Clouds hovered, promising rain right in time for our trip to Toukley. I ambled off the campus with my hands laden with books and crossed the road over to the shopping centre. The café was largely empty, so I was tempted to pop over and grab a chocolate milkshake and a brownie before heading home. Unable to resist, I headed over. I dumped my books down at the first available booth. After shoving them into my backpack, I retrieved my wallet and slung the bag over my shoulder in order to step over to the counter.
“Hello, Nina,” Juliet greeted me. “How are you?”
“Yeah, I’m alright, thanks,” I answered. “I’m heading up the coast for a couple of days to Toukley, so that should be good.”
I ordered a milkshake and a brownie, like I planned, then sat and ate and drank it alone, because Juliet had work to do, and other new customers to serve. After fifteen minutes or so, she returned. I finished off my milkshake and brownie.
“We’re closing soon. I’m going to go to Bianca’s funeral.”
“Yes, I am too,” I confirmed. “I suppose that I’ll see you there, then.”
I walked away, my body feeling shaky. After the drive from Macquarie, I arrived home. Looking in the bathroom mirror, I couldn’t help but think about Hudson’s passing last year, and then attending his funeral the following week. That had been the same morning I’d heard Sofia lived in Sydney. What, was that even six months ago? I heard footsteps in the hallway, Geoff turning up from work to come with me to the funeral. We greeted each other with a hug and a kiss. My body felt weak but I needed to remain standing, even walking as we returned to the car. I drove over to where Bianca’s funeral service was going to be held. Finding a parking spot, I breathed out, got out, locked the car behind me, then crossed the road with Geoff. I wondered to what extent cancer would be mentioned at the funeral. As we walked into the chapel, I was handed a program. The date of Bianca’s passing screamed at me from the page. February 10, 2023. That would be the date on her tombstone, or the plaque at the crematorium, or maybe etched nowhere at all. I walked through the chapel, taking in the light. The late afternoon glowed. I rushed towards Bianca’s mother. She wore a yellow dress, bright and sunny like her daughter had been. We greeted each other with a hug. Despite my own grief, I had very little I could manage to say to Bianca’s mother, hoping that my embrace would be enough.
“You should find somewhere to sit down. We’re going to start the service soon.”
I nodded. There were other relatives and friends whom she needed to speak with. As I found my seat, I glanced over my shoulder, the chapel full. I spotted so many faces I recognised, and more that I didn’t. Twisting my body back, I gazed towards the front. Robert strode up there, to commence the service for Bianca, with music. It felt surreal, that her body was in that coffin, topped with flowers. Robert strummed at his guitar.
“I am your true shepherd,” he sung, in his perfect, soulful voice.
My chest tightened throughout the song. I felt really, really tired. The whole chapel applauded as Robert finished the song and Cameron stepped up.
“Welcome to this service to celebrate the life of Bianca Rose Beauchamp. We join as those who loved her, to grieve and to celebrate her life.”
Geoff rubbed circles into my back.
“We will now hear from Bianca’s brother, Simon.”
I got a fright as Simon rose from the front pew, next to his mother. I hadn’t noticed him before. That could have been me. I could have been giving a eulogy, instead of Simon. He breathed out slowly as he set his pages on the lectern.
“Thank you, Cameron. I’m Simon, Bianca’s younger and only brother.”
Simon swallowed, trying to stop himself from crying any further.
“I have been so lucky to have been able to call Bianca my sister. She will always be my north star. There’s one more star in the sky now, and I think she shines the brightest. I love you, Bianca, and I always will.”
