Penguin

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

Aunt Moss’s friend, Shelley, had a party to celebrate Earth Day, and everyone had to come as an animal.

Benson said to his mother, “I want to be a penguin.”

“That’s easy,” she said. She gave him a long white t-shirt that covered his tummy and came down to his feet, and her old black cardigan to cover his arms and all the way down the back, trailing a bit behind like a penguin tail. She gave him a black beanie to cover his ears, and black socks for his feet, and she made him a beak out of cardboard.

“There,” she said, “now you’re a penguin. If you keep your arms against your sides and stick your hands out like this, and walk as if your legs are glued together, you’ll look exactly like a penguin.”

Benson loved his penguin outfit. He had a great time at the party being a penguin, and when he got home, he didn’t want to take it off. He wore it to bed and in the morning he still didn’t want to take it off. “I like being a penguin,” he said.

His mother said, “That’s nice, dear. Here’s your porridge.”

“Penguins don’t eat porridge,” Benson said. “They only eat fish.”

“Fish?” said his mother. “We don’t have any fish.”

“Penguins only eat fish,” Benson said firmly.

His mother tried cutting some bread in the shape of fish and some cheese slices too. “Since you’re not actually a really truly penguin,” she said, “you could eat fish that aren’t really truly fish.”

“No,” said Benson, “I AM really and truly a penguin. I have to have really truly fish. And I want to drink sea-water.”

His mother found some fish paste way up the back of the cupboard. She made him a fish paste sandwich and gave him a glass of salty water.

Benson ate the fish paste sandwich, but only because he was very hungry. The salty water was so awful, he decided he wasn’t thirsty after all.

He kept being a penguin all day, and he slept in his penguin suit that night and the next day he was still a penguin. He spent all day in a bath full of cold water. He didn’t go out and dig even once.

His mother made him tuna salad for lunch and dinner, and salmon sandwiches for breakfast. His white t-shirt got very grubby, and his black beanie was tight and scratchy, but he didn’t take them off.

His mother made him a nice snack of ice cubes. “Why do you want to be a penguin, Benson?” she asked.

“Because everyone says penguins are adorable,” Benson said, crunching on his ice cubes, “cute and adorable.”

“Wombats are cute and adorable too,” his mother said.

“Wombats are ordinary,” Benson said. “Everyone’s a wombat. I’m an adorable penguin.” It sounded like ‘amorable benben’ because his tongue was frozen.

His mother gave him a kiss. “Whatever you think,” she said.

Benson went back to the bathroom and sat in the water. It was very cold. His toes and his ears were cold, and his beak was soggy and starting to melt. He wished he could read his library book but he didn’t think penguins would read books about excavators. After a little while, he heard talking and laughing coming from the kitchen. He got out of the bath, wet and dripping, and went into the kitchen.

His mother was there with Roly, eating lemon myrtle and macadamia muffins.

“Hi, Benson,” Roly said. “Do you want to come outside and dig?”

Benson said, “Penguins don’t dig.” Then he started to cry. Big tears ran down his face and dripped off his nose.

“What’s the matter?” his mother said.

“I love digging,” he said, “and I HATE tuna salad.”

His mother picked him up and gave him a big cuddle.

Benson said, “I love being a penguin, but I love all the things wombats do, digging and eating porridge and muffins, and lying in the sun.”

Roly said, “You could be a kind of wombat-penguin, a penguin that digs, or a wombat that likes eating fish.”

His mother said, “It doesn’t matter if you’re a penguin or a wombat, or a wenguin or a pombat, or an orangutan or even a Komodo dragon, you’ll always be adorable to me.”

Benson gave a watery smile. “Maybe I could be a wombat today, and tomorrow I’ll be a penguin again.”

“That sounds like a very good idea,” his mother said. “Would you like a muffin?”

“Yes, please,” Benson said. They all sat down and ate muffins, and then Benson and Roly went outside and dug all afternoon.

Roly said to Benson, “I wonder what it’s like being a Komodo dragon?”

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