When I walked out to the kitchen, I was greeted by a display on the bench – bottles of sauce and spice queuing to barricade the coffee machine.
Mum looked over her shoulder, squatting by the corner cupboard.
“When you’re ready, we can head up to Castle Hill.”
I withdrew from the kitchen. Foregoing a shower, I dressed for the morning. Once we were all ready to go, the three of us piled into the car and left for Greg and Natalie’s house. With a lack of traffic, it was only a short drive. Dad parked underneath the carport and we approached the door. Natalie opened it, to let us into the house.
We moved through into the house, then sat down at the kitchen table.
“Could we have a glass of wine, potentially?”
“Nina,” Mum chastised, “you don’t need a wine.”
I breathed out, feeling shaky.
“Maybe I’ll just go and have a lie-down.”
I wandered down the hallway which led into the spare bedroom at Greg and Natalie’s house. There was a king single bed on each side of the room, one for Mitchell which faced towards the door and one for me, which was closer to the television. When I had been a little girl, I’d been scared of the dark. Maybe I still was. I felt the need to lay down, to steal a bit more rest, despite the festivities. For about an hour or so, I must have nodded off to sleep. I came to woken by the sound of laughter, bouncing out from the open-plan kitchen. Slowly I noticed a figure approaching, from down the hallway, like a ghost. Geoff sat down on the end of the bed and I opened my eyes.
“Sorry,” he apologised. “I didn’t mean to wake you up.”
I got out of bed and followed Geoff through the house. Natalie was just getting off the phone.
“That was Sandy calling, to say happy birthday.”
“Is he coming over at all?”
“Later on, maybe,” Natalie answered. “The kids had a party this morning, too.”
“Isn’t that the way?” Dad remarked.
Mum poured me a glass of water, placing it in front of me without a word. Greg turned to his wife.
“Well, birthday girl, what would you like for lunch?”
I glanced towards the clock, realising that it was well and truly meal time. Natalie smiled. Turning forty-four, it occurred to me that, had cancer not intervened, she might still just be old enough to have had another child.
“I’m happy for just good old fashioned McDonald’s,” Natalie assured. “Anything I don’t have to cook is fine.”
“I’m happy to go and get it,” Dad offered.
He collected a list of what everyone would like to eat. I tipped my glass to finish my drink, only managing to tip it down my front. I walked through into the en suite off the spare room and fetched fresh clothes. In order to go with Dad to go through the McDonald’s drive-thru, I dressed myself in the wrap dress which I’d been given for Christmas. It was a little daring, given that it would be strapless, but for the hot summer’s evening it was ideal. I slipped my feet into thongs and I almost could have been on holidays. The next day, I would be. Yet, I still felt heavy, knowing that we were all hurtling towards Mitchell’s twenty-fourth birthday.
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'.