“Are you sure that you’ll be alright to be here by yourself today?” Mum asked as she raced into the room, bustling on her way to leave for work.
“Yes, I’ll be fine,” I promised. “Besides, I’m not by myself, I have Lowanna.”
She was curled up in her bed. Mum kissed me on the forehead.
“I’ll be fine with her. I can walk, I have full use of my arms. I’m just a little bit bruised.”
“Have a good day.”
Mum started to walk away.
“Actually, you could do one thing for me,” I requested with a cheeky grin.
Mum swivelled around.
“Could you please get me my phone and the TV remote?”
“Of course,” Mum promised.
She found them and handed them over.
With that, Mum could finally leave for work. I turned on the TV for some background noise. I must have nodded off. When the doorbell sounded, I awoke with a start. Lowanna was sleeping in her bed. I got up from the lounge, grunting in pain, and hurried to the front door, answering it.
It was Sloane.
“Can I come in?”
“Yeah, of course.”
I welcomed Sloane in. We walked through to the loungeroom.
“I made some brownies.”
She placed down the container on the table.
“Thank you, that’s lovely of you.”
My eyes scanned around the room. My body aching, I was eager to sit down again.
“There are some plates in the kitchen, if you feel you’d like one.”
“Yeah, that would be good,” Sloane agreed.
I went back to sit on the lounge, in a less disheveled position than I had before. There was plenty of work which I could have been doing, making the most of the opportunity of a day at home. Instead, I found myself babysitting the pregnant teenager my boyfriend slept with before we were together. I could have gotten up to help, but thankfully Sloane returned before I had the chance. She placed two plates on the table and opened the container on brownies. Sloane picked out two each for both of us.
“Thank you,” I said, feeling guilty that I was making the pregnant girl do all the work.
“No worries,” she assured.
Lowanna scurried over to be at Sloane’s feet.
“I hope that you don’t mind wombats.”
Sloane smiled towards Lowanna. She handed me one plate of brownies and I started to eat – chocolate, chewy, delicious and joyous.
“Look, I’ve never really thought about it,” she admitted, “but this one’s pretty cute.”
Lowanna was eager to be at our feet. She sat down quickly.
“Have you had her long?”
“No, actually, we just got her on Sunday.”
“Right, an Easter wombat instead of an Easter bunny,” Sloane remarked.
“Yeah,” I agreed with a laugh. “My whole family did the wildlife carer course. This is the first time that we’ve actually had an animal to care for.”
“Cool,” Sloane commented. “How is the zoo construction going?”
“Well.” I laughed nervously. “We haven’t received planning permission yet, but we have plans. I can take you out the back and show you, if you’d like.”
I stood up from the lounge. With Lowanna in tow, we walked outside. I figured that I would take Sloane to the site that’s furthest away first, then we’d retrace our steps on the way back.
“So, this is where our finch aviary is going to be. It’ll be nothing flash, just a planted mesh aviary.”
“Is planted mesh something specific?”
“Oh, no, it’s not. It’s just a cage with a dirt floor with plants inside.”
“I think people think of cages in zoos as a dirty word. It is, kind of, I mean, I get why people have that feeling.”
We wandered over to the sight of the nocturnal house.
“Really, often the difference between mesh and glass is purely for visitors,” I noted. “If anything, mesh provides more climbing opportunities for some species.”
Sloane glanced towards the natural waterway which runs through our property. With a dry few days, that creek didn’t contain much water.
“What about moats?” Sloane wanted to know. “I haven’t really been to that many zoos, but when I see Sydney and Melbourne on TV, that’s what they seem to have.”
“Yes, but not for birds, because they’ll fly away,” I pointed out, maybe too bluntly.
Lowanna started to get a little bit restless within my arms.
“Islands can be great, too, don’t get me wrong, and moated exhibits,” I assured her. “That’s what we have planned for the macaques, I’ll show you.”
We walked on to an area which wouldn’t have seemed like much to Sloane.
“They’re monkeys, right?”
“Yeah,” I confirmed. “Nanek and Kakek’s troop are currently being housed at Tasmania Zoo in Launceston. We’ll have a moated exhibit. The dholes will be next door. Those back-of-house areas will be connected to the nocturnal house building.”
We returned to the house.
“Would you like a cup of tea or coffee?” I offered. “I’m sorry, are you allowed to have that?”
“Yes, I am,” Sloane confirmed. “A cup of tea would be lovely, I’m happy to make it, if that’s alright with you.”
“Of course, you spoil me. Everything’s in that cupboard.”
