I awoke with a jolt, startled that I’d even fallen asleep. Metallic chocolate wrappers were littered across the bed and my belly ached. I lolled onto my side and stared up through the darkness at the ceiling. Logic was the lubricant of the gears in my mind. I analysed everything I knew of my brother Mitchell, to frantically search for clues about his current location, wherever he had gone. As a nurse, he never stopped working, because he was always on hand for somebody in need. Perhaps Mitchell had needed to provide assistance and then accompanied the patient to hospital. He didn’t have his phone. He wouldn’t have been able to easily contact us. This was especially seeing as, when Mitchell was in nurse mode, nothing else mattered from the patient and their care. He was incredibly dedicated. I sat up suddenly and Mum stirred beside me. Not speaking to her, I swung my legs around and stood. I scampered into the study and opened up the laptop. Its brightness blared, burning my eyes in the darkness. Once I’d typed in the password, I loaded the Internet. I tapped away at a search engine, looking for nearby hospitals to the beach. Retrieving a list, I grabbed a pen and scribbled them down, before closing the computer. It was dark again, which startled me. The room was closing in around me as Mum’s footsteps echoed down the hallway. She appeared in the doorway and I could just make out her outline.
“I have a list of hospitals.” I held it up, even though Mum wouldn’t have been able to read it. “I thought that Mitchell probably needed to help somebody and then couldn’t contact us. If we go to the hospitals, we can find him and bring him back.”
Mum moved a little closer into the study. Even in the darkness, the pained expression on her face was clear. Her lips parted. Yet, Mum didn’t speak straight away. She swayed and for a moment I thought that she was going to fall. Instead, Mum rested against the cupboard door.
“Alright, Nina,” she agreed. “Let’s go.”
I leapt up from the chair. Mum and I exited the study and retrieved her bag from the bedroom, with her keys inside. She approached Dad and pressed a gentle kiss to his temple, waking him up.
“We’re going looking for Mitchell,” Mum announced. “Nina thinks that he might have gone to hospital.”
Dad pulled himself out of bed.
“I should stay,” he decided. “I’ll stay so that I can call you.”
Mum and I left. It was still pouring rain. We scampered over to the car and slipped inside.
“Where are we off to first?” Mum wanted to know.
“Delmar Private Hospital in Dee Why,” I asked.
Mum was driving, which I was glad about, because I could not see clearly. I didn’t know how she could, either. The windscreen wipers beat furiously. We fastened our seatbelts, then Mum reversed down our narrow driveway, pulling out onto the empty street. I carefully programmed into the satnav the address which I’d found online.
“It’ll tell you where to go,” I mentioned, setting it back into the open drawer near the gearstick.
Mum leaned back in her seat, breathing out slowly, her face wet with more than the rain. I picked up my phone, flicking through it, tapping on the screen to open my text messages. There were only a few, because my phone is new. I selected Mitchell.
The water’s lovely today; he’d told me that morning. I love you
Arriving at the hospital, Mum pulled up. We scurried out of the car and through the rain, into the building. I was panting as I passed through the automatic doors, into the foyer.
“Hello,” I greeted, before catching my breath. “My brother, Mitchell del Reyan, he’s a nurse. We don’t know where he went. Did he come here? He might have been helping somebody.”
The ward clerk shook her head.
“We don’t have an emergency department here, sweetie, and we haven’t had any new admissions tonight,” she explained. “What happened to your brother?”
I swayed forward into the counter.
“He was at the beach with his best friend,” I outlined. “He went into the toilets and nobody’s seen him since.”
“Have you called the police?” the ward clerk wanted to know. “If you report him missing, they can help you. Does he--?”
“Has he had any mental health issues?” the ward clerk questioned.
“No.” I shook my head. “At least, I don’t think so. I really don’t think so.”
A soundtrack of chaos played to the emergency department in the early hours of a Sunday morning, with patients screaming and grunting in agony and disagreement. Mum took my hand and drew me away into a corridor.
“They’re very busy, Nina,” she observed.
“Mitchell might have had to wait for a long time here,” I deduced.
I ambled over towards the desk. When I parted my lips to speak, a form and pen on a clipboard was thrust into my hands, compelling me to accept it.
“Oh, I’m not here for medical treatment,” I clarified. “I’m looking for my brother. We were wondering if he’d come in here.”
“We can’t release that information for confidentiality reasons,” the ward clerk told me.
