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2022

This morning, I pulled up our car in the carpark near Rydalmere wharf. I stepped out of the car and glanced around, looking for Rod’s car.


“Hi, babe,” a cheery female voice spoke up, and then slender arms were embracing me. “We’re all thinking and praying for you always.”


She kissed me on the cheek, then finally let me go. When the young woman rocked back on her bejewelled thongs, I still didn’t recognise her face. Yet, the man beside her startled me. When a red car pulled into the carpark, which I acknowledged as Rod’s, I was grateful.


“Sorry, babe, I’m Veronica, Dave’s girlfriend,” the young woman introduced herself.


As Rod stepped out of his car, I tried not to look at Dave. Rod looked a little alarmed, as he spotted us.


“Hello,” he greeted us.


“Hello,” I replied.


Leaving Dave and Veronica in the dust, I ambled over. Without a further word, I wrapped Rod into a tight embrace.


“I’m so sorry,” he apologised in a hushed voice. “I didn’t realise that Dave would be bringing his new girlfriend.”


“I’m so sorry,” I echoed. “That must be so incredibly hard for you.”


I couldn’t replace my brother. Yet, for people with a missing partner, there was always that choice. Dave had obviously made that choice, but I wanted to begrudge him for it, which I shouldn’t have.


“Come on,” Rod urged, and we parted. “The ferry’s coming.”


As we ambled back over, I made sure that the car was locked and I had my purse. The ferry docked at Rydalmere wharf, the deckhands securing it with thick ropes. Veronica ambled down the wharf. She was hand in hand with Dave, who followed after her, both in black thongs even though it’s late May and chilly. I thanked the deckhands as I got onto the ferry. Despite the cool weather, Veronica insisted we sit upstairs.


“I just love how the wind feels in my hair,” she gushed.


Nodding and smiling, I tried to relax.


“So, what keeps you busy, Nina?” Veronica wanted to know.


“Well, I’m at uni,” I answered.


“What are you studying?”


“Arts and primary and secondary education.”


“Anyone for Cabarita?” the deckhand shouted.


Nobody must have answered in the affirmative. The ferry continued motoring down the river, the harbour spectacularly before us.


“I never get sick of this view.”


Perhaps Veronica caught the ferry often. I felt queasy and light-headed for a moment, then the sensation passed.


“Have you voted already?” Veronica queried.


I always feel hesitant to bring up politics.


“No, I haven’t,” I confirmed. “I’ll go later.”


“I just can’t wait to get rid of Scott Morrison. The bloke might seem like he’s harmless. You can get a long way being a bumbling fool and defending misogynists while you’re at it.”


She shook her head.


“I just can’t believe they thought that they could get away with how they treat women, what they say about women.” Veronica pushed her sunglasses further up the bridge of her nose, rearranging her legs at the same time. “I hope some of the women independents get in, too, they really want to take more action on climate which is much needed at the end of the day.”


Dave slung his arm around his girlfriend’s shoulders.


“You got her started.”


“It’s alright.”


“We’ll be talking about Roe versus Wade next.”


“Yes, we might just be.”


Veronica flashed a look in Dave’s direction. I felt guilty that I’d typecast her as something of a bimbo upon first meeting, the use of ‘babe’ as punctuation causing my internalised misogyny to shout.


“Do you know your Enneagram type, babe?”


“Yeah, I do,” I confirmed. “I actually did the test yesterday. We’re talking about it with the group on Wednesday. I’m a Type Three.”


Veronica nodded. I wondered what sort of relationship she held with the support group. Currently, he doesn’t attend meetings.


“I’m a Five, the investigator,” Veronica divulged, which I wouldn’t have initially expected, but was starting to make sense.


We finally arrived at Barangaroo wharf. I swear the ferries to Darling Harbour dock further away each time I frequent the city, which only seems to encourage pedestrians. Once the boat had been secured, we disembarked. Veronica took a deep breath, long, tanned legs striding through the sunlight, over the bright concrete. I shifted my sunglasses down. Veronica took hands with Dave, while I fell into step with Rod behind them. Perhaps we should have invited others along, so it didn’t seem like I was double-dating a bloke twice my age. Finally, Veronica paused.


