I heard my alarm, awaking with a jolt. I’d expected to feel more dead than I did. I turned it off, then got out of bed and changed straight into the warm clothes Mum must have gotten out the night before. Luckily, I wasn’t the one to be driving, to the dawn service. Dad found a parking spot a few streets away, then we joined the masses, huddled in the park. I had a bit of a headache while we were standing at the service. Of course, I didn’t say anything, because it would have seemed awfully entitled to complain. Once it finally came to an end, I did feel grateful, walking out with my family. We paused, to allow some older gentleman to depart before us, medals on their breasts. In the car on the way back to Greg and Natalie’s house, Dad flicked through the radio stations. It annoyed me a little bit; it wouldn’t have killed me just to listen to the ABC. Greg pulled into the carport first. Dad followed, then we emerged from the car. Our family trailed after the Devereuxs, going into their house. Natalie walked towards the kitchen. As she started to cook lunch, I felt a little big of a dry throat, the exhaustion and dehydration of the day and the year getting the better of me. Dad switched on the TV, so that we could watch the march. I tried to keep pressing on, at least for a little while. Sitting down at the table, I started coughing.
“Geoff, could you please get Nina something to drink?” Greg requested.
He rose to his feet and fetched me one, handing me a glass of water.
“You’re welcome,” Geoff assured with a smile.
I took a sip of water, moistening my dry mouth and throat. It’s strange just being the two of us now. Please, may this be temporary, because the ache of Mitchell’s loss is both chronic and acute. At the same time, I like being close to Geoff. If only he could stay around. We stayed at the Devereux house for lunch. By the time the march came to an end, the rest of the dawn services from overseas played on the television. Trying to push thoughts of those slaughtered young men from my mind, I chowed into the potato salad, Natalie’s special recipe with lettuce and bacon.
“So, how was Goulburn this time, Geoff?” Dad wanted to know.
He finished his mouthful.
“It’s good, you know, it’s working with young people. I really feel a lot of purpose in it.”
“Speak for yourself.”
“What do you mean?”
“All I’m saying is, you’re still a young person yourself.”
“I’m twenty-two, almost twenty-three,” Geoff reminded.
“We’d already had Mitchell by the time that we were twenty-two,” Mum reminded, “and your mother and father had already had you.”
“My goodness,” Natalie said, breathing out. “Twenty-two. That was a beautiful age. It was when the boys were little. We were all so happy then. Nothing else seemed to matter.”
She grinned, genuine joy on her face. I did the maths – when my parents and Geoff’s were twenty-two, it would have been before Grandmary passed, before Natalie’s cancer. It seemed strange to think that Mitchell could have been a parent already. One of the girls at school had a baby, but she was the only one my age who’d become a parent already. Stranger still to think that maybe, Mitchell will never father children. The thought burrowed in my mind like a earthworm, displacing my foundations, but I tried not to show it externally.
“Are you cold, love?” Natalie enquired. “Would you like me to get you a cardigan to put around you?”
“No, I’m alright,” I assured her, out of my youthful pride, but she got up from the table nonetheless.
Natalie scampered off. She returned before too long, cardigan in hand.
“Thank you,” I said, as Natalie tucked the knitting around my shoulders.
She resumed her seat. Dad finished his drink.
“I reckon it’s time that we planned a holiday.”
“Well, we’ll go back to Shoal Bay at the end of the year,” Mum pointed out. “Nobody can book the October long weekend.”
October seemed to be so far away. So much could happen before then; there was so much I craved would materialise before then.
“What do you think about going on a cruise?” Greg suggested. “We’ve never done that before. Natalie and I would love to go.”
He kept speaking, although his words seemed to float into oblivion. I couldn’t bring myself to listen for so long, although that wasn’t Greg’s fault, neither mine.
“I just can’t get behind the idea of the hotel rocking back and forth,” Dad admitted.
With that, the idea of a cruise was put to bed. Whatever the holiday which we planned for the end of the year, a key question lingered within my mind. Would we be booking for six or seven?
“Well, we’d better be off.”
We bid Natalie, Greg and Geoff farewell. After leaving the Devereux house, Mum and Dad dropped me home, so that I could rest. They headed back out. We needed groceries, after all. I got into bed and scrolled through Instagram, trying to distract myself. Eventually, I wanted a snack. I fetched the jellybeans I’d bought from the chemist, opening the bag, and eating a few. Still, I couldn’t bring myself to scoff them all. I did feel tired, weighed down by all the worries which filled my head, changing the identity of the grey matter. Eventually, I heard the car turned back in and park in the driveway, meaning that my parents must have been home. While I should have helped them with the shopping, I didn’t have the energy. I waited in my bedroom with the open bag of jellybeans. Mum trudged back up the front steps with a pained expression on her face. I stood up and walked into the hallway as she stepped back into the house.
“Come on, Nina, come into the bedroom,” Mum urged.
We moved into Mum and Dad’s bedroom, which was flooded with pale golden late afternoon light. My heartrate began to accelerate as Mum and I collapsed onto the bed. She held my hand, just like she had done when I had been a frightened little girl, all those years ago. We lay there, lying down the jellybeans on the quilt. Mum placed her arms around me. My breaths were heavy, my heartrate throbbing against the back of my skull.
“I don’t want to go anywhere,” Mum mumbled, “I just want to stay here. I just want to eat these jellybeans and stay here with you. I don’t want to do anything.”
My entire body ached.
“I don’t want to go to work tomorrow,” the words tumbled from Mum’s lips.
“That’s alright,” I reassured her, running my fingers through her hair.
“I can’t just not go,” Mum pleaded, “I can’t just keep hiding. I need to go back to work tomorrow and you need to go to uni.”
“I don’t have to go either,” I vowed, “I can just stay here with you for as long as you need me to, because I love you, Mum.”
“Thank you, Nina,” Mum responded, holding me close, “but we can’t, we can’t, we can’t.”
“Why can’t we?” I demanded, “Why can’t we just wait here while we need to?”
“Because we need to keep going,” Mum sighed, raking her fingers over the jellybeans, “Oh, I don’t know, Nina. I don’t know anymore. I don’t know what else I want.”
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'.