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July

When my alarm sounded, I woke up with a jolt, then rolled onto my side. After switching it off, I gave myself a moment to breathe. I only needed to get through one more day. Rolling out of bed, the cold clung to my arms. I knew this was only an entrée serve of bitter winter weather. Seasonal depressional seeped into my body, only momentarily soothed by a shower. After dressing, I set off for the day, catching the bus. It arrived at Parramatta Station after about twenty-five minutes, where I alighted, almost feeling like I was sleepwalking. When the green man flashed, I crossed the road and entered the station, tapping on with my Opal card and offering a few coins to the man sitting with a cardboard sign next to the mouth of the staircase. He thanked me, then I climbed up to the platform. The train pulled into the station. I climbed aboard. Eyes closed most of the way, I travelled to the final day of my prac. Arriving at school, I ducked into the office to sign in, then headed to the staffroom for a coffee, as a man approached from the other direction and greeted me with a warm smile – Ralph, in fact. It took me an extra moment to recognise him, with a Peaky Blinders moustache.


“Oh, hello, Ralph, how are you this morning?”


“Never better, Nina, never better,” he assured me with a toothy grin.


Coffee in hand, Ralph continued on. The school bell sounded before I had too much time to think. I walked with the other teachers to morning lines. Kathryn, as Assistant Principal, addressed the students, commending them on their behaviour throughout the term. At the conclusion of the brief assembly, I was the one who led the class back to their room, the name ‘Miss del Reyan’ still a little foreign. The morning session passed quickly. Before I knew it, I was back in the staffroom for recess.


“Would you like some? We do birthdays for the whole month on the first of the month.”


I accepted with a grin. Ralph cut me a slide of caramel mudcake. There was just something about the consistency I found delicious. I returned to the classroom with the cake. Plonking myself down, it was pleasant to have a moment to myself. I sunk my teeth into the cake. While chewing I reached for my phone and checked my message, feeling some cramps in my stomach like I would be soon to get my period. The classroom phone rang, but Penny swanned in and answered it, speaking for a few minutes.


“Sorry, just another behavioural drama.” She placed the phone back in the hook once she was finished speaking to whoever was on the line. “That’s just what you have to deal with as a teacher.”


At the end of the day, I knew that I would need to drop in at uni. The children departed the classroom and headed home. I caught the train back into Parramatta, then the bus to Macquarie Uni. Approaching the campus, I walked across the lawns, passed the construction site where they’re building the new aquatic centre, or whatever it is that they’re throwing money at these days. I walked into the library, returned my books, and bought a couple of chocolates for charity. It’s what Mitchell would have done. Then, just like that, I was free. I wouldn’t have to see this place again – at least until second semester. Air cold around my face, I smiled. It was not that university had changed me, but it had witnessed my involuntary transformation. When the semester started, I had been a totally different person, with an entirely other life, a blissful one. I ambled down the front path of the university, under a grey sky. My eyes were drawn down the road, where Geoff’s white car was waiting. With a quickening pace, I reached the car. I opened the door and slipped onto the seat.


“Congratulations, Nina,” Geoff cheered. “You’ve completed one semester of uni!”


I giggled modestly.


“Well, it’ll depend on my results.”


I fastened my seatbelt. Geoff pulled away from the kerb.


“You don’t actually think that you’ve failed, do you?” he asked.


I sighed, looking at the window.


“I don’t know,” I admitted. “I never know how I’ve gone in exams.”


“Hopefully you’ll be able to get a bit of rest now.”


It still passed through my mind that I could have been studying.


“Yeah, hopefully,” I agreed, needing to push that thought from my mind.


We drove back through the traffic and the rain. Geoff dropped the police car off at the station. He unlocked his own car, so that I could slip into the passenger seat while he headed inside to clock off. I waited, staring straight ahead at the garden and the dark red brick wall behind it. Finishing for the semester was meant to fix me. It didn’t seem to have kicked in yet. There remained no guarantee that I would pass all my subjects, anyway. I could have failed something, but I figured it was unlikely, given that I’d tried my best and applied myself. Penny, surely, would at least pass me for my prac. Geoff dropped back into the car, a smile coming onto my lips, just at the sight of him.


“Sorry, it took me a while. There was a little bit of paperwork to do.”


“That’s alright,” I assured him.


I knew that I was drinking in the fantasy. Once Geoff and I returned to his family home, Dad’s car was already parked under the carport. Geoff rolled in to the right, parking in front of the garage. We headed into the house, in time for dinner. The beautiful scents wafted from the kitchen and we served up the food, reflecting upon the end of my first semester of university. With our dinner, the six of us sat down around the dining table.