“Oh, this place is wonderful,” she gushed, and the decision was made for where we would be eating.


A waitress approached.


“Could we have a table for four, please?”


We were shown over to a nearby table, sitting down at the white chairs. As menus were handed around, the four of us each decided on a meal and a drink. The prices were provided without dollar signs. Naturally they want you to dissociate from their monetary value. When the waitress returned, we nonetheless ordered our food. I chose a veggie burger. Veronica snapped a beaming selfie of the four of us at lunch. Glancing over at the screen of her phone only attracting a little bit of glare, we looked like shiny, happy, Instagram people. The food arrived relatively quickly and I thanked the waitress as she placed my lunch down.


“Could I have a glass of wine, please?” I requested. “Yes, red wine. That would be great, thank you.”


She agreed and scampered off. We tucked into our food. The waitress returned and placed my glass of wine onto the table.


“Thank you.”


“What are we going to do next?” Rod wanted to know.


“The aquarium’s always fun.” Veronica stabbed a piece of ravioli with her fork. “We could go there next.”


The decision was made, conversation and chewing flowing on with the hope of things to come, an under-the-sea adventure.


“I have a sister, her name is Nicole, she’s younger than me.”


Veronica displayed me an empathetic smile.


“You are a good, good sister. Never forget that.”

I nodded.


“Thank you.”


A waiter arrived at the table. We split the bill, then departed with thanks. I continued to think about the election as the four of us ambled along towards our next destination, closer to the heart of the Harbour precinct.


“I love those things where they get an octopus or something to guess the result of the election,” I babbled, to distract myself. “I’m a little addicted to them.”


We stepped into the chill of the shade and joined the queue heading into the aquarium. I thought back to the last time that I would have visited, at high school. The four of us reached the front of the queue. We paid for our tickets, the price more expensive than I recalled, but I never would have paid for myself before.


“Welcome to Sea Life Sydney Aquarium.”


I didn’t know what other types of aquariums there are, but apparently it’s a franchise name. We passed through into a tunnel. It felt a little dark and dingy, until I looked to the left and marvelled. Light shone into water. A screen to the right of the tank scrolled through identifications for the various fish species housed within, providing their scientific names. Golden fish swished through the water, with a teal and purple hue. Reeds swayed in the created seabed. I even spotted a Port Jackson Shark. My grandparents owned one once, when we were children. I think that he ate the other fish. Hopefully the neighbours of this shark, wouldn’t meet the same fate. In the following enclosure, Little Penguins huddled on the sand. They were cute, but seemed like they were cold. I followed Veronica, Dave and Rod. The next tanks were vertical. They seemed to be heavily themed like a shipwreck, which I think was the same of that area or something. I found myself distracted by the screens. They flicked between slides, detailing the names of the fish species within. I tried to suppress a giggle at some of the unusual species names for the fish. Pyjama Cardinalfish, Grooved Razorfish – they sounded like they were named by a child, although I shouldn’t consider that an insult. I felt a little overfull from lunch. Walking around the aquarium proved a balm, although I know that I moved more slowly than some of the others. I thought of Hayley and how much she would have loved a day like this. My heartbeat was a constant, unnerving presence. Finally, my eyes turned to the eels. Body and tail couldn’t be distinguished. I watched them swish and felt like it would have been either the most peaceful, or the most disorientating, feeling in the world. I couldn’t ask them, although I would have liked to. There are photos of Mitchell and me. He’s about six, I think. We’re crouched on a little concrete bridge. I’m only a toddler, so I don’t remember it. Both of us are smiling sweetly at my parents’ relatively new digital camera, the moment to end up on a flash drive somewhere. In the next images, there are eels swimming, and I feel like I remember, even though it’s a fiction. The others had already moved on, by the time I noticed. I watched little seahorses bob around in their habitat. The net in the tank seemed to be overdoing it a bit, and I worried that the seahorses would get tangled into it.


“You know that male seahorses get pregnant, or something.”


“Everyone knows that,” Dave assured.


