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Rehabilitation

My mobile phone beeped, waking me up. I grabbed it off the shelf and, bleary-eyed, looked at the bright screen.


I’VE GONE LIVE!!!!!


Lizzie was far too enthusiastic for almost three o’clock in the morning, but nonetheless I smiled as I rolled back onto my back. Geoff stirred awake.


“What’s the matter?” he queried sleepily.


“Lizzie’s started her blog,” I revealed.


“Right now?” Geoff wanted to know, barely able to keep his eyes open.


I tapped the link in the text message. The page loaded on the screen of my phone, loading ever so slowly as it usually did. Finally, the blog popped up, with its hot pink header. The website address – www.feministlizard.com.au – was emblazoned upon it in white cursive writing. There was only a single article which had been posted.


It’s been nearly twelve months since Mitchell del Reyan disappeared


I gulped. My skin felt bared to have our family’s heartbreak revealed like that. I rolled over onto my back and showed the website to Geoff, passing off my phone like it was too hot to hold. He squinted a little, eyes adjusting to the light. Geoff scrolled through, seeming to read the whole article. My chest felt tighter, unable to think or breathe. I tried to ball my hand into a fist, just as I started to cry.


“What does it say?” I choked out, but Geoff didn’t answer, and I didn’t really need to know.


He lowered my phone; we were already living the story. Geoff held me, his forearm a lump under my back. I wiped my tears on his collarbone, chest convulsing as I tried to suppress each sob. Geoff swallowed stoically, his left arm embracing me.


“I’m sorry.” I tried to take a deep breath. “Thank you. I love you.”


Geoff swallowed.


“I love you too,” he promised. “Let’s try and get some sleep.”


I nodded twice, taking my phone back from Geoff and stretching out. My hand didn’t quite reach the shelf. It fell onto the floor, but I must have been asleep shortly after. When the sun was up I roused again, dosing for a bit while the others left for work. Once I felt more awake, I forwarded the link to Lizzie’s blog to the group chat for the support group, in case they were interested in reading it. I hesitated for a moment, wondering whether or not I needed to elaborate on the website. With a different surname, it was necessary to provide some context, in case they didn’t read on.


Your cousin is a caring soul


The message was from Aaron, so he must have read it the whole way through. I pulled myself out of bed, needing to get to the GP. My mental healthcare plan needed updating, even though I didn’t think much had changed. I changed my clothes, then drove up to Castle Hill. Parking in the open-air carpark, I headed up the escalators and checked in at the medical centre. When I sat down in the waiting room, I pulled out my phone and took the time to read through Lizzie’s blog post.


“Nina del Reyan?”


I stood, walking over. Doctor Michele had been our family GP my whole life.


“How have you been?” he asked as we entered the office.


“Mitchell went missing. You can’t fix that.” I laughed dryly. “At least as far as I’m aware.”


“Yes, I’m sorry.”


“Do you take any medication at present?”


“No.”


“How would you feel about taking an antidepressant or anti-anxiety medication?”


“I mean, I don’t want to dismiss it.”


“I’d like to write you a prescription. I think it might help.”


After completing the relevant questionnaires, we finished the appointment. I approached the counter to pay, then moved through the mall to get the prescription filled at the nearby pharmacy. Once I handed in the script, I waited for the tablets to be ready. Mitchell took me to the doctor once, when I was in Year Eleven, I think. I’d even taken the morning off school. We sat in the pharmacy while waiting for the antibiotics to be prepared, so that my self-inflected infection could be quickly cleared. In 2023, I was on my phone with my legs crossed, neck bent and shoulders tense. Penelope messaged me screenshots of wedding dresses. One caught my eye, short sleeves, round neckline, and adorned with gemstones and embroidery.


I’m sensing a sparkly theme


You’d be right; Penelope confirmed, followed by a winky-face emoji.


“Nina del Reyan?”


I dropped my phone back into my bag. Confirming the medication was correct, I paid.


“Thank you.”


I received the prescription in a small box, in a white paper bag bearing the pharmacy’s name. Resolving to take the pill later, I shoved it into my bag. Following the doctors, I was about to go home when I paused to read a text message from Callista. Had she noticed me staring at her and Tom kissing the previous night? I couldn’t be sure, and I couldn’t ask. Callista suggested we go out for lunch and, even though my heart was heavy, I said yes. I travelled to the close-by café she mentioned. If the weather held up, Geoff would be playing cricket the following day. I couldn’t remember where. As I approached the table where Callista was sitting, I greeted her with a grin.


“Hello, how are you?”


“Yeah, good,” I answered, my standard response. “How are you?”


“Yeah, same, alright. I’ve been at the library this morning.”


“I always knew you were conscientious.”


“Well, I’m working on a research project about the frontier wars.”


“Right.”


“I watched The Australian Wars on SBS,” Callista mentioned. “It’s horrific, but everyone should watch it, everyone needs to know.”


“You hear people talking about there being no war, but that’s just not true.”


A waitress approached our table. I smiled, even though I felt tight in the chest. She placed down menus and I grinned back.


“Can I get you some water for the table?”


“Yes, that would be lovely, thank you,” I accepted.


She scampered away. I started to feel teary, as I could here someone playing the acoustic guitar and singing, ‘Leaps and Bounds’. Buskers always manage to do this to me, unless they sound completely awful, in which case they make me cry for completely different reasons. Fortunately, I managed to hold it in.


“I like to say that I love Paul Kelly, but I think if you only know How to Make Gravy, that doesn’t count.”


“Fair.”


I sat back in my seat.


“Let’s see how many I can think of.” I started counting on my fingers. “Leaps and Bounds, of course. From Little Things Big Things Grow, obviously.”


