(Note for non-Australians: a ‘ute’ (pronounced ‘yoot’) is a type of light truck with the tray integrated into the body.)
In a second, Zorbar of the Chimps went from sleeping lightly to wide awake. He had his knife pressed against the flesh of the intruder’s throat before… Oh, wait, it was only Norman. Zorbar sheathed his blade.
“Jesus, Zorbar,” Norman said, rubbing his neck.
“Zorbar sorry, Norman.”
“You nearly cut me head off, Zorb. I think you need a little more than a sorry.”
“Please not call Zorbar ‘Zorb.'”
“I mean, I was just doing you a favour, waking you up before Adam gets in. You know how pissed off he was last time he caught you sleeping in the treehouse.”
“Adam jerk,” Zorbar said, pulling on a pair of pants in the tiny space.
“Well be fair, you did nearly slit his throat when he woke you.”
Zorbar stretched and yodelled quietly. “How things inside?”
Norman shook his head. “Going downhill fast,” he said. “We’re not losing so much business to the DIY Barn, but still enough to hurt. Ms Shan’s back.”
“Ms Shan less soft-hearted than Marlon,” Zorbar said. “Maybe more layoffs.”
“She’s not as bad as people think,” Norman snapped. “I don’t know why everyone’s always down on her. I reckon it’s racism.”
“Didn’t Norman call Ms Shan a bloody curry-mu—”
Norman straightened, banging his head on the low pine rafters of the treehouse ceiling. “That was before I got to know her,” he said, rubbing his crown with the hand that wasn’t rubbing his neck.
“Still racism. It not cool thing. It perpetuate…”
“Spare me, mate. This isn’t bloody Twitter. I get enough of that PC stuff online.”
Zorbar put his pants on, to Norman’s obvious relief. People who were raised by other people really worried too much about trousers.
“You know, I hear there’s a job going at the liquor place,” Norman said
“Which? Emile’s Fine Vintage Cellar?” Zorbar said. “Or Harry’s House of Ethanol Based ‘Beverages’?”
“Ugh,” Zorbar said. “Not it matter. Zorbar not have RSA.”
“Maybe Carol could get you something at the coffee shop.”
Zorbar felt himself blush beneath his tan. Once, Norman had rolled his eyes whenever Zorbar mentioned Carol or even reacted to mention of her. Now Normy just nodded sympathetically at Zorbar’s discomfort.
“Come on, mate let’s go,” Norman said. For a moment, he looked guilty, like a small child considering an assault on a lolly jar. “Slide?” he said.
“Slide,” Zorbar said.
They both slid down the little slide that lead from the treehouse to the concrete floor of the garden section. It trembled under their weight, but held.
“How is Mrs Leamington?”
“Mum’s doing well,” Norman said. “Had the flu, but now she’s over it. She said you could sleep on the spare bed for a while, if you want to.”
“That nice of her.”
“She thinks the world of you, Zorbar. We all do. You really need to just move on from this place, you know?”
It was still early, and the Pavilion was in the earliest stages of opening. There was no one else in the garden department, except for Seamus who was fast asleep. Zorbar picked some leaves off a spinach seedling and ate them.
“It hard find job, resume say ‘raised by chimps’ for education,” he said.
“Mate, while you were being raised by chimps, I was at an all-boys school,” Norman said. “It’s not that different.”
Norman looked so sincere. Zorbar rubbed his face. “Maybe Zorbar try Place O’ Pets. Zorbar good with animals.”
“That’s the idea!” Norman smiled.
Zorbar ate some silverbeet while he Norman began the elaborate process of opening the ancient lock on the Gardening exit.
“Norman,” Zorbar asked. “Me never ask. What happen Mr Leamington? He eaten by lions like Zorbar father?”
“Who?” Norman said. “Oh, I get you. There never was a Mr Leamington. Dad’s alive, he just didn’t stick around after I was born. Never married Mum. I still see him, now and then. Mate, nobody ever looked less like a ‘Mr Leamington’ than Dad. He’s about as Greek as you can get.”
“Zorbar sorry bring it up.”
“Ah, no worries,” Norman shrugged. “Some of us have two parents, some of us have one, some are raised by chimps. It’s just life, isn’t it, Zorb?”
“Please not call Zorb. In language of chimps, Zorbar mean ‘Mighty Warrior, Fleet of Foot.'”
“What does Zorb mean?”
“It mean ‘penis of smaller than usual size’,” Zorbar said. “Since chimpanzee penis only four centimetre long…”
“Okay, okay, you don’t have to spell it out.” Norman finished with the lock. “There! Got you, you bastard! Well see you around, Zorbar, mate. If you have to sleep here, try to wake up earlier. And maybe keep the knife out of arm’s reach, eh? No leopards around here to worry about.”
“See Norman later.”
Zorbar stood outside the garden fence in the Centre carpark. The morning was overcast, and a cold wind blew across the tarmac. He’d only ever had one job, watching over the plants and flowers at the Handy Pavilion. It hadn’t paid much, but it had allowed him a roof over his head, and had helped him pay his fine that tune he’d been caught eating the ducks at the local park. More than that, his friends were here. Seamus, Norman, Donna… even Adam and Belinda. He didn’t want to leave.
The wind was cold against the bare skin of his torso. Sighing, he directed his feet towards the Place O’ Pets. It might work. He did have a way with animals, and even Marlon had to admit that his customer service skills were pretty good. It might not be so bad. With some money, he could move out of the treehouse. Maybe build a treehouse of his own. Maybe even have enough left over to ask Carol out. Zorbar took a lungful of cold air, straightened his back, and marched.
He made it almost halfway across the carpark, before he was knocked over by a ute.