I pulled up outside Brigitta’s house in Harris Park, just a little anxious. Turning off the ignition and unfastening my seatbelt, I retrieved the box of melting moments biscuits off the passenger seat. I hadn’t baked them myself. Instead, I had purchased them from the bakery at the Northmead shops, which was really better for everyone involved. The street was clear, so I opened the door and stepped out of the car, before closing it behind me again and scurrying around the front onto the kerb. I locked the car, then checked, then dawdled down the front path. Brigitta must have heard my footsteps. She let me in the front door and I presented the melting moments biscuits as I greeted her.
“They look delicious, thank you,” Brigitta responded, accepting the box from me.
We walked through into the kitchen. My gaze panned around the house, noticing the family photos on the walls. A part of me felt comforted. Another was surprised. Jerry had been confirmed dead for a long time, and I’d picked up hints about their marriage. The others started filing in. We migrated out the back. Especially as the drinks started flowing, it was a more relaxed atmosphere than the support group meeting. Brigitta’s backyard on a warm afternoon was less of a stiff environment than the cold suburban library. Yet, when she glanced towards her watch, a shadow seemed to cross her face. I doubted Brigitta had realised she had somewhere else to be.
“You know, today’s the day.” She sighed heavily. “Today’s the day that I first found out about Jerry--.”
I hadn’t realised that.
The others bore sympathetic looks towards her.
“On our wedding day, I wore a necklace which was my grandmother’s,” Brigitta recalled. “Originally, I thought that I wanted a beach wedding, but I didn’t end up having that in the end.”
Of course I’d thought about what sort of wedding I’d like. That picture always had Mitchell in it, as a groomsman, or maybe a bridesman. I thought that I wouldn’t force my partner to have Mitchell as part of his own bridal party. If the groom had been Geoff, then we wouldn’t have needed to even ask the question. My heart beat faster.
“My relationship with Jerry wasn’t always good. I admit that now.”
Going there wasn’t something I desired. If that was what Brigitta wanted, though, I would listen.
“Look, I was a bit suspicious, I could be a bit suspicious from time to time. I thought that I was the one with the problem that I couldn’t trust my husband.”
“Do you think that Jerry encouraged you to feel that way?” Timmy asked.
Everyone glared at him. Timmy, though, shrugged his shoulders. He was bringing his work attitude into a social gathering, sure, but it was worth asking the question.
“Do you want to know if I felt like I was being gaslighted?”
“Well, you wouldn’t have had that terminology at the time, I understand--.”
“It’s tough to look back in hindsight.” Brigitta breathed out through her nose, like she was searching for the words. “You know, I still have a bunch of his stuff in the garage. That’s where the Christmas lights are. I haven’t really touched them, I couldn’t have been bothered putting them up since.”
“Would you like help to put the Christmas lights up?” Noel offered.
Brigitta drew her eyebrows together.
“Yes, that would be lovely, thank you.”
We walked around from the house. Brigitta opened up the garage door. It reminded me of the one at the Devereux house, before they had it mechanised. Slack-jawed, I could smell the dust.
“Would you like to help?” Brigitta requested.
I took an extra moment to move. My gaze was fixed onto the light-up Mrs Claus which was in the centre of the garage. This promised to be quite the spectacular. Brigitta threw herself up the ladder, while Noel and Timmy passed her various strings of lights, so that she could line the house with them. The centrepiece would be Mrs Claus.
“I bought this when Summer was only three years old,” Brigitta outlined.
Therefore, there was a question mark over whether or not it would even still work. Nonetheless, when the switch was flicked, Mrs Claus glowed. The time eventually came to pack back up. I felt like I was buzzing, like the Christmas lights. This had been an important act of hope. The yuletide spirit hung heavy in the humid, almost-December air. We took the boxes back to the garage, where they could wait until the new year. I spotted a photo of Jerry, a little one which must have been taken on a film camera, back when they were just considered cutting-edge instead of a retro trend. He had a blonde mullet, the sort that had come back into fashion for some reason I couldn’t determine. Both Jerry and Brigitta were beaming at the camera. His hands were clasped on her belly. They looked so young – it was probably when she was pregnant with Summer. I did wonder what it was about Jerry that made women throw themselves at him. Personally, I didn’t find Jerry much of a looker, and what Brigitta told me of his personality wasn’t a standout. With a job well done, Aaron started up the barbecue. Smoke and steam rose into the air. Debbie was quick to join him – she wasn’t about to let the blokes take over the barbecue just because their appendages dictated that this was to be their role in cooking. I wasn’t quite sure how to help, so instead I stood around with a drink in my hand. Primrose and Josephine had found a plastic cricket set which had been faded by the sun. I wasn’t quite sure whether Summer and Fergus were, but it would have been theirs back in the day, I presumed. Primrose bowled while her sister batted, and I remembered being a little kid, with Mitchell and Geoff. Generally, I was the fielder, and I enjoyed that, although, from time to time, I would be afforded a bat or a bowl. I loved running between the wickets, and feeling the ecstasy of reaching the crease at the other end. Soon enough, lunch was served and we all sat around the table, pulling over whatever chairs we could find as we tucked into the delicious barbecue. The cricket match was even temporarily halted.
“So, Debbie, how is everything going with the preparations for the big day next weekend?”
“Yeah, well, thankfully, Alana and Sam are both so organised. Alana had her hens party last night and Sam’s was the week before.”
“Are the wedding dresses all ready to go?”
“Yes, they are, which is just as well. Alana had her last fitting on Friday, so she was able to bring the dress home with her then. It’s in the house, hanging up, in the plastic bag thing, but I’m sure it will look even more beautiful when she’s actually wearing it.”
As the conversation continued, I pondered what sort of wedding dress I might like to wear.
“It’ll be your turn before you know it,” Lawrence remarked to Noel. “You’ll be giving your girls away.”
Redness creeping into my cheeks, I glanced down at the ground.
“Well, we’ll just have to see what they have to say, won’t we?” Noel responded, with composure which prevented the situation from becoming more awkward than it already was.
“Is there a big crowd coming down for the big day?” Brigitta enquired.
“Well, Sam’s family are all down in Canberra, so it will just be our people travelling. You’re all still right to come, aren’t you?”
“It will be lovely,” I promised. “We wouldn’t miss it.”
It was very generous for Debbie to invite us all to the wedding. I barely knew Alana, so I hoped she didn’t mind. A part of me wondered if maybe Sam’s family and friends outnumbered Alana’s. While that wouldn’t have made the invitation any less generous, it would have made more sense to think that we were seat-fillers. Pondering the wedding, I found myself welling up with tears. Noticing, Noel handed me a napkin from the barbecue.
I gently dabbed it underneath my eyes, even though I knew that probably did little to clear my smudged mascara.
“Do you know what you’re going to do for Christmas?”
“We haven’t spoken about it.”
“We’re going to the Devereux house,” I announced. “That’s what we generally do.”
“That sounds lovely.”
I anticipated questions. Usually, people spent Christmas with their family, not their family friends.
“Dad’s side is coming as well,” I added, “and Mum’s Dad. Mum’s side of the family we generally see on Christmas Eve, and then my cousins spend Christmas Day with the other side of their family.”
“That’s nice that you’ve been able to organise things with both sides.”
We cleaned up. I departed Brigitta’s place with a wave. Getting back into the car, I turned on the air conditioning. When I returned home, Mum and Dad were out, so I went for a walk and phoned Abuela.
“It’s Nina,” I told her, because I needed to every time. “Leo’s daughter.”
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'.