“Thanks for driving me,” I said as I got into the backseat of Maryam’s car.
“That’s alright,” she assured, as I fastened my seatbelt.
“Hi, Ricky,” I greeted him, catching his eye in the rear-vision mirror.
Maryam reversed out of the driveway.
“How’s married life?”
“Yeah, really good,” Ricky answered as Maryam drove down the road. “How have you been travelling, Jumilah?”
“Not bad,” I answered. “It really doesn’t feel like that long since the wedding.”
“It sure does for us,” Maryam admitted.
We arrived at the location for the funeral, the Catholic church in Dulcot. Maryam found a parking spot, in the shade of a gumtree. We emerged from the car and she locked it behind us. As we walked in, I noticed the coffin at the front of the church. I lingered in the aisle for just a moment longer, as Maryam and Ricky found somewhere to sit.
“Hey.” I startled as Patrick greeted me with a kiss on the temple. “Sorry.”
The three of us joined them on the pew. Glancing around, I concluded that the five of us were the representatives from work. Some people actually had to stay at the supermarket, after all, to keep it running. The coffin seemed to gleam, a framed photograph of Lucy’s grandfather Richard set amongst flowers atop it. The priest stood at the front of the church and I felt my chest tightening at the sight of him. It had only been a few days ago that I’d been at church for Easter, and it had been me who loved it, and Uwak Andrew for whom the experience was overwhelming. Lucy’s father was to give the eulogy. He’s a tall, broad-shouldered man.
“Richard was a beloved father and grandfather. He is survived by three children and six grandchildren.”
I glanced towards Lucy, in the front pew. She was stoic, surrounded by her family. Lucy’s father recounted details of his own father’s life. I could feel my throat tightening as I thought back to Kakek’s funeral. The details were a haze. Patrick placed his arm around my shoulders. At the conclusion of the service, Lucy’s brothers were among the pallbearers who carried the coffin from the church. She stood up, along with the others in the front row. Lucy’s shoulders shook as she followed her grandfather’s coffin out of the church. They loaded it into the back of the hearse. Patrick rubbed circles into my shoulder. After the service, the wake was held in the church hall. Ricky walked over to the table to fetch coffees for himself and I, plus a selection of slices and sandwiches.
“Thank you,” I said to Ricky, then looked at Maryam. “I feel bad eating in front of you.”
“Please, don’t feel bad. Eat, drink, be merry. Well, don’t be merry. This is still a funeral.”
We ate and drank coffee for a little while. Finally, Lucy had the opportunity to get around to talk to us.
“We love you so much, Lucy.”
“Apparently there’s another funeral on this afternoon.”
“Right.” I gave Lucy a hug. “Take care, Lucy.”
“Thank you, Jumilah.”
We parted ways. Patrick decided that he would drive me home from the wake, so that he could come over for the afternoon, while Sloane went with Maryam and Ricky back to work.
“There’s something I want to talk to you about.”
“Yeah, sure, what?”
“I’m a virgin and you’re not. My mother thinks that matters.”
“Well, does it matter to you?”
“No, it doesn’t, but--.”
“I don’t think that I want to sleep with you. Sorry, that--.”
“You don’t want to sleep with me?”
“Well, not right at this moment--.”
“Of course, not right at this moment.”
“Let’s change the subject. You know, there’s a medieval fair at the showground this weekend. I was thinking that it might be nice to go, see some jousting, eat some food that really ought to have been relegated to the past.” Patrick laughed at his own joke. “So, would you like to come with me?”
“As long as you’re up for it, as long as you’re well enough.”
“Well, I can’t make any promises, but it sounds interesting. Will you be able to pick me up?”
“Yeah, of course.”
“I wanted to ask you about Sloane.”
“What about her?”
“Do you know that I still go to medical appointments with her, for the baby?”
“Back at Maryam and Ricky’s wedding, she told me that the baby is a girl--.”
“Which I know, because I was at the ultrasound.”
We ended up getting home in time for the carnivore TAG meeting.
“You can stay if you want,” I told Patrick, “as long as you amuse yourself.”
“I reckon that I can handle that.”
Tessa was giving the presentation, about artificial insemination in fishing cats.
“We’ve carried out semen collection from our male on three collections. We found a high proportion of normal sperm.”
The percentage – 72% - was given on the slides which she shared.
“That’s quite high,” Sam remarked.
“Yes, it is. We were tentatively quite hopeful for the insemination and the tests carried out on the queen indicated a potential pregnancy, although kittens never ensued. At this stage, we haven’t been able to determine if the female was pregnant and miscarried, or exactly what transpired.”
“Well, the region hasn’t had a great deal of luck with fishing cat breeding. I’m of the view that it wouldn’t hurt to pursue AI to prevent our founders not breeding at all.”
“So, you’d consider it at Taronga?”
“Yes, of course, our pair get along well, but they haven’t bred in the three years we’ve had them.”
“Well, I wish you all the best if you try,” Tessa noted. “Of course, we still haven’t had success.”
“Would you choose to go again?”
“Maybe. Right now it depends on whether we have the funds available and we can get the experts involved to give us the best chance of success.”
“Let’s move onto the member reports.”
Pretty much everyone, including me, took the opportunity to take the slightest of breaks. I took a sip from my water bottle, then I wanted to get up and go to the bathroom, but there turned out to not be enough time for that.
