never met.


We walk the streets, my brother and me. It’s cold. ‘Bitter winter,’ I say. He picks dumplings.

The dumpling house is a hole in the wall. The tables are street level, the kitchen is downstairs. The man and I have eaten here a handful of times. We are always given a table outside. Tonight, my brother and I sit inside because it is draughty and because all the outside tables are occupied. We are seated opposite each other on a tiny table against the wall. People have to squeeze past us down the aisle to get to the cashier to pay.

My brother’s phone rings. A cousin from Taipei. Our uncle is trying to reach Mother. What possibly for? we ponder aloud. Is he dying? Writing her into his will? No. He has more important people to give away his money to; he has grandchildren now. I did not know this. We order a plate of greens. Pan-fried dumplings. Steamed dumplings. My brother calls Mother. Mother says she’s not been sleeping well.

Experiencing dizziness. Sore muscles. Dry throat. ‘Jet-lagged?’ my brother offers. ‘Maybe go out for a walk. Get some fresh air.’

The food comes, very late. We eat and talk about euthanasia and cycling and carceral feminism and Jackie Chan. I tell him how funny it is that when you do an internet search of the word ‘euthanasia’ the pictures that show up are of one hand holding onto another hand. He tells me about his lover and I tell him about mine. We are both with the wrong people. If we’d not been siblings, I’d have wanted to marry him. But I’d be the kind of wife who would withhold sex when I wanted something, only relenting when I really, truly had to. Otherwise it would be a sexless marriage and he’d have to be okay with that. Because my brother is the most perfect human being who has ever existed. I have no doubt. We are both going to marry the wrong people.

Next to us, a young, white couple have just finished their meals. They are waiting on dessert. The woman is blonde, pretty and round. She is wearing a leather jacket with silver studs and black jeans. She and her boyfriend are sitting side by side. She has one arm slung around his neck. His elbows are propped on the edge of the long table, fingers weaved together. She wants love. He wants space.

While my brother is texting back to our cousin, I study the boyfriend’s face. He is very handsome. A young Tom Cruise. He could be on the cover of GQ. He’s also got the deferential gaze of someone who has been used to a life of being wanted. She wants love and he wants space. Every time I look over, the woman has rearranged her arm around his neck—a new contortion of limbs. It looks awkward, contrived. Like they are teenage drama students in a dress rehearsal for a play, faking it real bad. I pity her. Her high-pitched voice and all that effort. Their dessert arrives. Mango sago pudding. The man and woman are sweet and polite, thanking the Asian busboy (he is not a boy but a man, roughly my father’s age). He clears their table and places the bowl between them. She gets out her phone and shows her boyfriend something. He gets out his phone. She looks at pictures. ‘Which one is me?’ she asks him sweetly.

‘The sexy one,’ he says, barely smiling. As though a smile costs him something he needs to keep in reserve.

A male couple are seated behind my brother. They, too, are sitting side by side on the same long stool. One of them is Asian, the other white. The whole time my brother and I are inside the restaurant, the men do not talk to each other. Both adopt the same pose: elbows propped on the table, gaze centred on their phones. The only time they put them down is when the food comes and they have to eat. Soon one of them will have to pay for the food. When my brother says,

‘I’m uncomfortable on this chair,’ I suggest we head out, with me paying because I am closer to the cashier.

I wait behind another couple who are paying for their takeaway. The woman gets out her wallet and passes the Asian busboy a $50 note. Her boyfriend watches her make the exchange. Why are women paying for all the meals tonight? Perhaps only women carry cash, and this is a cash only restaurant.

We walk to the other side of Potts Point—past a homeless man seated cross-legged by a bus stop, a few metres from the entry to Woolworths. As we head inside, he looks up at us and mutters, ‘Spare change?’ We ignore him.

We head to the ice-cream aisle and ponder the selection. Strawberry and balsamic vinegar or white chocolate and sesame? Dairy Company or Messina? We settle for a frozen yoghurt and Sara Lee Classic Strawberry. I pay for the strawberry and my brother pays for the yoghurt. As we’re scanning our ice-creams at the machines, he notices me now using a card. When we walk out, he says, ‘Now that everyone’s tapping cards and cash is not being used, how are the homeless being impacted? Maybe they all need a machine and then we can simply offer a donation and tap.’

We walk past crowds, the Saturday night bunch. My brother says, ‘Someone can just walk up to you and punch you and you’re dead.’ He calls Kings Cross the ‘one-punch central of Sydney’.

