This morning, I lay in bed when my phone rang. Startling, I rolled over and took it off the charger so that I could answer the call.
I got up and out of bed, even though I felt a little light-headed.
“How are you feeling?”
“So, you’re going to come to Juliet’s housewarming party, aren’t you?”
I paced around the loungeroom.
“Are you going to come?” Lizzie asked again.
I wanted to. It would have been lovely and I reckoned I would have a good time.
“Alright,” I agreed. “Should I bring a present?”
“You can if you want to,” Lizzie answered.
We ended the call.
“Right, I’m going to the shops,” I called out to Mum and Dad.
I left the house, even though my chest felt heavy. Unlocking the car, I slipped into the driver’s seat. As I fastened my seatbelt across my torso, my phone automatically connected to the Bluetooth. I pressed play on my music – Taylor Swift, Birdy, and Like a Version covers from Triple J – then reversed out of the driveway, on my way. Not long after, I arrived at the shopping centre, parking in the undercover carpark beneath the mall. I emerged, then locked the car. With my head down, I walked into the shops. Coming up the escalator I felt puffed out, even though all I needed to do was stand there. Having entered through the Big W end of the mall, that was my first port of call for an appropriate housewarming party present. I scanned the homewares aisle, trying to mirror the style of the café, which I gathered provided a window into Juliet’s taste.
What did you get Juliet and Jacob for their wedding; I texted Lizzie.
I recalled the registry, but the link would have been written down on an invitation stashed away. While I could have called Mum to find it, that would have been too intelligent of me. I’d made my bed by bothering to head out to the shops, so I’d lie in it by finding them a gift. Nothing had jumped out yet, though. Eventually, I happened upon shelves and shelves of picture frames. You always need picture frames in a new house. I selected a couple with dark wooden frames, like the posts in the café – a large one, and a smaller one which could rest upon a bedside table. Figuring that two of those little ones would be better, I grabbed another, then walked off, satisfied. Mum would have been proud of me. Mitchell would have been proud of me. I reached the checkouts, deciding to go through self-serve. While I felt guilty that I would be doing the girl out of a job, as my grandmother would say, it would be quicker. I placed down the picture frames. While I tried scanning them through the self-serve checkout, something wasn’t allowing them to register. I tried not to feel like this was the end of the world. Glancing around, the sole checkout chick posted to the self-serves appeared aloof. She couldn’t have been older than fourteen or fifteen. I made a noise to start off with, not really wanting to bother her. My cheeks turning red with embarrassment, the poor girl eventually paid attention to me.
“I’m so sorry,” I apologised. “It’s not letting me scan. I’m not sure what I’m doing wrong.”
She approached, whipping out her staff card and scanning it, before tapping the screen a couple of times.
“It should work now,” she told me in a disinterested monotone, then walked back to her position.
“Thank you,” I said with a smile.
I wanted to feel better, but tried to trust that this wasn’t my fault; it was just how it happened sometimes. Finally, I could compete the transaction. I picked up the frames, trying to figure out if there was anything I needed to do before I could leave for home. On the way out, I paused, glancing at the woman standing behind the service desk. I knew what I needed to do, my feet carrying me on my brother’s behalf.
“Sorry to bother you.” I approached the counter. “I’m just wanting to speak with you about a missing person, Mitchell del Reyan. He’s my brother and he disappeared on the nineteenth of March.”
“I’m sorry, I don’t think I’ve seen him. To be honest, I’m not great with faces, I probably wouldn’t remember him anyway.”
“That’s alright, thanks anyway.”
“You know, we have a community noticeboard.”
I glanced over my shoulder, breaths becoming shallower.
“Usually we get lost pets, but you could put up a picture of your lost brother.”
“Alright, thank you, I’ll do that.”
I walked out of the store, light-headed. I dropped in at the chemist on the way out of the shops, purchasing some Vitamin C tablets and a giant bag of jellybeans. From there, it was home time. I drove back and parked in the driveway. Taking a breath, I fetched my phone. I unplugged it from the car charger, then emerged from the car, locking it behind me.
“Hello,” I called out from the front door.
I walked through the house until I found another human.
“Hello,” Mum responded.
I dumped my bags on the kitchen bench.
“What did you end up buying them?” she wanted to know.
“Some pictures frames,” I answered.
I removed them from the bag and showed them to Mum, who smiled slightly.
“You know, everyone needs picture frames, especially in a new house when you’re just married.”
Mum’s grin deepened, her laugh lines revealing her pride.
“That’s lovely, Nina. I’m sure they’ll really appreciate it.”
“What time’s the party?”
“Um, six o’clock, I think,” I answered. “Lizzie texted me the invitation, I’ll just have to check it.”
I brought up the message and, sure enough, was proven to be correct about the time.
“She said that she would drive me, so I don’t need to worry about that.”
Mum bore a sceptical expression at the thought.
“Don’t worry, she’ll be sensible.”