“I can’t believe we all grew up associating that song with superannuation.”


“Yeah,” I agreed with a laugh.


Despite my presented mirth, uneasiness bloomed within me.


“So, what’s been keeping you busy lately, Nina?” Callista wanted to know.


My instinct was to speak about Mitchell, an evangelist for his cause. Of course, none of this was Callista’s fault, so I needed to find another topic of conversation.


“I play hockey, I played hockey last year. Finn was talking to me about it yesterday, I need to remember to register again for this year’s season. I don’t think that the actual games start until April or May, though.”


“That sounds good, it’s good exercise. I feel l don’t do anything active, because I don’t have a dog.”


“Well, I do have a dog now.”


I fetched my phone to show Callista a picture.


“Gorgeous.”


I found myself flicking through the rest of the shots in my camera roll.


“Tom has the most adorable dog.”


I dropped my phone back into my bag. Accidentally, I caught Callista’s eye. I couldn’t possibly ask her, even though she’d brought up Tom, without much context.


“It was good to see Tom and you again yesterday,” I said instead.


“Yes, it’s true,” Callista admitted with a sigh. “I mean, I don’t know why I’m like this. It’s not like I’m ashamed of it.”


I narrowed my eyes instinctively, not intending to betray the secret I carried. What they did in their personal life was not really any of my business, I tried to convince myself.


“How did you find out?”


“I saw you two last night, near the engineering block.”


Callista blushed, laughing a little as she briefly covered her face with her hands.


“Oh, my, you must be scarred for life.”


“Believe it or not, I’m fine.”


“Phew.”


I could feel my pulse racing through my body, unsure of where to take the conversation next.


“Where would you like to go overseas?” Callista enquired, driving the discussion for herself.


“I’m not sure, really,” I responded, trying to provide myself with thinking time.


“I would like to go to Paris. There are so many places where I would like to travel, so many things I’d like to do, and I know that being--.”


Callista breathed out, dissatisfied.


“I’ve got a sister, an older sister, have I mentioned that before?”


“Yes, I did know that. Astoria, is that her name?”


“Yeah.” Callista giggled. “Mum couldn’t just just be normal.”


I laughed along with her, then leaned forward a little.


“I think Astoria and Callista are both beautiful names.”


Perhaps Astoria was or had spent some time overseas, hence the connection.


“I gather I’ll see you again next week. It took me a little while to make the connection.”


“Oh, are you coming up the coast with us?”


“Yeah, I’m coming to Toukley. Hayley got me over the line, she raves about the place.” Callista sipped from her water. “She’s your cousin, isn’t she?”


“Yeah,” I confirmed with a nod. “Her dad is my dad’s older brother.”


“Right.”


We finished off our meals and a waitress came to collect our plates.


“How was it?”


“Lovely, thank you,” I confirmed, then she whisked away, grinning.


“Has anything else been going on in your world?” I queried.


“Oh, Mum’s had her car stolen.”


“That’s no good.”


Callista shrugged her shoulders.


“It’s more annoying, than anything.”


I wondered whether Geoff was on the case. Once we were finished with our catch-up, Callista and I hugged goodbye, then I walked away from the café. A shiver went over my body. I checked my watch, half past three exactly. Returning home, Bianca’s face remained within my mind, all afternoon. When the phone rang, I ambled out of my bedroom and into the study to wait to see who was calling, in order to decide whether or not to answer. Home alone, I couldn’t be bothered talking to a telemarketer. Finally, the phone stopped ringing.


“Hello.”


Simon’s voice was strained. I stilled and snatched the phone to answer the call, although deep within me I already knew what had occurred.


“Hello Simon,” I responded.


“Hello,” Simon echoed, a little bemused. “I didn’t think that you would answer.”


“Sorry,” was all I could muster.


“Nina.” Simon sighed shakily. “Nina, Bibi passed away this afternoon. She’s gone.”


I gulped, even though I’d already known. I’d already known, but now it was real.


“Oh, Simon, I’m so sorry.”


Nothing else came to mind.


“I’m so, so sorry.”


I leaned back against the wall.


“Would you come over, please?”


“Yeah, of course,” I promised, and drove over.


Robert wasn’t there, still at the palliative care facility. Of course, he’d want to stay with his new wife for as long as possible. The house was bathed in sepia light, Simon’s presence guiding me to follow wherever his grief blew him. I moved into Bianca’s room, decorated with pastels, a floral doona smoothed over the bed. While I wanted to sit down and breathe in the presence of her, I noticed something, atop the bedside chest of drawers. I approached, tentatively. I’d seen Bianca’s loopy handwriting before, spotting her brother’s name at the top of the message – this wasn’t for my eyes. Bianca was gone, more tangibly than Mitchell. I felt my shoes against the carpet. Softly grasping the message, I removed it from its location. I lingered for a moment, wondering whether it would feel wrong, or like I was transgressing against the dead, but the evening light moved my body through the house, back into the loungeroom. Simon remained, and he turned to look at me. Fingers shaky, I handed over the note. Simon accepted it. Out the window, a cloud blew in. Cornflower blue and rimmed with gold, I could smell the rain, even before thunder rumbled the house. Simon read the note. He breathed out and started to cry.


“I’m so lucky,” Simon whispered, as I pressed back his hair from his forehead. “We were so lucky.”


I glanced up. So many photographs of Bianca, and her and Simon from when they were little, lined the walls of the house. Big, hazel eyes and a bright smile, never changing from her younger days, her only days. Simon regained some of his own strength. It wasn’t wise to drive home. Still, I did, listening to Bianca. I could hear her laugh, interspersed with a gentle dusting of rain against the windscreen. Arriving back home, I fell into Geoff’s arms and cried.


 

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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