Gliding

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

One day Benson was over at Nils and Nella’s house playing hide-and-seek, when he saw something white flash between the trees up high, and he heard someone call, “Yip, yip, yip, yippee!”

“What was that?” Benson said.

“It’s just a sugar glider,” Nella said.

“There’s sugar, gliding through the trees?” Benson asked, amazed.

“No, stupid, not sugar, that’s just what he is, a sugar glider,” Nils said. “They eat lots of nectar so they’re called sugar gliders, but they’re just a kind of possum, really, except for the gliding.”

“Yeah, I think they’re kind of cousins of ours,” Nella said. “But their tails are straight, so they can’t hang or swing at all, and they’re not great at jumping so they have to fly.”

“Fly? They fly?” Benson said, his eyes shining. “Can they show me how?”

“It’s not exactly flying,” Nils said. “It’s more like jumping with their arms spread out, so they glide down.”

“I can do that!” Benson said. “I can jump with my arms out. But I don’t glide, I just drop, plonk.”

“Hang on,” Nils said. He shouted, “Whipple, come here!”

There was another flash of white, gliding across to the tree beside them with a “Yip, yip, yip, yippee!” Then a little possumy head poked up and a squeaky voice said, “What?”

Nils said, “This is Benson. He wants to know how you glide.”

“It’s easy,” Whipple said. “I just spread out, like this, and then I jump off.” The skin on his back reached all the way from his wrists to his ankles, so when he stretched out his arms and his legs, he looked like a little furry mat, with hands at two corners and feet at the other two.

“You want to watch?” Whipple asked. He ran up the tree beside them. For a possum, he was tiny, so he was very light and quick. When he got up high enough, he spread out his arms and legs till his skin was stretched out flat like a hairy leaf. He jumped off and glided across to another branch and then to another one and another one, calling, “Yip, yip, yip, yippee!”

Benson looked down at his own short arms and legs. He started thinking about how he was going to glide through the trees.

He thought about it all the way home, and all the time when he was going to sleep, and he was still thinking about it when he woke up in the morning.

At breakfast time he said, “I’m going to glide.”

“Slide?” Aunt Lillibet said.

“No, GLIDE,” Benson said. “Through the trees. Like a sugar glider. I just have to figure out how.”

Aunt Lillibet said, “Wombats can’t glide. It’s impossible.”

Aunt Moss said, “Don’t spoil it for him, Lillibet. It doesn’t hurt to dream.”

Aunt Lillibet snorted. “Dream, huh!” She went and got a big sheet of paper and a rock. “Benson, see this piece of paper?” She dropped the piece of paper and it floated from side to side and gently floated down to the floor. “That’s a sugar glider.” She picked up the piece of paper and wrapped it around the rock. She dropped it and it fell straight down and hit the floor with a bang. “That’s you,” she said.

Benson looked at the piece of paper and thought. He went into the bathroom and came back with a towel tied to his ankles and his wrists. “I think this will work,” he said.

He climbed up onto a chair, spread out his arms and his legs and jumped.

Aunt Moss gave a little, “Eep!”

Flumppp! Benson landed flat on the floor on his tummy. Aunt Lillibet said, “Told you so.”

Aunt Moss said, “Oh Benson, are you all right?”

Benson got up off the floor. “I need to get higher,” he said. He climbed onto the chair and then he climbed onto the table.

Aunt Moss closed her eyes and held her breath.

Benson stretched his arms and legs as far as he possibly could, and jumped.

Flummmppp! He landed flat on the floor.

Aunt Lillibet said, “Never in a million years.”

Aunt Moss said, “Benson, dear, I don’t think that’s very safe!”

Benson said, “If I could just get a bit higher.” He put the chair on top of the table and started to climb up.

His mother came in just then. “What’s making all this noise? It sounds like someone dropping mattresses.”

Benson explained, “I’m gliding, just like a sugar glider.”

His mother looked at him, and the towel, and the chair and the table. “No, Benson,” she said. “This is a very bad idea. Sugar gliders are tiny, and very light. Wombats are big, solid animals. If you jump from something that high, you’ll break something, your arms or your legs.”

Benson had a stubborn look on his face that his mother recognised. She said, “Come on, put the towel away and we’ll go to the playground.”

Benson got his hat and his water-bottle and they set off. He kept thinking about sugar-gliders, and he felt more and more disappointed. He could imagine the feeling of flying through the air, light as a feather, looking down on the earth, and it made him sad that he would never be able to feel like that.

His mother said, “Hop on the swing and I’ll give you a push.”

Benson climbed onto the swing and his mother started to push him. She pushed strong and hard, until Benson was swinging higher and higher through the air. She pushed harder and harder, until he was so high he could see the playground spread out underneath him. The wind rushed through his hair and he felt as light as a feather. “Yippppeeeee!” he shouted. It was just like flying.

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