The Fence

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.

Near where Benson lived there was a creek, and on the other side of the creek, at the top of the hill, there was a fence. Sometimes when Benson went down to the creek, he noticed the fence and wondered what was on the other side of it. One day when he had nothing to do, he climbed all the way up to the top of the hill to have a look.

It was a very tall fence, made of wood palings that overlapped each other so you couldn’t see between them, but a little way up there was a gap where the wood had warped a bit. Benson thought that if he could climb up a bit higher, he could probably see through the gap.

He dragged an old log over, and leaned another log on top of it, and carefully climbed up. He peeped through the hole. There was a brown eye peeping back. Benson was so surprised he fell off his log.

“Hi!” a voice called. “Are you still there?”

Benson carefully got back onto his log and looked through the hole. There was another wombat on the other side of the fence.

“Hi,” said the other wombat. “My name’s Sally. I’m a wombat. My mother used to call me Selaleuca Salamanca, and my brother calls me Stupid, and Nona calls me Sally Sweetheart. What’s your name?”

“It’s Benson,” Benson said.

Sally said, “My mother died in the bushfires ages ago and me and my brother live here with Nona. This is a kind of animal sanctuary, for animals that need taking care of. All sorts of animals come here, like koalas and wombats and heaps of baby possums, but they all get released into the wild again. Me and my brother aren’t going to be released into the wild because we’ve been here so long, we couldn’t take care of ourselves and it would be too dangerous for us, Nona says. Are you a wild animal?”

Benson thought about it. He didn’t really have to think of an answer, because Sally kept on talking. “Why are you on the other side of the fence? Are you lost?”

“No,”said Benson, “I live here.” Then he said quickly before she could start talking again, “Is that a ribbon on your head?”

“Yes, this is my favourite pink ribbon,” Sally said. “I wear it every day except if it gets dirty then I have to wear my blue ribbon until Nona washes it. Do you want to see me do a handstand?”

She climbed down out of the tree she was standing in and did the best handstand Benson had ever seen a wombat do. She put her hands on the ground and lifted her bottom way up in the air. Then she climbed back up the tree and started talking again. “I can do handstands and cartwheels and forward rolls. I’m learning to do a double forward roll. Can you do a forward roll?” she asked.

Benson said, “I don’t know, I’ve never tried.” He knew he certainly couldn’t do a handstand. While Sally was talking, she was pulling apples off the tree, taking a bite and dropping the rest on the ground. While her mouth was full, Benson said, “Aren’t you going to eat that?”

Sally said, “No, I’m not really hungry. Nona’s going to bring me lunch in a minute anyway. Who brings you your lunch? I have a beautiful bowl with roses on it. Do you have a nice cage? I have a beautiful cage, with a box I can curl up in when I want a nap, and a pink blanket with flowers on it.”

Benson said, “I don’t have a cage. I live in a wombat hole with my mother and my two aunties.”

Sally said, “A hole? Like, made of dirt? Yuck! Why don’t you have a nice clean cage? Nona cleans my cage out every Saturday.”

Benson said sturdily, “It’s a really nice wombat hole. We dug it ourselves.”

Sally was shocked. “You dug it? Like with your hands in the dirt? How disgusting!”

Benson said, “But that’s what wombats do! We dig. Don’t you dig?”

Sally said, “No way. I might get my ribbon dirty.” She looked hard at Benson. “Are you sure you’re a real wombat?” she said. “You’re kind of skinny, and your nose isn’t hairy at all. Maybe you’re a nasty wild fox trying to trick me.”

Benson said, “Of course I’m a wombat. My mother’s a wombat, my aunties are wombats, and my Nanna, and my uncle Lionel and all my cousins. Are you sure you’re a real wombat?”

“Of course I am,” said Sally. “I’ve got a wombat song.”

She jumped out of the tree and stood beside it with her hands together and started to sing.

“I’m a little wombat, short and stout.

Here are my paws and here is my snout.

When it’s time for dinner, then I shout:

Chocolate cake! Don’t mess about!”

She stopped singing and asked Benson, “See? Do you have a wombat song?”

The only wombat song Benson could think of was about digging, and he didn’t think Sally would understand. “I’ve got heaps of wombat stories,” he said. He told her a story about Aunt Moss and beetroot and custard.

When he finished, Sally said, “Huh, that’s a silly story. Who ever heard of a wombat making custard? Custard comes in a box and Nona pours it into my bowl for me to eat. If you were a real wombat you’d know that! Go away, you sneaky wild fox!”

Benson said, “I’m not a fox. I don’t look anything like a fox. Foxes are smaller, and they have long tails.” He was thinking it was no wonder her brother called her stupid.

Sally put her fingers in her ears, and sang, “I’m not listening, I’m not listening!”

Then Benson heard a voice calling, “Sally, sweetheart, time for lunch!”

Sally got down and ran off.

Benson got down, too, and went back to the creek. Then just to remind himself how good it was to be a wild wombat, he dug a great big hole.

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