Whittling Whistles

(for Christopher)

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

One winter morning Benson went outside to soak up some sunshine. He dug himself a shallow hole and lay down in it, feeling the warm sun on his tummy. His mother brought her knitting out and sat nearby, and Aunt Moss was sitting in a garden chair, sewing and thinking. Aunt Lillibet came out and sat at the garden table. She had a new book from the library, and she opened it up and started reading. She took out a knife, and a piece of wood.

“What are you doing?” Benson asked her.

“I was thinking of doing some whittling,” Aunt Lillibet said. “I used to whittle when I was younger. I found this book in the library and I thought I might try out some things.”

Aunt Moss opened her eyes. “Oh, yes, I remember you were a very good whittler when we were girls, Lillibet.”

“I can whistle, a bit,” said Benson.

“Not ‘whistle’,” Aunt Lillibet said, “’whittle’. It means carving things with a knife out of a piece of wood.”

Aunt Moss said, “Although you did whittle some very nice whistles, Lillibet, I remember.”

“Can you whittle whistles, Aunt Lillibet?” asked Benson. “Will you whittle one for me?”

“I might,” said Aunt Lillibet.

“Maybe you could make him a small one,” Benson’s mother said. “You could whittle a little whistle.”

Aunt Moss said, “Yes, I’d like to see Lillibet whittling a little whistle.”

“If you don’t mind,” Aunt Lillibet said, “I would like to read my book in peace, without all this chattering.”

Benson’s mother said, “Is there anything in your book about whittling willow? You could make a whistle out of willow. You could whittle little willow whistles.”

Benson said, “And you could paint them yellow.”

His mother said, “Definitely. Yellow willow whistles would be lovely. Would you like to whittle little yellow willow whistles, Lillibet?”

“That will do,” Aunt Lillibet said firmly. “I will not be painting any willow whistles yellow!”

Aunt Moss said, “Would you rather whittle little white whistles, Lillibet? You could whittle little white and yellow willow whistles.”

“Not just now, thank you,” Lillibet said, in a beginning-to-be-cross voice. “I don’t believe I have any willow for whittling.”

“Will you get some willow in a little while, Aunt Lillibet?” said Benson.

“We could get some willow for Lillibet to whittle with,” said his mother. “Then in a little while, Lillibet will whittle little white and yellow whistles.”

Aunt Lillibet snapped the book shut and stood up. She went inside, taking the book with her. In a few minutes she came out again, with a bowl of fruit.

“Aunt Lillibet, what are you doing?” Benson asked her.

Aunt Lillibet picked up her knife. “I’m peeling a peach,” she said. “Then I will probably peel a persimmon, or a prickly pineapple, or a perfectly pink pomegranate, or possibly a whole pile of plump purple plums.”

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