“Imagine that, hey.”


Veronica held onto Dave’s biceps, pressing a kiss to his shoulder blades, before moving on with a grin. The couple found themselves walking ahead of us.


“They’re all over each other.”


I glanced sideways at Rod.


“Gracie didn’t abandon him.”


“Right.”


“I don’t like to talk about this in front of him, even though I think he needs to hear it sometimes.”


“Can I ask, do you have any idea what happened to her?”


“She went to Tasmania to look for Dave when he disappeared and she disappeared in the process.”


The tragedy of it grew in my gut, like a two-headed monster.


“Anyway, talk to me about something else before I drive myself crazy.”


“I’m in a musical at uni.”


“That’s cool, what production?”


“Grease. I’m just a chorus member.”


“Well, when the show’s on, I’ll have to come and see it.”


“That would be lovely, thank you.”


Before we left the aquarium, I ducked into the women’s toilets while Veronica was in the gift shop. Once I’d washed my hands, I pondered buying a souvenir. Vanessa came over, holding a mug bearing an artwork of a dolphin. She ran her hand through her blonde hair and I could just picture a massive engagement ring on her finger.


“Did you buy that?” Rod enquired.


Vanessa chuckled.


“No, Dave bought it for me.”


“Well, I’m the mug, aren’t I?”


Neither of them seemed to get the others’ jokes, despite their somewhat coy smiles. I opted against buying a souvenir. We walked back to the ferry, heavy clouds overhead. I recorded a little video of the water. When I watched it back while we waited in line, the footage was too jerky to not look cringeworthy if posted to my Instagram story. The trip back was a little choppy, but I eventually returned to Rydalmere and bid the others goodbye. Mum sent me a text message to tell me that they were leaving, and to make sure that I would be able to make my own way there. As much as I would have liked to go with them, I told her that I was fine, that everything was fine. Mum reminded me that I needed to make sure that I voted before six o’clock. So, I dropped off at a primary school on the way. Being late in the day, there thankfully weren’t that many cars around. At the school I bumped into Geoff, still wearing black trousers, but having replaced his blue police top with a T-shirt.


“Hey,” I greeted him, heart thumping. “Fancy meeting you here.”


“I’ve just knocked off work.”


“Do you need to go in and vote?”


“Yeah.”


The two of us joined the stump of the queue, those straggling after the sausage sizzle had finished. I wasn’t too concerned that we wouldn’t reach the front. In this democratic country, they couldn’t just close the doors and not allow us in to vote, especially once we were already in the queue. My heart was beating faster than I would have liked. Finally, we reached the front of the queue and were ushered inside the hall, over to the rolls to mark off our names.


“I’m Nina Margaret del Reyan,” I told the volunteer, and provided my address.


“And are you at the same address?"


Geoff and I glanced at each other.


“No, we’re not,” he told her.


Geoff gave his address. We were both marked off, and our ballot papers handed over. Geoff and I scampered away to cardboard polling booths with the little pencils, three apart from one another. As I started to mark the numerals, I felt like I lost all sense of mathematics, but I managed to get my vote down, finishing shortly after Geoff. We stuffed our ballot papers into the boxes. With the job done, I wanted to stay with him. Geoff and I wandered out of the school hall, back into the cold. I wracked my brain for something to say.


“We’re going to Aunty June and Uncle Carlos’ place tonight.”


He nodded.


“Well, I’ll see you later,” Geoff farewelled me. “Enjoy the party tonight.”


“Bye.”


We turned around and headed back to our cars. When I got back into the driver’s seat, my chest felt heavy. Finally, I fastened my seatbelt, starting the ignition. I drove through the streets, which glistened as the lights came on, a sheen of water over the bitumen. The radio speculated as to the election results, despite the unknowingness which resulted from the fact that polls were only just closing in the eastern states. Arriving at Uncle Carlos and Aunty June’s house in Cherrybrook, the driveway was full. Therefore, I parked on the opposite side of the road and crossed precariously at the refuge island, eventually making it across with a sigh. I snuck down the side of the driveway, past the cars, many of which bore P plates. Eventually I reached the front gate. Its sole purpose was to keep in their cat, Betty, so that she couldn’t escape the house or front yard. I opened it and slipped inside. Betty padded over and greeted me. She purred and nuzzled against my shin. Smiling, I leaned over and patted down her back.


