Once I knocked off work, I rode my bike home. I tied it up underneath the house, removing my helmet and stashing it along with the bike. As I headed back inside, my phone rang. I allowed the door to close behind me, then answered the call.
“Hey,” I greeted Tallulah, smiling even though she couldn’t see me.
I walked out onto the back deck. It felt nice to have the sun against my face, while Tallulah and I spoke.
“It’s a month until my birthday today.”
“Do you know what you’re going to do?”
“No, I just thought about it when I was flicking through my diary.”
I did the mental maths and determined that I leave for Sydney the following morning. That wouldn’t prevent me from celebrating Tallulah. I would make sure of it. My best friend had been through it in the past year. The least I could do was to ensure that she turned nineteen with all the celebration she deserved.
“Would you like to come over this evening?” I offered.
“Yeah, that would be great. We can listen to the new Taylor Swift album together.”
I texted Mum. She confirmed that she was cool with Tallulah coming over. I welcomed the upcoming presence of my friend, even as I suppressed a yawn produced by the day at work. Tallulah was the sort of person who wouldn’t mind. We ended the call. Reuben and the others could have been in an elephant TAG meeting, if they happened to be holding one today. I’m not privy to their schedule, and how they make their plans. I suspect that I would only become further involved were we to actually acquire elephants. Tallulah arrived at my place and I let her into the house. We walked through into my bedroom and sat down on top of my doona, my head at her feet. Tallulah pressed play on Spotify. The opening beats of Lavender Haze played and her eyes bulged with surprise.
“Alright, that’s a different vibe.”
I tried to listen closely to the lyrics. Mum came into the room with drinks for both of us, ice and lime cordial just like we used to drink when we were little. She grooved to the beat of the song as she departed the room again, having her own Swiftie moment. We shifted from Lavender Haze into Maroon, Track 2. I soaked in the metaphors.
“That melody does remind me of King of My Heart,” Tallulah observed.
I nodded, then closed my eyes. While I should have been trying to stay awake, it had been a physically exhausting day. My mind wandered as I listened.
“Ooh, that’s a little bit different at the end. I like that.”
Tallulah sipped her drink. The percussion of Anti-Hero was accompanied by wild birds outside, being raucous.
“Ooft, I can relate to that,” I remarked.
Tallulah and I couldn’t possibly speak during the song. We were each transfixed for the duration of the melodies. We didn’t have time to fathom. Snow on the Beach commenced shortly after, the track four of the album.
“That’s such a pretty, different sound,” Tallulah commented. “Don’t you reckon?”
“Yeah,” I agreed. “Got to love a good snow song. You know, being Tasmanian.”
Tallulah giggled. She rolled onto her back, splayed out like a snow angel. I beamed, loving being with my friend and listening to the gentle tunes. The lyrics stood out to me, but the music built all the more. I took Tallulah’s hand like a friendship bracelet. I’d not been without friends as a kid; I’d had Tallulah and my cousins. Still the doubts lingered if I was enough. Could the supposedly warm embrace I’d received within the zoo industry be just an illusion? I held back the tears. Tallulah and I clung to each other. She paused the music for a moment, so that we could take a deep breath before the next track. As it turned out, we sure needed it. We froze in glorious terror at a deep voice to kick off the song.
“Surely that’s Jack Antonoff.”
“Yeah, it’s a man or a voice effect, I reckon.”
The lyrics seeped deep into my core. I’d given up a love, for the best, and contemplated it from time to time. I found myself stroking Tallulah’s hair. The next song also commenced with some sort of pitched-down voice.
“Do you reckon that song’s about the Met Gala? Like, when she met Joe and stuff?”
“Yeah, maybe, I don’t know,” I replied. “It’s catchy, it’s good, though.”
I propped myself up on one elbow.
“How have you been going?”
Tallulah paused the music.
“Yeah, OK, I’m OK.”
She played with her necklace. In the quiet without Midnights playing, I could hear birds outside. Before long, their songs could be joined by finches and siamangs.
“How are you?”
“I’m really tired,” I admitted. “I think work’s just wiping me out.”
From deep within my chest, I took a breath. I was about to elaborate, but Tallulah nodded sympathetically. She pressed play on the song again. I grabbed my phone and went to Instagram. Charlotte had posted a Boomerang to her stories, of her feet on a beach, the tide tapping in over her toes. Pressing the outline of a heart, I hoped that she was doing well. I jump-started, as Tallulah choked out a sob. Finally, I placed down my phone.
