Fortieth

Updated: Jun 22

A smile came onto my lips when I woke up, feeling the warmth of the morning against my face. I enjoyed a moment of bliss. Getting out of bed, I walked out to the kitchen table.


“Happy birthday,” I wished Mum.


I kissed her on the forehead, then sat down opposite her.


“What would you like to do today?”


“Well, a trip to the nursery would be lovely. I’m not sure whether or not we’ll buy anything, but it would be good to get an idea about what sort of plants we might be able to include in the design.”


“I’m happy with that. When do we need to decide about the landscaping?”


“Oh, not for a while, but I like plants more than concrete or metal.”


“That’s fair enough.”


We ate breakfast and drank coffee, then went our separate ways to get ready for the day. Once I was dressed, I wandered into the doorway of the bathroom to find Mum.


“Are you ready to go, Mum?”


Holding onto the doorframe, I swung onto the tiles. Mum sat on the toilet, lid closed.


“Are you alright?”


I leaned back against the doorframe. Mum smiled, showing me what she was holding. I felt like I could have fainted. White plastic stick. Little clear window. Two clear, pink lines.


“Oh my goodness,” I stammered. “Yours?”


“Of course it is, Jumilah.”


We walked out to the kitchen. Mum kissed Dad on the cheek. My heart thumped within my chest. I didn’t feel like going to the nursery. Surely she was going to say something, surely she was going to say something.


“We won’t take all day,” Mum noted. “See you later.”


She walked towards the door.


“See you later, Dad,” I farewelled, a little skittish as I followed her.


When we were in the car on the way, I received a message in the work group chat. While they requested that someone come in to work the close, I didn’t respond.


“I never would have thought that I would have another baby.”


Really, I didn’t know what to say.


“We had you easily, but after we had you, with the endometriosis, by the time we were ready to have another one, it never happened.”


As we stopped at traffic lights, Mum splayed her hand across her belly.


“I’m pregnant,” she stated, beaming.


“Yes, you are,” I confirmed, “but you didn’t say anything to Dad.”


“I will, don’t you worry, I’ll tell him.”


We arrived at the nursery and parked out the front.


“Look, I don’t want to tell everyone and anyone just yet.”


“That’s fair enough.” I unfastened my seatbelt. “Are you going to call Nanek?”


“I will, but not yet.”


We got out of the car. As we were walking around the nursery, I found myself thinking about Georgia. Her pregnancy had been unexpected, at least for me. Yet, it was most very welcome. Mum’s pregnancy is welcome, too, although I can’t help but feel absolutely shocked about how this day has orbited. Mum and I happened upon a semi-mature peppercorn tree, in the corner of the nursery.


“That is quite the beast,” I proclaimed.


Mum turned to me with a smile. We knew what we had to do. I purchased the peppercorn tree for Mum’s birthday and arranged to have it delivered, laughing with glee as we drove back home. Dad was in the kitchen when we returned.


“There was a phone call for you while you were out.”


“For which one of us?” Mum wanted to know.


“Well, for both of you, actually, but mainly for Jumilah. It was this bloke from this place out Richmond way.”


“Oh, the wildlife place?” I checked.


“Yeah, I think so,” Dad confirmed. “He left a number, so you can call him back.”


Mum, Dad and I sat down at the kitchen table. My body felt like it was shaking.


“This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, Jumilah.”


“Alright, I’m going to make the call.”


I stabbed the numbers on my phone, just as Dad had provided. When I pressed the green button, I placed the phone to my ear. I stood and paced around the room.


“Steve Barnett speaking.”


“Hello, it’s Jumilah Fioray. I’m just returning your call.”


“Ah, yes, thank you, Jumilah. Listen, I’ve heard that you’ve had your land rezoned.”


My heart was thudding within my chest.


“Yes, that’s correct.”


Really, I needed to sit down, so I plonked myself on the lounge.


“Welcome to the animal-loving community.” Steve spoke with genuine passion in his voice, which caught me by surprise. “If you need anything, please, let me know, and we’ll work together.”


