Feeding the Spirit

(A Visit to the Art Gallery)

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

At breakfast time, Aunt Moss said, “I’m going to visit the art gallery tomorrow.”

Benson said, “What’s an art gallery?”

“It’s a place where there are lots of paintings and beautiful things people have made,” Aunt Moss said, “and everyone can go and look at them.”

“Why would anyone want to go and look at paintings?” Benson asked.

“Well, for some people, it’s a kind of food for the spirit,” Aunt Moss said.

“You can get a hungry spirit?” Benson said.

Aunt Moss said, “You know how Nanna sometimes shuts all her doors and windows and turns the music up loud and sings along, and afterwards she feels calm and happy? That’s feeding her spirit. When I look at lots of beautiful things, it makes me feel happy, and peaceful.”

“So for some people, music feeds their spirits and for some people it’s paintings?” Benson asked.

Aunt Moss nodded. “For other people it’s spending time with nature, walking in the bush or climbing mountains. You know when Aunt Lillibet gets into one of her moods, and she goes outside and talks to her flowers and feels better?”

“I do not talk to the flowers,” Aunt Lillibet growled from her bedroom.

“Can I come to the art gallery with you?” Benson asked.

“Of course, if you want to,” Aunt Moss said.

They had to leave very early the next morning, and walk a long way through the bush. After a while they came to a road, and they followed that until they came to a train station. They caught a train that went such a long way that Benson fell asleep, but that’s a story for another day. When it was time to get off the train, they had to catch another train and finally they were there.

Aunt Moss’s friend, Imelda, was meeting them to take them to the art gallery. “Imelda is a painter herself,” said Aunt Moss.

Imelda was like Aunt Moss except that she talked and laughed and smiled all the time without stopping. It was like she really enjoyed every single thing she did. Benson wondered if being a painter made her spirit well-fed.

The art gallery was an enormous building with huge pillars and great big steps at the front, but Imelda took them around to the special entrance for wombats. She knocked at the door and the guard came and opened it for them. He said, “Good afternoon,” politely to Imelda and let them in.

The art gallery was made of giant rooms with nothing in them except paintings hanging on the walls. In some of the rooms there were sculptures made out of stone or metal, but mostly it was just paintings. Benson wandered around looking and looking and looking. There were paintings of everything he could think of: people and horses and the sea and fruit and the bush, and lots of splotchy paintings of nothing at all. Some of the paintings were so big that he had to go over to the other side of the room to see them, and some were so small that he couldn’t see them unless he jumped up.

After a while he found a bench in the middle of one room and he went and lay down on it and shut his eyes.

“Benson, what are you doing?” Aunt Moss asked him.

“My eyes are full,” he said. “I can’t look at anything else.”

“Imelda is taking us downstairs on the escalator,” Aunt Moss said.

Benson got up. “Excavator?” he said.

“No, escalator,” said Aunt Moss. “Come and see.”

The escalator was metal steps like giant teeth that went down all by themselves. Benson stood on one step and it went down and down. At the bottom it spread out flat so that he could walk off. He looked back up the escalator where Aunt Moss and her friend Imelda were coming down. “How do we get back up again?” he asked.

“There’s another escalator that goes upwards,” Imelda said.

She took them into another room full of paintings. Benson sighed. He thought his spirit was pretty full by now, but his tummy was getting very empty.

The paintings in this room were all made of dots, red dots and black dots and white dots and yellow dots. They made nice patterns, and Benson could imagine himself dipping his fingers into different puddles of paint and going dab-dab, dab-dab-dab, to make paintings like this.

Aunt Moss said, “This is one that Imelda painted.”

Benson didn’t know what to say. It just looked like more dots, arranged in circles and lines.

Imelda said, “I painted my place. This is the bush, and these are my friends gathered around the waterhole.”

Benson looked, and all of a sudden he could understand what he was looking at. “These are the tracks they used to get there, aren’t they? And these are the hills, and the trees.” It was a bit like the maps he liked to draw sometimes.

“That’s right,” Imelda said. She pointed to some brown blotches at the bottom of the painting. “These are the yams they’re going to have for dinner.” She pointed to some black circles around the waterhole. “These are the wombats sitting around while the yams are cooking, talking about where they’re going for their holidays.”

Benson nodded. “It’s a very good picture,” he said. He looked at all the other paintings, and he thought about all the other stories people had painted about their own places, and he started thinking about what he would paint if he painted his place.

He thought about it all the way home on the train, and he even did some dab-dab-dabbing in the dust on the window of the train. When they got home, Benson’s mother had dinner waiting for them, and after dinner he and his mother sat outside in the moonlight and he told her about everything he had seen.

“Aunt Moss was humming while she was doing the dishes tonight,” his mother said.

“I expect that’s because her spirit is happy,” Benson said. He snuggled against his mother and asked her, “What makes your spirit happy?”

“This,” she said, giving him a hug.

“Me too,” he said.

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