I got up before dawn, had a shower, took my medication, then ate some breakfast and drank coffee. From there I could get to work with construction. I didn’t want to talk, I just wanted to work. The site on which we’re building the nocturnal house is an already-level space outside the back of our house. Wednesday proved itself to be a clean slate, and I needed one. I approached the site, carrying wooden steaks with me. Kneeling down on the hard earth, I paced the steaks down on the ground. With a hammer, I gently tapped one of them into place, to break ground with a smile on my lips.
“Ah, you’ve already made a start, Jumilah.”
My gaze snapped over my shoulder.
“Yeah,” I confirmed.
Patrick ambled towards me, hands in the pockets of his jeans.
“Thanks for coming.”
I placed down the hammer for the meantime.
“What would you like me to do?”
“Well, we’ve got to get these steaks even.”
Patrick nodded his head, although he deemed a bit little dazed by the instruction.
“Yeah, of course,” he finally agreed, laying out the steaks in line with the string. “How does this fit into the building?”
“It helps us try and keep the bricks straight,” I explained. “We’re going on from the shed.”
Patrick gave another nod of his head. We continued to work, constructing the tarsier exhibit, which will be the first on the right. The plan is to build the whole house in one go, with exhibits on both sides as well as back-of-house areas. This will, hopefully, prevent further construction in the area. The last thing we’d want is for sensitive species like tarsiers to be disturbed. When we were finally finished with our collection of steaks, we were many metres away from where we had begun. I would have been able to trust Patrick to do the opposite wall, but I certainly didn’t mind working together.
“So, when are the animals going to arrive?” Patrick wanted to know.
“Once we’ve finished the job,” I quipped.
“Fair enough, I walked right into that one.”
“Right,” I spoke when I stood. “The string’s the next step.”
I fetched the spool out of my pocket, while Patrick walked over to take the other end.
“Will we be able to tie it up?”
“Yeah, if we do it carefully.”
I walked around Patrick, then padded back, looking over my shoulder. I’d figured it wasn’t fair to entrust him with the task of going backwards.
“Actually,” I corrected myself, “we should start here.”
Patrick walked closer to me. He made sure that the string didn’t touch the ground. We started again, looping and tying the string to provide us with a straight line, to assist in building the walls.
“Thank you, that’s great.”
I reached for my phone and snapped a few photos to document the process, knowing that it would never look this way again. Surveying across the landscape, I smiled, feeling a hint of warmth, winter sun against my cheeks.
Patrick followed me in the direction of the shed. Over an uneven patch of ground, he lost his footing, stumbling forward.
“Are you alright?”
Patrick bounced back up.
“You drunk or something?” I quipped.
“No, no,” Patrick assured with a laugh. “It’s your silly piece of ground.”
“Alright, fair enough, I’m sorry.”
“No need to apologise. I’m fine.”
We arrived at the shed, where the wheelbarrow was located, to lug bricks back to the building site.
“Where did you get these from?”
“Well, some of them came from a house that burnt down on the other side of the highway. They’re the bit black ones.”
“Are you serious?”
“Yeah, I am,” I confirmed. “We had Erik and Juliet stay with us for a week, remember?”
“I do, but I didn’t know about the bricks. That’s kinda strange.”
“They were very grateful.”
Time seemed to pass by quite rapidly, as we laid bricks for the building. Despite the balmy winter temperatures, I even started to feel a little hot.
I checked my watch.
“What’s the matter?”
“I said that I would join a meeting which starts soon.”
“That’s all good.”
“Listen, come inside, have some lunch.”
“Look, thank you, but it’s fine, I can keep going. There’s still plenty of work to do out here.”
I nodded my head, trying to convince myself.
“If I get hurt, I’ll make sure to yell really, really loudly so that you can hear me.”
I walked away and entered the house. Sitting down at the computer, I joined the Zoom call. I breathed out, which sounded too much like a sigh. This next hour or so would be a chance to zone out. I wouldn’t have to worry about money or building something or whether we would be able to get our licence when it would be finally time to open.
“Hello, Cathy, how are you?”
“Good, thank you, yourself?”
“Yeah, I’m alright,” I confirmed. “We’ve been building today, my boyfriend Patrick and I.”
I glanced towards the windows.
“That’s great.” Cathy took a sip of water. “Let’s get started. Firstly, I would like to acknowledge country, as a Gubbi Gubbi woman. I am on Kombumerri country and acknowledge elders past and present, whose sovereignty was never ceded.”