“That’s great, thank you.”


“We have a small collection. Back in the day, we used to have a tiger. Now, she’s in our gift shop.”


“Right.”


“In the future, we’d love zebras. We’ve got camels and llamas and deer and those sorts of animals.”


I still wanted to know what had happened to the tiger.


“Can I ask, are you a ZAA member?”


“Oh, no, we’re not. We’ve tried, but it was too hard, too expensive. Are you thinking of it if you get your place off the ground?”


“Yes,” I agreed, feeling a little sheepish. “We would like to.”


“Good luck with that.”


“We’re just taking things one day at a time,” I admitted. “At the moment, our next step is to put in a development application.”


“All the best,” Steve wished me.


“Can I ask you just one more thing? What happened to your tiger?”


“Oh, I’m sorry, she died. She was very old and she developed cancer, so we decided with the vets that it was kindest to put her to sleep.”


“I’m sorry to hear that.”


“Tilly was a very special cat. I know that she wasn’t a purebred. In her older years, she went blind, and then it was after that when she got cancer. It was the saddest day of my life when we lost her, that’s why it was so kind when a bloke nearby offered that she could be taxidermised. That way we’ve been able to keep her with us, in a way.”


Once I got off the phone, Mum came over and sat down next to me on the lounge.


“That went better than I expected,” I remarked. “He said that he’d be willing to help us, however I’d like, whatever’s helpful for us,” I recounted. “It’s really generous of him. He could have told us to get lost and that we were undercutting his business.”


“That’s really positive news,” Mum praised.


She yawned.


“If you don’t mind, I might go and have a lie-down before everyone gets here,” Mum proposed. “The bathroom’s clean and the shopping’s been done.”


“Are you still not feeling well, Catherine?”


Mum offered me a little smile.


“Adriano, I’m pregnant. I took a test this morning. Turns out I’m actually pregnant.”


Dad gasped softly.


“Well, what would your father reckon about this?”


Dad wrapped Mum into a tight hug and kissed her on the cheek.


“This is a miracle.”


“Yes,” she replied. “I guess you could say that.”


Dad glanced at me. I raised my hands.


“I’m sorry, I only knew because I caught her taking the test this morning.”


“I haven’t told anyone else.”


“Do you want to tell people tonight or--.”


“I’ll have a think about it. Maybe I just need to get over the shock first.”


Mum retreated to her bedroom to have a lie-down. Dad and I baked her birthday cake, so that it could be iced and placed in the fridge, one less thing to deal with when we were preparing dinner later on in the evening. Juliet and Erik returned home from their day out, with a gorgeous bunch of lilies for Mum.


“Thank you, this is very kind,” Dad praised.


“Where’s Catherine?” Juliet queried, glancing down the hallway.


“She’s just having a lie-down.”


“Right, good on her,” Juliet replied. “I could do with one myself.”


Erik pressed a kiss to her shoulder.


“You should have one,” he urged. “I can help Adriano and Jumilah with anything if they need a hand.”


Juliet did have a rest, but she returned after only a short period of time. Uwak Andrew and Kem came over. My uncle carried a giant bunch of flowers.


“Oh, they’re absolutely beautiful,” I gushed, reaching out to embrace him.


As I found a vase to fill with a little bit of water and place the bouquet in, Uwak Andrew and Kem got chatting with Juliet and Erik.


“How are you going?”


“Alright, we’re holding up alright,” Juliet answered. “Erik and I are trying to sort everything out with the insurance and our family on the mainland have said we can spend some time with them in the meantime.”


“Where’s your mother?” Uwak Andrew asked me.


“She’s sleeping--.”


“No, I’m not,” Mum chimed in, scampering along the hallway. “Thank you for coming, let me get ready.”


My chest felt tight with anxiety. When Patrick arrived, I kissed him passionately at the front door.


“What was that for?” he murmured, when we finally parted for air.


I smiled coyly.


