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Over

This morning I awoke feeling warm, snuggled in my bed and the house filled with light. I pulled myself out from under the covers. Taking off my pyjamas and slipping into the shower, I fully woke up. I eventually stepped out, more energetic. I dried myself off and changed, into my new zoo uniform. This visit to our neighbours would be professional business, after all. The sun came out as I arrived in Richmond, gravel grating underneath the car as I pulled into the parking area. I emerged from the vehicle and locked the car behind me, glimpsing my watch as I approached the roller door at the front entrance. Just after nine, the park should have been open by now. A part of me felt a million miles away from home, even though I was just a short trip down the highway.

Through the window, a face poked out. I recognised Steve, his skin aged by the sun. He opened the roller door, to let me into the grounds.


“Welcome. Come on in.”


I followed Steve through the park. I looked over the Tasmanian devil exhibit. It seemed to have been simply built with corrugated iron fencing, although fit for purpose. Eventually I spotted a devil amidst the grass.


“I did a bit of work experience earlier this year at the Dodges Ferry vet,” I noted, “and my friend, Tallulah, works there now while she’s studying.”

 

Steve nodded. Responding to a growl, he led me across the park. We walked into a tunnel, with Perspex windows into the exhibit.


“We’ve got the pair here,” Steve mentioned. “They came from a circus, originally, when it shut down.”


The lions were pale-coated, and I wondered if they were white lions, but I didn’t ask.

 

“Would you like to help me feed them?”


“Yeah, sure,” I agreed, my heartbeat starting to race for reasons I couldn’t determine.


Steve chucked a carcass over the wall. The lions rushed in and devoured the meat. Steve beamed, tucking his hands into his pockets.

 

“They’re good eggs.”


I wanted to retort ‘They’re lions’, but I resisted.


“Come with me. I’d like to show you something.”


I followed Steve into the reptile room, not sure what we’d find. The walls to the left were lined with tanks. A handful of snakes within them slithered. Steve struck me as the sort of bloke who would be fascinated by anything with scales, so I didn’t want to appear chicken. In the corner stood a tiger. I jump-startled, but was placed just far enough behind Steve, that I don’t think he noticed.

 

“I love cats.”


Smiling, I tried not to look daunted.


“I really love cats.”


Enough to have one taxidermised.

 

“Bonnie was already an old girl when she came to us. She was from the same circus as the lions.”


Part of this story was familiar, but I honoured Steve by listening.


“Once her time came, I knew I couldn’t let go. It was a local business, they did a good job. Now, our queen reigns forever.”

 

“Do you think you would like to join the Sumatran Tiger breeding program eventually?”


“I would have to join the Association first for that--.”


“It’s not that hard.”


“It is.”

 

Steve and I departed the reptile room and traversed the other side of the park.


“I’d like to get more tigers, but we would have to build another exhibit, or split the space for the lions. Things have changed, things have changed even for us. I always want the best for my cats, and all of our animals.”

 

The tree in the meerkat exhibit almost looked like it was dying, but I didn’t say anything.


“The birds, the siamangs and the devils, as you’d know, they’re the animals we won’t own, as such. They’ll be program animals--.”


“I know that, I know how it works.”

 

The meerkat on patrol gave us their post, scampering over a mound of sand. I wondered how Steve was able to acquire them, being a program species, and not being a ZAA member, but I presumed it might have been a gentleman’s agreement, entered into before accreditation, through what was then known as ARAZPA, was introduced. As we approached the back paddocks, my phone rang.


“Sorry.”


I checked it – Tallulah.


“Can I take this?”

 

“Yeah, of course, mate.” I walked away and answered. “Hi, Tallulah. Are you alright? I’m just in Richmond at the moment, I’m visiting Steve.”


“Oh, sorry,” she apologised. “I want to go to the Hurricanes game tonight.”


“Alright. Would you like me to come with you?”

 

“Yeah, that would be great.”


I knew that I needed to leave Richmond promptly if I was to get back in time. The call seemed to cut off. Tallulah must have hung up. I could have left straight away, to run to her, but I returned to Steve so we could continue our conversation.

 

“As I was saying, we’re interested in zebras and tapirs.”


“Brazilian or Malayan?”


Steve’s eyes gleamed.


“Both, ideally, mate.”

 

My gaze panned around.


“We think we’d have to build indoor accommodation for Malayan Tapirs, considering the eye problems--.”


“Well, that’s on the mainland.”