“Oh, he wouldn’t mind,” I insisted. “Mitchell’s a nurse. He was at the beach with his best mate.”
“Have you spoken to the best mate?” the ward clerk asked.
“Yes,” I confirmed. “Mitchell went into the toilets and then Geoff, his mate, couldn’t find him anywhere. Geoff had his phone in their bag, they’d been surfing.”
The ward clerk seemed to have been distracted by her computer, then finally glanced back up at me again.
“We haven’t had any Mitchells admitted in the last twenty-four hours,” she admitted in a hushed tone.
Sodden, Mum and I piled back into the car. After fastening my seatbelt, I fiddled with my phone, chewing on my lip. Mum sighed loudly as she pulled her own seatbelt across her chest and jabbed it into the buckle a few times before it clicked in. She curled her fingers around the steering wheel.
“What’s next?” Mum asked.
She continued staring straight ahead. Raindrops still lingered on the windscreen, even though the storm had stopped. Peering through the darkness, I examined the list of hospital addresses in my hand.
“There aren’t any hospitals left,” I reflected.
I glanced up.
“Perhaps we should look further out?” I suggested. “Maybe an ambulance could have gone somewhere else.”
“Nina.” Mum moved her hand off the steering wheel and placed it on mine. “If Mitchell’s at one of these hospitals, he’ll come home soon. He’ll find a pay phone and call to tell us and if worse comes to worse, he’ll walk home. Even if we found him here, he wouldn’t come back home until he was done.”
In the morning, we awoke to soft golden light leaking in from behind the curtains. It prompted the multi-coloured foil chocolate wrappers littered around our faces to glow like the halos of angels. Mum and Dad were still lying next to me, on their backs, staring up at the ceiling.
“Good morning,” I whispered and then the sickening feeling seeped back into the deepest pit of my stomach.
I longed to blame it on the unhealthily large amount of chocolate I had consumed the night before.
“Good morning, Nina,” Dad greeted, “Would you like us to make you some breakfast?”
With a sigh, I nodded.
“That’d be lovely,” I murmured. “I’ll help you."
“No,” Dad insisted, sitting up. “Go and have a shower, get yourself into some fresh clothes."
Nodding obediently, I reached backwards and grabbed Mitchell’s chocolate from the bedside table, then rolled myself into a seated position. I wriggled forward until my feet were touching the carpeted floor. It felt soft underneath the solitary shoe that I still wore, my other foot bare, offering no explanation in regards to its nakedness. I stood up and felt the blood rush out of my head, flooding through my legs. Pausing for a moment until my head stopped feeling like it was spinning, I stepped out of the room. I walked diagonally across the hallway, entering my bedroom. The bed was neatly made, an action that was not of my doing. It had been Mitchell who had pulled up the sheet and doona and smoothed them out, placing the pillows into an ordered pile. It appeared so perfect, so untouched, so clean and crisp and tidy – unlike the shattered rubble of reality inside my mind. On the bed sat the bag of liquorice. My lips slipped open as my gaze fell upon it, at first surprised by its presence, then smashed suddenly by a wave of realisation. I reached down and picked up the brown paper bag. Its familiar surface felt rough and scratchy against my fingers. I ripped open the sealed top of the bag. The scent of the liquorice inside wafted out into the chilly air. I closed my eyes and pictured Mitchell there, a dark tube of liquorice poking out from his wide grin. When my eyes burst open again, the smell was foul, reeking of loneliness, confusion and fear. I swiftly fold over the top of the bag to save myself from the stench, trapping it inside. Stepping over to my desk, I tore off a few centimetres of sticky tape from the dispenser. I sealed the bag of liquorice closed again, firmly pressing it down with my fingertip. I pulled open a nearby drawer, littered with sheets of stickers, notebooks and miscellaneous childhood photos. I dropped the bag on top, my glimpse lingering on it for a moment, before I pushed it shut with my palm. It could wait there to be shared, until Mitchell returned. Upon hearing my text tone, I rolled over. I reached for my mobile phone, almost yanking it off the charger and letting out a gasp. On the screen was a preview of a text message from Lizzie, my cousin closest in age to me.
How are you!!!!??? Will you come shopping with me today?
I swallowed hard. Lizzie didn’t know, for there was really nothing to tell. I glanced towards my bedroom window, which looked out onto the front steps. In the wind, and through the green shade cloth, the bushes quivered in the wind. Before I had the chance to answer the message, Dad appeared in the doorway to my bedroom.
