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Lovechild

I woke up this morning and got dressed, then headed out to feed the tarsiers and the macaques, letting the latter out for the day. I’m still getting used to having animals around again, no less tropical primates. With Luke’s birthday party on in the evening, we still hadn’t finalised who was going to stay at the zoo, so that the three of us – or the rest of us – could attend the celebrations. I rubbed my hands together as I walked out to the kitchen.


“Hi, Mum. Do you mind if we talk about tonight? I’m kind of feeling a bit anxious about it, to be perfectly honest.”


I heard my phone on the bench give me a notification, and glanced at it.


“Someone could come over.”


“What about Maryam and Ricky?” I suggested. “They could come over. All they’d need to do is be here. I’m sure they wouldn’t mind.”


“Alright,” Mum agreed. “Ring them, or do whatever you do these days, and ask them.”


I nodded, then texted Maryam.


Yeah, I reckon we could do that; she greeted quickly after. Is there anything special we need to do?


I assured her that there wouldn’t be. Any dramas and they could call us, to come straight back from the party. Hopefully that wouldn’t eventuate. By the end of the following week, the zoo collection will have grown, all being well. I set off into the zoo grounds, hearing the swish of a car down the road. Standing on a rise, I noticed that the vehicle was pulling into the driveway to the carpark, where the gate was closed. I waited for a thud, but the car halted, a man getting out with his brow furrowed in bemusement.


“Hello, how can I help you?”


“Oh, I’m here for the zoo.”


“I’m sorry, we’re not open just yet.”


The man crinkled his brow.


“You know, I heard this podcast. You were on it and you said that the zoo was opening.”


“Yes, but not until Boxing Day, December 26, unfortunately. We don’t have all the animals on-site yet and we need to give them time to settle in.”


At least he’d come on a day when we weren’t attempting to complete a transfer.


“Alright, that’s alright. I’ll come back then, shall I?”


“You’d be most welcome.”


With a wave, which I returned, he dropped back into the car and left. I hoped that he would come back as a visitor once we opened. Sure, we needed to pay our bills, and paying customers would help with that. At the same time, the connection I felt with animals, made me an evangelist. Once the car was gone, I returned to the house, where I could hear my phone ringing.


“Hello, Julie, how are you?” I greeted her, her number saved in my contacts.


“Oh, been better, to be honest. We had a break-in overnight, smashed up some property.”


“I just don’t understand,” I admitted. “Who would do something like that?”


Of course, I knew the answer, my despair getting the better of me.


“They met their match, though, when they came across our ostrich hens.”


I furrowed my brow.


“Is that even what you call a female ostrich?”


“Yes,” Julie confirmed, finally allowing herself a laugh. “They’re feisty girls, too.”


“And your lemurs are going alright?”


“Yes, we sent a female down to Melbourne yesterday, for their new pair. The plan is that we would import two more from overseas. Of course, doing that would be easier with another zoo onboard, too,” Julie outlined. “Would you consider it?”


“Truth be told, I hadn’t thought about it before, importing lemurs.”


I wondered whether this was Julie’s true reason for calling.


“It’s all good. I’ll speak with Hunter. If we had the recommendation to acquire males, then we would be in luck, because there are plenty of males to do around, even within the region. I anticipate that Masoala and Clover will be breeding before too long.”


“I worked with Clover at Melbourne. He’ll make a good father.”


“Oh, I’m sure that he will.”


“Do you think that there might be females in the region?” I asked, then realised the possibility must have already been canvassed and rejected.


“Fresh blood would be ideal.”


I couldn’t argue with that.


“How are you?” I enquired. “Have you been well, break-ins aside?”


“Oh, like I said, I’ve been better.”


Having already asked, I felt a little awkward.


“Wasia’s been having contractions. It’s less than ideal, especially with her first birth. What’s more, there’s a temporary vet at the moment. Our main vet is away sick.”


“Oh, right, I’m sorry to hear that.”


“We’ve given her medication to help the baby’s lungs, and to hopefully stop the labour until the pregnancy’s a bit further progressed. If she delivers, she delivers, but we would prefer to prevent that until closer to full-term.”


“Right. Sounds like you have a fair bit on your hands at the moment.”


“The lemurs, the gorillas, and now the break-in.”


“Well, I won’t keep you.” I swallowed. “I’ll speak with my parents about your suggestion. We’d probably have to run it through the primate TAG, but it sounds like a good opportunity.”


“Thank you.”


Normally I wouldn’t have thought we would have needed to worry about that. Yet, Julie had planted the seed in my mind. I didn’t have long to dwell on it. Striding out into the zoo, I walked over to the macaque exhibit, where I could only spot half the troop. The sound of a car coming down the road caused me to head back through the gate. I let myself through to the front, to show in our visitor, who would be performing health checks.


