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Shadow

Updated: May 10, 2022

When the pedestal fan swirled around to briefly face me, I hummed with delight. I was bathed in the cool air for a few seconds – which was particularly welcome this afternoon – before it rotated back around.


“That is lovely,” I murmured, throwing my head back against the back of the lounge.


After a moment, I glanced back up straight ahead. Dad took a few steps down the three stairs from one level of our split-level home to the other, carrying an icy, glass bottle of water and two plastic cups in his hands.


“Do you want a drink of water, Nina?” he asked as he reached the seat to my left.


“Yes please,” I replied enthusiastically.


Dad placed down the pair of cups and the bottle on the wooden coffee table in front of me. He separated the two colourful cups and promptly filled both with water. After carefully putting the bottle of water, now only two-thirds full, back down, Dad picked up one cup. Smiling, he handed it to me.


“Thanks, Dad,” I murmured before taking a sip of the freezing water.


Dad took the other cup in his right hand and grabbed the television remote in his left. He shuffled backwards and manoeuvred himself around to sit down in the armchair beside the couch. Dad set down his water-filled cup on one of the arms and pressed his fingertip to the red circular button in the top left corner of the television remote. On the black border of the television screen, a tiny red light changed to green.


“I think, Nina,” Dad began as the screen flickered from black to an image of a man in an Akubra teaching a hapless presenter how to shear a sheep, “I’m just going to sit here this afternoon and watch the Grand Prix qualifying."


“That, Dad,” I responded. “Sounds like a very good idea."


I lifted my cup of water and downed the remainder of it while Dad pressed a green button on the remote. This caused the screen to change over to the electronic program guide. Dad scrolled up a few channels until he reached the correct one for the Grand Prix and selected it. He leaned back in his chair, sighing softly as he relaxed. Dad then lifted the cup to his lips and drank some of the water.


“That is pretty good, isn’t it?” he commented.


“It is,” I agreed as Dad sculled the remainder of his water.


As, on the TV, a few men sitting behind a panel began rambling on about car racing, I reached into the dark grey cloth bag beside me. From it, I plucked out my cross-stitch work-in-progress, a rectangular piece of white Aida cloth bordered by a yellow plastic frame, with only a little bit of cloth poking out from the edges. Placing this down on my lap, I reached into my bag again, searching for my knotted, multi-coloured threads. My fingertips brushed over some old pairs of black underwear from a trip up the coast a few months prior. I pulled them out and tossed them onto the lounge on the other side of my cross-stitch bag, choosing to put them away later. Then, I shoved my hand back inside the bag, this time more determined to find my threads amongst the tangle of miscellaneous items. Next, I fetched my phone.


“Ah, I’d been looking for that,” I muttered to myself. “So that’s where it was, after all."


Dad twisted his head around to the right to look at me, sporting an intrigued expression.


“What did you find, Nina?” he queried, sounding curious.


I held up my phone for Dad to view.

“My phone,” I informed him.


Dad nodded once in grateful, interested recognition. Then, he turned his attention back to the television and I placed my phone down on the armrest of the lounge, something else I was planning to put away later. I reached back into the cross-stitch bag and finally found something that felt soft, but not usually shaped. It was exactly the knot of mismatched, multi-coloured embroidery threads which I had been searching for. Dropping them onto my lap, I looked back into the bag and took out the folded piece of paper which was the pattern I was attempting to follow, although truth be told I was failed miserably. I unfolded it on my lap on top of the framed cloth and the tangled threads. The tiny black squares, speckled with little icons, represented a white rose, surrounded by leaves. I reached underneath it to place my cloth on top and stared at it, dismayed by the tacky, brightly coloured frame around it. Instinctively, I attempted to rip the frame off, but it barely budged. Moving it closer to my eyes, I prized the two plastic pieces away from one another, ever so slowly.


When they were apart, the Aida cloth falling between them, crumpled up around the edges, I let out a soft sigh of relief and the end of hard work. I discarded of the plastic frame in between maps of tourist destinations that had long ago be shoved into my cross-stitch bag.