“Sandy has offered to take his dive gear out. Let’s go.”
In the car on the way back to Dee Why Beach, I sobbed quietly with fear. My phone was in my shaking hands. I knew that we needed to tell Lizzie the truth – she’s going to a kitchen tea, though, and I didn’t want to spoil her fun. We arrived at the beach. I stood on the sandy shore, the wind whistling through my hair. Uncle Sandy, Natalie’s brother, led the divers out, in their dark wetsuits. Geoff touched his arm to my shoulder blades, in comfort. Then, he followed after them, lingering on the shore as the divers plunged into the waves, and out of sight. Geoff folded his arms in front of his chest. He gazed out wistfully over the water, his head turned so that the curve of his cheek was visible to me.
“It’s alright,” I spoke up.
Geoff slowly nodded his head, my feet sinking into the sand, because I didn’t need to give him permission. He continued forward, his body disappearing into the shallows, while he adjusted his equipment. Finally, Geoff sunk underneath the water. I let out a gulp, touching my fingertips to my clothes over my collarbone, massaging the fabric because there was nothing else that I could do. While I tried to pray, the words did not leave my lips. The wind continued to howl, distracting me. I eventually shuffled forward a little, as the tides were encroaching on the shore. As much as I could, I tried to spot the divers, but the clouds overhead reflected on the surface of the water. They darkened, while Uncle Sandy’s group were still submerged. The ocean seemed to become angrier, winds swirling and the first drops of rain falling, as I breathed in as deeply as I could, trying not to blubber again when I finally exhaled. In the distance, above the horizon, lightning sliced through the furious sky. I wailed. Still in my clothes, I rushed into the frothy waves, holding up my arms, because I was wearing my watch on my left wrist. It had been a Christmas gift from Mitchell, only a few months before. Hands trembling, I unclasped the watch, its band pale pink rubber with silver parts, then flung it off onto the sand. Hopefully it would be out of the reach of the tide, as it crept and crept up the sand of Dee Why Beach.
“Nina!” Dad called out behind me, pulling me back from the water, while the divers finally started to emerge from the water, expressions hidden behind their oxygen masks.
Their shoulders were hunched over, weighed down by their heavy tanks.
“They’re coming,” Dad assured, “they have to come back in.”
Uncle Sandy and Geoff trudged from the water, reaching the sand. They dumped their equipment off their backs, removing their masks from their faces. Once Geoff was free, he approached. He shook his heads.
“I’m sorry, we didn’t find anything.”
“It’s OK,” I assured, wrapping Geoff into a hug, even though I got wet. “That’s good, Mitchell’s somewhere else, he’s still alive.”
“I’m so sorry, Nina, I’m so sorry.”
Geoff and I found somewhere to sit down, where we wouldn’t get any sandier.
“I have no idea what’s happened to him. He’s just vanished.”
Geoff shook his head once again.
“Have you prayed?”
“Yeah, of course I have.”
He pointed down the beach.
“Have the divers searched down there?” I asked him.
“I don’t know.”
“Yes, we have,” Uncle Sandy confirmed.
Standing up, I reached for Geoff’s hand to haul him to his feet.
“What are we going to do now?”
“Go home, I guess. I don’t know what else we can do.”
So, that’s what we did.
The cars raced around the track on the television like the swirling of a ceiling fan on top speed. Their movement was mesmerising and hypnotising. My eyes were fixated on them, going around and around and around. Their rhythm was comforting in its consistency. Dad was sitting in the chair across from me on the lounge. His fingertips were pressed to his temple; his eyes glossy with disassociation as he stared at the television. My cross-stitch bag sat beside me like a loyal companion, yet it remained untouched and alone. Mum padded down the stairs into the living room, her grey face expressionless. She strolled around the back of the lounge. Mum reached the cupboards that stretched along the far wall. She slid the doors open with a gentle thud. Mum retrieved the ironing board, sheathed in a stained pale pink striped cover. She lugged it out of the cupboard, pulling it over to the empty space to the left of Dad. Mum laid it down on the floor and unfolded the legs, before flipping it around so that it was standing upright. I watched her; her rhythmical movements. Mum and the ironing board were the sort of acquaintances that, if you passed them at the shops, they’d awkwardly look at each other to see if the other one felt the need to take the plunge and smile in greeting. They certainly would never catch up for a coffee, or even have each other’s phone numbers. Mitchell and the ironing board, on the other hand, were best mates, catching up in a regular ritual every Sunday, at some point throughout those twenty-four hours, depending on when he was working. I gulped softly with realisation as Mum smoothed out the ironing board cover. She abandoned it, trudging back up the stairs to the laundry. After a few moments, Mum returned with a washing basket. The holey white plastic container was stuffed with miscellaneous garments of all different colours. They were dry, but unfolded. Mum dumped it on the dining table near the ironing board, then upturned it. The clothes tumbled out in an unordered pile onto the wooden surface.
