Updated: May 20, 2022
I didn’t get the Wordle today 😔
That was the message, from Tallulah, which I woke up to.
😱; I replied.
I rolled out of bed and walked out to the kitchen. Today I was working the close rather than the day shift, which I’d wrangled so that Tallulah and I could attend the climate strike in town. Mum and Dad bid me farewell, when they left for work. I followed them out onto the front porch and peered out at the weather. We weren’t promised a sunny day. I still hoped it wouldn’t rain. When I came back inside, the phone was ringing, so I answered it.
“Hello, Jumilah Fioray speaking.”
“Oh, hello, Jumilah, it’s Bruce McKay. I wanted to speak about your development application, but I’m probably have to speak with your mother or father.”
“Well, you’ll be pleased to know that I should be on the papers. Mum and Dad agreed that I could become a co-tenant over the land.”
“I take it you’re an only child.”
“Yes, I am.”
“Ah, right, I see, I apologise. Fortunately, I will be able to let you know. I’ve reviewed the application which your mother made yesterday and it looks very promising.”
“We’ll need to seek community feedback.”
“That’s alright, I understand.”
“Thanks, Jumilah. I’ve got to get back to work. We’ll keep you updated.”
We ended the call. Tallulah came to pick me up to take me to the climate strike. I locked the house behind me, then scampered down the front steps and got into the car.
“What’s the matter?” Tallulah asked. “You seem like something’s wrong.”
She backed out of the driveway.
“Tallulah, the father of Sloane’s baby is Frank, our boss. Our married-with-six-kids, adopting-the-baby-with-his-wife boss.”
“Does he know?”
“Well, I’m presuming he was there when the baby was conceived.”
On the other side of the Tasman Bridge, traffic was at a gridlock.
“Do you still want to try for the waterfront?” Tallulah enquired.
“Well, I mean, if we can just wander around here--.”
“I’m happy with that,” Tallulah agreed, seizing the opportunity to turn off.
She found somewhere to past just out of town.
“Thankfully, I don’t think that we need to pay here,” Tallulah mentioned, getting out of the car.
With a picnic basket in hand, we walked down to the Cenotaph, then up the bridge to the Queens Domain.
“At least we’ll have some shade here.”
We sat down under a tree. Tallulah started unpacking the lunch and drinks she’d brought. The relics of Beaumaris Zoo weren’t far away.
“I haven’t heard anything about the elephant calf at Perth Zoo.”
Tallulah handed me a glass container with salad in one end and roasted, herby potatoes in the other. She nodded her head, with understanding, and didn’t say anything.
“I reckon that she was due around now.”
“Well, the gestation period is twenty-two months--.”
“So I’m sure that there’s something of a margin of error.”
“Is that your professional veterinary opinion?”
“No, because I’m not a vet, you see.”
“You’re not a vet yet.” I laughed at the rhyme, then sighed. “You will be soon enough, though.”
I checked my watch.
“What time is Patrick meeting us?”
“He said that he’d come around 11:45.”
We finished eating and I took a swig from my drink bottle.
“And is he coming here or the Parliament Lawns?”
“I can’t remember,” I admitted.
Retrieving my phone from my bag, I sent Patrick a text. He didn’t answer, I just heard footsteps approaching. Glancing up, sure enough, Patrick strode towards us, then pecked me on the cheek in greeting. I felt sick, not talking to him about what I knew regarding Sloane and Frank and the baby. Tallulah packed up after lunch. Patrick took my hands.
“It’s good to see you,” he said, and I smiled back.
We ambled down to the Parliament Lawns. Speakers were on the makeshift stage and I could kind of hear the speeches. As we were standing in the crowd, I could feel my chest tightening, my limbs feeling weaker and weaker. I shifted my weight from one foot to the other, hoping that I wouldn’t faint. Leaning towards Patrick, he steadied me by placing his arms around me, although he seemed none the wiser. He held me up for the rest of the speeches, but we didn’t join the march. Instead, the three of us walked back to Tallulah’s car.
“Do you reckon that I’ll have to dance at the wedding?”
“Well, I’m pretty sure that it’s on the table. Maryam and Ricky seemed pretty keen about the idea.”
Tallulah dropped us at work.
“Thank you for this today. It’s made me feel better, weirdly.”
“Thank you. I’ll see you later.”
I blew Tallulah a kiss and got out of the car. As soon as I approached work, my optimism dissipated. I felt restless and unwilling to participate in the chatter going on in the staffroom as I entered.