“We would like to request a male lion from the studbook keeper. It would be our intention to be able to breed again once we expand the exhibit.”
“I was under the impression that you’d agreed to be a non-breeding institution,” Bill mentioned.
“We don’t breed lions anymore,” Reuben pointed out.
“Yes, but you’ve got Werribee for that. You breed out there. We don’t have that luxury.”
I could tell there was more that Gerard wasn’t letting on.
“Still, we were committed to the recommendations.”
“We’ve named our red panda twins – Ruby for the female and Onyx for the male.”
“You did,” Bill conceded, “you did OK.”
“Yeah, thanks mate.”
“I’ve been in touch with the cheetah facility in South Africa. They’ll assess for viable candidates.”
“Right, thanks for that.”
“Also, Bill,” Tessa spoke up, “I emailed you during the week.”
“Yes, I’ll get to that.”
I could tell that Tessa felt a little dismissed by Bill.
“We’ve been treating one of our meerkats by injecting antibiotics into her food, she’s recovering well.”
“We’ve been able to ultrasound our female snow leopard,” Monica highlighted. “Unfortunately, she wasn’t pregnant. We will continue to monitor her cycle and try again for breeding when the next opportunity arises.”
“We’ve been able to sex our lion cubs, they’re both males. I weighed them this morning and they’re whoppers. One cub was four kilograms and the other was three point nine.”
“They are big babies,” Sam remarked. “Just a heads up, Julie, as all of Arizona’s offspring have been males so far, I anticipate that she would receive a third breeding recommendation once these cubs have matured.”
“Righto, thanks for that.”
“Alright, my turn,” Bill spoke up. “I just wanted to mention that I’m aware of the request from Hamilton made during the week in relation to their lone male African Wild Dog. As studbook keeper, I’ll assess our options and report back at the next meeting.”
“Thanks, I really appreciate that,” Tessa replied. “We’re doing the best we can, but it’s hard on his welfare.”
“Do you have anything to report from Perth?” Monica wanted to know.
He didn’t, as it turned out.
“Our female sun bear is coming into oestrus, so we’ve started the process of introducing her to the male.”
“Well, and pigs might fly,” Bill remarked.
I didn’t know the history, but I hoped for a positive outcome for Sam.
“We’ve broken ground on the snow leopard exhibit. Hopefully it will still be finished by the end of this year.”
“I was wanting to bring up the snow leopard program,” Harold, the representative from Adelaide Zoo, mentioned. “Perhaps we could hold a review into leopard programs at one of our future meetings?”
“Yes, alright, it might not be for a while though.”
“What about three weeks from now?” Monica suggested.
“Yes, we can schedule that.”
An email pinged through, updating the calendar invite for that meeting. I’m not disinterested in leopards, but they’re not a priority for us at the moment. Hopefully this review will be an opportunity for everyone to sort out their priorities.
“Is there any general business?”
“I did want to ask you about your Sumatran Tiger pair, Christine. Seeing as you’re not going to be breeding them, I believe we should transfer the male.”
“Were you thinking to Hamilton Zoo?”
“Yes, that would be my thought,” Monica mentioned. “They are due to receive a male and a breeding recommendation anyway, with the male coming from Orana Park. I think those males should stay in place. Wellington’s male should instead be transferred to Hamilton, so that his genes as a founder aren’t lost.”
“I was under the impression we’d be receiving a different male.”
“Yes, that was the plan, but it’s more important to breed from a founder.”
“I absolutely agree.”
The motion was moved and passed, then the meeting came to an end. I shut down the computer. Patrick wandered back into the loungeroom.
“Are you all finished?”
“Yep, all done.”
Mum returned home from work and walked through into the kitchen.
“Oh, hello, Patrick,” she greeted him.
“Are you staying for dinner?”
“If you’ll have me.”
“Well, I take it you’ve been at a funeral today.”
“Yes, we have been.”
“Well, you may as well stay for tea.”
“I swear that we had a tin of kidney beans in the cupboard somewhere here,” Mum noted as she rummaged through the pantry staples. “Ha, here it is.”
She retrieved the tin.
“How does bean chili sound for our dinner? I’m pretty sure that we’ve got sour cream in the fridge.”
“That would be great,” I accepted. “Do you need any help?”
“It’s alright, you’ve got Patrick over.”
Mum seemed to cook dinner in record time, so soon enough we were sitting around the table, eating. I felt tired and a little breathless. Therefore, I ate my food slowly, not just because it was hot, even though it was delicious. Mum waited patiently until I was finished. Then, she started clearing the table, insisting that Patrick and I didn’t have to help.
“You’re our guest, it’s great to have you.”
“Yes, thank you for coming over, Patrick, I’m going to bed,” Dad announced.
He got up and walked off.
“Goodnight, Mr Fioray,” Patrick farewelled him with a wave.
He kissed me on the forehead to say goodbye, then saw himself out through the front door. Once Patrick left, I walked back into the house and sat down next to Mum on the lounge. She tenderly stroked my hair and I felt like I almost could have nodded off to sleep on her shoulder.
“You need to go to bed,” Mum whispered, “because even though you’ll always be my baby, you need to sleep in your bed.”
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.