Wings

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

One afternoon there was a thunderstorm, with lightning and thunder. Benson didn’t mind, because he and his mother were busy cooking for the library cake stall, and with all the measuring and mixing and pouring and tasting he could hardly hear the noise of the storm at all. But the next day, Aunt Lillibet told them that the lightning had started a fire in the bush near a patch of eucalypt forest.

“Oh dear,” said Aunt Moss. “I hope they weren’t the trees the koalas lived in, were they?”

“Yes, they were,” said Aunt Lillibet. “They managed to scramble down and get away safely, but now they have no homes. They’re all at the koala refuge, feeling very sad, and I’ve thought of something very exciting that will cheer them up.”

“We could take them some of the cakes we baked,” Benson said.

“No, Benson, don’t be silly, koalas only eat gum leaves,” Aunt Lillibet said. “No, we’re going to put on a play for them.”

“We’re going to play with them?” Benson asked. That sounded like a good idea.

“No, we’re going to act out a Play,” Aunt Lillibet said. “A play is when you tell a story with acting and you dress up as the characters. I’ve decided we’re going to do a play about butterflies and bunny-rabbits to make all the baby koalas feel happy.”

“Oh, a play!” said Aunt Moss. “Can I be in it?”

“We’re all going to be in it,” said Aunt Lillibet. “Except me, because I have to direct the play. That means, tell everyone what to do. Now, Moss, you can be a sweet little bunny-rabbit.”

Aunt Moss looked very happy. Benson’s mother said, “Do you think a play about rabbits is a good idea?”

“Yes, of course it is,” Aunt Lillibet said. “You’re going to be the naughty snake that the bunny-rabbits teach to be a kind and caring reptile.”

Benson started to creep out of the room, hoping no-one would see him. “Benson!” Aunt Lillibet said. “You are going to be a pretty little butterfly.”

Benson said, “I can’t be a butterfly, I don’t have any wings.”

Aunt Lillibet said, “I’ve already made you some.” She brought something out from behind her back. It was a pair of butterfly wings, made out of bent wire and elastic and coloured paper. “Here, try them on.” The elastic went over Benson’s shoulders and the wire poked into his back. He moved his arms and the coloured paper tore in three places.

“Um, I don’t think they fit,” Benson said. “Can I be another naughty snake?”

“Nonsense, a bit of sticky tape and they will be fine.”

Aunt Lillibet told them what they had to say, and made them practise over and over. The butterfly wings were so tight Benson couldn’t move his arms, and all the way to the koala refuge he had to walk extremely carefully so they didn’t rip again.

There was a big crowd of koalas, lots of mother koalas with baby koalas and young koalas, and some old koalas who were mostly asleep. Benson felt really weird, dressed as a giant butterfly with paper wings with sticky-tape on them. His mother was wearing one of Aunt Lillibet’s old stockings pulled down over her head and arms, painted green to make her look like a snake, and Aunt Moss had long, white, furry ears on her head.

Aunt Lillibet made all the koalas sit down and then she began the play. “Once upon a time a beautiful butterfly lived in a pretty meadow filled with beautiful flowers.” Benson was supposed to flap around the room, but his wings were so tight he couldn’t move his arms. He twirled around a bit, then one of his wings got caught on Aunt Moss’s rabbit ears and he sat down suddenly with a thump. His mother went to help him up, but her arms were stuck inside the stocking. She tipped over onto the ground and lay there trying to wriggle her arms out. The baby koalas all started to cry.

“Don’t worry, children,” Aunt Lillibet called out, “the naughty snake doesn’t hurt anyone.” The young koalas started to cry too, and one of the babies crawled into his mother’s pouch and wouldn’t come out again. Aunt Moss decided that she should hop about, to make the little koalas feel better, but her bunny-ears were still caught on the wire of Benson’s wings and they popped off her head and boinged into the air. Benson’s wings ripped with a loud tearing sound.

“Oh, for goodness sake!” Aunt Lillibet yelled, and everyone started to cry louder.

Benson’s mother sat up and pulled the stocking off her head. She helped Benson take his wings off, and she shushed all the crying koalas. “That’s enough of the play,” she said. “Now I’m going to tell you a story.”

“A story about snakes?” said one of the little koalas, hiding behind his mother.

“No,” Benson’s mother said, “a story about wombats. Like us. Now is everybody sitting comfortably?”

The mother koalas gathered the baby koalas and the little ones onto their laps, and the old koalas woke up to listen to what was happening.

“Good, then, this is the story. Once there was a young wombat named Benson, and he lived in a very comfortable wombat hole, with his mother and his two aunts, Lillibet and Moss. One day Benson and his mother were in the kitchen making gum-leaf ice-cream when a turtle with a funny hat came into the kitchen…”

Benson’s mother went on telling the story to the very end, and all the koalas listened and clapped, except for the tiniest babies who had gone to sleep in their mothers’ pouches. Then they all had gum-leaf tea and gum-nut butter sandwiches and everyone felt much better.

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