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Apparently my older sister Mallory was perfect. That’s not how I remember her, but it’s what my mother tells me when I’m doing something wrong. My sister certainly looks perfect in all the photos mum has plastered her bedroom with; photos that sit next to trophies for netball and gymnastics, photos that hang next to certificates of merit for academic achievement, and principals’ awards for community service. But she was just my sister. A sister who fought over the TV remote with me and complained if I took up more than my fair share of the couch. A sister who told me my friends were rude and smelly and called me names. But I guess it doesn’t matter whether she was perfect or not. It’s impossible to be as good as someone who’s just a memory.
“What are you doing Ryan?” Mum asked, glancing over to where I sat at the kitchen table.
I covered my work with my arm. “Nothing,” I said.
“Is that homework?” she pestered. “That better be homework. Mrs Penman wasn’t very happy with your homework last term.”
“She’s just one teacher. I have lots of teachers … and Mrs Penman doesn’t like me.”
“So what did you do to make her not like you?” Mum said, standing at the kitchen bench, squeezing the last home-made muffin into an old ice cream container.
“Nothing. She just doesn’t like me,” I repeated.
“You must have done something, Ryan.’ I could feel her looking over my shoulder. “So is this for her?”
“She’s my science teacher, Mum. This is for English.”
“Ok. Well, make sure you do your science homework.”
I didn’t bother saying I didn’t have any.
“I’m off to a meeting,” she went on, sitting a knife and a small tub of cream cheese on top of the muffins in her basket. “It’s time to organise the Candle-light Rally for Missing Children again. Gosh, they come around quickly. I need you to look after Gemma.”
“I told Alex I’d be down to see him at the skate park with my bike as soon as I did my homework. You said nothing about going out.”
Mum pointed a wad of paper napkins at me. “Don’t be smart with me. There’s no one else to sit with Gemma and I can’t take her to the meeting. It’s too hard for some of the other parents. Too soon.”
Jeez. Mallory wasn’t here any more but she was still wrecking my life. I wanted to hate her but I couldn’t. It’s hard to hate someone when something bad has happened to them. I wondered if she’d felt this hacked off about babysitting me.
“Can Alex come here?” I don’t know why I asked.
“No. Next thing you know he’ll be texting his mates and there’ll be twenty of them round here. Or a hundred …”
I didn’t bother saying Alex didn’t have a mobile phone at the moment. I’d already told her enough times but she chose not to remember or blocked it out or something. She was good at blocking stuff out. I guess it helped her cope with what had happened to Mallory. I’d see Alex at school tomorrow. In science class.
“I’ll lock the back door on my way out,” Mum said briskly, brandishing her over-full, jangling key ring like a jailer.
Mallory was nearly fifteen when she disappeared on the way home from netball practice, I wrote as I heard the lock click and the back door slam. I’m older then my big sister will ever be.
I didn’t make Gemma go to bed until an hour after her usual bedtime. Gemma’s okay for a little sister. None of this is her fault. She is a bit of a cry baby, but she’s a girl. Its kind of what they do. She hadn’t moaned at all when I’d asked her to clear the table and wipe while I washed. So I just said nothing while she watched an extra hour of television. I guess you’d call it a silent protest. It’s not like Mum would find out or anything, but the program was a bit grown up and full of swearing. Gemma’s always been on about watching it so I knew she wouldn’t dob me in. I didn’t even bother to make sure she did her homework. That was Mum’s job.
After I’d said good night to my sister I wandered aimlessly around the house. I wasn’t going to do any of the chores Mum would have made me do if she was here. I had a few more days to finish my English assignment and there wasn’t any other homework because the new term of school had only started a couple of days before. TV was rubbish and I didn’t want to ring Alex. He’d be hacked off I never turned up, although he had to be used to it by now. He’d met my mum enough times.
I found myself standing outside Mallory’s bedroom. The last door on the upstairs hallway. I’d seen those forensic crime shows on television. I know what dead people look like. In the beginning I’d imagined Mallory, pale, lying in long grass, her eyes closed. Just her face because I didn’t want to see beyond it. But I couldn’t do it any more. Mum kept telling me she was still alive somewhere. And one day she’d come home and we’d be a happy family again but that was one big fat stupid lie. Mum could tell it to herself but I’d stopped believing it ages ago.