Studying my Aida cloth and the pattern that I desired to stitch onto it, I realised that it was probably big enough, which was good news. It probably also needs a good iron, but I’m far too lazy to do that, so I’ve decided that it isn’t really a requirement after all. Instead, I folded the piece of Aida cloth in half, then again into quarters. Holding the bottom right corner, I slowly opened up the cloth. With my free hand, I reached back into my bag to fetch some more threads. From it, I retrieved a tangle of ruby thread. I dropped that on my knee, then reached back into my bag to find a needle. Eventually, I pulled out my needle case and flipped it open inside the bag. I snatched on thin, gold, cross-stitch needle, then folded the needle case over again. After shoving it back into the bag, I pushed the point of my needle into the rough centre point of the Aida cloth. Now that the spot was marked, I moved it over and draped the cloth over the armrest.


“Just be careful, Dad,” I warned. “There’s a needle sticking out of that cloth to mark the centre spot”.


“Alright,” Dad agreed.


I retrieved my needle case and fetched another identical gold cross-stitch needle. Grabbing the red thread from my lap, I raised one end of a single thread to the eye of the needle. Carefully, I prodded the end of the thread through the eye of the needle. It only took me a few seconds to thread the needle, an achievement I was rather proud of myself for. I picked up the Aida cloth, making sure that the other needle didn’t fall out of the centre point while I transported it back over to my lap. I put the threaded needle down on my thigh and kept my eyes on it. After picking the needle back up in my other hand, I removed the first needle from the Aida cloth. While the tiny hole between the threads of cloth was still slightly enlarged, I shoved the threaded needle through it. Pulling it through until only a few centimetres of scarlet thread were hanging out from the back of the Aida cloth, I draped it back over the armrest of the couch. Picking back up the other needle, I pulled back out my needle case from the bag and flipped it open, then I snaked the needle through the cream fabric lining of the needle case. I closed the needle case and placed it back into the bag, hopefully for the last time in the immediate future.


I pulled the Aida cloth back onto my lap and began slowly tacking along the halfway line of the piece of cloth. When I reached the other side, I fetched my scissors out of my bag and snipped off the thread, allowing a few centimetres to hang to the edge, to prevent it from later unravelling. Then, I twirled the cloth around and began stitching the rest of the line so that the red thread perfectly bisected the piece of white Aida cloth. Once that was completed, I swung it around in a half-turn and roughly folded the cloth in half the other way, into quarters. Then, I shoved the needle through the tiny hole in the cloth at the top of the halfway line. I carefully pulled the thread through until there was only about a centimetre hanging out the other side. Keeping my eyes on the hanging thread, watching it intently to attempt to avoid it slipping through, I tacked along the cloth in a straight line to split it once more. After I finished this, I left about a centimetre of red thread dangling, then reached for my scissors and snipped it. I unthreaded the needle and dropped the remainder of the thread, only a few centimetres. Taking in a deep breath, I realised that I was finally about to embark on this cross-stitch project. I picked up my tangle of coloured threads in my fingers. After stabbing a random hole in my cloth with my needle, I hooked one of my long fingernails underneath a knotted strand of winter white and curled my finger to free it. The thread, unfortunately, didn’t budge, so I decided to tug harder with my pinky finger. This, however, did not improve the situation, only causing the thread to seem to sigh under the pressure of its peers which imprisoned it. Therefore, I removed my finger. Grasping the tangle of threads with my other hand as well, I lifted it up closer to my face. Following close inspection, I mentally unravelled the strands, then set the tangle down on my lap to try at physically unravelling them.


“Nice, nice,” Dad commented, momentarily distracting me. “Through to Q2, good job, just taking it steady, but getting through nicely nonetheless."


He dropped his tube of hand cream down beside his chair and applauded.


“What happened, Dad?” I queried, my innocent tone doing nothing to disguise my lack of concentration to the television.


Dad craned his neck to look at me.


“Daniel Riccardo, the Australian driver, just made it through the first stage of qualifying, meaning that he’ll start somewhere in the first two-thirds of the grid,” Dad explained, massaging his fingers.


Nodding, I hummed in acknowledgement and recognition of what he had provided.


“That’s good,” I supplied, in a matter that wasn’t quite as encouraging as I had hoped it would be.


