Bark

Once there was a young wombat called Benson, who lived in a nice little wombat hole with his mother and his two aunts, Lillibet and Moss.

One day Nanna came for a visit. She was very old, and very very wrinkly, and she was always having naps. After lunch she sat down in a chair to do some knitting and fell asleep. Benson said very quietly to his mother, “You know how you told me that I grow when I’m asleep? Is Nanna going to get bigger and bigger until she’s giant-sized?”

Benson’s mother said, “I think she’s just growing gentler and wiser.”

Nanna was actually Benson’s mother’s grandmother. “Is Nanna older than you?” Benson asked Aunt Lillibet.

“Oh yes,” Aunt Lillibet said, “much older. Much much older.”

Aunt Moss said, “I remember when I was just a girl and Nanna was quite old even then.” Benson stared at Aunt Moss and tried to imagine that she had been a girl once.

Nanna stirred in her sleep, and said, “Bark!”

Benson and his mother looked at each other and giggled.

Aunt Lillibet said, “She must be dreaming that she’s a dog!”

“A dog!” Aunt Moss said loudly.

Nanna woke up suddenly, and said, “Bark! Bark, bark!”

Aunt Moss and Lillibet looked at each other. “Oh no, she really thinks she’s a dog!”

Nanna got up out of her chair and started walking towards the door. She was still pretty sleepy and she wobbled a bit as she walked. She said, “Bark, bark!” again.

Lillibet and Aunt Moss got in front of her and steered her back to the chair again. They didn’t want her to go outside thinking she was a dog. “She might run off, or try to dig up a bone!” Aunt Moss said.

“This is very bad,” Aunt Lillibet said. “Her mind must be going, not surprising really, she’s so very old.”

Aunt Moss nodded. “So very old. Who’s going to take care of her? She won’t be able to live by herself any more. Do you think she could come here and live with us and we would look after her?”

“I won’t have her in my room,” Aunt Lillibet said. “Scratching the furniture and barking at all hours and who knows what else. What if she starts biting people?”

Nanna got up out of her chair again, saying, “Bark! Bark!”

Benson’s mother led her back to the chair and said, “Nanna, would you like a cup of warm milk, or a drink of water?”

Benson went outside, carefully closing the door after him. In a minute he came in again, with some pieces of bark in his hands. “Here, Nanna,” he said, “is this what you wanted?”

Nanna looked at the bark and looked at Benson. “Oh yes, dear, that’s exactly what I need! Such beautiful colours too! I’ve run out of bark to finish the bark painting I’m making for poor old Lillibet. Thank you, dear!”

Everyone looked at Aunt Lillibet. Benson had never heard anyone call her ‘old’ before.

Lillibet sniffed. “Bark!” she said.

“Oh dear,” said Aunt Moss, “are you sure you’re all right, Lillibet, dear?”

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