My alarm sounded and I woke up, reaching across to turn it off. I sat up and pushed back the others. After having a shower, I dressed myself. It was nice to have a little bit of time, just to myself, although that desire dissipated as soon as I saw Lowanna again.
“Oh, you’re a gorgeous girl, good morning,” I gushed.
I crouched down.
“She’s a wombat, I know.” I looked up at Mum, then back to Lowanna.
I thought that she’d make me beam, but instead I only frowned.
“I’m still worried about her.”
“Have you spoken to Reuben yet about the accreditation requirements?”
“No, I haven’t been able to get onto him.”
I fetched some bread and placed two slices in the toaster, for toast with Vegemite and butter. My toe tapped against the floor, impatient.
“Are you sure that everything’s alright with Reuben?”
“Jumilah, I don’t know. I’m not his mother, I’m not his wife.”
“Alright, I’ll make sure that I get onto him.”
“Thank you, I would appreciate that.”
The toast popped out of the toaster, so I threw it onto a plate. I smeared butter and Vegemite, then ate breakfast in a hurry, spreads and crumbs oozing onto my fingers. Once I was done, I wiped my mouth and discarded the plate in the sink.
“Right, I’m off, have a good day.”
When Tallulah picked me up, I had a heavy heart. She noticed instantly.
“What’s the matter with you? I thought that everything was settled and ready to go with your zoo construction.”
“Yes, it is, it’s just that things seem to be a little tense at home.”
“Well, you wouldn’t be the first eighteen-year-old to fight with her parents.”
Tallulah flicked on her blinker.
“It’s the zoo. It just makes things tense.”
“Are there problems with it?”
“Well, there shouldn’t be. We have our development approval. Now, it’s time to start building, but we just don’t have time.”
“I think that Kyle might want to ask me to marry him.”
I could hardly be annoyed by the changing of the subject.
“The other night at Frogmore Creek, he kept talking about forever.”
Tallulah breathed out.
“Do you want to marry him?”
“I’m not sure. I hate myself for saying that.”
“You don’t have to.”
“Marry him or hate myself?”
“Don’t get me wrong, this has all been so, so exciting. It’s just that it’s only been a little over a month. I want to be able to enjoy this time of my life. Does that make me a terrible girlfriend?”
“No, it doesn’t,” I assured.
“Anyway, what’s on your mind?”
“I think that the jury’s going to retire in Frank’s trial today,” I mentioned. “We could get a verdict by the end of the day.”
“The man was married and slept with a teenager,” Tallulah reminded. “I hope that he goes to prison.”
“Yes,” I affirmed, with a slow breath out. “It’s just a mess.”
We arrived at the clinic, where Thomas and I saw a dog with a bandaged leg first, in the exam room on the right.
“She had surgery six weeks ago for a skin graft in order for this leg wound to heal,” he explained, “so today we’re going to remove the bandages.”
Thomas started to, then one of the machines started beeping.
“I’m going to give her this injection.” Thomas drew up a needle. “Hopefully this will do the trick.”
He pressed the needle into her thigh, then set it aside. Thankfully, the dog stabilised.
“Alright, that was a close one.”
“What happened?” I asked.
“Cardiac arrythmia. It happens sometimes with older dogs like Lucky.”
I nodded my head.
“The skin graft looks good. Everything’s alright with the wound. Lucky’s a very lucky girl indeed.”
“That’s good news.”
Finally, we were able to return her to her family. I walked out into the reception area.
“Mum, what are you doing here?”
My glance moved to Lowanna in her arms, and I didn’t need her to answer out loud.
“This is our foster wombat, Lowanna,” Mum explained to Thomas. “She’s been completely lethargic.”
“No, you did the right thing, don’t worry,” he assured her. “Bring her through, we’ll give her an examination.”
Once on the table, Thomas gave Lowanna a shot of a sedative, so that she would stay still for the exam.
“Oh, the irony.”
