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Versus

The following morning, we went for breakfast across the road, in a place with a chandelier. I glanced out the window at the ornate buildings of Battery Point. Eventually I was brought out of my trance, at the vibration of my phone. I’d received a text message from Tallulah, although there was a part of me which almost expected it to come from Patrick, not that he’d have a reason to be getting in touch.


Vanessa wants to meet up at Bellerive


My protective instincts engaged, I struggled to concentrate during breakfast, even though I ought to have been soaking up the time in the city. Soon enough I knew I would join my parents back at the zoo. When I eventually farewelled Uwak Andrew and Kem, I embraced them warmly. The two of them headed across the road and upstairs. I walked down to Salamanca, the mercury rising. Despite the rarity of humidity in Hobart, sweat pooled at the nape of my neck, and I wouldn’t have had time to walk over to the eastern side of the river. Instead, I caught the bus and met Tallulah with a brief hug, near the oval. Under cloud cover, we walked along the street. Outside the grandstand Tallulah and I caught up with Vanessa. I happened to glance over my shoulder, to where the Adelaide Strikers were batting in the nets. The gentle rhythm of the bowlers’ grunts, followed by the knock of leather on willow, soothed my nerves around the occasion.


“Thank you for meeting me here. Would you like to go upstairs for a coffee or cake or something?”


Tallulah agreed, so we walked up to the café. A part of me wanted to check my phone as a self-soothing measure, but I needed to stay present. Vanessa offered to order. It was polite of her, especially considering her pregnancy, but I was pleased that Tallulah accepted. Vanessa’s hand smoothed over her bump, rings glistening in the sun. Once the customer in front of her cleared, she stepped up to the counter and ordered coffee, tea and cake. As Vanessa returned with our table number, I looked through the window, the Derwent glistened away from the glass.


“They said they’d bring it over in a minute,” Vanessa explained.


Tallulah managed a small smile.


“Thanks.” She swallowed. “I don’t know if I ever properly said congratulations.”


“Thank you, Tallulah,” Vanessa responded. “I’m due in May, around Mothers’ Day. It’s really good timing, actually, not just for that, but it’s before the Ashes.”


Tallulah nodded, like she was moving in slow motion. Of course, cricket needed to be a topic of conversation.


“Anyway. It is good to see you again,” Vanessa assured.


A notification from Instagram caused her phone to flash.


“It was only this year that I met my biological father for the first time.” Tallulah shook her head. “I was so proud of telling him about Kyle.”


I remembered our day at Melbourne Zoo, the memory sharpened by the time I’d spent there since, Tallulah sending pictures to Kyle. It was a giddy, happy day, just a contrast to the suffocation of this meeting.


“I would have liked them to meet each other, I would have liked.” Her voice was breathy, barely above a whisper. “Even though I know it wasn’t my fault, it still stays with you. It’s like a waxy cancer inside you, I saw that on TV once.”


“I gather that you know Kyle has been named to play for the Hurricanes.”


Tallulah nodded.


“Their position is that he’s been through the court system.” Vanessa possessed a good poker face, but her voice was still laced with disdain for the position she was presenting. “So, it’s settled.”


Tallulah nodded.


“If you wanted to make a complaint to Cricket Tasmania, we would fully support you in following that up.”


The question lingered as to whether it would have any impact.


“I don’t know if I do, want to.”


Tallulah backed away. I reached my hand out. Touching my fingers gently to the small of Tallulah’s back, she did not stumble, but nodded her head, as if to reinforce her decision.


“But, thank you, anyway.”


We bid Vanessa farewell and opted to go for a walk. My mind ran through animals, to distract from the slope, those we already held, and those which would be arriving soon. From the bridge I looked back towards Bellerive. The light towers stood erect above the crowd, grey standing out. As Tallulah took a deep breath, I trusted that all things would heal in time. We desperately needed to be patient. Tallulah and I made our way up to the Queens Domain. There were some kids in the nets, although the playing surface of the old TCA Ground was largely empty. We stayed there for a moment and I left the opportunity for Tallulah to speak.


“It’s a crime, really.”


There was little more to say. We eventually wandered down to the waterfront, where children taking an early school holiday were running around with ice cream. It flashed across my mind that I should have worn my zoo shirt. I was distracted, however, when I reached the Christmas tree. Taking in the sight, I took a deep breath. The evening two nights before came back to mind. Tiny lights glimmered amongst the faux needles of the Christmas tree. Around its base was a red stand, decorated with large white stars. From the Christmas tree, Tallulah and I continued further towards the Port of Hobart. When I finally checked my watch, it had been over an hour and a half. I finally returned home around sunset. While I was tempted to just collapse straight into bed, there was work to do. I put the dholes away for the night, feeding them as well. Then, I entered the house, through the gate to the zoo grounds and then the back door, where Mum handed me over some dinner.


“Thank you.”


“It’s just tomato and cheese on toast, nothing flash.”


I sat down on the lounge to eat, the lights of the television bouncing over me. Mum followed me into the loungeroom. There was a bit of a look on her face, but I finished my food first. Mum would inform me of whatever good news it was, in good time. The news bulletin confirmed that the cable-car up Mount Wellington has been canned. I stood.


“Oh, have a look on the table,” Mum urged.


I padded over, setting down my plate. There wasn’t much cleaning up to do, but I knew we needed to devote some time to food prep.


“You know, I was thinking about elephants today,” I admitted.


“Has Ibu been speaking to you?”


“Not specifically, I was hoping to speak to her. You know, they have Sumatran Elephants in Queensland, Hunter has--.”


Mum smiled. Elephants were a dream, not the present reality.


 

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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