 

“You don’t reckon it would be the same here?”


“Well, you can’t know until you find out,” he answered, a truism I tried not to be bemused by.


Steve led me back to the entrance building, including a gift shop and small café. A playground was even boxed into the corner of the space.

 

“Would you like to stay for lunch?” Steve offered.


I smelt the pungent oil of a deep-fryer and the sweetness of tomato sauce, a reminder of childhood adventures.


“Yeah, why not?” I agreed, and we sat down on plastic seats which squeaked on the concrete.

 

I wouldn’t need to be back to Bellerive until the evening. One of the other zoo employees provided lunch, while I studied the mural painted on the structure’s feature wall. It included the zoo’s lions, happily perched amongst other animals like Tasmanian devils and birds. It reminded me of a biblical passage. Before I knew it, there was food in front of me. I started eating, grateful to be provided with a bottle of water, even if it was single-use plastic, given how hot the chips were. It wasn’t nutritious food by any means, but I honestly didn’t mind. Soon enough, it came time for me to depart the Richmond wildlife park.

 

“Well, thank you so much for today,” I farewelled Steve, and I meant it.


My heart thumped on the drive home. I only briefly dropped in to let Mum and Dad know that I was going to the cricket with Tallulah. She gave me a hug, as if she could sense my anxiety without me having to mention it. I drove into town and parked out the front of Tallulah’s house. It would be handy for me to have access to the car when it came time to go home at the end of the night. Tallulah decided we needed to hike out our anxiety. We stopped in briefly at the shops. Being only a few weeks out from Christmas, red, green and lights decorated the interior. We stepped out under the blue sky. From Eastlands, we trekked into the Domain, feeling the cool breeze. I glanced back over my shoulder. The Derwent flowed under the bridge. I pondered the wildlife within. It wasn’t uncommon for seals to pop up along the Tasmanian coastline. Instead, Tallulah and I were pursuing the ghosts of animals past. We had started to learn this journey without having to check our phones. The further we went, the longer it would take for us to return, although both of us were keen to locate the old Beaumaris Zoo site. This was where the final Thylacine had died. I’d visited before, but I wasn’t sure how the site would make me feel. Finally, we arrived at the zoo gates, bejewelled. I peered up into the sunlight filtering through the gumtrees, in awe. Looking out at the grassy bowl, only a few enclosures remained from the original zoo. The terrain appeared to be quite steep, reminding me of Taronga. Maybe that’s part of the reason why I’ve always felt somewhat of an affinity with Sydney. I noticed a white structure on the rise.


“Do you reckon that’s an old enclosure?”


“It must be.”


These days, it barely would have sufficed for finches. Beaumaris Zoo represented another age. Eventually, Tallulah and I walked away. We returned in the direction of the eastern shores, back towards her home in Tranmere. I followed Tallulah up the front steps. All of a sudden I was a little girl again. My only burden was my backpack. Soon the sun would go down. I lingered in the loungeroom, while Tallulah changed. She emerged in a pair of lavender shorts and a white blouse.


“Ready to go?”


She nodded. The two of us stepped out of the house, locking the front door behind us. A cool breeze off the river lapped at our cheeks during the short walk. We arrived at Bellerive Oval and entered up the concrete steps near the nets at the back of the Ponting Stand, where barriers were being erected. I watched the figures batting and bowling, their protective padding on the outside of their clothes. With our complementary tickets, Tallulah and I were let through the gates and into the bowl of the stadium. The ground looked picture perfect, the hill decorated in Cadbury purple. For a moment as I breathed out, I felt the peace of a simple evening at the cricket. Tallulah and I found somewhere to sit down. Other patrons weaved around us on the hill. The bat flip came down with the Hurricanes fielding first. I touched my fingertips to Tallulah’s skin, exposed by the keyhole back of her blouse.


“Would you like to have something to eat?”


“I don’t at all feel like it, but I probably should.”

 

We finally spied Kyle, on the opposite side of the oval. Tallulah glanced over her shoulder. I spotted one of the food outlets, selling stadium fare, poking out from a concourse. Hot chips certainly didn’t bother me, even though I’d indulged at lunchtime, too. We purchased some food, then returned to the hill to eat and watch the cricket.

 

“What’s been happening?” Tallulah enquired, during a tense period of play.


