Creekweed

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

Benson’s uncle Elton invited everyone to come for lunch.

Benson said, “Do we have to go?” Uncle Elton was not a very good cook.

“Of course we do,” said his mother. “It would be rude not to. Besides, he’s been trying out a new recipe that he says we’re going to love.”

“That’s what he said about his mushroom ice-cream,” Aunt Lillibet said.

“And his scrambled eggs with peanut butter,” Benson said.

“I quite liked those scrambled eggs,” said Aunt Moss. “Sort of crunchy.”

“Oh, Moss,” said Aunt Lillibet, “you always have to say something nice, don’t you?”

“I can’t bear to hurt anyone’s feelings,” Aunt Moss said.

Benson asked his mother, “Is it okay to tell a lie if you don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings?”

His mother said, “You should always tell the truth. But there are ways of telling the truth so that you don’t hurt their feelings. For instance if you asked me if I liked Aunt Lillibet’s hat, I could say that it was interesting or creative, or it shows an independent spirit.”

“Instead of saying it’s ugly or weird or it looks like a dead frog,” Benson said. “Like telling the truth, but not the whole truth.”

Uncle Elton was very excited to see them. “We’re having something amazing for lunch, full of vitamins and minerals – you’re going to love it!”

Aunt Lillibet didn’t like the sound of this. “What are we having exactly?” she asked.

“It’s creekweed!” Uncle Elton said.

“Creekweed?” said Aunt Lillibet. “You mean weed, from the creek?”

Uncle Elton nodded enthusiastically. “That’s right. Cousin Lance told me all about it, and you know he’s an excellent cook. He gave me some of his recipes, and I made up some of my own. Sit down, and I’ll bring out the first course.”

Benson sat next to his cousin Elmer, who was eating oranges. “Do you want one?” he asked Benson.

“Aren’t we just about to have lunch?” Benson asked.

“Yep,” Elmer said. “That’s why.”

Just then Uncle Elton brought in a huge pot of soup. “Creekweed soup!” he said proudly.

It was green and grey and slimy. Benson picked up his spoon and had a tiny taste. He had never tasted anything worse in his life. Elmer kept dipping his spoon into his soup, but it never got any emptier. Benson decided to do the same thing.

His mother held her breath and took a mouthful, and then another one, but that was all she could manage. Aunt Moss bravely kept eating even though her face got greener and greener.

Aunt Lillibet didn’t even taste it. She said, “Oh, is that a spider under the table?” and when Uncle Elton bent down to look, she tipped half her soup into Aunt Moss’s bowl.

Uncle Elton looked at Elmer’s almost-full bowl and said, “Aren’t you hungry, Elmer?”

Elmer said, “It must have been all those oranges.”

“How did you all like the soup?” Elton said.

Benson’s mother said, “It was very unusual.”

Aunt Lillibet said, “I’ve never tasted anything like it.”

Aunt Moss said, “It was very tasty, thank you, Elton.”

Uncle Elton looked pleased. “Wait until you taste the next course: creekweed salad,” he said.

He brought out a dish of unspeakable green and brown and black things. Some of the black things were still wriggling. Everyone stared at it, horrified. Aunt Moss started to look very sick.

Uncle Elton rubbed his hands together. “Who would like to go first?” he asked.

“I’ll have some,” Aunt Lillibet said, surprising everyone. “But I think what it really needs is fish sauce. Have you got any fish sauce?”

“As a matter of fact, I bought some last week,” Uncle Elton said.

“Oh,” said Aunt Lillibet, disappointed.

He fetched the fish sauce and gave it to Lillibet. She sprinkled on a few drops and then she tipped the whole bottle over the dish.

“Oh dear,” said Aunt Lillibet. “What have I done? I’ve ruined the whole salad,” she said, very pleased with herself. “I don’t think anyone could eat it now.”

“Never mind,” said Uncle Elton, “there’s plenty of dessert. It’s my own creation: creekweed pavlova!”

Aunt Moss fainted and slid under the table. Aunt Lillibet said, “Is there any fish sauce left?”

At that moment the front door opened and Cousin Lance came in. “Sorry I’m late, everyone. Did I miss anything?”

Uncle Elton said, “You’re just in time for dessert.” He proudly showed Lance the pavlova. There were dribbles of mud and splashes of frog-spit all over it.

Lance looked at it and said, “Elton, is that creek weed?”

Uncle Elton nodded. “I picked it fresh this morning.”

Lance said, “I said chickweed, not creek-weed. You can’t eat creek weed, unless you’re a duck, or maybe a very robust fish.”

“No?” said Uncle Elton, looking very disappointed.

“No, no way,” said Lance. “It might end up making you quite sick.”

Aunt Moss groaned from under the table.

Lance said, “It’s a good thing I brought this.” He opened the cake-container he had brought. “Mango-coconut-pineapple cake. Would anyone like some?”

“Wonderful!” said Uncle Elton. Benson and Elmer were suddenly very hungry again. Even Aunt Moss climbed back out from under the table. It was absolutely delicious.

When it was time to go home, Uncle Elton gave Lillibet a big container of leftovers.

“Is it leftover cake?” she asked.

Elton said, “No, it’s all the leftover soup since you liked it so much, with extra fish sauce, just for you!”

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