Once there was a young wombat named Benson who lived in an ordinary wombat hole with his mother and his two aunts, Lillibet and Moss.
Benson was reading a book about science.
He asked his mother, “What does infinity mean?”
Aunt Lillibet said, “I know what infinity is. My mother’s auntie used to have a big pot of soup on the stove, cooking away all day every day, all year round. Whenever she had any leftover vegetables or scraps from the garden, celery leaves or turnip tops, old wrinkly mushrooms or bendy carrots, she’d put them in the soup pot. Every now and then she’d add some more water and some salt. Whenever we went to visit, we had soup from this soup pot. I think she had soup for breakfast, lunch and dinner, every day. That’s infinity, a never-ending pot of soup.”
Aunt Moss said, “It’s like yoghurt. You take a little yoghurt and you mix it into a bowl of milk and let it sit in a warmish place, and in no time you’ve got a bowl of yoghurt. When you start to run out, you take some of the yoghurt and mix it into another bowl of milk, leave it for a while in warmish place and you have more yoghurt. Yoghurt comes from yoghurt. If you keep making it, it never runs out. That’s infinity.”
Aunt Lillibet said, “Infinity backwards is chickens and eggs. You can’t have eggs without chickens to lay them, and you can’t have chickens without eggs for them to come from.”
Benson was starting to get the idea. “Is it the same with wombats?” he said. “You can’t have baby wombats without mother wombats, and you can’t have mother wombats unless they were baby wombats once?”
He imagined a long, long line of wombats and joeys stretching back and back, with chickens and eggs all around them, in a big puddle of yoghurt.
“Is everything infinity?” he asked. “Like leaves and trees. The leaves fall off the trees and turn into dirt and compost and that makes the tree grow so it makes more leaves that fall off and make compost and dirt and make the trees grow and make more leaves…” Now there was a whole forest in his imagination, with trees full of chickens eating soup.
“And water,” he said. “The creek fills up with water when it rains, and after a while the water in the creek dries up and goes up into the clouds and then it rains and the water goes into the creek and then it dries up and goes into the clouds and then it rains again…”
Aunt Moss said, “Benson dear, my head is going around. Would you mind stopping?”
Benson’s mother said, “Benson, show me where you were reading.”
Benson showed her the page, and she said, “That’s not ‘infinity’, that’s ‘infinitely’. As in ‘I love you infinitely’.”
She saw the look in Benson’s eye that meant he was going to ask another question that was going to make Aunt Moss’s head spin, so she said, “That means I love you more than anything and I’ll love you forever and forever, forwards and backwards, more than all the chickens and all the water in all the creeks in the world.”
Benson smiled. “I love you infinitely too.” Then he said to Aunt Lillibet, “Does your auntie still have that pot of soup?”
Aunt Lillibet said, “She went to the shops one day and my uncle forgot to add more water and the soup burned a hole right through the bottom of the pot and that was the end of it.”
“So it wasn’t completely infinite, then?” Benson said.
“Infinite enough,” Aunt Lillibet said.
Benson said to his mother, “Can we have soup for lunch? And eggs? And yoghurt?”
And they did.