“Hello, Nina,” Aunty June greeted me.


I glanced up as she opened the screen door and stepped outside.


“Your Mum told me that you were visiting a friend of yours from the support group today,” Aunty June revealed, then let me into the house.


“Yes, we went into the aquarium.”


“The retiring MP had a strong community connection.”


I turned my attention to the television, switched onto the ABC’s election coverage.


“Take a seat, Nina,” Aunty June urged. “Would you like something to drink?”


“A glass of water would be lovely, thank you.”


She nodded, then scampered off to the kitchen.


“Based on two-party preferences, the AEC is reporting this as the Liberal Party up against the independent, Doctor Monique Ryan.”


Aunty June returned and passed a glass of water into my hands. It tasted soothing, considering that I’d already had a glass of wine with lunch. I’d kept up with the election campaign, although the result lingered like a question mark. I knew how I’d voted, but I just counted for one person in a safe seat – hardly going to tip the result one way or the other.


“The local member, Josh Frydenburg, and the Treasurer, is coming up against some stiff competition here, a solid local campaign. These are very early numbers that we’re seeing here at the moment, obviously, but currently, Doctor Monique Ryan is well and truly holding her ground against the Treasurer."


I tempered my smile. It would be a massive upset for the Treasurer to be unseated. It still was not a done deal, so I suspected the coverage would be checking back in with the seat of Kooyong on multiple occasions throughout the night.


“Do you reckon these independents think they’re able to win?” Dad enquired.


“They would have to think that they can,” Aunty June reasoned. “Nobody would run for parliament just for the jollies.”


“Oh, trust me, some people will,” Connor pointed out.


“Let’s go back to the first screen.”


I yawned. It wasn’t a reflection of my lack of interest.


“This is the new seat of Hawke.”


I presumed it to be named after the former Prime Minister.


“We expected this because of the boundary redistribution.”


It seemed like the seat was swinging towards Labor. Perhaps that would be significant in the overall course of election night. Maybe, on the other hand, it wouldn’t be at all, which we could not tell for sure until the votes were counted. Dad glanced towards the remote. I turned to Mum beside me, her complexion ashen.


“Are you feeling a bit under the weather?” I queried.


“I’m a little bit tired.”


“The polls are still open in Western Australia, of course.”


I turned my attention back to the TV. There was something rhythmic and calming about watching the pundits move through the electorates. Hearing Mitchell, I sat forward.


“This is a Liberal hold.”


I at least appreciated our electorate rating a mention. They must have been cycling through those with little contention in their results. I flicked through my phone for a bit. Most of Twitter was election-related, although Instagram generally looked like it always did on a Saturday night. Girlies were out on the town with fun drinks. It wasn’t where I would rather be, even though I imagined an alternate reality in which it was. I put down my phone.


“I have some early booth results, South Australia, of course, being half an hour behind the eastern states.”


He tapped the screen a few times, bringing up the faces of people who, to me, all looked the same. Following that, we travelled to Hughes.


“This is Craig Kelly’s electorate.”


Aunty June struggled to hide her disgust at the thought of him. I couldn’t exactly blame her, although this was an election night like no other. All of a sudden, the breaking news music sounded. I knew that my heartrate was elevated to a level I didn’t appreciate. For a moment, the room hushed. My pulse continued like a munching caterpillar. I didn’t really want to watch, but couldn’t look away – so much for not being invested. So much for believing there were bigger things at stake.


“I have an update in Kooyong.”


Aunty June sat forward in her seat as the numbers came up on the touchscreen. I found myself flicking through my phone. The results came up via Twitter, before it had been officially announced, that the seat had fallen to the teal independent. Cutting away from Antony Green, the ABC interviewed her.


“Well, there you go.” Aunty June turned to me with a grin. “They said that it takes three independents to change the government.”


“Do you think it’s going to be a hung parliament?”


