Once there was a young wombat named Benson, who lived in a safe, warm wombat hole with his mother and his two aunts, Lillibet and Moss.
Benson’s friend, Pascoe the story-teller, had been very sick and she was staying with them while she was getting better. The days were cold, but there was a warm sunny spot just outside Benson’s front door, and Pascoe sat there in the sun with Benson, telling stories. No matter what Benson told her, about bush turkeys scratching up Aunt Lillibet’s garden or Uncle Elton making a music stand, she could straighten it out into a beginning and an end and an interesting middle.
“Do you know all the stories there are?” Benson asked her.
“Definitely not,” she said. “There are millions of stories, and that doesn’t even count the ones I haven’t made up yet.”
Benson’s friend Roly came over to sit in the sun with them. He had something he wanted to ask Pascoe, but it was hard to think of how to say it.
Pascoe said, “Is there a particular story you’d like to hear, Roly?”
Roly looked very shy, but he said, “Could you tell me my story?”
“The Story of the Brave Little Echidna?” she said. “That’s one of my favourites!”
“No,” Roly said, “I mean, the story of me and my mother. I was just little when she died, and I thought maybe you knew the story of where I came from.”
Pascoe was quiet for a moment, putting the story into the right shape in her head. Then she said, “Some of my stories are made up stories, because an idea comes into my head and I love to make it into a story, but most of the stories I know are not my stories. They belong to everyone. This is the story everyone tells about you and your mother.”
And she told him the story. “Your mother wished for you long before you were born. All the other mother echidnas had little puggles, and your mother longed for a puggle of her own, so when you were born she was very very happy. She called you Roly because she said you looked so cute when you were all curled up.
“You were small and clever and interested in things. She wanted to teach you everything she thought you would need to know. She taught you to be kind and to listen, to be patient, and to be strong when you needed to be. Nothing made her happier than being with you.
“The day the bushfires came, they were the biggest, hottest, fastest fires anyone had ever seen. There was nowhere to run, so your mother pushed you into an old dead tree lying on the ground, and climbed in after you, covering your body with hers. Then the fires came, and burned, everything. Your mother died, and you nearly died.
“When the fires passed there was nothing left but a little half-burned echidna. You couldn’t walk but you dragged yourself along by your paws, looking everywhere for your mother.”
By now, tears were running all down Roly’s little nose onto the ground. Benson picked him up and held him tight.
Pascoe said, “Everyone remembers the little echidna who wouldn’t give up looking for his mother. You travelled a long way, for days and days, and then you came here.”
Roly said, “Benson’s mother took care of me. She was the one who told me my mother was dead.”
No-one talked for a little while. Then Pascoe said, “But that’s not the end of the story.”
“Isn’t it?” said Roly.
“No,” said Pascoe. “After that you made friends with Benson, the Bold and Brave and Intrepid, and you went on adventures together.”
“The Adventure of the Tawny Frogmouth, and the Attack of the Angry Orangutan!” said Benson.
“The what?” Roly said. “I don’t remember that one.”
Benson said, “That one hasn’t exactly happened yet, but it might.”
Roly grinned. “What about the story of the Wombat Who Ate Ant Soup?” he said.
“Like that’s ever going to happen,” said Benson.
Pascoe yawned and said, “I think that’s a story for another day.”
Roly said, “I think I’d like to go back to where my mother died, sometime, and say goodbye.”
Benson said, “I’ll come with you, if you want. We can all go.”
Pascoe said, “That’s definitely a story for another day. I told you that wasn’t the end of the story, didn’t I?”
Benson started to wonder what his story would be like, when Pascoe told it, but he didn’t want to hear it just now. Right now his tummy was telling him it was time for something to eat, so he went inside and made sultana sandwiches for everyone and they sat in the sun and ate them together.