My first boyfriend, Ryan Forster, took up boxing when we started seeing each other. We would meet at the RSL, in front of whichever screen displayed a match. I wasn’t a fan of how the boxers’ faces oozed like rare steaks by the end. Once, I tried to hold Ryan’s hand beneath the table but his fist was clenched.
After I moved to Blacktown we became – conversely – closer. Maybe because I was alone and dependant on his timely Facebook replies to my updates on the day’s quirks. Like when I passed a man urinating down an escalator in Town Hall, or when a mob of seagulls knocked a cheeseburger from my hand and I cried for fifteen minutes.
Two months after I settled into my dorm-room and schedule, he visited me. After we fucked on my single bed I didn’t know what to do. I took him to one of Sydney’s last arcades, where he rushed to the boxing game (in which a speedbag hangs from an electronic wire and players are awarded for how hard they can hit it). Ryan hit it over and over again while a rush of paper tickets shot from the bottom of the machine.
On the walk home I tried to kiss him, but he jerked his head away.
This isn’t Parkes, I told him.
I’m just not used to it, he said.
That night I asked if he wanted to join me permanently. He could live in my room and pretend we were just mates whenever an RA came. None of my neighbours would report him.
It’s better here, isn’t it? I asked.
He nodded and I went to sleep happy, even though the bed was too small and I kept falling off.
In the morning, I woke to a bang. Ryan dabbed at his knuckles with a tissue. A small black spider was smeared against my writing table.
First round knockout, he said.
He was sweating and red-faced when I saw him off at the train station. He insisted that he was fine and boarded the train. At lunchtime I got a call from a nurse in Katoomba, saying Ryan had collapsed on the train and been admitted with seizures and swollen knuckles. He was fine now, but was unable to speak.
She asked me if he’d handled a spider recently – specifically a funnel-web. I told her that he’d punched a small black spider this morning, but I didn’t know what it was.
Punched it? she asked. Why would he punch it?
It’s just how he deals with things.