Decorum

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

Benson’s mother was racing around the kitchen trying do do six things at once. She was making anzac cookies and lemon syrup for Aunt Lillibet’s belly-dancing friends who were coming for afternoon tea, and cooking a date and apple cake for Aunt Moss to take to her friend Rebekah’s place, and she was washing up the breakfast dishes and trying to make a shopping list and writing a speech in her head at the same time.

Benson was carefully chopping up dates for the cake. Aunt Moss came in with two turtles and put them down. “Has anyone seen my glasses?” she said.

Benson’s mother was peeling apples. She said, “They’re here on top of the fridge. The baby dunnarts kept trying them on and scaring each other so I put them up out of the way. Moss, dear, would you take the turtles out of the kitchen, please?”

Aunt Moss put her glasses on. “Yes, but I just have to put some ointment on Fred’s leg first.”

She went off to get the ointment. Benson’s mother quickly rolled out the anzac cookies and put them into the oven, then she measured sugar and butter into the bowl for the cake and started beating.

Aunt Lillibet came in while Benson’s mother was adding the eggs to the bowl and quickly scraping zest off the lemons for the lemon syrup.

“Why are there dunnarts everywhere?” Aunt Lillibet said.

“We’re babysitting while their mother takes the other four to the dentist,” Benson’s mother said, measuring out the flour.

“You look very hot and flustered, racing around and muttering to yourself,” Aunt Lillibet said. “You should have more decorum.”

“Decorum?” said Benson’s mother. She added the apples to the mixture and stirred it up. One of the turtles bumped into her foot and she hopped out of the way.

“Yes,” said Aunt Lillibet. “A woman who is in control is always calm and dignified, not hopping about with bits of lemon zest in her hair. She should have decorum.”

“I’m sorry, Lillibet, I’ve got so much to do, I haven’t got time for decorum,” Benson’s mother said. “I’m supposed to be making a speech at the bushcare council meeting in half an hour and I haven’t written it yet, and I still have to get the cake into the oven with the anzac cookies and make the lemon syrup before I go.”

Aunt Lillibet said, “If you were more organised, there would be plenty of time to get everything done and you wouldn’t always be running late. You can’t make a speech looking like something the cat dragged in. Go and tidy yourself up and get your speech ready. Benson and I will finish up here.”

“I’ll just wash the dishes and finish making the cake,” Benson’s mother said.

Aunt Lillibet flapped her hands. “Just go!”

Benson’s mother went.

Aunt Lillibet looked around the kitchen. “With a little bit of organisation, this will be easy. Benson, give me those dates and start washing the dishes. I’ll finish the cake and then make the lemon syrup.” She mixed in the dates and poured everything into a cake tin, then she took the bowl over to the sink for Benson to wash. When she came back, two of the dunnarts were sitting in the cake mixture, throwing dates at each other.

“You naughty boys!” she said, lifting them out. “Now that will all have to go into the bin.” She tipped the cake mixture into the bin. “Benson, leave the washing up for now and chop some more dates while I peel some more apples,” she said.

Benson chopped and Aunt Lillibet peeled and mixed and stirred. A new date and apple cake went into the oven and it was time to get the cookies out. They were perfect. Just as she lifted the tray out of the oven, she slipped on a turtle, and the cookies went everywhere.

“What are these turtles doing in the kitchen?” she yelled.

Benson got the broom and swept the broken cookies into a corner with the little dunnarts who were nibbling on them. Aunt Lillibet got out some more flour and butter and started making more anzac cookies. “Get me the oats, Benson,” she said.

He got the oats out of the cupboard. He looked at the cookie mixture Aunt Lillibet was making.

“I think there’s something wrong with the cookie mixture,” he said.

“This is a strange recipe,” Aunt Lillibet said. “I can’t make any sense of it.”

“That’s not the recipe,” Benson said, “that’s the shopping list. You don’t put washing powder and shampoo in anzac cookies.”

Aunt Lillibet muttered something to herself, and tipped the mixture out and started again. “Have you got those lemons squeezed yet?” she said.

“Not yet,” said Benson. He started squeezing a lemon slowly and carefully so the juice didn’t squirt up into his eye.

“I’ve run out of bowls and spoons,” Aunt Lillibet said. “Leave those lemons and finish washing up.”

Benson went back to the sink and started to wash up again. “What’s that smell?” he said.

Aunt Lillibet threw the oven open. The date and apple cake was black. She tipped it into the bin.

“We’ve run out of dates and there are no apples left,” she said. “It will have to be a lemon cake for Moss and Rebekah, and the belly-dancing ladies can drink water. It’s better for them anyway.”

She set to work mixing and stirring like a tornado. Bits of cookie mixture flew up into the air and spattered on the cupboards and plopped onto the floor. “Benson, leave the dishes and help me with these cookies.”

They stirred and rolled and finally got a new batch of cookies into the oven. “Now for the lemon cake,” she said. She started stirring and mixing so fast that the flour exploded into her hair and bits of egg splashed onto her glasses. Finally she poured the mixture into the cake tin and put it in the oven.

“There!” she said. “All done!” She looked around the kitchen. It looked as if an earthquake and a hurricane had both happened at the same time. The turtles had left sticky trails all over the floor, and the dunnarts had spread cookie crumbs everywhere.

“Right,” she said, “we’ll soon fix that!” She picked up all the dunnarts and piled them into the big bowl with the spoon to lick, and clapped a plate on top so they couldn’t get out. She put the two turtles into the sink. She piled the dirty bowls and the lemon squeezer and the measuring cups into a huge stack next to the sink. “Broom, Benson!” she said.

Benson passed her the broom and she swept everything off the bench onto the floor, eggshells, cookie crumbs, dirty spoons, apple peel and lemon skins. She made a big, big pile, and Benson opened the bin for her.

At that moment, Benson’s mother walked in. She looked around the kitchen. There were turtles paddling in the washing-up water and sticky dunnarts licking the mixing bowl from the inside. She looked at Aunt Lillibet, who had flour in her hair and egg on her glasses and oats in her ears, and Benson, who was standing in a pile of broken cookies and washing powder. She sniffed.

“What’s that smell?” she said.

Aunt Lillibet leapt towards the oven and pulled the door open. Smoke came billowing out. She shut the door again with a bang. “No problem,” she said very calmly and with great decorum. “I’m sure the belly-dancing ladies would rather have a nice salad.”

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