Staying in Touch

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

Benson’s mother had to go and help a friend who had a new baby, and Aunt Lillibet and Aunt Moss were both at their astronomy class, so Benson was going to Nanna’s, so they could babysit each other.

Benson was looking forward to it. They were going to play Pass the Parcel, and What’s the Time, Mr Wolf, and make toffee apples.

Nanna was overjoyed to see him, and she gave him an enormous hug. “Wouldn’t it be lovely to be an octopus?” she said. “Then I would have eight arms to hug you with.”

Benson’s mother kissed them both goodbye. “Look after each other now,” she said.

Nanna had made chocolate-orange muffins and orange juice, and they ate them sitting on the lounge, reading a story about an elephant in a green suit. Right in the middle of the story, Nanna stopped turning the pages.

“Benson,” she said, “hold my hand.”

Benson took her hand and held it tight. Nanna looked worried. “Benson,” she said, “I can’t feel you.”

Benson squeezed her hand, and patted her arm, but she shook her head. “I can’t feel anything,” she said, very worried. Her voice sounded strange, and her face didn’t look right.

Benson was frightened. “Nanna!” he said. “Nanna!”

Her lips moved, but no words came out. Benson was really frightened. He remembered his mother always said, “If anything happens, you know what to do. Ring the number for Emergency, tell them your name and where you are and they’ll tell you what to do.” He was very afraid that this was the kind of ‘anything’ she meant.

He got up and ran to the phone. He pressed the number for emergencies and waited. A voice at the other end answered and said, “What is your emergency?”

Benson said, “My name is Benson and I’m at my Nanna’s house and there’s something wrong with her.”

The voice said, “Can you tell me what’s wrong with your Nanna? Is she breathing?”

Benson said, “I think so, but she can’t talk, and she can’t feel me!”

The voice said, “Is your mother there? Or another grown-up?”

“No, it’s just me,” Benson said.

“All right, Benson, it sounds like you need an ambulance straight away,” the voice said. “Can you tell me where you are?”

“I’m at my Nanna’s,” Benson said.

“Do you know the address?” asked the Emergency voice. “The name of the street, or the number?”

Benson had no idea what Nanna’s address was. He just went there with his mother. He thought of Nanna sitting on the lounge, her eyes so frightened, and he started to cry.

The Emergency voice said, “Benson, you’re doing very well, just hold on a bit longer. Is there anything near the phone with your Nanna’s address on it? A letter or something?”

Benson looked. There was a photo on the wall next to the phone, of Nanna and Benson and his mother, and Aunt Lillibet and Aunt Moss. Aunt Lillibet looked as if she was looking right at him, saying, “Pull yourself together, young man! This is no time for crying!” Aunt Moss was looking as if she knew just how he felt and wanted to give him a cuddle. His mother looked the way she always looked, as if she loved him more than anything in the world.

He stopped crying and looked for something with an address on it. “There’s a painting on the wall of Nanna’s house that Nanna painted and it says ‘The Green House’ underneath. It’s past the big willow tree near the bridge across the creek, where the track to the Blue Gum forest starts.”

“That’s good, Benson, I know exactly where that is. The ambulance will be on its way right now,” the Emergency voice said. “Now I want you to go and sit with your Nanna and talk to her, can you do that? You won’t be scared?”

Benson was never scared of talking to Nanna. He nodded, and then he said, “Okay. What should I talk about?”

“Anything,” she said. “What you had for breakfast, what games you like to play, anything you can think of.”

He ran back to the lounge-room. Nanna was lying on her side on the lounge now, with her eyes closed. All of a sudden Benson was so scared he couldn’t speak. Then Nanna’s eyes fluttered open and she looked at him as if she wanted to pick him up and hug him as tightly as a joey in a pouch.

Benson sat down beside her and took her hand. “I called the Emergency lady and the ambulance is coming soon. She says I should talk to you.” Nanna’s hand was very cold, and he rubbed it hard. He told her everything he had told the lady. He told her about Aunt Lillibet staring at him, and Aunt Moss smiling at him, and his mother looking as if she knew he could do anything. He talked about what he had put on his porridge for breakfast, and what his friend Mick had done when he ran over a giant caterpillar on his bike, and what Aunt Moss was going to do with the jumper she was knitting that she had accidentally made with three arms. He held Nanna’s hand and he talked.

Every now and then he looked to see if she was listening, and every time she was looking at him as if he was talking about the most interesting things in the world. Finally the ambulance came and they wrapped Nanna up in warm blankets and took her to the hospital. Aunt Lillibet and Aunt Moss came and took him home and they all had hot chocolate and then Benson’s mother came home from the hospital and told them that the hospital people said that Nanna was going to be okay. They had given her some medicine and she was asleep, but she was going to be okay.

When it was time for bed, Benson’s mother said to him, “You did very well today, looking after Nanna.”

Benson was so tired he could hardly stay awake. “I did what you told me to do. You said I would know what to do, and that’s what I did. But it was hard.”

His mother wrapped him up and held him tight until he went to sleep.

The next day and for days and days after that they went to see Nanna in the hospital every day, and Benson held her hand and talked to her. He made sure he did something interesting every day so he would have something interesting to talk to her about. Before very long, Nanna could hug him again, and after a few weeks she started talking back to Benson, and before long she was talking and laughing just like her old self again.

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