Horses

By the time I woke up this morning, everything was peaceful once again. I could hear a soft chatter of birds outside when I headed out the front to get into Tallulah’s car for her to drive me to Dodges Ferry.


“Are you sure that you’re alright to come today?” she checked.


“Yes, yes, I’m fine,” I assured. “They arrested the bank robber and I was nowhere near him.”


I fastened my seatbelt across my chest.


“Thank you for being concerned, though. I do appreciate it, I promise you I do.”


Tallulah pulled out of the driveway and we started heading towards Dodges Ferry.


“There was one guy shot, but he’s going to be fine. I looked it up.”


“That’s good news. I’m really glad he’s still alive.”


“How did you go over the weekend with Kyle?”


“He would like to go away with me before pre-season starts.”


“Well, that sounds lovely, do you want to go with him?”


“Yes, I would. It would be nice. We could watch movies, and snuggle--.”


“Alright, I don’t need to know about that part.”


“Yeah, sorry, fair enough.”


I focused on my breathing while I looked out the window.


“I miss not having Lowanna around.”


“I’m really sorry about what happened with her.”


“Thank you. I mean, I can’t complain, she’s alive and she’s probably going to be fine. It’s in her best interests for her to be with Carol, she can take care of her properly.”


Tallulah and I arrived at the vet clinic and headed inside.


“Hello,” Thomas greeted us. “We’ve got a call-out this morning to a horse farm for a hoof trimming. Would you both like to come along?”


“Sure,” Tallulah agreed.


“I’ve just got to be back by one-thirty, that’s when my meeting is.”


“We can manage that.”


Therefore, the three of us headed off to the farm. When we arrived, we got out of the car and Thomas firmly shook hands with the landowner.


“Hec, good to see you again.”


“Thomas, pleasure’s all mine.”


He turned to Tallulah and I.


“Hec, these are my assistants, Tallulah and Jumilah.”


“Ah, good to see Thomas here as roped in some young ones to keep him in line.”


I smiled, a little awkwardly.


“One of the mares is due for a hoof trim before she’s introduced to a stallion.”


As calmly as possible, we separated her from the rest of the horses. Thomas retrieved the dart gun from a canvas bag. I could feel Tallulah’s eyes on me. As my heart thumped within my chest, I wished that I was back at the clinic. Thomas fired the gun, the dart hitting the horse’s rump. We waited until he started to get groggy. Thomas handed a towel to Tallulah.


“Once he comes over here, you’re going to throw that over his eyes. Understand?”


Tallulah nodded her head. Starting to stumble, both horse and human shifted closer to one another. Tallulah threw the towel over the horse’s face. It landed in just the right spot. Thomas and Hec waited a beat, then slowly opened the gate to the paddock, with a creak. Even though I felt queasy, I moved with them. Once the horse was on the ground, we needed to work fast, and steer clear of where the dart has entered. Thomas marked the site with green spray paint, so that we could all keep an eye on it. He was handed an angle grinder, using on the hooves in order to reshape them to what was apparently a healthier length. Dust from the hooves swirled in the air, then pooled on the ground underneath. Even though it was for a medical procedure, something about a majestic animal like that on the ground made me queasy. I could feel Tallulah looking at me, rather than the mare, sensing my tension, so I offered her a grin to reassure her. After the procedure had been completed, we exited the yard. Thomas applied reversal drugs and removed the towel from the horse’s face, then himself made tracks. We stood by the fence, watching Jessie, waiting patiently. A little groggy at first, she slowly rose to her feet.


“That’s a job well done,” Thomas assured.


I glanced up at the blue sky, allowing myself a smile. As if nothing had happened, the horse was back to cantering around in the paddock with the others. We were on the way out when Hec placed his arm around Thomas’ shoulders. I felt a little awkward, but they seemed to be perfectly chummy with one another.


“I’ll be sure to see to it that the next time I need a hand, you’ll be the first man I call.”


“Well, make sure that they stay out of trouble and you won’t have to.”


Finally, we returned to the van. I instinctively checked my watch. Thomas caught me, as I climbed into the back seat.