“Doctor Thomas, how are you?” I greeted him with a grin and a handshake, which was emblematic of our bond.


“Good, thanks. And yourself?”


“Yes, I’m pretty good, thanks. Thank you for coming over today.”


I still marvel at the sky. Above us in the summertime it’s usually so vivid and blue, although it had come overcast with clouds. Perhaps it would rain later in the day, which could be an opportunity to try out the rainwater system in the nocturnal house.


“Come through, I’ll show you the macaques.”


He followed me through into the zoo.


“This is our troop.”


Thomas fetched a notebook and pen out of his pocket, so that he could make notes while I spoke.


“We’re wanting to breed from the first generation daughters, although we don’t want them to inbreed with their father, the dominant male.”


“Would you like me to perform a vasectomy on him?” Thomas offered. “That’d deal with that problem.”


“It would.”


My mind raced. I didn’t want to cook the golden goose.


“Do you have access to contraceptive implants?” I wanted to know, fiddling with the chain around my neck.


“I don’t currently have them for macaques at the surgery.”


“Right.”


“I believe they exist, though.”


“They do.”


“So, we could order one in from the mainland I suppose, or get in contact with the people in Launnie.”


“I’ll call David. He’s at Tasmania Zoo.”


“Sure, that would help.”


We started to walk back towards the house. If there was time, Thomas could stay for a coffee if he wanted one. I would call David once he left.


“And what are you doing for Christmas?”


“Look, we were planning on going over to my uncle and aunty’s place, but I’m not so sure about that now. It’ll probably be easier to have Christmas lunch here.”


“You will find yourself married to the job.”


Thomas accepted the offer of a coffee. I was grateful for the opportunity to catch up with him. As I turned on the coffee machine, I could faintly hear the troop, not far from the house.


“Fioray, that’s Italian, isn’t it?”


“Yes,” I confirmed, as I prepared the coffee. “The authentic spelling is with an E, not an AY, but my grandparents anglicised it.”


I handed one coffee to Thomas, then took a sip from my own, appreciating the heat even at the beginning of summer.


“The next question, I suppose, is whether or not we’d do the macaque procedure here.”


“It depends on what you decide,” Thomas reasoned. “I’d rather do a vasectomy at the clinic, to prevent infection, but a contraceptive implant, we could insert here in your dens.”


I nodded.


“Of course, I wouldn’t mind coming in. It would be good to be able to see Tallulah in action.”


“Oh, Tallulah would help out either way. She’ll make a fantastic vet when she finishes her studies. She’s been a great assistant to me so far.”


“That’s good.” I sipped my coffee. “Not that I would have expected anything else.”


Thomas chuckled, then his face fell.


“Tallulah told me when she interviewed for the job, what had happened with her ex-boyfriend. It’s a dreadful thing. I know that you were a good support to her through it all.” I rubbed my lips together, grateful that he would say that. “Can I ask, how long have you known each other?”


“We met on the first day of primary school,” I recalled with a fond smile. “We’ve been friends ever since then.”


“That’s beautiful.”


Thomas finished his coffee. I watched a shadow cross his face.


“You know, my sister was raped, when we were at uni. I know it’s not the same, what Tallulah went through. Of course, I don’t know what it’s like personally, but I’ve seen how the shame seeps in, even though it’s not your fault.”


“I’m so sorry you both went through it.”


“She went through it, not me,” Thomas corrected, his statement accurate.


He shook his head, not sure of what to say. I hadn’t intended for our conversation to veer in this direction.


“Anyway, I’m a vet. That’s what I’m here for. Is there anything else you’d like to discuss in relation to your macaques and the breeding program?”


“Well, none of the females are currently pregnant, that I’m aware of.” I laughed. “Of course, I’ve seen my fair share of surprise births in my time.”


“I’m sure you’d let me know if that happened.”


“For sure.”


“So, what’s next for Acarda Zoo, if you don’t mind me asking?”


I took a deep breath, my shoulders rising and falling.


“I’d love to expand the collection of Australian species, especially animals native to Tasmania.”


“That would be wonderful.”


“I spent time at Healesville Sanctuary, when I was doing my work experience on the mainland, in Victoria. The vets had to euthanise one of the dingoes while I was there.”


I sighed.


“You must hear stories like that all the time.”


“Well, not really,” Thomas admitted, “but it’s the sort of thing which, you know, I kind of expect from you.”


I elected to take that as a compliment. Or, at the very least, a matter of fact.


“You’re the studbook keeper for siamangs, aren’t you?” Doctor Thomas mentioned.


I nodded.


“Tallulah told me that.”