Don’t get me wrong. I wanted Mallory to come back for so long. I waited and waited and waited and the police kept coming back with developments and new ideas and then questions and then, eventually, they stopped coming. I cried bucket-loads of tears – I was a lot younger back then - with Mum and Dad and Gemma, and by myself in my bedroom, and then they just dried up because they weren’t going to bring her back. For a while I hated everything and everyone because what had we done wrong, why was everyone else’s life going along okay and this shit thing had happened to us? And I hated and cursed the person who had taken my sister and wrecked our family and made it break apart into five lonely pieces.
And sometimes I blamed Mallory.
In the end it was Gemma who kind of saved me from becoming a pathetic crying hermit because they were forgetting about us and we had to stick together. Poor Gemma.
I felt a little guilty standing outside Mallory’s room now. It’s not like she’d chosen to be abducted and murdered. For ages I blamed her for all the bad things that happened after she’d gone. And then I did my best to shut her out of my head, except when it suited me to blame her for something else. Like having to babysit Gemma tonight. Even if she was here, she’d be seventeen, nearly eighteen. She’d probably be going out with a boyfriend. Probably some jock like Mike Crenshaw who played rugby for the senior first-fifteen at my school. Or maybe someone older to piss Mum off. Or she’d be hanging out with her girlfriends and I’d still be minding Gemma although Mum wouldn’t be at the meeting to organise the Candlelight Rally for Missing children. I couldn’t imagine what else she might be doing if Mallory was still around. There wasn’t anything else.
I felt for the light switch and flicked it on. For a second I thought she’d probably be annoying me like crazy if she was here. She’d find a way. And suddenly I desperately wanted to be annoyed. And this flood of sadness swept over me like a wave and threatened to suck me down. As if casting off from the safety of the shore in a leaky boat, I let go of the door frame and drifted into Mallory’s bedroom.
I didn’t know why I was in here. I gave up on the idea long ago that I could find some clue in here myself, something that everyone one else had missed with their fine-toothed combs and their specialist equipment but I couldn’t help feeling a small stab of hope. Then I remembered it all happened three years ago and any clue would just lead me to a pile of bones or a faded empty netball uniform.
When she first disappeared the police spent hours in here, looking through her clothes, flicking through her books as if she'd left a secret coded message in lemon ink in a pocket or between the pages of a favourite book as a clue to what had happened; like she was someone in a Nancy Drew mystery. But she didn’t keep a diary and there was nothing in her room to show what she’d been thinking those last few days before she was gone. There were posters on her bedroom walls of people famous three years ago, but they had nothing to say now. She’d kept a whole lot of stuff in her school bag. She never let anyone else look inside it but she had it with her when she disappeared. They searched for her mobile phone but it was missing too. They monitored it for weeks but there were no calls or texts. Mum had convinced Dad to get a mobile phone for Mallory, saying it would help keep her safe. But a phone can’t protect you if someone has bad intentions. Mobile phones don’t know kung fu and can’t dial for help on their own. And they can’t tell you where they are when the battery’s dead. Just like a person.
A frilly pink duvet lay smooth over her bed with a couple of soft toys propped up on the pillow. The one on the far side was Mr E, her first teddy that I always wished was mine, but I didn’t recognize the other one. It looked brand new; as if no one had ever held it or dragged it through the mud or wiped their nose on it like had happened to Mr E. I punched the new one off the bed. Mallory would have hated it.
Like I’d seen a hundred times before, there was Mallory’s hairbrush, and her earrings and heart necklaces and other jewellery and a bunch of face junk on the top of her drawers. Mum had tidied her girly magazines into a pile but you could see strands of paper sticking out where she’d cut out her favourite hot guy to pin on the cork board above her bed. A chill ran over me as I thought that these things were all that was left of her. Her celebrity crushes in May the year she disappeared and the big plastic rainbow heart that
had given her in year seven, that she
wore on a cheap rusty chain. Forever stopped at fourteen, just a roomful of
stuff that wouldn’t mean anything to anyone else but us. Like when you take
your hand out of a bucket of water and the water falls back into place like you
were never there. Tyler
I heard the car door slam outside and footsteps climbing the wooden back porch stairs to the house. The key rattling in the lock. I sprinted for the door, quietly let myself into the hallway and along to my room at the other end. It wasn’t worth the trouble I’d be in if Mum found me mucking around in Mallory’s room.