“It’s alright,” he promised me. “We’ll get back on time for your meeting.”


Sure enough, we returned to the vet clinic at about 1:25, giving me enough time to head inside. I found a quiet spot in the office and put my headphones on, so that I could join the primate TAG meeting.


“Good afternoon,” Christine greeted to begin the meeting.


The other faces on the screen seemed edgy.


“As you have most likely heard, Jackson will not be joining us today. He has been arrested and charged.”


“Have we heard anything about his partner?”


“No, I’m not sure, I’m sorry. All I know is that she was admitted to hospital.”


This was, in fact, news to me. I didn’t ask any questions, because it wasn’t my place. Of all the members of the primates TAG, Jackson wasn’t even the most obnoxious or annoying.


“All we can hope and pray is that she will make a full recovery, mentally and physically,” Christine noted, “and that justice will be served.”


I nodded my head, feeling uneasy.


“What were we planning to discuss this meeting?” Bill wanted to know.


Of course, it was him.


“The plan was extended studbook reports, I believe.”


“Most significant, I feel, is the Bolivian Squirrel Monkey studbook. We were supposed to be hearing Jackson’s recommendations today.”


“I have those recommendations, as a matter of fact,” Bill spoke up. “Jackson emailed them to me.”


“Well, right,” Christine responded. “That would be great if you could share them with us.”


“Of course, can I share my screen?”


“Yes.”


After a moment, Bill brought the slides onto the screen, which I figured Jackson had put together. I couldn’t help but feel a little sick, putting two and two together, but we needed to press on.


“Firstly, Jackson noted a request from Gerard about having a number of young males ready for transfer. He suggested having these animals form a bachelor group at Woombye.”


“We have a potential exhibit ready,” Allira agreed, the young representative from Wildlife HQ.


She would be older than me, although I reckon still in her twenties.


“Yes, thank you, that’s six males.”


“Would you want to include your breeding males in that?”


“Well, it would depend on the studbook recommendation.”


“There isn’t anything in Jackson’s notes.”


“Right, well, we need a replacement studbook keeper,” Reuben decreed.


“I would be agreeable to that, I’ll move that,” Christine affirmed.


“And I’ll second it,” Tessa added.


The motion was passed.


“I’d be willing to take over,” Reuben offered.


Allira moved that motion, and Don seconded it.


“I’ll review Jackson’s notes and I can bring recommendations to the next meeting.”


Christine agreed to that.


“Are there any additional studbook reports?”


Nobody said anything.


“Let’s move onto the member reports,” Christine decided.


She took a sip of water.


“Adelaide Zoo?”


“Yes, great news yesterday. Our female siamang Georgia gave birth to a healthy infant.”


I was beaming.


“Anything else?”


“Well, funnily enough, we’ve had a De Brazza’s birth too. We weren’t exactly expecting it.”


“Do you know how that works, right?” Bill teased.


He touched the tips of two pointed fingers together.


“Well, when a mummy De Brazza’s and a daddy--.”


“Thank you, Bill,” Sam interjected. “Don, please go on, do continue.”


“We’ve had a birth as I mentioned, overnight last night. We don’t know the sex of the baby as of yet.”


“That’s very exciting news,” I praised, desperately trying to keep the peace.


“How is the De Brazza program going in Aus?” Angelique asked. “I thought they weren’t endangered.”


“Well, we would be more than interested in acquiring the species, and sooner rather than later,” Sam noted.


I glanced up, as Tallulah stepped into the breakroom. Already on mute, I removed my headphones.


“Is everything alright?” I checked.


“Yeah, we’re just going out on a call. We’ll be back in about an hour or so. You’re fine to stay here, it’s just a sheep needing help with lambing.”


“Have fun,” I farewelled Tallulah.


Truth be told, I would have loved to go and help deliver a lamb, but I didn’t tell her that.


I placed my headphones back on.


“Do you think that we need a committee?”


“That would be helpful,” Don agreed. “I would be more than happy to be a part of it, if you’re willing to have me.”


“Yes, Don, that would be great, thank you. Any other volunteers?”