Dad turned back to the television, so I flicked my attention back to the mess of threads that were still in my hands. Carefully, I shoved my longest fingernail in between two of the threads and pulled it along to the right. Ever so slowly, the strands of the colours separated from one another, unravelling at the command of my fingers. I dropped the threads down on my lap and pinched the end of the winter white cord, pulling on it tentatively, allowing it to wriggle free. When it was eventually no longer burdened by the chains that the other threads behaved as, I let out a quiet sigh of relief. I placed it down on the armrest, before bundling up my other threads in my hand, tossing them back into my bag. Plucking the white thread up again, I ran my fingernail through it, splitting off one-third of the individual threads. I discarded the other two-thirds back into the mess that was my cross-stitch bag. Then, I threaded my golden needle with the remaining two thin strands. Piercing the Aida cloth exactly in the centre, I smiled slightly, aware that my first mammoth cross-stitch project was finally beginning. About half an hour later, the front door creaked open. Immediately, Dad stood up out of his chair and I threaded my needle into a spare patch in the Aida cloth. I placed it down on top of my bag and also rose to my feet, before padding across the living room. When Dad and I reached the foot of the trio of stairs that led to the hallway, we noticed Mum trudging towards us.

She was laden with numerous reusuable shopping bags. They contained various brightly-coloured items, all of which I assumed had been purchased at the local supermarket.


“Don’t worry, Nina,” Mum reassured me as she unceremoniously dumped the bags down on the kitchen bench, “I got you and Mitchell some liquorice”.


She reached inside one of the plastic bags and retrieved a brown paper bag from it, holding it up. I told it from her, flashing a wide grin.


“We’ll share this when Mitchell gets back from the beach,” I revealed. “Of course, you guys can have some too, if you want”.


“No, no, no, never, Nina,” Mum promised, “That liquorice is something that you and Mitchell share. It’s special to the both of you."


I continued to smile.


“I might just go and put this in safe keeping in my room, then I’ll come to help you put away the rest of the shopping,” I outlined.


Mum nodded and grabbed a bag of carrots out of a shopping bag.


“Sounds good,” she told me.


I strolled down the hallway. Taking the right turn through the open doorway into my bedroom, I tossed the bag of liquorice onto my bed. It could wait there to be shared, until Mitchell returned. Thunder rumbled in the humid atmosphere. I opened the front screen door and ambled outside barefoot. Bag of recyclable rubbish in hand, I watched the car pull up on the other side of our front hedge. Greg and Natalie Devereux, parents of Mitchell’s best friend Geoff, who he was surfing with, climbed out. Carrying a bottle of juice each, they locked their car, then strolled towards the driveway.


“Hello,” I called out to them, waving with my free hand, grinning.


I padded down the front steps. Greg and Natalie walked up the driveway as I stepped over towards the bins.


“Hi, Nina,” Natalie greeted me.


Greg simply waved and mumbled his own greeting. I opened the yellow lid of the recycling bin and emptied out the contents of the bag.

“Sorry,” I murmured as the bin lid loudly fell shut. “Mum wanted me to empty the recycling bin."


I took a step away from the bin as Greg and Natalie approached me. Walking towards them, Natalie and I embraced each other, pecking each other on the cheek.


“Geoff’s car’s not here,” she noted, “I take it that he and Mitchell aren’t back from the beach yet."


“No, they’re not,” I replied.


Breaking away from Natalie, I stepped over to Greg.


“Nice to see you, Nina,” she said, also embracing me as we kissed each other on the cheek. “Have the boys rung to say that they’re coming soon?”


“No, they haven’t,” I answered as I separated from Greg.


He hummed in acknowledgement of my response.


“Hopefully they haven’t gotten caught up in this storm that appears to be coming over,” Greg commented in a wary tone, glancing around at the threatening-looking grey clouds that loomed ominously in the east.


At that moment, a fat, sticky, warm, raindrop fell down and slid down my forehead. Natalie threw her head back to stare up at the sky.


“I think we should probably go inside now,” she advised, looking back down at Greg and me.


Natalie wiped a large raindrop from her face with the side of her hand.


“Yeah,” she agreed with herself, turning to look at her husband. “That sounds like a very good idea."


The three of us, heads bowed, scurried up the stairs and inside the house to escape from the storm. Our footsteps tapped against the wooden floorboards down the hallway in a staccato rhythm.

Mum poked out from the passageway into the kitchen, sporting a wide grin.


“Look who I found,” I revealed, strolling towards her, flocked by Greg and Natalie.