“Well, as a matter of fact, I was just on the phone before you got here. I was speaking with Julie from Mogo Wildlife Park about that.”


“We’ve met before, as a matter of fact,” Thomas mentioned, “at a conference on the mainland, many years ago.”


“There you go, small world.”


We finished our coffees. Thomas consulted his watch.


“Well, I’d best make tracks.”


“Thank you for coming. I’ll be back in touch about that implant.”


We walked out to our brand-new carpark, soon to be used for zoo visitors. I waved farewell to Doctor Thomas. He drove away, and I closed the gate again. Our time together had been filled with ups and downs, and a part of me wanted to debrief with Tallulah. Another felt that wouldn’t have been appropriate, so my gut twisted. As the end of the day rolled around, it was time to get ready. I scrolled through some photos on Google images, for inspiration for how to do my hair and makeup. In one of the photos, Kathleen wore her hair up, in two messy pigtails teased out a bit. I tried to replicate that look. Once I completed my makeup, I walked through the house and could hear Mum opening the front door.


“Hello, Patrick, we were just about to head out to a family party.”


Unable to see who was at the door, I pulled a face out of surprise, as Patrick would know – he’s coming with us. I stepped into the hallway. It wasn’t my boyfriend standing there, but the neighbour’s kid – also named Patrick.


“Oh, sorry, I’ll come back.”


He leaned back towards the porch railing. My boyfriend Patrick’s car drove into view from down the street. He parked in the zoo carpark. As Patrick emerged from the car, I flashed him a look. He paused for a moment, locking the car without looking.


“No, it’s alright, Patrick. Is something the matter?”


“Yeah, I didn’t really know where else to go at the moment.”


“Come inside.”


Patrick followed Mum into the house.


“Would you like a cup of tea?”


“That would be lovely, thank you,” Patrick accepted.


I turned to my boyfriend.


“We might have to wait a bit.”


“Yeah, that’s fine,” Patrick assured in a quiet voice.


We walked through into the kitchen. Patrick, our neighbour, was leaning back against the fridge.


“I want to be called Pat now, just Pat, not Patrick,” Pat explained. “I’m non-binary. Maybe I’ll change my name complete one day, but I’m happy with Pat, for now.”


I nodded. Mum fetched mugs from the cupboard. She slotted the teabags into them, then the kettle boiled. She poured the water in.


“Alright, Pat, thanks for coming over. Do you take milk in your tea?”


“Ah, yeah, I do, thanks, just a little bit.”


Pat stepped to the side, allowing me access to the fridge to get out the milk.


“It’s not like I don’t want to be on the farm. I love raising the poddy calves. I’m sort of parental in that way, I suppose.”


Once I provided Mum with the milk, she poured a dash into each drink.


“I want to use they/them pronouns.”


Mum passed a cup of tea into Pat’s hands.


“Thank you, Catherine.”


Steam rose from the surface of the drink.


“Dad thinks I’m spending too much time on the Internet and making things up.”


That didn’t really surprise me about our neighbour. I didn’t make a comment. Having my parents not be supportive of me wasn’t something that I could properly fathom.


“Oh, Pat.”


“I think that Mum’s kind of supportive of me,” Pat mused, “but I don’t think she really gets it.”


They sighed.


“What do your siblings think?” Mum enquired.


“Dad doesn’t want me talking about it with them.”


We stood, then perhaps unexpectedly, Pat gave me a hug.


“Thanks for letting me come over here.”


“It’s alright,” I reassured them.


We stepped back from the embrace. Pat ended up staying with Mum. They made plans to have Pat’s parents over, to have a little bit of a chat about what would come next. I slipped out into the hallway with Maryam and Ricky.


“Sorry, I know that you probably could have done something else with your night tonight.”


“It’s alright, it’s fine.” Maryam hugged me farewell. “Enjoy your party.”


“Thanks,” I replied, then slipped out the front, feeling the chill of the night.


Patrick, Dad and I left for the party. While in the car on the way to Seven Mile Beach, I texted Luke to tell him we were on our way. I dropped my phone into my clutch. Looking out the window, I breathed out, trying not to touch my hair and mess up the style. We finally arrived, parking a little down the street. Dad, Patrick and I approached Aunty Paula and Uncle Luciano’s house, knocking on the front door to announce our arrival. I could already hear the party from inside. Angus, dressed as Tim from Hi-5, let us into the house. He thanked us for coming, then walked us through to greet the birthday boy.


“Here’s your birthday present.”


I handed it over to Luke.


“Thanks.”


“There were neighbourhood dramas, that’s why we’re late and Mum’s not here.”


“Right, I’ll have to catch up with Aunty Cath some other time.”


“For sure.”


“I’ll unwrap this later, if that’s alright.”