“Yeah, I will,” Sam agreed. “We’ve got to put our money where our mouth is.”


“Thank you, I appreciate that. For the third member, I would appreciate a New Zealand representative, if possible.”


“I would be happy to,” Tessa volunteered.


“Perfect, thank you for that, Tessa, I’m happy to move that motion to form the committee. Can we please have a seconder?”


Nobody said anything.


“Right, then, does anyone have an objection?”


“No, no, I don’t think so, I’ll second,” Gerard agreed, sitting forward.


“Alright then, thank you. We can get back to the member reports now.”


Christine took a sip of water, which made me a bit thirsty, too.


“Auckland Zoo?”


“Look, I feel like we’re at a bit of a crossroads in relation to our orang-utan program. We’re the only holder of Borneans in the region. We either need to decide whether we phase them out and go into Sumatrans, or allow our animals to breed again.”


“Well, we haven’t had an orang-utan review for a while. How about we schedule one? Is next week too soon?”


“No, next week would be fine,” Reuben insisted.


I sense he’s eager to throw his weight around a bit in relation to acquiring or importing a young female. A few weeks ago, Hunter mentioned about importing from Indonesia.


“Taronga Zoo?”


“Yes, thanks, we’ve received the paternity results for our recent chimpanzee births. Our alpha, Samaki, is the sire of two of the three infants. The third infant wasn’t sired by the options we expected.”


“Wow, that’s a bit unexpected,” Tessa remarked.


“Yes, it is, I suppose,” Sam confirmed. “We’ll have to broaden the pool and conduct further tests.”


“Keep us posted, definitely,” Christine requested.


“I will,” Sam agreed.


“Woombye?”


“Well, we’re now receiving at least six male squirrel monkeys, which is exciting.”


“Is there any general business?”


“How is your chimp pregnancy going, Christine?” Gerard wanted to know.


“Well, thank you, as far as we can tell.”


“Have you thought about what you might name the baby?” Tessa wanted to know.


“I think that it’s a bit early days for that yet.”


The chatter continued for a little bit longer, just the members of the group catching up with each other, about the conference, and other ZAA matters. While we were in the meeting, I wanted the opportunity to speak with Hunter and Sam about the finches which they intended for us to house. It wrapped up too quickly, so I’ll have to find a time to speak with them later. When the TAG meeting finished, I walked out to the reception to find myself a job to do.


“Misty’s going home, could you please go and get her?”


I nodded my head, then ambled out the back. Scanning the labels, I located Misty, a grey cat who’d been in for the day for desexing, and fetched the pet pack in which her family had brought her in for the procedure. I encouraged the cat back into the pet pack. Thankfully, she went without a fuss.


“Are you a cat person or a dog person?”


“When we had the farm we had a working dog.”


“Ah, yes.”


In between patients I checked my watch. It was just after three, so Patrick would have been finished at school. I sent him a quick text message, and quickly after he called back.


“Hey, Patrick.”


“Hi. Are you at the vet clinic?”


“Yes.”


“Sloane’s been thinking about names for the baby.”


I didn’t want to talk about the baby. It was fair enough when Patrick thought that he was the father.


“What do you think about Joanna, Joey for short?”


“That’s lovely,” was all I could manage to say.


“You know, there’s something else I have to tell you,” Patrick admitted, his voice thin. “The jury’s reached a verdict. They found him guilty. He’s probably going to go to prison.”


“Wow.”


I breathed out, feeling relieved.


“How’s Sloane feeling?”


“She’s mainly making sure that Mary’s coping.”


“That must be so hard, my goodness. How are you?”


“I’m OK, just relieved, I guess.”


Patrick breathed out. I wasn’t sure sure how to make him feel better. I found myself fiddling with Kakek’s cross around my neck. Tallulah scampered into view. She beckoned me, before realising that I was on the phone, and apologising. Still, I knew that I was needed, in the real, present world.


“Sorry, I’ve got to go. They need me to get back to work.”


“That’s all good. I’ll talk to you later.”


We said our goodbyes, then I ended the call. I dropped my phone back into my bag. Walking into one of the treatment rooms, Tallulah stood by the bench, patting a rabbit’s back. She loaded her into a pet pack, carefully shutting the door.