Mum seemed to have noticed their presence already. She rushed towards Natalie and they tightly embraced one another.


“Hello Greta, nice to see you again, it feels like ages,” Natalie greeted Mum, who firmly kissed her cheek.


“It’s been a week, Natalie,” Mum reminded her, “but that’s ages by our standards, I suppose."


Dad wandered out of the kitchen and walked over to Greg.


“Hi there, Greg,” he said. “Thanks for coming."


The two men firmly shook hands, each touching each other’s shoulders with their spare hands.


“Well, Leo, we couldn’t exactly keep these two,” Greg gestured with his head towards Mum and Natalie, “away from each other for too long and, besides, you’re not too bad yourself."


“Neither are you, Greg,” Dad responded.


Greg cracked a smile.


“Leo, you flatter me,” he commented before changing his tone. “What’s cooking?”


Dad stole a glimpse across the kitchen.


“Greta’s making a quiche and I’m in charge of the baked potatoes and a salad,” he informed them. “Egg, bacon and onion."


“Ah,” Greg responded, “Mitchell’s favourite."


The raindrops thudded against the rooftop in a monotonous staccato. Occasionally, a bright, white flash erupted on the other side of the windows, briefly bathing the storm in illumination. On the dining table, the candles flickered, the reflection of the fire prompting our cutlery to glimmer. Thunder roared in the blackened sky like the cry of a wounded lion. Atop seven plates, neatly placed around the table, slices of quiche lay. They were accompanied by a bed of salad each and a few baked potatoes scattered within like decorative rocks in a garden.


“Should I warm the quiche and the potatoes up again in the oven?” Mum proposed. “I just don’t want it to get cold."


She stood and lifted both her plate and Dad’s, then wandered up to the kitchen.


“I’ve texted both Mitchell and Geoff,” I announced, breaking the lack of conversation. “They should be here soon."


“Usually, they’d call, their phones must not be working,” Natalie justified. “Maybe they forgot to charge their phones or with the storm, they might not have reception."


I stood, lifting my plate and Mitchell’s.


“I’ll help you, Mum,” I promised.


I stepped away from the table, across the multi-purpose living and dining room, over to the three stairs that led to the hallway and kitchen. I climbed them and took a step into the kitchen, then listened to the twisting of a key in the front door. A jolt of adrenaline raced through my body with excitement about the assumed return of Mitchell and Geoff.


“Here they are,” I murmured, placing the two plates down on the kitchen bench.


As I padded along the hallway, I watched the front door opening just a few metres in front of me. Geoff stood there on the doorstep, almost unwilling to enter. He was illuminated by the sensor light on the front porch, bathing him in a golden light like the glow of an angel. Geoff’s blonde hair dripped with rainwater. His ocean blue eyes seemed to be empty with desperation. Geoff’s pink lips quivered with fear and confusion. He wore a T-shirt and shorts over his black and blue wetsuit. A bag hung from Geoff’s hand, itself sodden and dripping identical to the hand that held it. Geoff was accompanied by a dark shadow of the thrashing bush behind him.


“Mitchell’s gone,” he murmured, shaking his head. “He, he cut his hand on a rock in the water and so we came back to the beach and he went into the bathroom to wash his hand and I waited outside because I was washing the surfboard, it got covered in sand, you see, and then he just never came back out."


I gulped and inched forward.


“I went in there and I looked and I looked and I looked,” Geoff explained, rambling quickly, “I went along the beach and I went into the shops and then it started raining and I asked people and I just kept running and running and running."


Tears started to tumble from his eyes like the raindrops from the dark night sky. Geoff lunged forward. Natalie stepped forward and caught him as he tumbled through the door, wrapping her arms around her son in a tight, tender embrace. Behind me, Dad took a step forward. His foot seemed to cause the floorboards beneath it to tremble. Maybe Dad’s frame was quivering, causing the tremour. Maybe my own body was shaking, making the ground feel like it was rocking beneath me. Maybe we were just experiencing an earthquake as well as a thunderstorm. Maybe I just hadn’t noticed that yet, because everything around me was slowly unravelling.


“We should probably call the police,” Dad suggested.


His tone was strong, encouraging and persuasive.


“Alright,” Greg agreed.


He slid across the study door.


