Once there was a young wombat named Benson, who lived in a very comfortable wombat hole with his mother and his two aunts, Lillibet and Moss.
One day his mother and Aunt Lillibet and Moss had to go to a family wedding, and Benson wasn’t invited. Benson was looking forward to a long day at home by himself, reading, playing around, maybe doing some digging, riding his bike, but his mother said, “Benson, there’s no way you’re staying by yourself. I’ve asked Cousin Lance to babysit you.”
“Babysit?” Benson said. “I don’t need a babysitter!”
But his mother said he was going to his cousin Lance’s and that was final.
Cousin Lance lived in a wombat hole that was very different from Benson’s. The first thing Benson noticed was that the walls were completely white, and the floor was completely black. There were glass tables, and the chairs looked like they were made of squashed down black balloons. Benson sat on one chair and cousin Lance sat on another one.
“Well,” cousin Lance said, “what would you like to do?”
“Oh, I guess I’ll just read a book,” Benson said. “Where are your books?” he said, looking around.
“I don’t actually have any books,” Lance said. “They just clutter the place up. I usually download anything I want and then delete it.”
“Oh. Well, maybe I’ll just go out into the garden and do some digging,” Benson said.
“Sorry, the landscaper is in the middle of something in the garden, and he says absolutely no digging.”
“No digging?!” Benson said, shocked.
“Absolutely,” Lance said.
Benson thought about a garden and no digging. It was hard to imagine. “Maybe we can play a game,” he said. “Do you have any games?”
Lance shook his head. “Not really. I don’t play games much.”
Benson looked at the floor. Lance looked at the ceiling. No games, no books, no reading. What else was there? He thought of something. “Maybe I’ll go for a walk to the playground,” he said hopefully. Exactly then it started to rain. Really rain.
They both sat there, thinking of the long afternoon stretching out in front of them with nothing to do. Benson said, “What do you usually do?”
“Me? What do I usually do?”
“Yes. If I wasn’t here, what would you be doing?”
“Oh,” said Lance, “that’s easy. I’d cook.”
“Cook?” Benson said, brightening.
“Yes, I’ve got a new recipe for parsnip and rye bread…”
“Bread?” said Benson. “What are we waiting for?”
They went into the kitchen and set to work. Lance had bowls of every size, and mixers and blenders and cupboards full of flour and seeds and grains and mysterious ingredients that smelled amazing. They mixed and stirred and added yeast and kneaded, and made lumpy chunks of dough and kneaded them smooth and set them into bowls to rise, and then they tried a new recipe for chocolate cake with raspberry sauce and sweet potatoes. After a while the bread needed punching down, and they kneaded it again until it was silky smooth and shaped it into cute little buns and round, soft loaves and covered them up again and left them to rise while the chocolate cake was baking, and then Benson said he wondered what would happen if you cooked some spinach and added it to the water before you mixed it into the dough, and they tried that and Lance thought of adding a few peppercorns and some grated cheese. The dough turned out to be bright green, with little black spots where the peppercorns peeped out, and that made Benson think of raisin bread, so they got some more flour and Lance said some chunks of unsweetened chocolate would make all the difference. By the time the raisin bread dough was sitting and rising, the chocolate cake was done and it was time to put the bread into the oven.
Benson had an idea that they should eat the cake while it was fresh out of the oven, but Lance said that if they waited till it was cold they could try making icing out of sour cream and chopped cherries that he had heard about, and Benson thought it was definitely worth waiting for. Then it was time for the bread to come out of the oven and the spinach loaf to go in, and the raisin bread to be kneaded. The bread smelled like the best bread Benson had ever tasted, and they ate it while it was still hot, and he was right, it was the best bread he had ever tasted.
They iced the cake, and when the spinach loaf came out of the oven it wasn’t bright green any more, but it was pretty green anyway. Lance popped the raisin bread into the oven, just as Benson’s mother and Aunt Lillibet and Aunt Moss came to pick Benson up. The whole house smelled of bread and chocolate and warm, delicious things, and everyone sat down and ate cake with amazing icing, and green bread which Benson’s mother liked so much she asked for the recipe for so they could have it at home, and then the raisin bread was done and it smelled so good that they couldn’t wait for it to cool down before they tried it, and Lance was absolutely right about the chunks of chocolate.
Eventually they had to go home. There was a giant pile of washing-up, but Lance and Benson’s mother did that together and chatted about the price of mangoes and their favourite kinds of apples, while Benson sat on one of the black plastic chairs and thought about being so full he couldn’t even move his legs.
When they were saying goodbye, Benson asked his mother if he could come and be babysat again, and Benson’s mother said, “Of course you can, if cousin Lance doesn’t mind. Maybe he could come and babysit at our place next time. I’ve got a recipe for cheesecake with coconut cream I want to try out.” Cousin Lance said he’d love to, and all the way home Benson dreamed about cheesecake, and chocolate cake, and bright green bread.