I gestured towards the right one. Ever wriggly, I placed Lowanna down feet first. She skittishly ran from the kitchen to the loungeroom. My body aching, I reached the down and sat down, waiting until Sloane walked through carrying two cups of tea.
I accepted my cup of tea from Sloane, who sat down on one of the kitchen table chairs.
“This is lovely, I usually drink coffee, so it’s a nice change.”
Sloane stared straight ahead. Steam rose from her peppermint tea.
“Mary’s a beautiful woman.” Sloane shook her head. “I feel so guilty about what I did to her. Is it any better that she just thinks that her husband took advantage of a schoolgirl?”
“I don’t know,” I admitted. “It’s probably not.”
Sloane peered down at the floor.
“Who do you owe your loyalty to?” I pondered. “Him or her? Frank or Mary?”
Sloane sighed heavily and I worried that I’d pushed her too far. Lowanna came over to nuzzle her feet, so at least the wombat was on her side.
“Do you know much about birth classes?”
Sloane looked at me before I had the chance to speak.
“Of course, you wouldn’t, normal teenagers don’t know about that.”
“I’m sure that I could learn,” I offered, “if you would like me to.”
“Patrick and I aren’t dating, for what it’s worth.”
“I didn’t think that you were.”
“No wonder he’d care, after I told him he was the father.”
“I’m not going to say anything about that.”
“When did you first start having feelings for him?”
“Probably after I came back from Sumatra, just after Christmas.”
My chest felt tighter. I didn’t want to be discussing this with Sloane. It felt possessive to lay a claim on Patrick, yet she’d been the one to begin the conversation.
“How long do the doctors think it’ll take for you to get better from your fall?”
“I’ll be back at work tomorrow.”
“I’m just a bit sore, other than that, I’m fine. I got really lucky, it turns out.”
For a moment I smiled, then my expression fell.
“Are we friends?” I asked her.
“Yeah, I’d like to think so,” Sloane answered, after taking a moment to ponder.
“Good,” I found myself responding.
Patrick arrived after work.
“Oh, hey,” he greeted, surprised at the presence of Sloane.
“Hey, Patrick. I had a double free this afternoon.” Sloane gestured towards the table. “I brought brownies; do you want some?”
“Oh, yeah, thanks.”
Lowanna scurried towards Patrick.
“Hey, my little munchkin.”
I watched Sloane and saw the way that her expression faltered. Given that Mum and Dad weren’t yet home from work, I figured that I would make a start on dinner.
“I’d better get home,” Sloane noted. “Those kids won’t feed themselves.”
“Thanks for coming over.”
“Thank you for having me.”
Patrick saw Sloane out, then returned.
“That was nice of you to invite her over.”
“Thank you, but I didn’t,” I admitted. “She just turned up. I think she needed the adult company.”
Lowanna waddled over to our feet.
“And some wombat company.”
I heard Mum and Dad coming home from work through the front door.
“Hello, we’re in here,” I called out. “Patrick’s here too.”
They wandered through into the kitchen.
“You’re not finishing dinner.” Dad kissed me on the back of the head. “Go and sit down.”
I nodded my head and agreed. When I sat down on the lounge, I winced, leaning awkwardly on my bruising. Dad opened a bottle of wine, pouring glasses for he and Mum to drink with dinner. I knew that I couldn’t have any. It would have been a dangerous combination with the painkillers the doctors had given me. Lowanna followed me into the loungeroom, as did Patrick. I noticed that she seemed to shuffle a little bit. She’s pretty cute, so I smiled, then my face fell, unsure if that was normal. Patrick was sitting down, and didn’t seem to notice.
“It was good to have Sloane over today. I showed her the zoo site, where we hope to build things. It’s fun to show it off.”
“Could you show me?”
“I’ve already shown you.”
We migrated to the table to eat dinner. Dad had made a gravy in which I chased around my food on the plate.
“I’ve been trying to make this smooth for a while,” he noted in between mouthfuls.
“It’s lovely, thank you.”
“These baby carrots are so cute,” Patrick commented.
“We grew them,” Mum noted.
“Yes. Indeed, we did.”
“I’d love to grow veggies,” Patrick mused.
We continued eating until we’d finished our dinner, then cleaned up the table and the kitchen. I gave Lowanna another bottle feed, which she lapped up, even though she squirmed a little up within my embrace. At the end of the evening, Patrick kissed me goodbye on the forehead, then departed. I decided to retire for the night. Lowanna snuggled up on the end of my bed. She looked so cute and it would have been nice to leave her there. After all, Lowanna is a wombat. Therefore, I got her up and moved her into her own bed, so that she could sleep, and then I could finally sleep for the night.
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.