“Mitchell!” Dad hollered, “Your mother’s stealing your job!”
Mum swivelled around to face him. She stared at him, her eyes widening, seemingly almost to bulge out of her skull.
“Leo,” Mum breathed, taking a small step towards him.
Dad suddenly sucked in a loud breath, his eyes finally diverting away from the television.
“Oh Greta, I’m so sorry,” Dad gushed, “I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry."
As he began to sob, his skin burned the colour of desert sand. I held my hand out towards me, almost scared to get close. Ripples formed on Dad’s face like a pebble thrown into a pond. Mum rushed towards him and fell to her knees. She wrapped her arms around Dad and held him close to her against her chest. I moved down from the lounge and hugged him also.
“I’m so sorry, Greta, I’m so sorry,” Dad sobbed.
Mum gently patted his hair.
“It’s alright, Leo, it’s alright,” she attempted to reassure him.
Mum’s voice nonetheless quivered with fear and tears. She sounded frightened and confused, which did not surprise me. My father had not publicly cried since he had blubbered with pride when Mitchell had been named Dux of Year Six twelve years ago. I was in kindergarten at the time, but I remember it so vividly, the way that the whole primary school cheered. When I left the room, I went to Mitchell’s, to find that trophy again. In the evening, I sat on the lounge in my pyjamas, staring blankly at the illuminated television, playing some trashy reality show that none of us were engaged by. I stabbed at the fried rice that Mum had managed to scrape together with my fork, feeling too sick to eat, yet feeling like I was obligated to, so as to not offend Mum and her cooking skills. As I scooped some rice into my mouth, the phone rang loudly.
“Should we answer it?” Mum asked.
Dad said nothing. He simply continued to present his sour expression to the television. As the phone rang again, I stood and pecked Mum on the temple on my way walking off to the study.
Reaching it, I slid the door across and stepped inside. The phone in its cradle glowed and vibrated, bleating like a wounded lamb in an attempt to gain our attention. I reached across and pressed the green button to answer the call, before resting it against my ear.
“Hello, Nina del Reyan speaking,” I answered.
I tried to keep my tone as professional as possible.
“Look, hi Nina, Richard Cherry from the hospital here,” the hoarse male voice spoke.
“Hi Richard,” I greeted him.
“Listen, Nina, Mitchell was rostered on for a shift that was supposed to start about three quarters of an hour ago and he hasn’t shown up,” Richard outlined. “I didn’t want to alarm you, I just wanted to see if there was any interruption."
“Mitchell’s missing,” I blurted out.
“Not necessarily, he might have just gotten caught up with this wet weather that’s around,” Richard responded.
His tone was very calm and blissfully oblivious.
“No, Mitchell went missing yesterday,” I corrected.
“He was at the beach with Geoff, his mate, and he just disappeared,” I outlined. “We reported him missing last night."
“Did he go missing in the surf?” Richard asked.
His voice was suddenly quieter and no longer laced with confidence.
“No, he went into the toilets to wash off his hand he’d grazed and he went missing from there,” I explained. “Sorry, we should have rung to tell you."
“No, no, if he turns up at the hospital, we’ll tell you,” Richard promised. “Safe travels, Nina."
He hung up. The phone beeped loudly in my ear. Its electronic scream wailed with fear, confusion and anguish. Geoff called, to make sure that I was alright.
“Have you spoken to your cousins at all?”
“No. Mum or Dad might have, but I don’t think so. I know that we need to--.”
“You’ll be seeing Lizzie at uni tomorrow, won’t you?”
“Hopefully you’ll have a good day at uni tomorrow, Mitchell’s so proud of you for getting in."
“Yeah, thanks, he is, he was.”
We ended the call. Mum appeared in the doorway. I didn’t mention that Geoff had been on the phone.