We come home and he takes a piss in the bathroom. I scoop the ice-cream into two glasses. I top up his glass with a spoonful of caramel sauce from a bottle I got in France. We eat in silence.


My brother was never a child. All those years of my brother inside that small room beside the laundry. That room with blinds that were always drawn, even though it looked out onto the beautiful garden my mother had created. Because the garden was near the fence, and that fence was low, and my mother feared Mr Victor next door would peek over and invade my brother’s privacy—or take something from my brother, just by looking inside his room. Even though Mr Victor was the nicest man we’d ever known; he’d lost his wife ten years ago and lived alone. He had a nice, clean swimming pool that would go unused during the week and become crowded on the weekends when his four grandchildren came to visit.

The sounds of flesh in water had always made me jealous. My mother never let us go next door to swim, even though we were school-champion swimmers and we’d give Mr Victor our lemons when the tree grew too many and we ran out of things to do to them (lemon isn’t featured much in Taiwanese cooking). My mother was worried. She was always worried back then. ‘Draw the blinds,’ she’d bark. Like we always had something shameful to hide. Like we always had something to hide. Like, if we had been seen, something essential about who we were would be taken away.

My brother’s room was always a mess, but that’s the way I liked it. To me, it felt like the natural way of being. The door was a basic white with a flimsy copper doorknob decorated with cheap-looking swirls. My brother hardly ever kept his door closed, instead leaving it slightly open. Inside his room, there was always only ever a single lightbulb turned on. A white light, the harsh type. Warehouse light.

My brother and I have always been close. That statement doesn’t feel entirely true. Neither is it entirely false. Maybe I have only ever been clinging to the hope that we’d stay close forever. I never imagined I’d fall in love the way I did. But I have always loved my brother. Even before I knew what love was. Even before I was born.


My brother lived in that room at the end of the hallway directly opposite my parents’ bathroom. Maybe they chose that as his room for reasons we would only understand later, as adults. Was it to keep an eye out for him? Because he was the only boy? My two sisters and I weren’t so tightly surveilled. But then we were in other, more complicated ways. Ways we did not need to wait for adulthood to understand. I think it must be a special power we have, as girls. An intuition. I’d always known the private limitations of being a woman. Something we’d always accepted because we wanted to be loved. When my mother asked my brother to shut the blinds in his room, my brother said yes, even though he wanted some natural light and a view of the gardenia bushes—he said yes, because he wanted to be loved. We were all of this world, bound, burdened and completely foreign and free. Tethered to a love that could at any time whip us across our chest and leave us suffocating in our own sweat.


The blinds in our house were cheap. We knew this because they’d often break—and cheap things broke easily. That’s what my parents told us. When our neighbours announced they were divorcing, my mother said, ‘Their love was cheap!’I wondered what they said about our blinds. Our house. Things were softening and falling apart. As though they were designed to disintegrate after minimal use.

The blinds were the most obvious. They were thin and made of plastic, each panel a blue wafer lined up like cards spread out by one palm swipe. When one of them came undone at its head, well. It was made worse when the silver clip that the plastic hoops clinched onto broke, and you had no real way of fixing them because the hoops were so tiny and of such a peculiar shape that no replacement could be found at the hardware store. This frustrated us all immensely. Especially my father, who held a fundamental belief that anything material could be fixed. My brother and I would use Blu Tack to glue it back together, though it would quickly come undone again. We didn’t mind the fixing. We could not have strangers peer into our private home.


I’d always go back to my brother’s room. It had a walk-in wardrobe, though you could only take a baby step inside before you knocked your head on the shelves. It was more like a phone booth, filled with my brother’s dirty socks and unworn jackets and play things. Boxes of Lego. The jackets were left hanging, never exposed to the Australian sun, because they were always too big for my brother. My mother was always buying clothes a few sizes too big for us. Why? To make us look like underfed orphans, so that people would pity us and therefore treat us kinder? To save money, so she would not have to fork out precious cash for when we grew bigger, taller? Or was it to inspire us to eat more? Especially my brother, who never really ate, rather picked at his food. Grazed, reluctantly. My brother—my little brother, who is actually three years older than me, but always skinnier and shorter than us.