“Is she going to be drinking?”
“Well, yeah, I don’t know. Lizzie’s eighteen, she likes to drink. We’re not little kids anymore, Mum. It is legal, for both of us.”
“If she is, then that’s not being sensible. You’re both still on your P plates; you can’t have any alcohol if you’re going to drive. Would you like me to take you? I could drive both of you, and pick you up.”
“No, but thanks, it’ll be fine.”
I felt embarrassed by the idea, and I didn’t quite know why.
“Well, if you change your mind, it’s alright. I just want you to be safe and sound.”
“Thank you, Mum,” I responded with a smile. “I know that you do.”
Even when she looked away, I kept my gaze on my mother. Despite my own loss, I couldn’t fathom what must have been going through her mind.
“I need to talk to you about something else. When I was at Big W, I showed Mitchell’s photo to the woman at the service desk. She didn’t recognise him. I really thought that she might have, but when I showed her--.”
I noticed something change in Mum’s expression, even though I couldn’t quite pick it.
“She said that we could put up a poster on the community noticeboard. I reckon it’s worth it. Anything’s worth it, really.”
“Alright, let’s do it.”
Mum and I walked up and into the study. Her frame seemed tense, whereas mine felt like it was trembling. We printed out the poster we’d made. Mitchell’s face beamed back at me. Mum and I drove back up to the shops and parked in a similar spot to where I had last time. I led her back up to Big W and we pinned up the poster in a free space.
“I do hope your brother’s safe and well.” Mum and I spun around to face the woman working behind the service desk. “I’ll make sure you know if anyone says anything.”
We left and returned to the car. I slipped into the driver’s seat, Mum on the passenger side. As I was about to start the car, I startled to a frightful noise, but I didn’t make a sound in return. Mum leant into my chest, crying against my shirt. I wrapped my arms around her and held her until she was finally able to breathe again. Finally, I started driving us back home.
“Is Geoff going to this party tonight?”
“No, I wouldn’t think so,” I answered, “but I don’t know, really. He would only know Juliet and Jacob through the wedding, I think.”
I breathed out audibly. Now it was ticking over in my mind over whether I should invite Geoff. He’d be third-wheeling Lizzie and I, anyway. We returned home and walked inside, through to the back room, then the backyard, to locate Dad in the garden.
“Can I have some help, please?”
“Of course,” I agreed, even though I didn’t want to.
I tried to suppress my anger, or at the very least take it out on the mulch. It was nonsensical. My anger made me feel angry, self-aware enough to be ashamed. Dad loved us with his actions. This was the least that I could do in return. By the time that we headed back inside, I felt a little better about myself. I went to the fridge without being prompted, fetching Dad a cold drink.
“Thank you, sweetheart.”
I smiled, feeling valuable, job done. I walked up to my bedroom and lay down, head resting in the middle of my pillow, legs drawn up with my knees bent. Hands clasped, I rested them on my belly, trying to count my breaths. I thought about putting on some music, but I couldn’t have been bothered moving for a while. Eventually, I slowly rolled onto my side. Clouds had formed in the sky out my window, almost cornflower blue. I wondered if that meant they were bringing hail, or maybe that’s green clouds. Do green clouds make yellow snow? There, there – that’s just being silly now, I know. I walked out to the kitchen to clear my head.
“This storm isn’t any good for your party,” Dad pointed out.
“It’s a housewarming party, so I suppose it’s inside, anyway.”
“Are you still going to go?”
“Yes, of course, Lizzie hasn’t said anything else.”
I breathed out. Walking back up towards my bedroom, I caught Mum’s glance.
“Do you reckon you’d just stay here tonight?”
Even though I knew they came from a good place, I didn’t like this. I felt suffocated by my parents’ love in a way which I’d never experienced before.
“Well, they’re still going to have the party,” I assured, even though I glanced towards my phone, “at least as far as I know.”
Sure enough, I proved to be correct. We needed a little bit of hope, anyway, despite what the weather was trying to throw at us. Therefore, a crowd of family and friends gathered at Harriet and Jacob’s house. I had never been there before, but Lizzie gave me a lift and I was pleased to be able to commemorate, and in many ways celebrate with them, because I desperately needed some hope. It was the tenth anniversary of when he had gone into remission after his cancer treatment. I sat beside Lizzie on the couch. She was sipping from a bottle of beer. I would be driving us home, by the looks of things. Harriet ambled into the overcrowded living room with a platter. She placed it down in the centre of the coffee table, filled with sticks of celery and carrot and pots of dips. I remembered being much younger. There had been a vague plan for my future, when I was about eleven or twelve, to move out when I was nineteen. I would buy a big house and paint it myself. During that work, I would snack on celery and carrot sticks dipped in sour cream. In hindsight, it sounded disgusting, but I still wasn’t nineteen yet. There was still a possibility for that to become my life. Since Mitchell’s disappearance, though, my ability to dream had been taken away.
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'.