By Aaron Harrison
A fallen tree branch obscures most of the sunset, allowing just a glimpse of purple-orange glow. Two eastern falanoucs slowly rouse themselves. Baby twists his head and looks up at the darkening sky. “Ma, hey ma, let me tell you about this dream I had. I wasn’t in it, or maybe I was watching, but I don’t think so, but anyway there was this civet, and he was climbing a pandanus, but the pandanus was also a earthworm, like a really big one, or maybe it was a few worms, and the worms were the different branches, and the civet was high in the branches but I was watching the soil, oh, so maybe I was in it, but anyway I was watching the soil at the base of the tree and how the worm was wriggling out of the soil and little bits of dirt were falling over each other as the worm sort of really slowly fidgeted. I think it was always coming out the soil but the tree never got any taller.”
"Honey", Ma Falanouc mumbles, blinks. She wrinkles her nose, opens and closes her mouth, and forces her eyelids closed again. Baby Falanouc tries to squirm but his mother catches him in a tight embrace, burying his snout into her armpit. "The civet looked at me,” he continues, muffled, “it was in the leaves but I could see it, like it was just …"
Ma Falanouc places one her paw gently to the back of Baby’s head, “Honey, shoosh, please, I just woke up. Gimme a minute alright”. Baby buries himself deeper - snout, head, neck and shoulder - into Ma’s armpit.
"Ma, I’m hungry. That dream made me hungry."
Ma squeezes her eyelids tighter. Baby turns again, yawns and snaps his mouth closed. He is wide awake now, staring at the sharp puzzle of pandanus leaves. Earlier that morning, before they went to sleep, Ma and Baby found a nicely wooded spot, with dense low shrubs, fallen branches, and uneven terrain to obscure their prone bodies. Not a metre away a giant pandanus leaned, its leaves shaking and cutting the breeze. Ma listens to the growing clamour of the jungle, taking comfort in the distant call of chattering birds and the occasional howl of small mammals. “Baby will be getting impatient soon” she tells herself. She lets the thought come and go, until she stretches out her back paws and shakes the sleep from her head. She pushes Baby away, and gets to her feet.
"Okay honey, tell me about your dream."
"So then the civet was looking at me, and it wasn’t like Cousin Mal or Cousin Gus, I mean, it was and it wasn’t, it was one of the other ones, y’know the other ones that you see sometimes?"
"Yes," Ma said gravely, as she disturbed some leaves on the ground with her paw. The new civets, strange but now familiar, were spreading further every year, crowding out Ma and her family. Everything they touched smelled sour, unsavory. Their success had effected an invisible change in the jungle. Everything was the same, but with a new purpose, it was for someone else.
Baby continues, unconcerned with Ma’s tone, lost in the leaves of the great pandanus. “And it was in the leaves, but not in the leaves, more like on them, or not touching them, like it was floating next to the tree, but it was looking at me, and I was just looking at the dirt where the roots of the pandanus were, and the roots were wriggling and the dirt was falling but it wasn’t going anywhere, but I knew the weird civet was looking at me.”
A few metres away now, clawing at another patch of wet leaves, Ma lets out a gentle mew, a nickname, “Baby, come over here, watch what I’m doing”. Baby, aware that he’d let Ma walk some distance away, bounds towards her, quick and graceless.
The sun has disappeared. Its dark and noisy. Ma is alert now too. She is no longer moving leaves back and forth, she’s digging, slowly, but effectively, so that it is not too long before she finds a different, familiar texture with her claws. She looks closely: two writhing earthworms, tangled in each other, translucent pink-grey where her claws have lightly scratched them. She nuzzles into the dirt, slurping up one of the worms, feeling it uncoil from its partner. She grinds her round teeth until the worm is mush, and swallows. Baby, beside her now, does the same. They stand for a moment, looking at the small hole Ma has dug, not looking for anything, just adjusting to the first meal of the day.
Finally, Ma speaks, “Was that all your dream?”
"Yes," says Baby, "that’s it. It just looked at me, that’s all." He thumps his tail in dirt. “Ma?”
“Why did they come here?”
“I don’t know. Maybe they don’t even know. Maybe they don’t want to be here. But they are.” Ma turns her face away from the dirt, square with Baby’s eyes, “You know, you can’t go near them, those others.”
"Yes, I know."
"Because they’re not like us, and they’re not like Cousin Mal or Cousin Gus. They won’t share, they won’t do us any favours, and they want what we’ve got."
"What have we got Ma?”
"Well, we have the trees, and the worms. We’ve got the sunset, the moonlight and the distance. You’ve got me, and Baby, I’ve got you."