As Greg entered the study, I heard Mum whimpering behind me. I spun around to view Natalie’s arms wrapped around her. Mum was staring down at her feet. Natalie’s head was buried into Mum’s shoulder. Her complexion was pale and her eyes were fixated downwards. I padded over towards them. Mum and Natalie extended their arms. I stepped into their embrace. Mum and Natalie entwined their fingers, nestling their hands into my back. I wriggled in their arms so that, while they were holding me safe, I could still watch my surroundings like an inquisitive baby. Greg reappeared from the study. He closed the sliding door behind him with a gentle thud that caused me to jump. Greg held up the phone and took a step forward towards Geoff.


“You call,” he instructed. “You know how this works, mate, and you were there."


Greg’s voice was absent of emotion. Geoff took the phone from him without speaking. He pressed the buttons on the phone to dial the phone number of his police station. Geoff raised the phone to his ear. We waited, all staring at him. Geoff was not staring at anything of us in particular, but rather just the air in front of his eyes.


“Yeah, hello, Brad, it’s me,” he eventually said. “Listen, Brad, Mitchell’s gone missing. We were at the beach."


Geoff welled up with tears again.


“We went into the toilets to wash his hand and he didn’t,” he breathed deeply to try and retain his composure, “he didn’t come back."


Natalie struggled free from the embrace of Mum and me. She stepped over to Geoff and cuddled him, resting her head on his shoulder.


“Yeah, yeah,” Geoff agreed. “I understand, I understand, Brad, thank you."


He slowed the phone from his ear and pressed the red button to end the phone call.


“Brad’s gonna come,” Geoff informed us.


His voice sounded caring. It was Geoff’s ‘police officer voice’ as we termed it. It was a voice that we’d seldom heard. It was a voice that we didn’t expect Geoff to ever be using on us, speaking directly to us, not acting, not pretending.


“Alright,” Dad agreed. “How long will he be?”


“He said he’d be here as soon as he could,” Geoff explained, “in a professional capacity."


In a professional capacity – the words dripped with formality.


“Alright,” I said, purely to break the silence that was starting to engulf us, when you excused the constant pitter-patter of rain and the occasional low rumble of thunder.


Once the two syllables had escaped by lips, we were once again plunged into only listening to the sounds of the storm. As they filtered into my ears, they reminded me of a night a number of years earlier. I closed my eyes, allowing myself to drown in the happy memory; to pretend that whatever chaos was occurring right now wasn’t real. All of a sudden, my eyes instinctively burst open and I found myself recalling aloud, before I’d fully realised what I was doing.


“When I was about seven and so Mitchell was twelve, there was a storm like this. We came home with Nanna from the shops in the afternoon. It was a Saturday, I think. We had dinner together as a family."


“Do you remember what you had for dinner that night, Neens?” Greg wanted to know.


I hummed softly in thought.


“No, I don’t,” I admitted, “but we probably had chicken sausages on white wholemeal bread with tomato sauce, just like every night back then, especially Saturdays."


Dad let out a laugh.


“I remember those days,” he murmured. “I’m glad that your appetite widened, Nina."


“I’m glad that it did too,” I responded.


I paused for a second, then continued the story.


“After dinner, after we’d washed up the dishes, the electricity went out. I was only about seven and I was really scared. Mitchell went down to the back room and together, we pulled the chairs out from under the dining table in the dark. We got a spare blanket out of the cupboard and we threw it over the chairs to make a cubby. Mitchell got the torches down from the cupboard in the kitchen and we got into our little cubby and Mitchell read me a story by torchlight. Then, after a little while, he asked me if I was scared anymore. I told him that I wasn’t, because he was there. So Mitchell suggested that we turn off the torch and I agreed, so he turned off the torch. We were there in the darkness in our chair cubby. We snuggled into the pillows and the blankets that we had there. Mitchell cuddled me and he made up silly stories until I eventually fell asleep."


My face ached with the weight of tears that threatened to spill.


“I’m scared,” I confessed, my voice trembling, “and I don’t know if I need to be. And Mitchell’s not here to tell me stories until I fall asleep”.


I started to sob. As I buried my head into Mum’s chest, I allowed my tears to soak the fabric of her shirt. After a moment, I glanced up, my eyes wide and stinging.


