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Noel

Being Christmas Eve, I knew that today would have been a busy day at work, although I was thankful that I wasn’t rostered on, because there was more than enough work to do around the zoo, getting ready for the grand opening to the public. We needed to wash windows, and ensure that the facilities were operational.


“Do you think that I should go into work today?”


“You weren’t rostered on, were you?”


“No, but Maryam’s pregnant, and it’s Christmas Eve, I know that the place will be absolutely chockers--.”


“Which is all the reason to stay here. You don’t need that stress right now. Believe me.”


The breeze fluttered my ponytail. Dad arrived with lunch.


“Oh, thanks,” I gushed, as I sat down against the glass.


I hoed into a sandwich, looking through into the tarsier exhibit, with one of the females on display – well, on display for us. I shook my head.


“It’s just, I can’t believe that this is going to be all open tomorrow.”


As I took another bite, I reconsider what I’d just said.


“Well, not tomorrow,” I corrected myself. “The day after tomorrow.”


“It better not be tomorrow,” Dad remarked.


“It’s not tomorrow, trust me.”


Sure, I wanted to celebrate Christmas with my family. At the same time, I was itching to get the zoo open, and wouldn’t have minded bringing it forward.


“I’m just going to go to the bathroom,” I mentioned, “and try out our new toilets.”


“Good on you,” Mum praised. “Just let us know if something doesn’t work.”


“Will do.”


I walked off to the toilets. Thankfully, I was able to relieve myself without incident and with great success. Just as I was about to head back, my phone rang.


“Hey, Tessa.”


“Hi, Jumilah.”


“Thank you for calling, it’s great to hear your voice,” I gushed.


“Sorry, I know it’s been a while.”


“Has everything been going alright?” I asked. “I remember that you seemed to be a little bit sick when we were in Sydney.”


“The doctor reckons that I have myalgic encephalomyelitis,” Tessa divulged. “Do you know what that is?”


“No, not really.”


“It’s a neurological condition, also known as chronic fatigue syndrome.”


“I’m sorry, Tessa, I don’t know what to say. Is it something which can be cured?”


“No.”


“Oh, Tessa.”


I just wanted to apologise, but I knew that wouldn’t actually help her.


“Well, I wish you all the best,” I told Tessa, “and if there’s anything at all that I can do for you, please let me know.”


“Oh, just warn me if the zoo goes to wreck and ruin.”


“I will do.”


Once I was off the phone, I gave a hearty sigh, feeling for Tessa, and frustrated on her behalf. I buried my phone and my hands in my pockets. From the toilets, I walked along the path past the dhole exhibit. For a moment I watched Gamba amidst the foliage, enjoying sunshine before the shadow of a raincloud motored over. We got our work finished off quickly, so that we wouldn’t get wet, and the macaques scattered for shelter. Nightfall came early, owing to the rain. We headed back inside and ate a simple meal, knowing we’d be tucking in the following day for Christmas. After dinner, Tallulah arrived at our front door.


“Merry Christmas.”


I poured giant glasses of red wine for us both, then we scampered through into the loungeroom to watch Carols by Candlelight from the couch.


“Cheers.”


Tallulah and I clinked our glasses. We soaked in the tunes. A crooner with a shiny bald head shuffled out onto the stage.


“Oh, I can smell the cigarettes through the TV,” Dad quipped.


“I didn’t realise he was still alive,” Mum remarked.


“Is he a bit of a stalwart?” I asked.


“Oh, yes. I remember when I very first came to Australia,” Mum elaborated. “He was on Carols when we used to watch from the uni dorms.”


“Did you ever go in person when you were living in Melbourne?” Tallulah wanted to know, sitting forward.


Mum and Dad looked across at each other.


“I know that I did,” Dad mentioned.


He leaned back in his chair and folded his arms.


“I can’t remember, did you come with me?” Dad enquired, but Mum didn’t seem to recall, either.


We turned our attention back to the television. To the applause of the younger members of the crowd in particular, the Wiggles jived out onto the stage.


“You know you’re starting to get old once you’re older than the Wiggles,” Mum remarked, “and once the Wiggles are younger than your own children.”


On that note, I finished my glass of wine. Tallulah and I jumped to our feet, dancing to the classics. She remembered all of the actions, as did I, like they’d been engrained within my muscle memory. We could have been three years old again, without a care in the world. The Wiggles were followed by Hi-5, just in case we needed anymore tipsy nostalgia. By the time we’d concluded the first rendition of ‘Santa Wear Your Shorts, and an encore during the ad break, the two of us collapsed back onto the couch, laughing. Dad returned from the kitchen with more red wine, pouring out the glasses.


“I don’t think I’ll ever get over the feeling of my child becoming an adult,” he mused.


“Thanks,” I replied, as he handed me another drink.


“Is your mother coming to pick you up, Tallulah?”


“Yes, yes, she will be. She said that I can ring her whenever I’m ready to come home, and she’ll swing past and get me, if that’s alright with you.”


“Of course. Thank you for coming over.”


We listened out for Bridie’s car coming down the road. Generally, it’s pretty peaceful and quiet in our area. Finally, we heard the roll of tyres. Tallulah bid farewell to Mum, then I followed her outside.


“Thank you for coming tonight.”


“My pleasure.”


We hugged.


“Merry Christmas.”


After I let her out the gate, Tallulah scampered down to the car. I waved them farewell. When I returned into the house, the Christmas tree stood with the lights on. It seemed so perfect, but all I could consider was twelve months ago. Twelve months ago I started packing my bag for Sumatra, just before we departed for midnight Mass rolling into Christmas Day at Seven Mile Beach. Mum stroked her fingers through my hair.


“You should go to bed,” she murmured, “or else Santa Claus won’t come.”


I beamed. Once we would have gone to Midnight Mass, to see in Christmas Day. With the zoo, everything had changed, so I kissed my mother goodnight and took myself to bed.


 

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 has long had a passion for the weird and the wonderful of stories, sport and zoo animals. 'From the Wild' is her first anthology.


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