This morning, Dad pulled up his car underneath Greg and Natalie’s carport. We climbed out of the car and ambled up to the front door. Natalie opened it and welcomed us inside.
“It’s a lot warmer in here,” Mum noted.
“Yes, we’ve had the heater on,” Natalie confirmed. “Greg was a bit chilly.”
“Thank you for having me,” I told her.
“You’re most welcome,” Natalie assured me. “It’s always lovely to have you.”
She shifted back. I farewelled Mum and Dad, then entered the house. We moved through into the kitchen. In Natalie’s presence, I felt safe.
“When are you back at uni?”
Natalie nodded her head. We had a bye from hockey, so I was able to head straight to work. Inside the library was colder than Greg and Natalie’s house, but at least it was slightly warmer than outside, capturing a slither of the afternoon sun coming through the front doors. I ended up walking there, for a bit of exercise. It was only a short stroll, and I felt alive in the cold. I said goodbye to Spencer, then worked. For a little while I thought that it was going to rain, but I don’t think it ever did. When I took a break, I checked my phone, noticing that I’d missed a call from Natalie, so I phoned her back. My heart started to thump faster within my chest as I listened to the ring of the phone, but eventually she answered the call.
“Would you mind if we all came along tonight, Nina?” Natalie requested.
“Of course, you can come. You know where it is, don’t you?”
“Of course, it’s the library where you work, just down in Baulkham Hills.”
“Well, I’ll see you then,” I commented. “We’re watching the State of Origin.”
I could hear the smile in her voice. We ended the call and I worked for the rest of my shift. I could feel the anticipation rising within my body, keen for the game, and trying to ignore the pit of loss within my stomach, wishing for Mitchell’s presence in my midst – Natalie and Greg would substitute. Night fell, and the support group filed in. I wheeled the TV out and made sure that it was plugged in and tuned to Channel Nine and not Channel Nine in Wollongong which was all fuzzy, so we could sit down. There comes a point a few minutes into a sporting match where you lean back, sip your orange juice then your lemonade then your beer, and realise that you’re in the midst of something. Players in maroon charged down the field. I flicked my phone onto silent, then put it away. Breathing out, I leaned forward. I found myself fiddling with the gold cross hanging from my neck, a gift from Mitchell. It wasn’t a choice, but a nervous tic. At half-time, New South Wales were behind, their captain having been stretchered off. As I walked off to fetch more snacks, the automatic doors parted.
“Sorry we’re late,” Zipporah apologised, Natalia by her side.
She glanced towards the television, just as the players were making their way back onto the field.
“I see there are men playing the sportsball.”
“Yeah,” I responded, briefly glancing away.
I needed to speak with Zipporah about the case, but she’d gone off to sit down, her priority ensuring that Natalia didn’t have to stay on her feet too long. Once I fetched the rest of the packet of Jatz, I returned to the others, placing it on the table. The faces of my friends were glued to the television. Even Todd seemed on edge. I doubted New South Wales would be able to score again, yet alone twice, in order to take the lead. For people who had all experienced trauma, it staggered me that we could live or die on the outcome of a game. It struck me, as the seconds dripped by, that we do this to ourselves. We do this as generations tick by, passing on an elevated heartrate like an inheritance, as men scramble around the field on the television. Each of us comes soaked colours, blue or maroon, Todd and I on opposite sides of the thin white line. So, we feel our insides twist like the bodies on grass. The unearthly sensation is our birthright of being conceived on either side of the Tweed. It tackles us; we cannot burst free. We just lurch forward, as if we can will on our players with our own inertia. The television cameras showed children in the crowd, either despondent or elated. The game ended, and we were all keen to get out of there. I packed the television away, until next time. By the time I re-emerged, Zipporah and Natalia were gone, so I didn’t have the chance to speak with them about Dad’s involvement in the case. Greg drove Natalie and I back home, said goodnight, then went upstairs to bed. I flashed her a cheeky smile.
“Do you have treats?”
Natalie showed me the stash in the cupboard, then kissed my hair. As I listened to the creak of her feet on the stairs, I made my selections and scampered off to eat them. It was approaching midnight and I was sitting in Greg and Natalie’s spare bedroom, downstairs beyond the TV room. There were two beds. I took the far one, in front of the television, because when I had been little, I didn’t like to stare down the dark hallway. Therefore, Mitchell always took that bed. He had done so all throughout our childhoods, ever since Greg and Natalie had moved into that house when I was three. When I came over to stay while Mum and Dad travelled north to Port Macquarie, I had walked into the room, and took up my usual bed.
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'.