“I’m sorry,” I murmured.


“Don’t be worried, don’t be sorry,” Mum told me. “Everything’s alright."


I wasn’t sure if I believed her, but I didn’t dare to protest. Suddenly, there was a knock at the frame of the screen door. Six heads instantly spun around to face the mesh, moving to the music of the thumping of six anxious hearts. Brad stood there on the other side of the door. His light blue police uniform shirt was speckled with darker spots of raindrops. Brad clutched his cap in his hands, exposing his scalp. Geoff slowly gravitated towards the door. He opened it and gestured with his free hand for Brad to enter. He obliged.


“Geoff,” Brad spoke up, his tone calm and measured, “tell me what happened."


“I went to the beach with Mitchell today, you know, because I had the day off,” Geoff started.


Naturally resting my chin on my fist, I intently observed the side of his profile. Geoff’s bottom lip quivered ever so slightly.


“We were surfing, there were really good breaks today,” he recalled. “Mitchell slipped on his board and grazed his hand on a rock under the surface, so we came in onto the beach."


A solitary lonely tear slid slowly down Geoff’s cheek, illuminated by a sudden strike of lightning outside.


“I stayed outside with our gear and Mitch went into the toilets to wash his hand,” he explained. “He seemed to be taking his time and so I went in there, maybe after about fifteen minutes or so, to look for him."


Geoff’s tone grew increasingly flustered.


“He wasn’t there and I called out for him and I looked around on the beach and on the other side, in case he’d come out and I hadn’t seen. He didn’t seem to be anywhere, so I’d ask people if they’d seen him and--.”


His breathing was loud, raspy and panicked. Geoff twisted his head around in a circle as he ran a hand through his sodden blonde locks.


“Would you like to go to the station and file a missing persons report?” Brad queried.


He spoke with calmness and logic, notably the only person in the room – well, hallway – still possessing those characteristics.


“A missing persons report?” Mum blurted out, her voice laced with disgust and bemusement.


“Well, yes,” Brad responded. “If you wish."


His final syllable seemed to float out of his lips and immediately disappear into the suddenly frozen air. Geoff sighed loudly.


“I don’t know what happened, Brad,” he admitted. “I ran around that beach for hours. I guess, I suppose, he’s missing."


Geoff trailed off, his gaze slowly tumbling to the puddle of water dripping from his skin, forming around his feet.


“Alright,” Brad agreed.


“Alright,” Geoff echoed. “I guess we’re going to the station."

“Yeah,” Mum spoke her, her voice empty. “I guess we are."

“Ah,” Geoff hummed, remembering, “should we get a photo of him?”


“Yes,” Brad replied simply. “One that clearly shows his face, a recent photo."


Geoff nodded once, then slipped into the study, moving frantically.


“Last night,” I spoke up. “At the restaurant, we took a photo."


“Is that still on your phone, Greta?” Dad asked Mum.


Mum’s arms were folded in front of her chest. Her green eyes were glossy as she stared away towards the floor. I blinked, almost expecting Mum to have floated away in the wind when I opened my eyes again.


“Greta?” Dad echoed, his tone gentle and questioning.


“It would be in the Cloud,” Mum answered.


Her eyes never left the spot on the skirting board that they were locked onto.


Dad nodded and followed Geoff into the study. My gaze pulled my feet across the hallway towards the study doorway. I leaned against the door frame, resting my weary head on the painted wood. Geoff leaned over the computer sat atop the desk, the glow of his screen lighting up his face. The lock screen loaded, an image of Mitchell and I at his birthday party two months earlier – before he’d broken his ankle falling off the trampoline. His grin was wide, as usual. My dyed pink hair was pressed up against his cheek, my smiling face beside his. Mitchell’s big chocolate brown eyes glimmered with familiar joy. Then, Geoff tapped the mouse pad and the image promptly disappeared. I sucked in a breath through my mouth, inhaling the sensation of sudden loss. As Mum stepped forward and wrapped her arms around my waist, I started to tap my thumb against my collarbone – Nina music, as Mitchell called it. It was my nervous tic that I’d developed at some point throughout my life, I couldn’t even remember when. I linked my fingers of my other hand with Mum’s around my belly. We watched as Dad loaded the computer and located the photograph. He opened the file and there we were – the same smiling faces with a background of the red leather restaurant booth we had been seated in. Without requiring a prompt, we trudged towards the door in a clump. Our heads were slumped to face the floorboards beneath our feet. Somebody opened the door with a high-pitched creak. It caused a jolt of adrenaline to rush through my body as my gaze darted upwards. I simultaneously noticed that Dad had opened the door and that my heart was beating really, really fast.


