The Model

(for Miranda)

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 day Benson’s grandmother sent him a birthday card in an envelope with a stamp on it, and there was a picture of a wombat on the stamp.

“Look at this!” he said to his mother. “There’s a picture of a wombat on this stamp!”

His mother said, “Oh, yes, that’s your great-great-aunt Miranda. She was a famous model.”

“A model?” said Benson. “Someone put her together with glue and matchsticks?”

“No, not like a model airplane,” said his mother. “A model for an artist.”

“I don’t understand,” Benson said.

“It was like this,” his mother said. “There were scientists who wanted to put a drawing of a wombat in a book so that anyone who had never seen a wombat before and wanted to know what they looked like could look it up in a book.”

Benson tried to imagine someone who had never seen a wombat. Everyone he knew had seen a wombat. He imagined wombats skulking around, hiding in bushes where no-one could see them.

His mother went on explaining. “So they needed a wombat that they could draw, and it had to be a perfect wombat.”

“Why did it have to be a perfect wombat?” Benson asked.

“Well, imagine if someone put a picture of Aunt Lillibet in a book with a label underneath that said ‘Wombat’ (Vombatus ursinus) Then people who looked at it might think that all wombats were tall and skinny with glasses and an unusual hat.”

“Or if it was Uncle Elton they put in the book then people might think that all wombats have purple ponytails and glitter nail-polish,” Benson said.

“Exactly,” said his mother. “So they wanted to find the perfect wombat,” she said. “Some wombats were too fat, some were too skinny, some had funny feet, some had big bottoms, some had ears that were too pointy and some had ears that were not pointy enough.”

“And then,” Benson said, “they found Miranda, and she was perfect.”

“Yes, Miranda was perfect,” said Benson’s mother.

Benson suddenly had a sneaky feeling that he wasn’t perfect enough. He had a look in the mirror. Was he too fat? Were his ears too pointy?

“Is my bottom too big?” he asked his mother.

“You,” said his mother, “are completely, totally, utterly perfect. You are the only Benson there is, and you’re perfect for Benson.”

Benson thought about that. He thought about Aunt Lillibet and imagined if she were shorter and rounder, and he thought about Aunt Moss and imagined if she were taller and had ordinary ears. They wouldn’t really be themselves then, he thought. He looked at himself in the mirror and smiled. A perfect Benson smiled back at him.

“So what made Great-great-aunt Miranda perfect?” he asked his mother.

Aunt Lillibet came in from the garden just then, tall and skinny with dirt on her glasses and a dead leaf on her purple pumpkin hat.

“Miranda was perfectly ordinary,” said Aunt Lillibet. “The scientists chose her for their book because she was the sleepiest. All the other wombats kept wandering away. Miranda was the only one who would stand still for long enough for them to draw her.”

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