“I think as I listened to the second half of that song--.” She wiped tears from the corners of her eyes. “I do want to ask him a question – a lot of questions.”
Tallulah curled her body a little. She breathed out.
“It’s alright. Let’s listen to the next song.”
Even the sounds were shiny. I figured I would have to listen to this album again and again, to fathom the production. The Spotify glitched, and, for a moment, I thought that it might have been part of the song. I wouldn’t have put it past Taylor Swift.
“Wait, is she saying, ‘I don’t. Remember?”
The house creaked.
“No, I think it’s ‘I don’t remember’.”
Tallulah burst out laughing.
“Oh, I love you, Mil. I really don’t think she means that, but I love the idea that she does.”
“I genuinely think it’s ‘I don’t remember’. Like, maybe she’s drunk or high or something, it’s not out of the question.”
As I laughed, my diaphragm shook, providing medicine. No matter what, having Tallulah as my friend served as a balm.
“Oh my goodness, that’s iconic.”
Limbs splayed, we sat on the bed, the lyrics and melody soaking in. By the last chorus of Bejewelled, we were screaming the song, pinkies linked.
“I keep on thinking I’ve heard my favourite song and then there’s another one,” she yelled.
“Totally, it’s iconic.”
Despite my lack of energy, I was up for making my way through. Bejewelled, then Labyrinth, then Karma.
“Like, lyrically, that’s not my vibe, I’ll be really honest,” Tallulah admitted, “but I love the melody. It’s a really catchy song and I can absolutely see that getting stuck in my head.”
She pressed play again and the song continued.
“Actually,” Tallulah corrected herself by the bridge, “I take everything back. I love that song.”
Beaming, I couldn’t help but agree. I rubbed my hand over my abdomen. Outside I could hear birds. They provided backing vocals to Sweet Nothing. The birds stopped, right in time for the catchy beat of Mastermind.
“That’s really groovy,” I murmured.
Finally, the song came to an end.
“And that was Midnights.”
“That was cool.”
Tallulah rolled onto her back and started scrolling through Instagram.
“There are more songs,” she announced, all of a sudden. “There are seven more songs.”
Tallulah flicked over to Spotify. She pressed play.
“This song is called The Great War.”
Immediately, I pondered World War I, but I didn’t think the track would be about that. Sure enough, it wasn’t, although the metaphor had strength.
“That was a really sweet song, in the end.”
The ominous tune to follow caused me to look Tallulah in the eye. She didn’t know what would follow, either. More than just a short time, more than just a short time, was a rallying cry. My chest felt tight, although I knew my pulse had slowed. I was captivated by memories, frozen in the realisation that I wasn’t alone in grief. I curled into the foetal position, thinking of my baby sibling, Sungai Willow. Surely the peppercorn tree outside would be swaying in a gentle breeze. I needed the next song to cheer me up. Closing my eyes, I hooked myself up to the lyrics of Paris and the dreamy music. It reminded me of floating through the streets of Melbourne with Tallulah and ice cream. They were beautiful nights.
“That was a bop,” I mumbled.
Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed Tallulah smiling.
“Such a, such a bop.” She laughed. “I feel a bit called out though, ‘2003, unbearable’.”
“Sweetheart, the only thing you wore in 2003 was a onesie and bootees.”
“True,” Tallulah conceded with a chuckle.
We rolled into the next song. Tallulah paused it after the chorus.
“To be perfectly honest, this seems like such a personal song. I don’t know how I feel about it.”
Nodding in agreement, I found some of the lyrics relatable, and others biting. As I got more and more tired, we settled into just listening to the songs, while Tallulah flicked through her phone. If the music hadn’t captured me, I would have fallen asleep. When Tallulah squeezed my hand, I opened my eyes. Her own gaze was rimmed with the tears of recognition, of being seen in the tune. Taylor Swift’s voice continued to blare.
“I thought it would have been perfect.”
“It was never your fault,” I assured Tallulah while I stroked her hair. “It’s never been your fault.”
We huddled with one another, until the song came to a close.
Tallulah wiped the tears from her eyes. Outside, I knew the sun had gone down. The final bars of the album played. I rolled onto my side, eyes closed. When I came to briefly, Tallulah had left, so she must have gone home.
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.