My pulse raced like an aeroplane along the runway, about to take off. We lurched out onto the front porch as I felt like my aircraft was launching into the air. I was flying off into a very unfamiliar world. Our car pulled up in the police station carpark. The rain clattered against the roof, then tricked down the windows and windscreen. I watched the droplets run in zigzag patterns down the glass, side by side, paired up like family members, parents and children, brothers and sisters. They were together, unified – falling, but nonetheless, falling together. I turned my attention away from the window, illuminated by a street light a few metres away. Mum, Dad, Leo and Natalie had already climbed out of the car. I was falling like the raindrops and they were already standing out in the storm. I held my arm out, reaching for the hand that would comfort me – Mitchell’s hand. My fingers fell away to the fabric of the seat. I glanced up at emptiness and sucked in a panicked breath of realisation.


“Nina, are you alright?” Mum questioned as she gently tapped on the wet car window, even though I was relatively certain she already knew the answer. “It’s raining, come on, let’s go inside."


Something drew me to my feet and allowed me to step out of the car. The cool raindrops fell onto my back, causing a shiver to slither down my spine. Mum grabbed my hand and led me inside the police station, trailing after Geoff, Natalie, Dad, Greg and Brad. As we stepped into the interview room, Brad’s hand snaked around the door frame and flicked on the light. My eyes burned from the sudden brightness of the glowing tubes overhead.


“Take a seat, if you wish,” Brad encouraged.


Sighing softly, he strolled across the room and sat down at the other side of the table. Brad placed down some papers on the beige wooden surface. As Geoff, Mum and I fell into the three chairs, he passed them and a silver pen over to us. Instinctively, I grabbed it and started to slowly fill out the details on the form.


“Do I put his middle name too?” I asked.


“Yes, if you’d like,” Brad answered. “Somebody when people go missing, they may start going by their middle name, so it can be useful."


Full name Mitchell George del Reyan


“I don’t think he has any aliases,” Mum pointed out.


Alias names N/A


Date of birth 20th January 1999


Age 23


“How tall is Mitchell?” I questioned, unsure.


“A lot taller than both of us,” Mum replied with a laugh.


“We can calculate into centimetres, if you just know the feet and inches,” Brad interjected.


“I’m pretty sure he’s six foot five,” Mum mentioned. “That sounds about right."


Height 6’ 5”


Eye colour Brown


Hair colour Dark brown


“Does this mean his mobile phone number?” I queried.


“Yes,” Geoff answered. “Although we’ve got his mobile phone with us, he left it with me when he went into the toilet block."


Phone number 0456 107 756


Phone network Optus


Address 14 Azalea Drive, Constitution Hill, NSW


“Birthmarks, tattoos, scars, piercings, jewellery, typical clothing, dyed hair,” I read from the form. “Was he wearing our bracelet? The colourful plaited one?”


Geoff squinted in thought.


“He took it off and left it on the beach when we went into the surf, so it wouldn’t get wet,” he recalled.


Geoff momentarily closed his eyes and paused, plunging himself back into the memory.


“He slipped it back on when we came onto the beach,” he remembered. “He would have been wearing it, it was on his left wrist."


Physical description Multi-coloured plaited bracelet, worn on left wrist


I took a glance down at my own left wrist.


My dark purple plastic watch – a gift from Mitchell for the previous Christmas – and my own bracelet were wrapped around it. I was lost in the colours – the red of the blood that binds us, the blue of the ocean we cherished and the yellow of the golden sun among them. I was jolted back to earth when the building seemed to shake with a loud rumble of thunder, which startled me.


“I don’t think he has any special medical details,” Geoff mentioned.


“His ankle,” Mum chirped up.


Medical details Surgery to repair broken ankle 1.2.2022


History of illegal drug use None


Nobody spoke, nobody contradicting what I had written down on instinct.


