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Nutcracker

I liked Drummoyne, beside the Parramatta River, with the Gladesville Bridge curved over it. It wasn’t far from Uncle Sandy’s house at Five Dock and we’d been down to the waterfront with the McDonald family before, earlier that year. With a smile on my face, I stepped out of the car where I had parked it right near the boat ramp, where a father and his son were sliding their tinny into the water. The strap of my bag was over my arm, as I closed the door and locked the car, turning around. Max was standing there, beaming.


“Hello, Nina,” he greeted me, wrapping me into a tight hug. “Merry Christmas to you.”


“Thank you, Max,” I replied. “Merry Christmas to you too.”


He took a step back. Max glanced around towards the cricket ground, where Eloise would be playing.


“Let’s head over, shall we?”


“Sure.”


I lifted my chin as I approached the gate, behind Max.


“How are you, mate?”


I offered the security guard a smile. He diligently checked through my bag.


“Thank you, you can go through.”


I took my bag off the table. With free entry, Max and I passed through. We found a spot to sit, then I checked my phone.


“Geoff shouldn’t be too far away.”


Sure enough, soon after I spotted Geoff. To attract his attention, I waved. Geoff spotted me, ambling over and sitting down. I wrapped an arm around his back, resting my cheek on his shoulder. The Australian team were away, creating space for a range of new faces in the New South Wales line-up. Some of them would have been about the same age as me, if not younger. I didn’t recognise any of the players in the opposition. Perhaps by studying their backs, I could at least learn their names. The bowler delivered a bouncer and the batter ducked underneath it, untroubled. After the wicketkeeper took the ball, she clapped her gloves twice. There seemed to be a bit more juice in the pitch, in contrast to the dry surface of Blacktown. I enjoyed the simple rhythms of cricket. The ball was struck up into the air, bringing a collective gasp to the small crowd gathered. Thankfully, the shot fell short of a fielder and trickled away towards the boundary. Eloise repeated the dose on the next ball, mowing the delivery across the line, although this time along the ground all the way. The wicketkeeper still applauded above her head. Perhaps she should have been focusing more on her own performances. To punish the opposition further, Eloise tucked the next one off her pads. The ball rocketed away to the boundary, an instinctive roar of applause bursting out from the crowd. They could recognise class when they saw it.

On the next delivery, Eloise left the ball, which unfortunately clattered into her stumps. She tucked her bat under her arm and walked off the field, as we sighed softly. The South Australian team exchanged high-fives, then returned to their fielding positions as the next batter came out and faced up. She would need to make a more gallant effort to protect her stumps.


With Eloise out, I allowed myself to get distracted by my phone. A number of her teammates followed her back to the dressing sheds in quick succession. I finally looked up when the fourth wicket fell. It had been a run out by the barest of margins. Glancing towards Max, he nibbled on his fingernails. I sensed he was dissatisfied with the performance, at the very least on his sister’s behalf. It touched me how proud he was of her, although I knew Mitchell would feel the same for me. I distracted myself by counting the fielders – those out on the boundary, as well as those stationed in close to cut off the single. When the tail came in, the South Australians decided to pepper them with short stuff, which was well directed for a little while, until the batters worked out how they could get out of the way of it, sometimes even allowing them to score some runs. I felt a little sorry for them, because I wouldn’t have liked to face up for that. The chirp started to pick up on the field, too. A few runs were hit around the gaps, followed by another smattering of wickets. The innings came to an end.


“Would you like some lunch?”


“Yeah, alright, that would be lovely, thank you.”


“Coming right up.”


Geoff kissed me on the forehead, then got up and strolled off to the canteen. He returned shortly after with a couple of meat pies.


“Thanks, babe.”


Sunlight brushed across Geoff’s complexion. I noticed a man walking across. His face was familiar, but it took me a moment to recognise where I knew him from – Oliver had played cricket with Mitchell and Geoff in years gone by. I pointed him out. Oliver greeted Geoff and I with hugs – still as tall as heaven. The New South Wales team formed a huddle near the boundary. Glancing over to Geoff, I thought he might have been in need of a shave soon. By the time I paid attention to the field again, the players were already out in the middle. They set up to commence the innings and the South Australian openers got off to a bright start in pursuit of the total.


“You’d think this would be fairly easy,” Oliver mentioned, “but you never know.”


I nodded my head, finding myself agreeing. The players and officials took a spell to have a drink. I breathed out, my shoulders slumping, feeling a little bit of a headache coming on – possibly from too much time in the summer sunlight. An unexpected wicket fell straight after the drinks break, thanks to a good, diving catch from Eloise. The crowd applauded, growing ever louder when the following batter fell shortly after for a second-ball duck. Perhaps it would be possible to defend this modest total from New South Wales. I wanted to believe. However, my faith was misplaced, when the number five struck a cover drive. It was a majestic shot, so I could hardly begrudge the winning runs being brought up in such a fashion, even if it meant consigning New South Wales to a defeat. Following the match, the players lined up to shake hands with each other. Eloise seemed dispirited, but there wasn’t much else to see. As I walked away, I felt the breeze. A little bit of calmness seeped in as I got back into the car. Geoff would be making his own way back, given that he’d arrived after me. Sometimes, when I was in the car by myself, I could feel acutely lonely. I had Aaron in the Secret Santa, which I appreciated – at least we know each other relatively well – but I was still filled with dread about what to give him. On the way home from Drummoyne, I dropped in at the shops for a wander around to find something. The Christmas decorations seemed to scream at me, even louder than the carols. I eventually picked out a sports biography. Once I returned home, I could feel a heaviness on me. Maybe it was death. If I didn’t wake up in the morning, I would find 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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