“Hey, Jumilah,” Maryam greeted me.
“We’re having a big, both families together dinner tonight.” Maryam and Ricky placed their arms around each other. “When it’s our families, it is big.”
“So we’d better get going.”
“See ya,” I farewelled.
Maryam and Ricky left out the back door, while I departed into the store. I got to work at the customer service desk, helping customers with returns and occasionally selling a packet of cigarettes, which forced me to keep an even expression the whole time. You’re not supposed to judge the customers, which I suppose is fair enough. Two police officers approached the customer service desk.
“Hello, how can I help you?” I greeted them, heart thumping.
“We’re looking for Frank Kelly. We believe that he’s the manager of this store.”
“Yes, he works here,” I confirmed. “I’ll just go and get him for you, I’ll just be a second.”
“We’d really like to come with you, please.”
“Of course,” I agreed, making sure that the till was secured.
I placed a sign on the counter, saying that the desk was unattended.
“Frank is probably in his office.”
I led the police up the stairs. As we moved into Frank’s office, I offered a polite knock.
“Frank Kelly, you’re being charged with maintaining a sexual relationship with a minor under seventeen years.”
I thought that my legs were going to give way. The police officers led him away. I peered through the back door. There was a police car waiting in the loading dock. At the bottom of the stairs, one of the officers opened the door and placed his hand on Frank’s head so that he could be moved into the back seat.
“Alright, back to work,” Kevin ordered.
We trudged back into the staffroom. Patrick sat at the table, doing the newspaper crossword.
“What happened?” he asked.
My face fell, and I realised that he had no idea.
“Did some bad guy get out and try to come here and buy donuts?”
His smirk evaporated as I sat down at the table next to him.
“Patrick.” I took both of his hands in mine and held them tight. “The police were here for Frank. They arrested him. He’s been sleeping with Sloane.”
“He’s the father of the baby.”
“I’m gonna kill him.”
Patrick’s muscles tensed as he tried to stand up from the table, but he didn’t let go of my hands, and didn’t move very far.
“I’m gonna kill him.”
“That is a bad idea. Let’s talk about something else. We can talk about the wedding.”
“No, I don’t want to--.”
Patrick returned to the chair.
“Tell me about what you have to do tomorrow.”
“We’re going to go over to Ricky’s place.”
“Also, we still haven’t decided what song we’re going to sing.”
“Patrick, the wedding’s tomorrow.”
“Yeah, I know that.”
“Are you singing original songs or covers?”
“Well, our original songs are mostly too depressing. ‘Brother’ feels kind of territorial in the circumstances. I guess that covers would be the best idea, given the circumstances. I know that Maryam loves a good bit of Taylor Swift.” Patrick finally smiled. “Maybe that’s the perfect idea after all. We should play Taylor Swift covers at the wedding.”
“Nobody would mind if you went home.”
“No, thank you, but I need to work, somebody has to.”
Patrick kissed me on the forehead, then stood up and left the staffroom. Wanting to give him space, I took a moment to take a deep breath, before I followed him. I got back to work at a checkout. It was relatively quiet, although there are still people who need to buy groceries on a Friday night. I worked the rest of my shift. Thankfully, it was without incident, at least in contrast to the beginning of it. My mind and body felt heavy as I returned to the staffroom, but at least it would be time to go home. At first, I thought I was alone, then halted at the soft sound of crying. Sloane was curled up in the foetal position, pressed into the gap between the fridge and the drawers. I crouched down next to her.
“Would you like me to ring Mary for you?”
“Yes, that would be lovely.”
I knew that Patrick would probably rather Sloane come home to him. He must have already left. After I made the call, Mary came to collect her. Mum was already waiting for me in the carpark when I walked Sloane out to the four-wheel drive. I watched her leave, then got into the car.
“Sorry. It’s been a big day, with Frank being charged, taken away.”
“Do you still think that she’s going to give the baby up for adoption?”
“I don’t know, I honestly don’t know. Sloane’s still sixteen and having a baby.”
“While people thought Patrick was the father, it worked.”
“Who for, though?” Mum challenged. “It didn’t work for you.”
“I don’t really matter in this situation, although I appreciate that you love me--.”
“It didn’t work for Patrick either, he thought that he was going to be a father."
We arrived home.
“But we can talk about this later, you need to get some sleep. Goodnight.”
I got into bed, and as I drifted in and out of sleep, I found myself dreaming of faraway lands.
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.