Bank details ANZ, Castle Hill branch, account number 8856 6594


Description of vehicles Red Toyota Corolla, registration AH – 99 – SM, expires 3rd August 2022


I passed the form and the pen over towards Geoff. He accepted it in eerie silence. Geoff began to scrawl out the answers to the remaining questions.


When were they last seen? Saturday, 19th March, 2022. Approximately 5pm.


Where were they last seen? Dee Why Beach. Last seen walking into the men’s toilets, beachside entrance.


What were they wearing? Black wetsuit, multi-coloured friendship bracelet, left wrist.


We sat in perfect silence, deeply pondering the next question.


“I can’t think of anything,” I admitted. “There’s absolutely nothing that I can think of that’s been any different about Mitchell. I mean, just two nights ago, he came home from work and helped me ice biscuits until midnight”.


“Just write that down, if that’s been your observation,” Brad advised.


Have you noticed any recent changes in their behaviour? No


The two small letters in the large space looked so stark and lonely, floating in an ocean of white space. At least they were floating – I simply could no longer relate to that sensation of clarity and control. Geoff glanced around, silently seeking an answer from Mum and I to the next question on the form.


“No,” Mum confessed. “Never”.


Have they gone missing before? No


“Mitchell’s a happy kid, you know,” Mum mused. “He loves his family, his loves his friends, he loves his work. If he’s having problems, he’s hiding them really well."


Have they experience personal/family/emotional problems? Not to our knowledge


“I can’t remember anything,” I spluttered. “The last thing he said to me was ‘See you tonight, Pretty Ballerina. Love you’”.


“The last thing he said to me was,” Geoff confided, “’Take this. I’ll be back in a minute’ when he handed me his bags and then he walked into the toilets. I turned around and dumped our stuff at my feet and started fiddling with my phone."


“The last thing he said to me was,” Mum repeated.


She exhaled sharply, the force of her breath like a punch.


“’Love you Mum, see you tonight’,” Mum murmured, “and he pressed a kiss to my head and left."


She heaved under the weight of the anxiety.


“Where are you, my child?” Mum hollered to the ceiling from deep within her throat, “Where are you?”


She began to sob with the violence of the thunderstorm outside. Tears streamed down Mum’s face like sheets of heavy rain. I wrapped my arms around her and squeezed her body within my embrace, trying to crush the sorrow out of her being. We trudged in through the front door in single file, our footsteps thudding against the floorboards. Tears and raindrops dripped from our clothing. They pooled at our feet as the gale force wind outside gave us the final push, blowing us in. It slammed the doors shut behind us, with a crash that would gave startled us had our hearts not already been beating at a rhythm faster than a racehorse.


“What,” I spluttered, “what do we do now?”


Deep down within my soul, I knew that there was no answer to the question.


“Come with me,” Mum ordered, slipping her fingers into mine.


She dragged me along the hallway. Dad walked along beside us, following obediently. We reached the kitchen and halted inside it. Dad ran his hand over his face with a hearty yawn and sign, scrunching up his watery eyes. Mum’s hand slipped from mine before she stepped over to a high cupboard. She stood up on the very tips of her toes and opened the doors. Mum shoved her arm in between the shelves and retrieved a small silver box from it. Rolling back onto her feet, she closed the doors and turned to us. Mum stepped back over to Dad and I, then passed us and strolled alone back down the hallway. Instinctively, we found ourselves trailing after her. Mum took a left turn into her bedroom and we followed her into the darkness. I realised that she’d crumpled onto the bed when the blankets ruffled beneath her. Dad and I collapsed on either side of Mum, slowly and gently to prevent falling on top of her. Mum opened the box and tipped its contents out onto the bed with a crinkle of foil wrappings against one another. She pushed her hands over the blanket, dividing the items apart from each other. I plucked one of them from the fabric. When I pulled on both twisted ends simultaneously, the wrapping opened. The chocolate fell out into my waiting palm. Clasping it between my fingertips, I took a bite from one end. A soft, velvety vanilla taste bloomed between my teeth, against my tongue. I chewed and devoured the flavour of the chocolate. For a brief moment, its sweetness was almost calming; it was nearly comforting. I groped at the dispensed pile of chocolates lying on the bed with us. I picked one out, the flavour unknown in the darkness.


“For every one we have, we have to save one for Mitchell,” I instructed.


 

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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