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Neighbours

I awoke to my mobile phone ringing, on the floor of the living room, next to where I was sleeping. I lifted the phone and squinted as I looked at the bright screen, then answered the call from Simon.


“Hello, Simon,” I greeted him. “Is everything alright?”


All I could think about was Bianca.


“Yes,” he confirmed. “Well, I’m not sure. Can you come over please?”


“Simon, I’m in Tassie,” I told him, “but I’m flying back tonight and I’ll come from the airport as soon as I can.”


“Oh, I’m sorry, don't worry about it. I didn’t know you were going to Tassie.”


“Yeah, it was a last-minute thing.”


I didn’t elaborate.


“How are you?” I asked, even though I dreaded hearing the answer.


“Not, not great, mate, I’m sorry.”


Simon sighed heavily.


“Bibi’s been to the doctor. She said he said that there’s nothing more he can do. It’s probably a month.”


“Oh, Simon.”


We ended the call and my hand went slack. As I placed my head down on the sleeping bag, my brain swirled like sewage. Bianca was terminal. I couldn’t change that. In my mind I started praying for her. Yet, a darkness filled my heart. I felt and feared a hopelessness as I welled with tears, which threatened to spill. While I wanted to tell Rod, it wouldn’t have been appropriate. I got up and dressed, while we prepared to leave and reached the doorway, where Dave was embraced by our host.


“I love you, mate,” Doreen vowed, then parted from the hug.


Dave, with his head down, departed the home. For the flight back to Sydney, there wasn’t any special treatment, although I could sense that Dave was watching Rod. Once we got on the plane and took off, I flicked a little through the in-flight magazine. The pages seemed slightly sticky. I tucked it back into the netting on the back on the seat in front of me. We floated through the clouds. Back at Kingsford Smith, it was Timmy who picked us up. Dave and I piled into the back seat for the trip to Rydalmere, through the Saturday summer holiday traffic. I felt a touch overheated, but didn’t admit it. I watched the water gleam as we travelled over a bridge. Hopefully Dave would be able to get the help he needs, and I trusted Rod would care for him. Geoff collected me from Rod’s house. I greeted him in the car with a kiss on the cheek, then farewelled Rod with a wave, allowing him to duck back inside.


“Thanks for coming to get me.”


“It’s alright.”


“Were you working?”


“I was, but Ben is covering for me.”


“That’s nice of him.”


The conversation fell silent.


I realised Geoff was navigating towards my place. He parked out the front and I kissed him on the lips.


“Are you alright? Do you want to come in for food or anything?”


Geoff looked at his watch.


“No, I’m fine.”


I tried not to pull a face.


“Alright.” I unfastened my seatbelt across my chest. “Thanks for getting me.”


I got out of the car. Once I’d walked up to the front porch, I gave Geoff a wave goodbye. He drove away and I entered the house. I walked through into Mitchell’s room, where I could hear Mum and Dad. Stepping into the doorway, all I could see was them packing things away. Rage rose from within my gut – I’d only been gone overnight.


“What are you doing?”


I yanked a piece of wood from the plastic tub.


“We’re just looking through Mitchell’s things,” Dad reasoned.


“Getting rid of them, you mean?”


“No, that’s not right.”


Mum held me, like she was trying to save me from myself.


“I’m sorry, Nina. I didn’t realise this would affect you. It pains us all that Mitchell is missing.”


“I know, I know.”


As Mum let me go, I left Mitchell’s bedroom for my own. At least Lucky was being cute, so I wrapped her up in my quilt, all cosy, although she might not have liked it. Once she shook off the bedclothes, I pulled them up over myself and scrolled through Instagram. You never know about other people’s lives and other people’s relationships. The shiny, happy faces might have been a mirage. I closed my eyes and placed down my phone. The stress must have caused me to pass out, and fall asleep. Once I woke up again, I felt a little bit groggy, and pulled myself out of bed. I walked down the hallway to Mum and Dad. Half-asleep still, I plopped myself onto the lounge, a bottle of nail polish sitting on the coffee table nearby.


“Did you want me to paint your toenails?”


“Yeah, alright,” I agreed, and Mum reached for the bottle.


I offered up my feet. Mum removed the cap from the polish – a bright shade of pinky-purple – and carefully applied it to my nails. I glanced over to the television, the cricket on. The coverage flashed a screaming child, holding a cardboard sign requesting gloves from one of the star players. The whole thing made me feel uncomfortable. Why do kids with signs in the crowd at the cricket have to be so weird? Were Mitchell and I like that when we were younger?


“All done. You’re beautiful.”


“Thank you.”


I returned my attention to my phone, flicking through Instagram for a little bit. When I received a message from Sofia, I swapped over to my texts.


No worries if not, would you be keen for dinner on Monday night?


I felt honoured, considering that she would be turning twenty on the same day.


Sofia’s birthday is on Monday; I texted Geoff. Would you be free to have dinner with her and Ashton?


He turned out to be free, and agreed to join us. I yawned.


“I’m going to go back to bed now, if that’s alright.”


Mum seemed a little surprised, considering that I’d just awoken from an afternoon nap, but I tried to shake it off and returned to my bedroom. I got into bed and said a prayer, but before I was finished, I’d already fallen back to sleep.


 

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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