“That’s what I predicted going into things.”


“The Liberals really need the independent to come third on first preferences. Otherwise, if the independent finishes second, they’ll be able to get over the line. In this instance, the independent is actually a former Australian basketballer, Sarah Kula.”


I felt more fearless, with the results rolling in.


“They’ll need at least forty-five percent on first preferences. I don’t see them getting there at this stage, but we’ll need more information.” He cleared his throat. “This seat will be determined by postal votes.”


All of a sudden, the television cut away from Antony Green, back to the election night graphics with accompanying dramatic music.


“We have an update from Anthony Green.”


My brow furrowed, because they’d just been speaking with him. The election was called for Labor.


“This is a real surprise,” Dad remarked, and I wasn’t sure whether he was being sarcastic or not.


He and Mum said their thanks and farewells to Aunty June and Uncle Carlos. They departed, but I was able to stay because I had my car with me, having arrived late. I turned my attention back to the television.


“Well, let’s just go back to where we were before.”


Messages and notifications were starting to roll in on my vote about the result. Few were disappointed.


“This member is in trouble of losing their seat.”


And, one by one, they fell. As the polls closed in Western Australia, the majority government was confirmed. Aunty June struggled to hide her relief at the change of government. With Mum and Dad having left, I let my guard down a little, too.


“Let’s have a look at Indi. We haven’t been to Indi yet tonight.”


I was vaguely familiar with the story – an independent coming to power about a decade ago, then succeeded by another in a similar mould. It seemed like the trend would be continuing, based on the votes which had been counted so far. I enjoyed zipping around the electoral map.


“Labor considers this a must-win seat, although what we’ve seen over in the east, it may be a little less consequential. The sitting member had retired.”


From what I knew of the situation, that seemed to be a delicate way of putting it. The screen briefly panned over to the panel.


“Let’s just check in with the bellwether seat of Eden-Monaro.”


It seemed like it would be a tight tousle, although I had to remember that it didn’t actually forecast the result of the election.


“This member is in trouble of losing his seat, and if we just look at the current figures--.” There was a moment of suspense while the numbers loaded. “We will need to wait on the postal votes. That will be more telling on the result of this seat.”


The second-place candidate wasn’t that far behind.


“It’s probably worth mentioning the Greens candidate.”


She was close, but unlikely to catch up on the frontrunners with the votes still to count.

“Here’s how the House of Representatives looks so far.”


The little prisms were lit up in different colours, corresponding with the numbers.


“Yes, so we’ve also called the seat for the former SAS soldier, Barry Jude, for the Liberals. That could go to the Independent, but I think he’s held off that challenge.”


The coverage switched back to the panel. Close shots prevented any glimpse of some of the journalists and pundits fading, late in the night. The crowd at Barry's election night party provided a hearty round of applause, forever the Liberal faithful. I couldn’t imagine being that wedded to a political party. Even though I was pleased with the outcome, I rationalised that my view was more about policy than party. I found myself closing my eyes, about to nod off to sleep, but I needed to keep my head up.


“You can stay here the night if you would like,” Aunty June offered.


“No, it’s alright, but thank you.”


I yawned again, then stood up. Farewelling Aunty June with a hug and the others with a wave, I collected my things.


“Text me when you get home,” she requested, and I promised.


I left, driving home through the rain. By the time I returned, Mum and Dad were already in bed and asleep. I texted Aunty June, then put the TV on for a little while, although soon felt drowsy myself. To the dulcet tones of Anthony Albanese and the cheers of the Labor faithful, I nodded off.


 

The younger sister of missing Sydney man Mitchell del Reyan, Nina del Reyan lives on Dharug land in western Sydney. She has recently commenced a teaching degree at Macquarie University. Nina loves her family and friends and is deeply committed to finding answers and justice for the families of missing people.


Abbey Sim is the founder of Huldah Media. She is a creative writing, law and theology student who lives on the lands of the Dharug people in Sydney, Australia. Abbey desires to explore themes of hope, love and longing through her storytelling. She is the author of 'Shadow' and 'From the Wild'.


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