I flashed Mum a hint of a smile, she rubbed circles in my back.
“She’ll be alright,” she murmured.
I nodded. Thomas started to feel around Lowanna’s limbs, then her abdomen, face twisting as he seemed to take mental notes of each part of her body.
“I’m going to give her an X-ray.”
Thomas adjusted the machine above. We exited the room, so the X-ray could be taken. Thomas pressed buttons, although I wasn’t thinking straight. After the X-ray, Mum reentering the treatment room. I followed Thomas to fetch the scans. As he affixed them to the light box, I tried to think of anything else to distract myself from what was right in front of me. It wasn’t like I knew what the inside of a wombat was meant to look like, anyway.
“What’s the matter?”
“That’s not right, within that shoulder joint.”
I know that we need to do what’s best for her, whatever that is.
“So, what do we do?”
Thomas removed the X-rays from the light box.
“Look, to be honest, I’m not sure.”
“She’ll be alright, won’t she? I mean, maybe we won’t be able to release her, but--.”
“I’m really not sure, Jumilah.”
I wandered away, only one possibility on my mind. I called Carol. Still, I really hoped she wouldn’t answer.
“Hello, Carol speaking.”
“Hi, Carol, it’s Jumilah Fioray here. There’s something wrong with Lowanna, we’re at Dodges Ferry vet.”
I swallowed hard, not wanting any of this to be true.
“I’d like you to come here, if that’s alright, just to see.”
“Alright, I’ll be there straight away.”
We waited about half an hour, then Carol arrived at the clinic and Tallulah brought her through.
“Hello, I’m Doctor Thomas Perry, I’m the head vet here,” he introduced himself.
Carol shook his hand firmly, providing her name.
“I’m the wildlife carer who she was brought into, then I handed her onto the Fioray family.”
Thomas brought Carol through, so that she could see Lowanna and inspect her X-rays.
“She’ll need therapy, my husband is an animal physiotherapist.”
This was the first I’d heard that.
“If she comes with me, she’ll have around-the-clock care and the benefit of the company of other wombats,” Carol reasoned. “I’m sorry, Jumilah. You haven’t failed, but this is Lowanna’s best chance.”
Sadly, I nodded my head. I gave Lowanna one last cuddle, then Carol took her home. Tallulah placed her hand on my back.
“Are you alright?”
“I’m sorry,” Tallulah said, although there wasn’t anything that she could do.
I tried to think of ways to distract myself. There wasn’t much which could make me feel better. Mum and I eventually walked out the front, as she needed to return home. The biting wind against my cheeks tasted like failure.
“I’ll pick you up after work.”
Mum kissed my forehead. Then, she left, driving away through the wind. I stood outside the clinic for an extra moment, before returning inside. During my lunch break, I sat down with my laptop. We hadn’t yet determined specifically what we’d need to do in terms of importing the animals the ZAA had been willing to transfer to us. I opened the document which I’d retrieved from the department, then scrolled down the list. In a separate document, I made notes, because I couldn’t act on this straight away. Tallulah wandered into the room.
“Hey,” I greeted her, without looking. “I’m just doing some research for the zoo.”
Thomas popped into the doorway.
“We’ve been called down to the beach for a beached seal,” he told us. “We’re going to go now.”
We drove down to the beach, as rain pelted against the windscreen.
“If it’s a leopard, and we take it in, it can’t be released, even if it recovers.”
I already knew this, but I didn’t feel like Thomas was truly telling either of us, anyway, rather that he needed to repeat it to himself. We arrived at the beach and got out of the van. I flipped the hood of my jacket over my hair and zipped it up as high as I could to shield myself from the cold and biting wind. The grey lump was on the sand. It didn’t seem to be moving its head. Still, it was a leopard seal, so the three of us approached with trepidation.
“Tallulah, could you please place the net over his head?”