“Yeah, sure.”


Luke placed the gift down for safekeeping. Aunty Paula ensured that we had drinks, then I sat down for a little while with Nonna and Nonno. They needed to be a little separate from the party, due to the volume of the music.


“The siamangs arrived yesterday from Adelaide. Baby Jelita is so cute.”


I hoped my grandparents would be able to visit soon, although most likely at Christmas time.


“Do you have the electricity all connected up?”


“Yes, yes, we do. That’s been connected for a while.”


Nonno nodded and sipped his water. He furrowed his brow in a manner which reminded me so much of Dad.


“I worry about you, my dear.”


“I’m alright,” I promised. “I’ll be alright.”


The night getting long, they decided to leave. I made sure to squeeze Nonna and Nonno extra tight, then they departed the party. We stood around the edges, the majority of the crowd Luke’s friends from school and people Aunty Paula knew. I glanced towards Dad’s empty glass. Getting him another drink would provide me with a task. Perhaps if I had something clear to do, I would feel less awkward, about not quite fitting in. I fetched Dad another drink, then reunited with Patrick. With his arm slung around my lower back, I felt safe and secure. When nobody was looking at me, my smile fell. Thomas’ sister, a woman I’d never met, loomed in my mind. Luke approached, becoming the life of the party. I noticed the drum kit in the corner, illuminated.


“Care for a performance?”


“Yeah, sure,” Patrick agreed, putting down his beer.


“I’m sorry, we don’t have a microphone.”


“That’s alright.”


I said I’d see you tonight

I’ll see you tonight, yeah

Yeah

I’ll see you tonight

Do you want to see me tonight?


The guests at the party became captivated by the impromptu Bushmint Lovechild reunion.


One, two, three, four

Here’s a song for someone beautiful


The birthday boy played an amazing drum solo. The crowd applauded. I beamed at Patrick, sweat in his wavy hair. Getting back together was the right call; my thumping heart confirmed it. At the end of the song, Patrick staggered down towards me, every bit the rockstar I knew he aspired to be. I hoped that the evening had taught him to dream on. The buttons on Patrick’s shirt were increasingly undone, the confidence of the performance serving to pop them open. With a smile, I ran my fingertip down his exposed chest.


“What are you doing?”


“Oh, sorry.” I bounced back. “I was just being cheeky.”


Patrick grasped my hand.


“I didn’t say that I minded.” He pressed a kiss to my ear, but I felt acutely aware of the fact that my parents were in the same room, and I didn’t want to embarrass them. “I’m going to go and get another drink.”


“You’ve got work tomorrow.”


“So do you.”


“It’s not the same.”


“I suppose you technically work from home now.”


Tilting my head to the side, I smiled.


“Well, when you put it that way--.”


“Would you like another drink too?” Patrick wanted to know. “I’ll just get a softie, actually.”


The two of us grabbed extra beverages and I leaned against his chest, very much in love. We gathered around for speeches. As she rose to speak, Aunty Paula sniffled.


“Told you she’d cry,” Angus quipped.


Aunty Paula dabbed the corners of her eyes.


“I have loved this precious boy, this precious young man, before I’d even held him.”


She tried to pull herself together. Luke gave Aunty Paula a big hug.


“So, thank you very much for coming. Please, have some cake, when the time comes.”


Following a round of applause, the crowd dispersed again to the edges of the room. Once the birthday celebrations were over, it would mean Christmas was right around the corner. Patrick approached me, but his cheery expression soon fell.


“You alright?” Patrick checked, placing an arm around my shoulders.


“I’m just a little bit worried about the animals, that’s all,” I admitted.


I checked my phone, just to make sure that I hadn’t missed any messages from Mum.


“Jumilah, it will be fine.”


I slipped my phone back into my bag and traded it for birthday cake. Hopefully the sugar would calm my nerves, but I suspected the opposite would eventuate. I understood the point that I didn’t have anything major to be concerned about. The guests started to thin out, but we stayed to help clean up.


“I’d better open my present.”


Luke and I found somewhere to sit down. He carefully removed the wrapping paper, then opened the box.


“Thank you.”


Luke took out the watch.


“I know that it’s not a microphone.”


“It’s lovely.”


Luke clasped it around his wrist.


“This would have been dear.”


“It’s your eighteenth birthday. You only turn eighteen once.”


“That’s true,” Luke reminded, then it was time for us to leave, dropping Patrick home on the way.


It was not long before midnight when we returned home. Mum was sitting up for us.


“Pat left not so long ago.”


I nodded.


“How was the party?”


“It was lovely, thank you.”


“That’s good.”


I got into bed and said my prayers – for Pat, for our family, and for the animals, then I fell asleep.


 

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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