“There go you.” Tallulah handed over the rabbit to me. “The family are out the front and the receptionist will do all the money stuff.”


“Right, thank you.”


I exited the treatment room. Sure enough, a family was waiting.


“Here’s Bugsy, safe and sound.”


With the rabbit given over, I returned to the treatment room and shut the door behind me.


“We gave Bugsy a Brazilian,” Tallulah admitted under her breath.


I chewed on the inside of my bottom lip.


“There wasn’t even any need for it.”


She leaned against me, laughing loudly.


“We gave Bugsy a Brazilian,” Tallulah echoed, finally allowing myself to laugh. “Should we go?”


“Yeah,” I agreed.


Tallulah pulled herself together, enough to bid farewell and head out to the car. She drove me to the medical clinic and agreed to come in too. My appointment with the psychologist was the last of the evening, and thus the waiting room was pretty empty.


“Jumilah Fioray.”


I rose to my feet and walked in.


“Hello, Jumilah, how are you?” Jenine wanted to know.


“Yeah, I’m alright,” I assured, sitting down in the chair as directed.


Jenine shut the door, then did the same. I wasn’t sure if my answer was correct. Perhaps we’d find that out, over the course of the session.


“I think it’s OK to be a bit overwhelmed, you know?”


When my gaze panned back to the psychologist’s face, I studied it.


“Some things are just a bit overwhelming. I watched my grandfather get shot and die, that’s overwhelming.”


Having made the realisation, I breathed out. I felt like I had a point to prove.


“Do you spend much time with your mother’s family?”


“My uncle, he’s Mum’s older brother, and his partner, they’ve come to live here in Tassie from the beginning of this year. We see them every now and then, but I’ve been pretty busy with work.”


“What have you been doing in relation to building your zoo?”


“Well, we only just got planning permission last week, last Tuesday.”


“How did that make you feel?”


“It’s great. It was a big relief, that’s for sure.”


Jenine smiled. I hoped that she was proud of me.


“What’s the next step?”


“We’ve started building. Mum and Dad were putting together the finch aviary yesterday.”


“Did you assist them?”


“No, I was at work.”


“On Mothers’ Day?”


“Yes,” I confirmed, feeling strangely defensive. “I take the shifts I can, to save for the zoo.”


Being in these sessions had their way of bringing up what was really on my mind.


“I don’t envy Sloane. She’s in such a difficult position. Yesterday at work, we had a baby shower for her.”


“And Sloane’s your colleague?”


“Yes, she is,” I confirmed, “and she’s the one who told Patrick, my boyfriend, that he was the father of the baby when he wasn’t, she was further along.”


“Has it caused problems in your relationship?”


“No, not really. I mean, Patrick isn’t the father--.”


“But he thought that he was,” Jenine pressed. “Have you spoken about how that made him feel, being lied to?”


“Not really,” I admitted.


Jenine nodded.


“I would like to talk about your grandfather’s death.”


Instinctively, I sighed heavily.


“I just feel like I’m not normal.”


“There’s no such thing as normal.”


“I know. That’s not the point I’m making.”


I looked at Jenine, although couldn’t bring myself to meet her gaze.


“I’m sorry. I don’t even really know what I’m saying.”


“Jumilah, do you feel unsafe right now?”


I felt annoyed, but that wasn’t the same thing.


“No, I don’t feel unsafe.”


“Have you thought about harming yourself?”


“No, never,” I answered, almost outraged that the question was posed. “My grandfather died. That doesn’t make me want to kill myself.”


I laughed, even though I felt guilty about it.


“Do I come across like I want to kill myself?”


“I’d like to talk about your work again.”


I sat forward in my chair.


“That works for me.”


“What do you think is going to happen at the end of this?” Jenine enquired. “Do you think that you can keep working with Patrick and Sloane long-term?”


“Yeah, of course, I can,” I insisted, then sat up straighter in my chair. “I mean, not that I’m going to have to, most likely.”


“What do you mean?” Jenine asked.