We took a moment to acknowledge the country we joined from, before continuing with the meeting.
“The council has advised that we need to seriously upgrade our fencing,” Raffa mentioned. “It’s caught me a little off-guard, to be perfectly honest. We have done everything that we can in order to improve our zoo and make sure that the facilities are up to specification.”
I could relate, feeling an immense amount of empathy for Raffa’s situation with the council.
“I think that you should get legal advice,” Cathy advised, firmly.
“Thank you, but I don’t want to be combative--.”
“It’s not about being combative, it’s about being fair. We need to make sure that we protect ourselves. You need to make sure that you protect yourself.”
Once the Zoom call ended, I breathed out and shut the laptop. I felt a little cold. Getting out and back to work would fix that.
“How was your meeting?” Patrick wanted to know.
He seemed tense, hanging on my every word. I didn’t want to bore Patrick with the drama at Darling Downs.
“You know, I’ve been thinking about Frank,” he admitted.
A flush crept across his cheeks, like he’d just seen a ghost.
“Do you think he’s going to get gaol time?”
“Well, I think so, considering that he was found guilty.” Patrick seemed a little frustrated by the task of laying bricks, given the vigour with which he smoothed the mortar, but I didn’t have anything else to give him. “He’d better.”
“You’ll find out tomorrow.”
For a moment I took a step back, placing my hands on my hips as I surveyed the construction thus far. I don’t mind the bare brick look. Still, I reckon painting it would be better. Patrick reached the corner. He wiped his hands on his pants, then walked off for a moment to check his phone.
“Is everything alright?”
“Yeah, yeah,” Patrick assured. “I just thought that Sloane might have gotten in touch with me. It’s silly, I know, but I keep on thinking that today could be the day. The baby could be born today.”
As much as I didn’t really want to talk about it, I likewise didn’t want to be impolite.
“How is Sloane?” I asked.
“She’s good. Well, as good as you can be when you’re a million months pregnant.”
“When is she due?”
“Not until the school holidays.”
“What’s going to happen when she goes into labour?”
“I don’t know.”
“What do you want to happen?”
“Whatever Sloane wants to happen.”
The conversation wasn’t getting anywhere, and maybe just as well. We should just build the zoo. If Patrick was going to share, then I couldn’t force it. It would need to happen organically. Therefore, we just worked, and hopefully that would later lead to Patrick opening up. I couldn’t compel him to be vulnerable with me. I fetched the ladder from the shed, the building having grown beyond our reach. The internal ceiling would be four metres tall, the same height as the exhibits on either side, to give the tarsiers and lorises especially with plenty of room to climb and move about, even though the Tasmanian Devils would not need the same amount of aerial space. I climbed the ladder, while Patrick handed me the bricks and carried the bucket of mortar. While I worked, I needed to concentrate, so wasn’t the best conversation. We would be able to house a breeding pair, or a mother with her offspring, in the on-display exhibit. I’d need to check in with Nanek’s expertise, to confirm whether it would be alright to house two females together. Eventually, Patrick and I reached the required height for the wall. Having done what we could, I climbed down the ladder and we walked across to the waterway.
“This is where we’re going to have the two islands, as exhibits for gibbons and siamang, if it works out to have them come here.”
“Right. That’s cool.”
“Has it been sorted out which animals you’re going to get?”
“Sort of. It’s great that Georgia had a baby, but it’s a bit tricky, it might be hard to move three of them.”
“I don’t want there to be dramas.”
We stepped closer to the water’s edge.
“I can’t believe this is going to be a zoo one day.”
“Well, I hope so.”
“You’ve got to dream.”
Patrick took another step and, somehow, ended up in the water. I gasped, reaching out a hand to help him. Before too long, I was soaked as well, the mud getting into my hair, which would definitely need another wash with lashings of shampoo and conditioner.
“Oh my goodness.”
I waded through the sludge, splashing Patrick and laughing, despite the stench.
“We’re going to have to do something about this, aren’t we?”
Patrick squeezed water out of his nose. I glanced up into the sky, noticing a few clouds floating over, grey but glowing around the jagged rim. Perhaps we would get a shower of rain, but I doubted that – we could deal with it if it arrived. We were already wet enough to begin with. Patrick and I removed ourselves from the water. I felt a chill go through my body. Being with Patrick felt like every cell in my body was electrified. My wet clothes clung to my frame as we approached the house. I opened the back door, pausing at the threshold and spinning around. Patrick kissed me, my lips already damp. It would have been nice to shower, maybe even together, but I needed to maintain some self-control. I poked Patrick in the chest.