“Like, in general?” I asked, then decided to answer my own question. “I went to Richmond today, like I said. Steve showed me around the place, which was nice. It’s reasonably basic, but not bad. They have farm animals and some natives, as well as the lions and the meerkats.”

 

“Steve is an older bloke, isn’t he?”


“He’d be in his late fifties or sixties, early sixties, I reckon. He is older than my parents and he’s got grey hair, but he’s still pretty sprightly.”


“And they’ve got lions there?”

 

“The lions were from a circus, originally, and they had an ex-circus tiger as well. She’s long gone now, well, not really gone, because she’s taxidermised in their reptile room.”


“That’s, um--.”


I could tell Tallulah was trying not to offend. To give her permission, I laughed.


“It’s interesting.”


“It is.”


“But, yeah, like I’ve said before, he’s been good to me. He could have thought I was cutting his turf.”

 

It would be an exciting day when we opened the zoo. Only a few short weeks stood before us. Many of the animals had already arrived and there were only a handful left to be transferred from the mainland. I knew we needed to lock in a time with Doctor Thomas so that our alpha male macaque could receive his contraceptive implant. That would allow us to take the females off contraception and start breeding from the other males. I spotted a spider crawling across the grass. The run-rate ended up slowing down towards the end of the innings, thanks to tight bowling. Tallulah found herself distracted by scrolling through Instagram. I listened to the crowd noise.

 

“Oh, look at this.” Tallulah leaned closer, her shoulder brushing against mine. “It’s a video from Auckland Zoo about their elephant pregnancy. She’s due in about a year.”


She tapped the screen, so that I could listen.


“It’s very exciting, there’s really a lot happening in the regional breeding program.”

 

“Are there any other pregnancies?”


“Well, there’s still one at Melbourne Zoo, on top of the two calves which were born when I was there.”


“I still think that’s so cool that you were able to witness that.”


Running a hand over my hair, I grinned. While fewer than six months ago, a lot had occurred since my time in Melbourne.


“All going to plan, this will be New Zealand’s first elephant calf. It might very well be there last.”


Tallulah widened her eyes as she turned her head to look straight at me. This wasn’t part of the narrative which she seemed to be expecting. I hadn’t meant to set the cat amongst the pigeons, especially not tonight.


“Do you reckon they’ll get transferred over?”


“It would only be logical. It’s a thing of the past to have elephants outside of matriarchal herds.”


This was especially the case considering that Burma and Tricia weren’t getting any younger. Tallulah seemed a little surprised, but she nodded regardless.


“It’s just something we need to keep in mind.” I laughed, to relax my diaphragm. “You could even argue that the imports took place only for commercial purposes.”


“Yeah, you see, I just don’t buy that.”

 

“I mean, neither do I, deep down.”


I let out a sigh, almost a huff. This was different to talking to Reuben about the matter. Once he got started, he never would have stopped. Either way, I hoped that Nandi would safely welcome her calf once she reached full-term. The air was cool now that the sky had swirled and was turning dark. The batter smacked a six into the crowd. By instinct I flung myself at the cold grass, to ensure that I was out of the way when the white pill smacked into the turf. Tallulah’s hand rested on my back, ensuring that I didn’t have a panic attack. Thankfully a kid scooped up the ball and tossed it back onto the ground. The match continued, as did our conversation.


“They’re an arboreal species, at the end of the day. Ideally in the future, we could connect the islands up with ropes, but there was only so much we could construct to start off with.”


Tallulah nodded, and wanted to know which visitor amenities were incomplete.

 

“Oh, no, there’s not really anything left in that respect. We’d talked about maybe concreting the paths around the islands, but that’s not something that’s strictly necessary,” I outlined. “The ground’s pretty hard, so we don’t have to worry about it too much, but if we get a whole lot of rain, you’re right, it might get a bit muddy.”

 

“Is that a rainforest authentic experience?” Tallulah enquired with a smile.


“Kind of,” I responded.


I tried to think back to my own experiences of rainforests, but I didn’t really want to.


“You could import okapis, or something interesting like that.”

 

“Now, that would be cool. I know they have them at Chester Zoo. Taronga is keen to import. I don’t think they’ve ever been in Australia before, which is quite rare.”


I checked my phone, lips slightly gape as another six was struck into the crowd. Would okapis fit the collection at Acarda Zoo? Perhaps, down the track.


“That said, it’ll be five years at least, I think, before the precinct’s even ready.”


“I didn’t realise it was so far off.”


“Yeah. Everything’s a bit slow-going when it comes to construction.”