Me and my sisters loved to eat. We were hungry all the time, especially my older sister when she got her period. But my brother didn’t get periods. He never liked food. At mealtimes he’d sit hunched in his chair next to my father, head hanging low over the bowl of rice, and pick at his food one rice grain at a time. This always made my mother sad. I wonder if it made my brother sad too, unable to fill those too-large jackets. He never did fill them, and by the time he lost his virginity and had his heart broken (all in the same year, by the same woman) he was too old for basketball hoodies and rain jackets with Snoopy logos. I guess my mother never anticipated that would happen. A failure of imagination on her part. Who knows where those jackets are now—if they’re warming the body of someone who craves their tight, embracing wool.

Sometimes I’d go into my brother’s room and pull out his big folder of Quest, sit cross-legged on the carpet (always rearranging a few things first, pushing away Gundam figurines, loose socks and underwear) and look through the pictures—of quasars and stars and galaxies, special high-speed trains and close-ups of insect faces. Quest was a bi-weekly science magazine for kids. My brother had collected a giant stack. One day he convinced my mother to buy him a big blue folder to put all the issues in. But I only ever looked at the pictures. I was never interested in reading. Maybe I didn’t know how. Occasionally the magazine would come with gifts: a crystal, or a figurine of a bridge in France. My brother would display these trinkets on his desk shelf. The shelf was filled with other random things. Plastic toys of soldiers in combat gear, armed men with swords, samurai, plastic models of Jar Jar Binks. Padme playing cards. He had a huge crush on Natalie Portman.

There were two drawers underneath the desk. I remember opening them and finding loose paper, half-filled maths books, compass, protractor, pencils. A set of geometry rulers. My brother was very good at maths and went on to study architecture at university. But I always go back to that room next to the laundry. Opposite my parents’ bathroom. To the light, white and piercing, and the door, slightly ajar. The wardrobe was another universe. I never saw my mother in his room. It was his private sanctuary. My brother had a small torch projector that looked like an oversized microphone. It was blue and light, with a slot where you slid in a circle film as thin as paper. This film had a dozen coloured pictures of still shots from Disney movies, and when you put it in and pressed the red button on the torch, it would project the image in all its colourful glory onto the wall.

My brother would clear a space in his phone-booth wardrobe and we’d lean against the wall and listen to the clicks and watch the still images. Being with my brother was magic. The image I loved the most, the only one I remember, is one of Aladdin just as he enters the cave of wonders. It felt like we were in the cave with him.


They took him to see a child psychologist. Or was it a maths tutor? My brother’s Year 3 teacher told my parents their only son had a learning disability. My parents believed the teacher. His name was Mr Shanks and he was nearing retirement. My father came home that day and retreated to his study. My mother said he did not talk to anyone for a whole week. In kindergarten, when we were still in Taiwan, my mother would make him kneel in front of the Buddha shrine for an entire hour when he couldn’t recite his three times table. Nine years later, my brother won first prize in the state for maths.


One night, long ago, I told my brother about the dead gaze of our parents watching television ads, their eyes like zombies’. We had parked the car on my street and stayed in our seats, staring through a window high up on the second floor of a residential building directly in front of us. We could see a hint of a shadow of something moving. The top of a man’s head, crazed curls. He moved right, then left, then right again.

‘Maybe it’s a dog,’ I said.

We watched it closely for a few minutes.

‘We’re just like Mum and Dad watching TV,’ said my brother.


The man I live with finally returns from Bolivia and I pick him up from the airport. He tells me on the way back to his apartment that he no longer wants to be in a relationship, and so I pack my things and catch a taxi to my brother’s place. My brother is working late, and so I have to make awkward conversation with his girlfriend, who he’d only just started living with and who doesn’t know much English. I ask her whether she knows Bolivia, and she says no. When he finally comes home, I’ve fallen asleep. The couch is not very comfortable, but I take sleeping pills and they work okay. I want to forget the man and everything he’s done. He turns out to be someone I easily forget.

My brother takes the next day off work to be with me, which I think is overly generous. I wouldn’t have done that for him. But that’s the sort of person he is. His love and attention seem boundless. He is my Mary, Jesus, Joseph, Christ. The light and air is made up of molecules that serve only him and his presence, and the whole world makes sense through his speech and his face. I don’t know how to process a life that isn’t made up of him. I don’t know because I am young and still in love with the man from Bolivia, but my love is still measured by a self-loathing I don’t yet understand. Only years later will I understand the cost of mislabelling the thing called love.

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