“Nina, I haven’t said anything to Melissa.”
“I can call, if you like.”
Mum shook her head.
“No, it’s fine, I will.”
I stayed while Mum called, so could hear both sides of the conversation.
“Have you called the police?”
“You should speak to Geoff Devereux, he’ll be able to pull strings for you.”
“Trust me, we have.”
“Well, that is awful, Greta. I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy.”
As I listened to them talk, I kept expecting Mitchell to walk through the front door. Mum and Aunty Melissa have never been as close as Mitchell and I have been, or so I hear. Eventually she went to bed. I sat at the computer, flicking through Dad’s Facebook. Aunty Melissa, with Lizzie also tagged in the post, must have gone to the kitchen tea after all. There were green cupcakes on plates in some of the pictures, a nod to St Patrick’s Day, I supposed. This, however, was not the purpose that I had borrowed Dad’s iPad. Rather, I was desperate, and tapped at the icons on the screen. Finally, the keyboard appeared, so that I could search for those dreaded terms. In an instant, tens of thousands of pages appeared, and as my breaths hitched I selected the first one, a register for missing persons, for which Facebook seemed an inappropriately trivial platform. I went onto the page and made a post. Attaching the photograph of Mitchell we’d given the police, my finger shook as I pressed on the screen to send it. I gave Dad back his iPad without mentioning what I’d done. I retreated to my bedroom feeling dazed. Running my fingers through my hair, I knew that I needed to wash it, but that could wait. Later on when it was nearly midnight, I was sitting at my desk with the lamp blindingly reflecting against the dusty screen of my laptop.
There was an essay on feminism while I was supposed to be writing. I couldn’t even remember when it was supposed to be due, but secretly I didn’t want my first ever university assignment to be handed in late. Mitchell was supposed to help me. Mitchell was going to help me. I was sure. I sucked in a breath through my nose and wiped it with the back of my fist. I reached over to my new diary, which had been gifted to me by Mitchell for my previous birthday. It had an aqua blue leather cover. I flipped open the diary, to those beautiful fresh shiny pages. I lifted them to my face and breathed them in deeply, smelling that gorgeous scent of new paper, unused paper, opportunities and days still to be had, opportunities and days silently promised. Then, I lowered the book, shattering my dreaminess. I sighed, then flicked to the page of this week, where I had written in the first assignment. Mitchell had gifted me the pens as well, multi-coloured with flowing ink which had to dry. The essay is due on Monday 28th March. That is still plenty of time, I reckon, so I saved the largely empty document and shut down the computer. Mitchell would be back well before then. He would be able to help me, just as he had done all through primary school and all through high school. Mitchell had never done my work for me, but he’d sat there and kept me company. He would stay up until the wee hours of the morning to make sure that I had never submitted an assignment late, even though I had considered that on many, many occasions. Mitchell would print things for me and he would guide me, because it was smart enough to do that. I shut the computer screen, then switched off the lamp, plunging my bedroom into complete darkness. Suddenly, the doorbell sounded and a jolt of adrenaline soared through my body. I loudly gulped and went to stand. My feet were trembling with uncontrollable excitement and phenomenal anticipation. I listened to Dad’s heavy footsteps against the floorboards in the hallway. I gasped as I heard him open the door, while I lunged forward to finally jolt myself into a standing position.
“Hello, Mr del Reyan,” a voice greeted.
I breathed out and felt my eyes burn with tears.
I stumbled into the hallway, to view a man wearing familiar clothes standing on the doorstep. I recognised the face from hospital Christmas parties and fundraising picnics.
“I heard about what happened with Mitchell,” he announced.
I focused my blurry eyes on the badge on his chest, reading Richard Cherry.
“I just wanted to offer you my love and assistance, with whatever you need,” Richard offered. “We’ll hold Mitchell’s position."
An urge blossomed within me to lash out, to scream at him, but I didn’t, because that would be rude and Mitchell was a polite man who told me not to be rude.
“Thank you,” I told Richard, meeting his gaze for the briefest of moments.
I noticed, in a flash, that he had two different coloured eyes.
“Thank you, Richard,” Dad said with a loud sigh. “We appreciate it."
Richard softly breathed out sadly.
I extended my hand towards his, linking my fingers with his, touching the cool shining metal of his wedding band.
“Thank you,” I repeated, and Richard gave a slight smile of sorrow.
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'.