“I’ve got my audition for the uni musical today,” I mentioned, while smearing butter over my toast. “I’ll be going in there first, then hockey, then work.”
“Right,” Mum responded.
I felt like her mind wasn’t truly in the moment.
“Well, I’m off,” I announced. “I’ve got to be in there early, so I’ll catch the bus.”
I finished off my toast, then Mum bid me farewell. Heading out the front door, I walked to the end of the street. The bus arrived after about five minutes. I extended my hand to signal to the driver, then climbed aboard. The bus pulled away while I tapped on. I dropped into a seat, feeling bile swirl within my guts as I commenced the commute, not really wanting to be there, despite my commitment to the audition. Closing my eyes, I allowed the journey to pass me by. I would hopefully sense enough of the rhythm in order to ensure I didn’t shoot past the campus. Eventually, I parted my lids, to check our process. I watched a woman push a man in a wheelchair along the footpath as the bus slowed in response to the traffic, then pulled over to the right. When the traffic lights changed, it pulled with a slow arc, onto the M2. I pondered all the other people on the bus. What had led them to this moment? After passing through the tolls, the bus veered to the right. This would be where the route would shift, for the buses travelling to Macquarie, rather than continuing on to the city. Once I got close to the stop, I pressed the button. I disembarked the bus and headed over to the room I’d been assigned.
I ran through the lyrics to the song I’d selected for my audition, for the role of Rizzo, not Sandy. Hands clammy, I wasn’t convinced I could do this. It’s not like I’m a stellar singer, and not that great a dancer. Really, I could have little idea what would come next, as another auditionee sat down beside me.
“Are you nervous?”
“You’ll be fine.”
“Nina del Reyan.”
One of the tutors from the uni stepped out from the room, bearing a grin. Rising to my feet, I tucked my hair behind my ears.
“Come on in, Nina.”
I stood and followed her into the room.
“I remember your brother, Mitchell.”
The tutor – Danielle, I thought her name was, but I could have been wrong – sat down behind a desk. She smiled, in the proud way most people used to, when thinking about Mitchell.
“How’s he going?”
I swallowed hard as she smiled back at me, glossy-eyed and seeming fine.
“Yeah, he was good,” I answered, in the absurd past tense. “He, um, has gone missing.”
Danielle’s expression faltered.
“I’m so sorry.”
“It’s been a big shock and a big loss.” I cleared my throat to continue. “Hello, as you know, my name is Nina del Reyan. I’m an ed student, a Sagittarius and I’m auditioning for the role of Rizzo.”
Somehow, the words of ‘Look at Me, I’m Sandra Dee’ came out of my mouth, even with a hint of a smile.
“Thanks, Nina. We’ll let you know.”
I rushed out of the room, mumbling my thanks. Despite the cool day, my cheeks were flushed. In the car on the way to hockey, I thought about praying for my musical audition, but it seemed like an unimportant topic, even though I had to admit to myself that I did care about it. I didn’t want to fail. Parking at the ground, I nearly forgot to raise the handbrake and turn off the ignition. I emerged into the day, chilly, even for May. Lugging my hockey gear behind me, I locked the car. I headed over to where Rose and the other players were preparing. Instinctively I scanned the faces of those milling around, searching their profiles for Mitchell. Rose greeted me. She was indulging in a pre-match snack of black liquorice.
“Would you like some?”
Rose offered me the open packet.
I grabbed a handful. The smell of aniseed intoxicating, I chowed into the liquorice on the sidelines of the field, loudly chewing while I spoke to Rose with my mouth full. Mitchell filled my mind, but I pushed through. There was a match to play.
“Can I ask, how was your musical audition?”
I shrugged my shoulders.
“Whatever happens, it’ll happen. If I get in, I get in, but if I don’t, then I don’t, and that’s fine.” I tucked the empty liquorice packet into my bag, to take it home. “When I was little I did dancing, but it’s not like I’ve had lifelong ambitions in musical theatre.”
Rose stashed the liquorice back into her hockey bag.
“Back in a moment.”