“I’m just pleased to see you, that’s all.”


“Alright.”


“Come on in.”


We walked through into the kitchen, where Mum and Uwak Andrew were cooking.


“Karti, since when have you cared what other people thought? You certainly never did back home.”


I figured this wasn’t a conversation which Patrick and I needed to interrupt.


“Would you like a drink?” I offered instead.


“That would be lovely.”


I opened the fridge. Patrick requested a lemonade. I poured him the drink and handed it over.


“Thank you,” Patrick responded. “What’s on the agenda for tonight?”


“Oh, nothing flash, just a little bit of dinner with the family and birthday cake to celebrate Mum.”


I couldn’t stop smiling, but tried to suppress it, because I couldn’t let on about the pregnancy.


“What are you grinning about?”


“Just you,” I answered, telling something of a fib. “Thank you for coming. I really appreciate it.”


Uncle Luciano, Aunty Paula, Luke and Angus arrived. I showed them through to the loungeroom, where Patrick was waiting, making conversation with Tallulah.


“So, I take it that this must be the boyfriend.” Uncle Luciano shook Patrick’s hand firmly. “Welcome to the family, young man.”


“Thank you,” Patrick replied, his voice thin.


“Patrick, this is my Uncle Luciano, Dad’s brother.”


“It’s a pleasure meeting you, sir.”


Once she got the chance, Aunty Paula kissed Patrick on both cheeks.


“It’s beautiful to meet you,” she gushed. “You’re such a lovely young man. You’d have to be for our Jumilah.”


My eyes bulged when Uncle Luciano opened a bottle of wine and started pouring it into glasses.


“Would you like some, Catherine?”


“Oh, no, thank you, I’ve got a bit of a headache.” I didn’t know if Mum was lying, but it was probably true. “Don’t want to make it any worse.”


Clearly, this evening wasn’t about to become a fortieth-birthday-turned-pregnancy-celebration.


“That’s all good,” Uncle Luciano assured. “It’s strange to think that Jumilah would be able to drink now.”


“Oh, I’m fine, but thanks anyway,” I insisted.


“What did you get up to today?” Aunty Paula wanted to know.


“We went to the nursery,” I mentioned.


“Oh, to buy plants for the zoo?” Luke asked.


“Yeah, we bought a peppercorn tree,” I answered. “It’s got to get delivered because it’s so big, but come outside, I’ll show you where we’re going to put it once it comes.”


I turned to Dad.


“Dinner’s not going to be ready straight away, is it?”


“No,” he confirmed. “We’ll call you in when it is.”


“Alright, thanks.”


When we wandered outside, I shivered. Despite the unexpected temperature drop, I led the others to the zoo site.


“This is where we’re going to plant the peppercorn tree,” I pointed out. “It’ll provide heaps of shade.”


“Is this part of one of the exhibits?” Patrick wanted to know.


“Yeah, it’d be a gibbon exhibit, we hope.”


Dad called us back inside for dinner. We sat down at the table, extended and covered with a tablecloth so that everyone could fit.


“Happy birthday, Catherine,” Aunty Paula wished, perfect sentiments to commence our meal.


By the time we’d finished dinner, I would have ordinarily felt too full. Yet, Dad gave me the look across the table. With a knowing smile, we rose to our feet. We moved into the kitchen where we fetched Mum’s birthday cake, retrieving the cheesecake from the fridge and slotting candles into the top – a big four and a big zero. Dad fetched a box of matches, lighting the candles. We carefully carried the cake back to the dining table, as everyone started to sing with joy for Mum. Dad placed down the cake in front of her. Once the candles had been blown out, we tucked into birthday cheesecake. Patrick helped to clear the table, then he kissed me and left for home. Once the party was over, Mum sat down to watch some TV. I went to the bathroom, then returned to the loungeroom.


“Goodnight,” I farewelled, kissing Mum on the head.


Lying in bed I was struck by the silence, even though it shouldn’t really bother me.


 

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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