She did, expertly, but the leopard seal didn’t flinch. Thomas dropped to his knees and looked for a pulse, but we hardly needed to wait for him to not find one to know what had happened.
“What do we do now?” I asked.
“We call the Department and we wait.”
Wait we did, in the rain, until some short bloke with his hands in his pockets turned up.
“He was dead when we arrived, unfortunately,” Thomas reported.
We were tasked with trailing the man from the Department. Tallulah, Thomas and I loaded the leopard seal’s corpse into the back of the van. We followed the other car back to UTAS, where we parked and offloaded the dearly departed. There was nothing left for us to do, so we drove back to Dodges Ferry to complete the rest of the day’s appointments, heavy-hearted. Rain splashed against the road as Tallulah and I finished for the day. She dropped me at work because Sloane had asked me to do her close, although she didn’t tell me why. I was a little surprised when I walked into the staffroom and saw Patrick there. He greeted me with a hug, sensing the heaviness I felt after the events of the day.
“Alright, what are we having for dinner?” Maryam wanted to know.
“I feel like Italian,” Patrick mused, “and, like, actual Italian, not just pizza. Like, cannoli, or something.”
“Do you mean cannelloni?” I enquired, trying to suppress my giggle.
“What’s the one with, like, the tube of pasta with stuff in the middle?”
He mimed with his hands.
We ordered Italian, both cannoli and cannelloni. I got back to work while waiting for it to arrive. At some stage someone would tap me on the shoulder for dinner. I heard a gunshot. Heart thumping, I picked it instantly, even though it couldn’t have been within the mall.
“Alright, we’re going to be alright.”
Maryam rushed towards my checkout.
“The bank across the road is being robbed, they’ve called the police.”
“Patrick went to get the food.”
“Where’s the Italian place?”
“I’m not sure.”
I chewed my bottom lip and ran one hand through my hair. Maryam answered a phone call. She nodded her head as she spoke, not that the conversation was long.
“The ambulances were taking someone away. It’s all over. The police arrested the guy.”
Maryam gently rested her hand between my shoulder blades.
“You don’t have a queue, let’s go back to the staffroom. Dinner will be almost here.”
We closed the checkout. Maryam shepherded me through the store. We returned to the staffroom, where I made a noise, finally allowing the tension out.
“It’s alright, you’re alright,” Maryam promised.
Patrick burst through the door. He carried a bag with the pasta inside.
“I’m fine, I’m fine, Jumilah, everything’s fine.”
Patrick stroked his hands over my hair and kissed my forehead.
“Thank you, thank you for being here.”
My breathing eventually returned to a reasonable pace.
“I was really worried about you.”
“I’m alright, let’s eat some pasta.”
Patrick got out the containers and shifted pasta into bowls, allowing us to start eating.
“I take it that you’re here that there’s no verdict.”
Patrick shook his head.
“No, they’ve sent the jury home for the weekend. Hopefully there’ll be a verdict on Monday.”
I nodded, feeling sorry for all of them.
“Jumilah, your mum’s outside in the carpark,” Lucy mentioned as she entered the staffroom.
“Oh, is she?”
“It’s alright,” Maryam assured me. “Finish your pasta and go home.”
I scooped the food back into an empty container, impatient. As I slipped out the door, Patrick and I waved goodbye. I found myself fiddling with Kakek’s cross on the chain around my neck, as I walked back through the store and the mall. The automatic doors parted in front of me. I felt the chill of the night against my cheeks. Spotting Mum’s car, I quickened my pace, then slipped into the passenger seat.
“Thank you for coming to get me.”
I fastened my seatbelt across my chest.
“It’s alright,” Mum assured me. “I figured that you wouldn’t want to be at work anymore, I just wanted to see you.”
“I need to know what happened, to those people in the bank.”
“Well, I’m sure that it’ll be on the news, it might be on the radio in the morning.”
Mum pulled into the driveway. She took my hand.
“You will be alright.”
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.