“I’ll have to find you some clothes.”
I fetched some of Dad’s dry clothes for Patrick to borrow, texting my parents to explain. Thankfully they were fine with it.
“We’d better get back to work.”
We headed outside, for planting in the finch aviaries. They would be the first exhibits completed, although we wouldn’t be allowed the birds to inhabit them without an inspection. Once the sun was going down, we returned home for dinner. I removed my gloves as I walked through the back door. As soon as I entered, I could smell rich tomato sauce. I felt like a shower, but would have been a bit embarrassed to have one if Patrick couldn’t, if he didn’t have any fresh, clean clothes to change into.
“Oh, thank you, I love you,” I gushed, kissing Mum on the cheek. “Do you mind if Patrick stays for dinner?”
“Of course, he can stay, after he’s been working hard all day.”
He and I walked through into the loungeroom and sat down at the kitchen table.
“The cricket starts tonight,” Patrick mentioned, then changed his tone of voice, “which you probably don’t care about, because of what happened.”
“I do care. Jye Gray and his wife were good to Tallulah. They were the ones who spoke up in the first place.”
“So, what did you get up to today?” Mum asked, as she scooped pasta and sauce into our bowls.
“Well, we made progress with the tarsier and loris building.”
“That’s good. When do you think that it will be complete?”
“Well, we’re not too far away.”
While I was eating, I heard my phone ring. I kept looking in its direction.
“Jumilah, you can answer it if you want,” Mum permitted.
“Thanks,” I said, standing and scampering over.
I answered my phone, the call coming from Tallulah.
“Hey, how are you?” I greeted her, maybe speaking in too loud and high-pitched a voice.
“I’m going alright.”
I sensed that there was something which Tallulah was holding back.
“Would you like to come over tomorrow?”
“Yeah, sure,” Tallulah accepted. “That would be great, actually.”
“Alright, thank you. Just come over whenever you’d like to.”
I ended the call and returned to the table. Dad had migrated to the lounge, having finished his meal already, and switched on the TV.
“Tomorrow, Tallulah’s coming to help. We’re going to see if we can get the entrance kiosk knocked over.”
I stabbed some penne with my fork.
“Well, knocked up.”
Eventually, I got my dinner finished. Mum took my bowl.
Carrying bowls, Mum moved into the kitchen to pack the dishwasher. Patrick and I shifted through the house, so that we could talk alone.
“Do you want to stay?”
I didn’t bother asking Mum and Dad for their opinion.
“No, actually, I’ve got to go home,” Patrick declined.
“Alright, that’s OK.”
“Tomorrow night, though,” he spoke up, “would you like to go out?”
“Yeah, alright,” I agreed, even though I knew I’d be exhausted. “What would you like to do?”
“I figured that we could take the ferry up to MONA. They’ve got that light thingamajig on at the moment.”
“That would be great.”
I bid Patrick farewell. When I came back inside, Dad had gone to bed. Mum was just cleaning up the kitchen, seeming to be tinkering with anything.
“You were pretty keen to invite Patrick to stay over tonight here, weren’t you?”
“Mum, we’re not having sex.” Perhaps I was a little more taken aback than I should have been.
“We’ve talked about this before.”
“I know,” Mum replied, keeping her tone even.
She closed one of the high cupboards.
“If you wanted to go on the Pill, just in case, I wouldn’t be opposed to that,” Mum told me. “It’s your choice.”
“Thank you, Mum.”
My head felt like it was spinning.
“I’ve just gotten this medication for my PTSD. I feel like, I don’t know, I don’t feel ready to have sex yet. Patrick isn’t pressuring me, I promise.”
“You know that you can tell me anything.”
“Of course, I can,” I assured her. “Goodnight, Mum.”
Once I walked through into my bedroom, I called Tallulah back again, then hoped I hadn’t woken her up.
“It’s nice to hear your voice again. I can’t sleep.”
“I’m really sorry, Tallulah.”
“It’s alright, I’ll be fine.”
“Listen, I hate to mention it, but Patrick and I are going out to that light thing at MONA tomorrow night on the ferry. Would it be OK if we parked out the front of your place?”
“Yeah, that would be fine,” Tallulah agreed. “It’s not like we’re short of space in the streets.”
“Thank you,” I accepted. “We could go to the light thing if you like, at some stage.”
“That would be lovely.”
We ended our call.
As soon as I fell into bed, I was asleep.
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.