Faith slipped out the back, gently rocking Cynthia to soothe her. As soon as ‘In my Life’ began to play, I choked out a sob. Photos faded from one to the other, starting from Bianca in her earliest days. She grew, and Simon was welcomed into the family and a belove younger brother. The slideshow concluded on a photo of the whole family, with Bianca in the centre, which had been taken at the wedding. Geoff rubbed between my shoulder blades. My eyes trailed down to the coffin. The pallbearers rose to their feet. I didn’t understand where they found the strength. Sunlight beamed in through the windows of the chapel, like the very presence of the heavens, somehow moving us forward, taking Bianca away. Simon’s fingers were shaking while he tried to grasp the handle of the coffin, on the opposite side to Robert. At his back, Waleed made sure that they could securely lift. Bianca’s coffin was slowly removed. We followed them out. My body quivered while we stood in the blazing sun. Roses were handed out. One by one, we stepped forward. We placed a rose on the coffin and I whispered a prayer, looking the photo of Bianca in the eye. I stepped back. Wind whistled through my hair. The back door of the hearse closed. As the black car drove away, I felt the sun hot against my back. There was nothing left for us to do at the chapel. Geoff and I swayed our way back to the car and he agreed to drive, provided I gave directions. The trees swayed in response to a gentle breeze, as we travelled through the leafy suburbs, still in a daze of mourning. We arrived at the house where Bianca had lived with Simon, the one I’d visited merely last week, after she died. Bread rolls were provided. We were able to stuff them with cold meats and salad if we chose.
“Thank you so much for coming. I really appreciate it,” Simon told me when he came over.
“It’s the least that we could do,” I assured.
As much as I wanted to tuck into the food, I hesitated. I felt queasy. Simon walked off, others to speak with.
“I’m so in love with you,” I murmured, leaning against Geoff’s shirt.
I ignored the hint of body odour. The humidity wasn’t kind to any of us.
“I love you too.”
Geoff gently patted my hair. I appreciated his embrace, like it could have been just the two of us in the whole wide world. Alcohol must have been served, some of the mourners walking around with beers. Geoff went off to fetch some finger food. I found myself with a small smile on my face, watching his body, then he returned. Geoff handed me a paper plate, on it a bread roll with ham and mayonnaise.
“I thought you’d like ham better than tuna.”
I chowed into the bread roll, then handed the empty plate back to Geoff. I hadn’t seen Simon for a while. Walking through the house, I found myself on the threshold to Bianca’s room, Simon sitting on the edge of the bed. He tightly held onto his left wrist, his lips twisted into a grimace, blood beneath his grip.
“Oh, what did you do to yourself?”
I rushed into the room.
“It was an accident. I was just trying to move the bed.”
Sitting down next to Simon, I noticed the splinter which was jagged out from the bedhead.
“Let me get you something for your hand.”
Despite Simon’s protests, I scampered out of the room, then discretely headed into the kitchen. I opened and closed the cupboards, looking for first aid supplies.
I startled, caught in the act.
I rocked back onto my heels, then pivoted.
“You performed beautifully today. Bianca would have been really proud.”
“Thank you.” Robert swallowed. “I have to decide whether I want to have her buried or cremated, and I don’t really know what to do.”
Footsteps creaked through into the kitchen.
“Bianca already made her wishes clear.”
All eyes snapped to Simon.
“What did you do to your hand?”
I opened another cupboard, finally finding the first-aid supplies, a little too late. Stumbling forward with bandages in my hands, anxiety swam within my chest.
“She was my sister.”
“But she was my wife.”
It was Simon who lunged forward first. All of a sudden, everyone joined in, pulling the two men apart. Bianca would not have wanted this.
“Whoa, easy, settle down.”
I escorted Simon away. Finally, I got the opportunity to bandage up his hand, to stop the bleeding.
“I’m not sure if you’re going to need to get this checked out.”
“I’ll be fine.”
Simon cleared his throat.
“Please, take some of the flowers. We really don’t know what to do with them.”
I carried bunches with me back to the car, laying them over the seats. Geoff came back to my place. I would have liked to have had sex with him, but I knew that it was the grief talking, so instead we just held each other.
“Some Valentine’s Day, hey?” Geoff remarked.
I wanted another drink, but I didn’t voice that.
“We probably should go to sleep.”
We did just that.
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'.