“I remember your sixth birthday, Nina,” Mum recalled, fondly. “You insisted on having limbo. Mitchell got it all organised, he even decorated the pole. It was marvellous.”


A bittersweet smile came onto my lips. Just as quickly, I stuffed my face with baked potatoes. Once I finished my mouthful, I leaned forward.


“Dad, I need to ask you something about Zipporah from the support group. She’s looking to get custody of her daughter. Would you be able to help her out with it?”


Dad set down his cutlery. I breathed out sharply.


“It’s a very difficult situation, Nina,” Dad outlined. “Perhaps it’s a little easier if, as you say, she never had a birth certificate. People without them, though, are persona non grata. She’ll need to make sure that she has the appropriate documentation going forward.”


Once Greg finished his meal, he started collecting the plates. He walked over to the kitchen. Greg stacked the plates in one hand, while he opened the dishwasher with the other. On the way back, he turned on the television. I found myself fixated on the screen. The story on the news profiled a young mother who had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer.


“They always talk about ovarian cancer having so few warning signs. It started with me as fatigue, but mothers with little kids are always tired and I was young, Geoff was young.”


“You were twenty-three, weren’t you, when you were diagnosed?” Mum checked.


“Yes, I was,” Natalie confirmed. “It was quite the shock. I thought--.”


Before she said it, I knew what she was going to confess.


“I thought that I might have been pregnant, actually, that would have been exciting.”


Were it not for the cancer robbing her of her fertility, I would have expected so many more baby Devereuxs would have been desired.


“But I was so, so lucky.” Natalie beamed towards Geoff. “I’d already had one beautiful child, my gorgeous boy. I couldn’t ask for too much more than that.”


I smiled at Geoff across the table. Natalie’s positivity in the face of her plight was inspiring, even if I often couldn’t find myself to match it within my own suffering.


“It’s strange, because, obviously, Sandy, he didn’t get married until much older. He’d met Mithali by the time of our wedding, although she didn’t come, he didn’t want me to invite her. They’d broken up for what felt like the millionth time at that point.” Natalie sipped her drink, pondering. “I regret that, now. It would have been lovely to have her there.”


That story was news to me. Aunty Mithali had always been part of my recollections of Geoff’s family. I remembered the wedding, even though I couldn’t picture the ceremony in my mind.


“Alright, who would like some dessert?”


All heads around the table nodded. I rose to my feet to help Natalie. After I brought down the bowls from the cupboard, I opened the next one. The Devereux household was famous for all kinds of delicious toppings. A box fell from the cupboard and I somehow managed to catch it. I figured that port wine couldn’t be that much different to actual wine.


“Are you thinking of adding those jelly crystals to your ice cream, Nina?”


“Well, it can’t hurt.”


I ripped open the packet. Somehow they managed not to spill. Geoff laughed nervously as he watched me. I tipped the jelly crystals onto the ice cream. Surprising me a little, they sunk into the white vanilla, dying it a shade of boysenberry. As soon as I took a mouthful, I instantly recognised my mistake, although I wasn’t going to allow my dessert to go to waste, especially given it was the end of the container. The others weren’t looking at me. They were pre-occupied with their own ice cream. Feeling the sting of a brain freeze as well as the sour taste of the jelly crystals mixed with the stiff vanilla ice cream, I leaned back, committing to the bit to finish off the bowl.


“Alright, what did you think of it?”


“I’m sorry,” I apologised. “It was horrible.”


“That’s alright.” Natalie took my bowl from me. “You still ate it.”


I nodded, a smile on my lips.


“Well, I suppose that I did.”


This time, it was Natalie who walked into the kitchen and put the bowls into the dishwasher. On the way back she gazed upon the television. The news was finishing with a throwback story – clearly there were no new baby pandas to fill the wholesome last couple of minutes at the end of the bulletin.


“Do you remember the monorail?”


“Yeah, I do,” I confirmed. “We went on it the day before it closed or something. It was pouring rain, I remember that part.”


Natalie displayed the commemorative coin we’d purchased.


“Waste of a buck, truth be told,” Geoff admitted.


We chuckled, the sort of deep, belly laughter which dislodged the tightness within my chest, even if only for short bursts of relief. The cider I sipped from an amber-necked bottle took a little longer to go down, but I didn’t care. Geoff’s mirth was enough of an antidote.


“You were the one that wanted it, Nina,” Natalie pointed out.


 

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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