Woods

I stepped into the ensuite and pulled open the top drawer, to retrieve my toothbrush. Beside it, Mitchell’s blue toothbrush watched, its bristles a little worn because he always brushed his teeth morning and night without fail. While Greg would sometimes grant us a night’s amnesty, Mitchell was insistent. It made him feel better. Fondly, I brushed my thumb over the head of the toothbrush, then nestled it back into the container, which I placed down on the vanity.


“Nina, your phone’s ringing.”


I didn’t bother cleaning my teeth, instead scampering out to answer the call.


“Hello, is that you, Nina?”


“Yeah.”


“Sorry to bother you.” I recognised the voice as Faith, from school. “I’ve just heard Hudson’s died.”


“What happened?”


“We don’t really know. His poor mother found him. They think he might have had some sort of stroke or--.”


“Thank you for telling me,” I responded with a soft sigh. “That’s so sad.”


I’d interrupted her, so that she wouldn’t be able to finish that sentence. I really didn’t want to think of any other possibilities. Hudson and I were never particularly close friends. He wasn’t a sporting prodigy or a genius.


“Do they, um, know when the funeral’s going to be?”


“No, I don’t. I’ve been in touch with Maya. She’ll let me know when she knows.”


“Oh, Maya.” I ran my hand through my hair, thinking of Hudson’s girlfriend. “How’s she holding up?”


“It’s a big shock. I’m sure her family’s taking good care of her.”


As I got off the phone, I couldn’t help think of Natalie. I could tell that she was hovering, watching but trying not to be seen. There seemed to be a finality to this news, in contrast to the limbo state of Mitchell’s life. I turned around and sighed as I faced Natalie.


“That was Faith, from school.”


“She was the girl who had the baby, yeah?”


“Yes,” I confirmed. “Well, she was telling me Hudson Woods, one of the guys from school, died.”


“Oh, Nina,” Natalie gushed. “I’m so sorry to hear that.”


It felt silly to break down. My chest started to feel tighter. Natalie reached out her arms, to embrace me. I closed my eyes, and all I could see was Hudson’s face. I wished that the story could have ended differently for him. This didn’t seem right, even if it might have been inevitable. I prayed that Mitchell’s story would have a different conclusion. Geoff returned home, from working the night shift.


“Geoff, Hudson Woods from school died, Faith Bessey called and told me. Did you know, already?”


“No, I didn’t.” Geoff scratched the back of his head with his stubbed fingernails. “There was a callout a few hours ago, but Brad took it, not me.”


He gave a heavy sigh.


“They think it was some sort of stroke, but Faith didn’t really know.”


“Would either of you like something to eat?”


Both Geoff and I agreed, so Natalie whipped up some late breakfast. While I ate, I looked through photos and videos on my phone, flicking and thinking back to the last time I would have seen Hudson. I skipped quickly through the ones with people’s faces. It felt treacherous, like I was going to cry if I contemplated what had taken place over the last eight months. I heard Mum and Dad’s car roll into the driveway. It startled me a little bit, but I got up from the table, just as they parked. Mum and Dad let themselves into the house, singing out to just, almost just like normal. This had once been their house too, albeit only for a time. That was another age, before I was even born. I rushed forward into Mum’s arms, hugging her tightly. Taking in a breath, my face and body finally felt warm again.


“I missed you.”


Mum kissed me on the cheek.


“I missed you too.”


Eventually, we parted. While I sensed that Greg and Natalie wanted to hear all about Mum and Dad’s time away, we headed home at my request. I needed a lie-down, especially after the news I’d heard. Being back in my own bed didn’t make me feel any better. I tossed and turned, unable to sleep. My heart felt heavy with loss. At some stage I must have gotten tired of my grief, and that was enough to allow me the mercy of sleep. I must have only rested for about an hour. Once I came to, it was still light. I rolled onto my side, checking my phone.


We’re going up to Castle Hill tonight, to remember Hudson; Faith had texted me. You’re more than welcome to come if you would like to xx


I’ll be there; I responded.


Once I got out of bed, I walked into Mitchell’s bedroom, first, floorboards creaking underneath my feet. I reached into his wardrobe and grabbed one of his jackets, much to big for me, tucking it over my shoulders and rolling up the sleeves, to keep me warm. From there I headed out to the kitchen, allured by the smells of spices.


“Oh, you’ve got Mitchell’s jacket on,” Mum commented.


“Yeah, I just wanted to.”


I took a breath.


“Listen, I didn’t tell you this before. Hudson, from school, he died.”


“Oh, Nina.”


“They’re having a little get-together tonight, to remember him.”


Mum kissed me on the temple, allowing me to be on my way. I drove up to Castle Hill Showground, against the traffic. I rolled Mitchell and my car into a spot, next to one of the others. Through the windows, I noticed Cynthia, Faith's toddler daughter, sleeping in the back. Faith greeted me with a hug, perhaps the first time that she’d ever given me a hug. Eventually, one by one, the others arrived. Sitting on the bonnets of our cars, we watched the sun go down over the silhouette of gumtrees.


“Alright,” Faith decided. “Let’s share our memories of Hudson.”


“My main memory of him was at our formal,” I spoke up. “Turned out he was a really good dancer.”


“You wore those sparkly shoes,” Lizzie recalled, “and they broke.”


“Yeah, they did,” I confirmed. “I loved those shoes. Anyway, they only cost me fifteen dollars.”


I thought back on my high school days, as the sort of wise sage you can only be at eighteen. The sort that looks back to just over six months ago and thinks that it seems like another age. We didn’t know the ending, but we trusted that when there would be one, it would be happy. We would be fine, when the time came. The breeze picked up. I tucked some strands of my bright pink hair behind my ear. Mitchell had first dyed it for the formal.


“I remember being on the ferry with Hudson, when we went over. There was a big queue up before we could get on the boat.”


“He stood in front of me on the escalator when we were going up to the place,” Waleed noted, a fond smile creeping onto his lips. “You know, Maya, he had his hand just resting there on your shoulder the whole time. That’s the thing that I remember.”


“He was so worried about me being too cold.”


“What was his favourite song?” Lexie wanted to know.


For a moment, nobody spoke, thinking.


“Call Me Maybe,” Waleed supplied. “He loved that song.”


He picked up his guitar, beginning to strum chords. In his beautiful, soulful voice, Waleed sung the opening lyrics. We crooned through the song, bursting out the chorus as loudly as we could. For a moment, Hudson could have been with us. Mitchell might have been right there, too. Eventually, I returned home. I walked inside and down the hallway, singing out to my parents to let them know I was back.


“There’s some butter chicken in the fridge,” Mum told me, looking up at me from the lounge. “How was it?”


“There was a beautiful sunset tonight,” I answered her, and that was enough, at least for now.


 

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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