Mothers’ Day dawned with a strange, but not exactly unexpected, sombre mood. We all raised from bed sometime through the overcast morning, with none of the usual urgency. Dad had purchased a few presents on the afternoon before, nothing out of the ordinary gifts we usually selected for Mum. Thankfully, he’d wrapped them up in pale pink wrapping paper after she had gone to sleep. Mum and I were sitting side by side, with unruly hair. I snuggled into her soft dressing gown. Dad placed out the presents on the coffee table. Mum lifted her bare feet up and rested them on the edge of the table. She reached forward and pulled the presents onto her lap.
“Thank you,” Mum pressed a kiss to my temple, running her fingers through my pink hair, “Thank you for my lovely presents.”
She carefully pushed her fingertips underneath the wrapping paper. Mum pulled the paper away from the gift, exposing a cardboard box, which she opened, retrieving from it a large mug.
“Thank you, this is lovely.”
Something in Mum’s voice made me sense that she was holding back.
“You’d better go and get ready. We all should get ready.”
Doing as I was told, I walked into my bedroom and got dressed. Once wearing a nice dress, I headed out into the hallway, shoes on. My soles ached a little bit, owing to blisters. I would be able to get through the day, visiting Aunty June and Uncle Carlos’ home for Mothers’ Day. We left home, driving to Cherrybrook. I glanced down at my watch, then forward. Out ahead in the grey sky, I noticed the colourful slither of a rainbow, its sides undefined. Arriving at Aunty June and Uncle Carlos’ place, Dad turned right from the main road. He curved down the driveway into the paved area out the front. Dad parked the car, then we emerged from it, ensuring the vehicle was locked behind us. I approached the front door first, with my parents lagging behind.
“Come on in,” Aunty Julie urged, as she opened the screen door and gestured for us to enter.
I accepted her offer for a hug.
“Thank you so much for having us.”
We parted, and all entered the house. The three of us sat down on the lounges, where the rest of the family were sitting.
“Have you given any more thought to this idea of the private investigator?” Uncle Carlos wanted to know.
“To be perfectly honest, no.”
Dad seemed to have retreated into his shell. After lunch, I assisted Aunty Julie in cleaning up.
“Your friend from the support group, whose daughter went missing--.”
“She’s with her family today.”
I looked out the window, dipping my hands into the hot water while I washed the bowl. Mum walked into the kitchen.
“We’re going to make tracks, Nina.”
I farewelled Aunty June with a hug. Dad drove us home, then did the ironing while watching the football, the three of us skipping dinner.
“You’ve got a lecture tomorrow morning, don’t you?” Mum checked.
“Yeah, at nine o’clock,” I confirmed. “Is it alright for you to drop me off on your way to work?”
“Of course, that’s fine.”
“Well, I’d better get to bed.”
“Sweet dreams,” I told her, as she got up and walked away.
Once I could tell that Mum and Dad were off to sleep, I crept from bed. I left my room and turned the hairpin bend to walk down the hallway, towards my destination, heart thumping. In the darkness of Mitchell’s bedroom, I logged into his laptop. I didn’t need to guess the password. We kept them all the same – Mgdr200199 – for all of the devices in the house. The desktop loaded, a stock image of ice in Antarctica. Previously, it had been a photograph of the two of us, with me dolled up for my Year 12 Formal in November last year. Yet, Mitchell said that he’d changed it after a few weeks, because it looked like we were staring at him. The same image was still the picture on his lock screen. I moved Mitchell’s mouse. After clicking on the icon for the browser, it opened. The row of Mitchell’s favourites was a banner across the top of the screen. He’d only recently had to reinstall the browser, so the list was still building up again after being accidentally deleted. There were a few progressive theology articles and lists of medical terminology which he’d saved for work. I smile came onto my lips – that summed him up so well, especially recently. Surely the laptop would hold the answers. I clicked on the websites one by one, building up a steady collection of tabs. Leaning back in the chair, I scrolled through the journal article. I figured that Mitchell was researching pregnancy outcomes for women with physical disabilities, as part of his work. Off the top of my head, I couldn’t recall a specific patient. I would have done anything to be able to ask him. Moving on, I opened a Google folder. The series of resources weren’t from last year, but the year before. I scanned through the documents, PDF files about the diagnostic criteria for ADHD. Did Mitchell consider himself to have ADHD? I leaned forward, reading carefully. Despite taking in the dot points, it wasn’t my place to say either anything, nor pontificate that any hypothetical neurodivergence was linked with his disappearance. I just wanted to be able to talk to him. Accidentally shifting the cursor, I closed the tab. Next were the Google results for the pet shop, from when Mitchell had been checking the opening hours.
In the summer holidays, we’d headed off to buy a goldfish. A warm smile came onto my lips. The summer holidays disappeared into a golden haze. I considered retreating to my room. As a little girl, we cared for three fish in a row called Mango. I knew they were replacements. Minimising the web browser, I checked the photos saved on the laptop. One was from the School Strike for Climate. We’d had fun, if you can even say that about a protest. I peered through Mitchell’s window, stars like shards in the black sky. Yawning deeply, I considered shutting the laptop, just as a notification popped up. The email account must have still been logged in, World Vision requesting money for Mitchell’s sponsor child. Instinctively, I clicked. I felt incredibly guilty, because my parents had cancelled these payments. They didn’t want money coming out when Mitchell was no longer earning an income. It was understandable, but clawed at my gut. My own credit card number memorised, I re-sponsored the child, then closed the tabs. A Google Form was next, registering for an event. The short blurb confirmed that the form was no longer accepting responses. I sat back in the seat, a little deflated. The sites were an illusion of my brother, not the real thing. Clicking on the next tab, I startled, a video starting to play immediately. I watched it for a little bit, to ascertain the contents. This was from his uni days. Mitchell and Geoff had been to the beach and they’d recorded a video, although I knew they’d come home safely, that day. Breathing out, I closed the lid of Mitchell’s laptop. I returned to my bedroom, feeling hollow, like my chest contained a scar instead of a heart. Lying down, I tried to fall asleep.
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'.