Missing

Category B: Highly Commended (2021) Monash Short Story Writing Competition

Author:  Charlotte O'Shea

Title: Missing

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When I was a little girl, my Mamma would always read me stories. Fables, children’s tales about “principesse e principi”, faeries and pirates, magic and courage that always felt so out of reach. My favourite was one about a young orphan girl who always knew that there was something missing in her life. Struck with memories of a family and place she did not know. Thirty-odd years later, a quote from that story sticks with me now, my mother’s voice loud in my ears. “When something is missing it’s hard to ignore, when something’s not there that was there before.” The translation is rough and the meaning heavy, wrapped in precious memories of the place where I was read to, my childhood room. The place I will return to when I am old and greying, like my Nonna. 

Something is missing. I cannot rid myself of this feeling. It surrounds me and follows me as I walk down darkened streets and through sunlit gardens; it holds my heart in a tight grip, suffocating my being. The feeling follows me now as I eat dinner with my family, the feeling of a presence. That there should be just one more seat at the table. Garlic and herbs fill the air with an aroma, our aroma, the scents of Italy. That too, wraps itself around me but unlike the uncomfortable grasp of some unknown loss, it is a warm embrace. It fills our Australian kitchen with laughter and fast-paced conversation, with hearty bickering from my husband and his brother, with love and family and the feeling that I am not alone in this place so very far from home. But for me, there is a shadow over the table tonight and it takes the shape of a man so very lost, abandoned and far, far from home. He is the feeling that wherever I am, something is missing, someone is missing. He is missing. He is what is missing. He is the shadow of a man behind me in every photo that I am in where I feel I do not belong. He is the pang in my heart I get when I walk down Flinders Street to see people whom I do not know and will not try to. He is the reminder of a place I had to leave behind so very quickly, without the proper chance to say goodbye. He is an old friend, or perhaps a lover, someone whose mark on my life will never leave me wherever I go. Yet he is missing. 

Plates, platters and cutlery clatter together as they collide into open hands. My family exchange food and condiments across the table. They exchange words and loving insults. 

“Something is missing,” I murmur. The noise stops. Heads turn in my direction. “Is everything alright Valentina bella?” my husband questions. “Valentina?” my Nonna asks, her voice strong. 

“Si Nonna, just thinking.” I stare downward into the lace. “Just thinking, that’s all.” They resume their chatter, not caught up in the momentary silence. My brother-in-law tells stories about his search for work. My family listen tentatively. No one notices my quiet outburst except my husband, his hand tracing the outline of my shaky palm. My eyes are still focused on the intricate pattern of lace covering our table. “What is missing?” he questions softly, shifting closer, whispering those words for only me to hear. 

“I don’t know.” My voice is quiet and broken, barely a whisper. I run my finger absent-mindedly over my wedding ring, a thin band of gold, a tangible memory as precious to me as my memories of home. “I don’t know,” I repeat. 

“Whatever it is, I can help you find it,” offering his arms to comfort me. I feel empty, pale. “I’m not sure you can.” He excuses us from the table. My eyes sting with confused, angry tears. We sit side by side on the leather couch in the living room. It is too Australian. I hate it. 

 

“Valentina my darling, what is wrong?” I clasp my hands together tightly.

“Something is missing!” I exclaim through heavy breaths. “He is missing!” 

Tears fall like heavy rain onto pavement. “Who is missing?” I offer only silence. He is familiarly calm; hand still present on my back. “Italy,” I mumble. “Everywhere I go, and every place I am I feel as if something is missing.” My sentences are barely cohesive. I do not make sense. This does not make sense. “I know,” he replies. “It troubles your dreams.”

Every night, I dream of home. Every night, I feel a horrible detachment from home. 

“I feel as if I have left someone behind. I see a man in photos, dreams and in shadows behind me when I walk. I feel everywhere I go that someone or some part of me is missing and I’m not sure I’ll ever find it again,” I say, letting out a deep breath. He pulls me into his chest as I sob. “It is ok Valentina; you will be ok.” He holds me tight as my breathing slows. “I miss Italy too. I feel like I have left a brother behind and we are separated by many seas. But I know he will find you again Valentina, I will find him again.” His fingers run through my dark hair. “That feeling… is hard to ignore. Just know that nothing is missing. Nothing is gone forever.” 

‘Nothing is missing,’ I repeat under my breath. “He is just separated from you. He is not gone or never to be found again. You are just apart.” I feel great comfort in his words. “When something is missing, it’s hard to ignore, when something’s not there that was there before,” he continues, reading the same line from the same storybook. A tangible piece left from a memory. But then he goes on. “But nothing is missing darling, that much is true, I am not truly gone, I am just apart from you.” 

 

 

 

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Last updated: 02 September 2021