 

“They can only do what they can do.”


We weren’t here to talk about the zoo. I flicked a piece of hair away from my face. It would have been good to catch up with Vanessa, but I hadn’t seen her yet. Perhaps she was in a private box with the other WAGs, swimming in a different sea to the rest of us despite her kindness.

 

“Would you like a coffee or an ice cream or something?” Tallulah asked.


“Oh, maybe,” I replied. “Do you?”


She shrugged her shoulders.


“I’m good for now.”

 

I was happy with that. I found myself on my phone, researching study options before I’d clocked what I was doing. Studying a Master’s in Science in Primate Conservation would be possible from home, except I didn’t even have a Bachelor’s degree to my name. Would that matter? If I applied, I could find out definitively either way. As the first innings came to an end, I applauded to be polite. Kyle rushed from the field. A woman walked across the front of the hill, holding hands with a little girl. As the sun went down, we snuck out the back.


“Listen to me,” I begged. “You are strong and powerful. If you don’t want to, you don’t have to.”

 

I followed Tallulah into the light. Even though my mind was flooded with distractions, I remained by her back as she approached the fence. Kyle was on the other side, the advertising hoardings just another barrier between them. I glanced towards the scoreboard.


“Hi,” she greeted him.”

 

“Hey. It’s really good to see you.”


The innings break would only last for ten minutes. I knew Kyle’s time was limited. He’d need to leave soon for the second innings, but I believed that Tallulah deserved every minute of his time, so that she could somehow hope for an explanation.

 

“I suppose you want to talk about it.”


Kyle crossed his arms and his legs. Christmas carols boomed over the speakers.


“Have you been, um, seeing someone about this?” Kyle wanted to know.


I thought he meant a boyfriend, but I realised he was referring to a psychologist.

 

“I know that you’re smooth and you’re cool, but I trusted you. Honestly, I thought that I could trust you.”


Tallulah’s hair fluttered in the breeze. She didn’t flinch.


“I just want to know why.”

 

Kyle breathed in through his nose.


“Why did you take those photos, why did you send them?”


For a moment, I thought that he was going to stay frozen, saying nothing at all. It would be my job to run interference, particularly if a crowd started to gather, recognising the litigants. I found myself eyeballing Kyle. He shrugged his shoulders and offered a reminder of that charming smile. The image of them kissing by the fence flashed before my mind. That had been such a happier time.


“It was a bit of a laugh with the boys. They felt sorry for me.”


I couldn’t see her face, but I imagined her screwing up her nose. It felt like my heart was going to beat out of my chest. I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to have Tallulah’s courage. While Kyle hadn’t laid a hand on her, it didn’t mean that he hadn’t inflicted scars.


“Sure, maybe there’s a chance you thought that you weren’t doing the wrong thing.”


I pressed my lips together. Tallulah’s shoulders didn’t slump. I would have understood completely if she wanted to scream. Tallulah cast her gaze across the other cricketers warming up.


“You acted as if my body was theirs for the taking as well.”


She could have jumped over the fence. I wasn’t sure what I would have done in that circumstance.


“Funny thing is, I’d actually like to say that I forgive you. You were just a silly little boy.”


Kyle smirked briefly. He finally folded his arms and crossed his legs, which I sensed he’d been wanting to do all along.

 

“That’s just what I wanted to say.”


We slunk back from the boundary edge, children around us returning to their seats to watch the second innings of the match. Tallulah and I, though, couldn’t stay. We rushed past the Ricky Ponting statue and down the steps, out of the ground. The floodlights were still visible from out the front of Tallulah’s house. She seemed to live within the shadows which Kyle would always cast.


“Are you alright?”


“Yeah.”

 

“I’ll see you in the morning.”


Tallulah leaned in. She kissed me on the cheek.


“Thanks for being here with me tonight.”


“Anytime.”

 

I needed to go home. As I stepped out of the car, I could smell precipitation in the air. I waved Tallulah goodbye and entered the house. Late at night, I listened to the rain. I wondered how the animals were feeling about the inclement weather.


 

Jumilah Fioray is a recent high school graduate from lutruwita, Tasmania. Her parents, Catherine and Adriano Fioray, met at the University of Melbourne in the 1990s and returned to Hobart after finishing their degrees, where they raised their daughter and worked in agriculture. Jumilah's passion for conservation reflects her grandparents' work running a sanctuary in Sumatra.


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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