“When we get the zoo up and running, I’ll be the one working there.”


“I gather that you’ll need more than one person working there.”


“Well, yeah, we will, of course--.”


I stopped myself, knowing that I was getting defensive.


“To be perfectly honest, we haven’t sorted that out yet. There’s still a long way to go.”


I finally relaxed.


“We will need at least two people working each day at the zoo.”


I shook my head and laughed.


“You have got me thinking.”


“Do you want to keep talking about this, or is there something else that you’d like to discuss?”


I crossed my legs, then unfolded them again, my muscles aching a little.


“You know, I’m always happy to talk about the zoo. I would have to speak with my parents about the whole situation with the staff.” I scratched the back of my head with one finger. “It might be better to talk about something else.”


“How would you describe your circle of friends?”


“I have plenty of friends,” I assured. “Tallulah’s my best friend, I’d say. We went to high school together. She’s studying to be a vet, so that’s something that we have in common.”


I tilted my head to the side, a smile coming onto my lips as happy dreams started to form in my mind.


“You know, it would be nice if Tallulah could come and work at the zoo.”


“Are you expecting that she will?”


I took a moment, but eventually I smiled.


“Yeah, I think so. I mean, it’s her choice, of course. It’s just some sort of unspoken thing, like destiny.”


Our appointment finally came to an end. I walked out of the room, then approached the counter. After paying for my consultation, Tallulah and I departed the medical centre.


“Would you like to come over for dinner?”


“Yeah, that would be lovely, thank you. I’ve just got to check.”


Tallulah texted her mum, to make sure it was alright. Not long after, her phone tolled.


“Mum says that’s fine,” Tallulah confirmed with a grin. “Let’s go home.”


Tallulah drove towards my property. The surroundings familiar, I didn’t pay that much attention, until I suddenly glanced up from my phone.


“Oh my goodness, there’s a fence,” I observed as Tallulah slowed to turn right into our place. “We have a perimeter fence.”


She pulled into our driveway and parked. I burst out of the car and rushed over to the fence. Just to make sure that it was real, I gripped it – our predator-proof fence. Behind me, Tallulah giggled. I beamed over my shoulder while she snapped a photo to remember the moment.


“Alright, I’m fine now,” I assured.


Tallulah locked her car, and we made our way inside.


“We have a fence,” I announced my arrival into the house. “When did that happen?”


“Today,” Mum confirmed.


She kissed my forehead in greeting.


“We put it up today, the fencing man dropped off the panelling and he stayed to help us.”


“Thank you.”


“It’s no problem.”


Mum must have noticed me start to pull a face.


“What’s the matter? Do you not like it? Did we do something wrong?”


“No, no, of course not,” I insisted. “I meant it, thank you, it’s great.”


I breathed out, running my hand through my hair.


“It’s just starting to get real now, isn’t it?”


“Yeah, it is.”


Mum looked past me, at Tallulah.


“How is your university going?” Mum wanted to know.


“Yeah, really well, thank you,” Tallulah answered.


We sat down at the table and started to eat.


“Oh, there’s something I need to bring up,” I mentioned in between mouthfuls. “We will need to talk about what we’re going to do with staffing the zoo.”


“Oh, there’s plenty of time to sort that out, Jumilah,” Dad assured me, albeit effectively ending the discussion.


We finished our meal, both filling and delicious. Tallulah glanced towards her watch.


“I’d better be off. Thank you so much for having me.”


“It’s our pleasure,” Mum assured. “Anytime.”


I got up from the table, to see Tallulah out the front and safely into her car. After waving farewell, she left for home. While I’d planned to sit down and look over the environmental impact statement for the construction, Mum and Dad were packing up from dinner. I didn’t want to shirk my duties around the house. Therefore, I got up from the table, carrying dirty dishes with me, and delivering them into the kitchen, where Mum and Dad were cleaning up.


“I’d like to go to Adelaide,” I mentioned while packing the dishwasher. “We could see the baby and see Medan and Georgia again. Maybe even Nanek could come too, if she was able to.”


Mum smiled at me.


“That sounds like a wonderful idea.”


 

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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