I watched as she strode over, finding and shaking hands with the opposition captain. On Rose’s return, she gestured towards one end of the field, sending off our goalie in the opposite direction. I made sure my shinpads were on. As I followed Rose out onto the field and found my position, I had already started to sweat. The referee blew the whistle, commencing the match. Rose was first with the ball, little blonde plaits toggling as she ran. I was playing on the wings, so I hung back a little, ready to intercept if the ball was hit back in the opposite direction from our goal. A breeze picked up amongst the gumtrees. I was only half paying attention. Many of the other players seemed older than university age, not that it’s a hard and fast bracket. Rose punted the ball, past the goalie’s feebly outstretched foot. He swore under his breath, at the sound of a clunk behind him. One-nil. A burst of happiness. Rose fist-pumped, smacking my palm for a high-five as she passed. She whooped with delight, the sound muted by her mouthguard. As we got into position for the game to recommence, I noticed a slight grimace had formed on her lips. Her ankle must have been troubling her, but Finn scored again quickly after, and the pain seemed to subside. Jogging down the field, I felt tightness in my chest. One of their players was almost as tall as Mitchell. He wore his maroon uniform like armour over his broad shoulders, wielding his hockey stick like a club, even though he wasn’t permitted to raise it in a dangerous manner. Contacting with a thud, he smacked the ball down the field. The opposition players encircled, like they were hunting us. Rose didn’t take a backward step. I admired her leadership, although I wouldn’t have been that bold. Rose smacked through another goal, her second and the team’s third, and I felt the breath of God rush through my body. Mitchell would have been so proud. As we prepared for the restart, one of the guys from the other team softly bumped my shoulder.
“Oh, I’m so sorry,” he gushed, and I knew I couldn’t possibly get mad. “I’m such a Taurean.”
“I’m a Sagittarius.”
I knew almost straight away I’d taken the bait. He manouevred the ball away from my reach. Our goalie prevented them from scoring by throwing his body into the side of the goal and intercepting the ball. Brentin wiped the blood away from his mouth. I wasn’t sure where he’d cut. Thankfully, Brentin didn’t need to leave the field. I wouldn’t have liked to put myself in the firing line. When the referee blew the whistle for halftime, we marched from the field. My fellow players kept their shoulders up because we were winning three-nil; I did so because it was half-time and I would finally get a break from play. I staggered over to the locked toilet block where our bags were strewn, in order to grab a drink. Rose placed her arm around my shoulders.
“You’ve played really well so far, Nina,” she commended with a grin. “Well done.”
“Thank you,” I answered.
I didn’t mention how my legs ached. I’d be capable of getting through another half of hockey. Whenever I doubted that, I closed my eyes for a moment and felt the sunshine on my cheeks. Mitchell would carry my body through. His presence is spiritual and I’m swaying from side to side on the hockey field before I fully fathom that. If I was going to bother being there, I may as well take it on, so I ran. The ball approached across the grass and I flung out my stick. It had been a taxing second half, for no reward. Nonetheless, we’d won. We shook hands with the opposition, then they trudged off the field. One of their players chucked out their earpods and tossed them into their bag. I hadn’t even realised they’d been wearing them.
“I did want to talk to you about finding you a psychologist to speak with,” Rose mentioned. “It’s great that we’re able to chat, but it’s not the same. I feel like I have a conflict of interest with you now, we can’t go back.”
“Yeah, that’s fair enough. I would be keen to do that.”
“I’ve got some recommendations. It’s not for me to say who would be a good psychologist to speak with, but there are some names I can give you, and your GP would have more to share, I’m sure, when you go for the referral.”
“You’re a good woman, Rose.”
She smiled modestly.
“Thank you, Nina.”
I farewelled Rose with a hug, then drove to work, a little sweaty, but feeling relatively satisfied. As I parked outside the library, I thought about staying at the Devereux house, as a child. I waited, breathing in the ominous air. While I would have liked to look for the photos, they would have been in albums back at home. They were probably tucked in with the videotapes we couldn’t watch anymore. I worked the rest of the afternoon, until the library closed and dusk started to fall upon the suburb. The automatic doors parting in front of him, Timmy arrived. We exchanged the usual pleasantries, although there was a matter weighing on my mind, which I needed to blurt out, eager to hear what his answer would be.
“Do you think Mitchell could have been hit by a car?”
I noticed a ripple across Timmy’s face, despite his attempt to hide his disbelief.
“I’m not saying it’s not possible,” he assured, “but surely Geoff would have seen something, heard something.”
I ran a hand through my hair.
“Everyone keeps saying that.”
“Maybe you should follow this up with the police.”
I nodded, and the rest of the support group eventually arrived. Once we were all sitting down, Timmy handed the news bear straight to Lorelai.
“On Mothers’ Day, we went out to the Armoury,” she explained, cuddling it close to her chest. “My whole family was there. We ate and drank in the hills all afternoon.”
“I miss my daughter.” Her voice was pained. “And I am still a mother. I am still her mother.”
“How’s Susanna?” Debbie asked.
“She’s going in to be induced tomorrow morning,” Lorelai answered. “She’s two weeks overdue. They’re a little concerned that she might have to have a C-section. I mean, Sue’s a surgeon herself and she’s unconcerned, so I shouldn’t be worried about her, but--.”
Her eyes trailed down towards the blue library carpet. Debbie reached across and brushed against Lorelai’s hand.
“Well, we’re all keeping your sister in our thoughts and prayers,” Timmy promised.
Taking the cue, Lorelai passed over the news bear, to Debbie.
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'.