Once there was a young wombat named Benson who lived in a comfortable wombat hole with his mother and his two aunts, Lillibet and Moss.
Aunt Lillibet had a runny nose and a cough. Aunt Moss said, “Lillibet, you don’t look very well. Are you sure you don’t have a fever?”
Aunt Lillibet said, “I feel terrible,” and coughed some more.
Benson’s mother felt Aunt Lillibet’s forehead. “Lillibet, you’re very hot. I think you have a fever. Let me look at your throat.”
Aunt Lillibet opened her mouth and said, “Aaah.” Benson’s mother had a look and said, “Hmm.” She looked behind Aunt Lillibet’s ears and then she said, “Let me have a look at your tummy.”
Aunt Lillibet’s tummy was covered with a red splotchy rash. Benson’s mother looked at Aunt Moss and they both nodded. “Measles,” they said.
“What are measles?” asked Benson.
His mother said, “When you get measles you feel very hot and unwell. You get a rash like this, and you feel tired and sometimes you feel grumpy. Sometimes your nose might be runny and you get a cough. If you get measles very badly, you could be very sick.”
Aunt Moss helped her to put Aunt Lillibet to bed. They gave her some hot tea and medicine for her fever. Then Benson’s mother came and sat down with Benson.
“Measles is very contagious,” she said. “That means that it’s easy to catch them from someone else.”
Benson’s eyes grew rounder. “Am I going to catch them from Aunt Lillibet?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” said his mother.
Benson lifted up his shirt and looked at his tummy. It was plain brown as usual. “Nope,” he said, “no measles.”
“The thing is,” said his mother, “when you get the measles, you can’t see them for a couple of weeks. They’re there, but they’re invisible. You don’t know you’ve got them until you start to get sick.”
Benson’s eyes got even rounder. He imagined a small measle growing inside of him, then more and more measles, until blam! Measles everywhere!
“Do measles kill you?” he asked.
“No, no, no,” his mother said. “Aunt Lillibet will probably be sick for a week or so, and then she’ll be fine again.”
Benson gave a big sigh of relief.
His mother said, “And the good news is that once you’ve had them, you can’t catch them again. You can only have measles once. I had them when I was a little girl, so I can’t get them again, and Aunt Moss has had them too.”
“Have I had them?” Benson asked.
“No, you haven’t,” said his mother. “But you might have caught them from Aunt Lillibet. We won’t know for about two weeks.”
That felt a bit strange to Benson. Maybe he had measles, and maybe he didn’t. It was a bit like picking an apple from an old tree. Maybe it had a worm in the middle and maybe it didn’t.
His mother said, “None of your friends have had the measles and we wouldn’t want to give it to them and make them sick, would we?”
“No,” said Benson.
His mother took a deep breath. “So you’re not going to be able to see any of your friends for two weeks,” she said.
“But I don’t have the measles, Aunt Lillibet does!” Benson said.
“You might have them, that’s the problem,” his mother said. “We can’t tell, unless you get sick. If you don’t get sick, then you didn’t catch them. But we have to wait for a couple of weeks to know for sure.”
“But I’m fine,” he said. He lifted up his shirt again. “Look, no spots.”
“You might still have them, even if you look fine,” his mother explained patiently. “And if you have got them, then other people can catch them from you even if you look perfectly well.”
“But that’s not fair!” said Benson.
“It’s the way it is,” said his mother. “You’re going to have to stay home for the next two weeks, until we know whether or not you’ve got them.”
“Two weeks!” said Benson.
His mother nodded. “Aunt Moss is going to stay with Nanna in case she gets sick, because Nanna hasn’t had them either. I’ll be looking after Aunt Lillibet, so you’ll have to take care of yourself.”
Benson was not happy. In fact, he was definitely grumpy. His mother spent the rest of the day looking after Aunt Lillibet. Benson stamped and growled and thought of all the things he couldn’t do. He couldn’t go to the playground, he couldn’t go to the library, he couldn’t play with his friends, he couldn’t go anywhere! It just wasn’t fair.
He had nothing to do all afternoon, and then he had to get his own dinner because Aunt Lillibet got even sicker and needed his mother to look after her. He went to bed very grumpy.
The next day was the same except it was raining. He spent the morning staring out of the front door wishing he was at the Library Lovers’ morning tea, and he spent the whole afternoon poking holes in a piece of cardboard with a pencil. Once he tried playing his saxophone, but his mother came out and asked him to stop playing because the noise was making Aunt Lillibet’s headache worse. He had to get his own dinner again, and he went to bed extremely grumpy.
In the middle of the night he got up to go to the toilet. When he went past Aunt Lillibet’s room he could hear her saying, “I’m so hot! The light hurts my eyes!” and he could hear his mother saying, “Lie still, dear, and have your medicine. You’ll feel better soon.”
Benson got back into bed and started to think. He thought of how tired his mother must be, and how kind she was being to Aunt Lillibet who was cranky because she was so sick. Then he thought about how grumpy he had been for no reason at all.
In the morning he got up and tidied his room and made his breakfast. Then he thought his mother might like some pancakes, so he made some pancakes and then he washed up and tidied up the kitchen.
When his mother came out, she said, “Where did these pancakes come from?”
“I made them for you,” Benson said.
“And you washed up! Oh, Benson, that’s so kind!” his mother said. “I’m sorry you have to play all by yourself.”
“That’s okay,” Benson said. “I like being by myself sometimes.”
It was raining again, so Benson spent the rest of the morning reading and playing quietly. He painted a picture of his friend Zali in her favourite astronaut suit, then he had a really good idea. He made a spaceport out of an old cereal packet, and he painted some rocks to be little spacemen and aliens and he played space wars for ages. He even made up a little song about an alien space-ship and he made up a little dance to go with it. He practised very quietly
When it was lunchtime he made himself a sandwich, and when his mother came out, he made a sandwich for her too. He sang his alien song for her, and she laughed and clapped very quietly until Aunt Lillibet started calling again.
After lunch, he stuck his painting of Zali on the wall, and it looked a bit lonely, so he started painting pictures of all his friends. When his mother came out at dinner-time, he was still busy.
“This looks lovely,” she said. “That’s a painting of Zali, isn’t it? And that’s Mick, and that’s Bonnie Lou, and that’s Alejandro. They’re beautiful, Benson.”
Benson said, “Tomorrow I’m going to do Philip and Kendall and Nils and Nella and Nanna and Aunt Moss and put them all up.”
“It’s like having all your friends here,” his mother said.
“A bit,” said Benson.
“I’m so glad you’re here,” his mother said, giving him a hug.
“Me too,” said Benson.