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.
Winter was coming and the days were getting colder. It was raining outside, so Benson’s mother made barley and tomato soup with lots of broccoli, to warm them up. Then Benson helped her make a big loaf of basil and parmesan bread. When it came out of the oven, it smelled so good that everyone sat down and ate it without even waiting for it to cool down.
They sat around afterwards, full of delicious soup and wonderful bread, feeling warm and cosy and contented. Benson was reading a really interesting book about skeletons, and his mother was thinking up ideas for the junior bushcare group. Aunt Moss was knitting odd socks for her knitting group’s Odd Sock stall, and Aunt Lillibet was crocheting her never-ending crocheted scarf. It was already long enough to wrap around Benson’s neck twenty-five times (he knew because he had tried it), but Aunt Lillibet wanted it longer. Benson wondered if she was thinking of using it to escape from a very high tower. A very, very high tower.
His mother yawned. It made Benson feel like yawning too, and he yawned an even bigger yawn. Aunt Moss yawned too, and Aunt Lillibet did too. Benson’s mother yawned again, and Benson opened his mouth to yawn but Aunt Lillibet said sharply, “Stop that! You know you’re only yawning because everyone else is.”
Benson’s mother stopped herself in the middle of another big yawn and said, “Everyone yawns when they see someone else yawning. You can’t help it. I suppose it just makes you feel … yawny.”
Benson said, “Why do you yawn when someone else does? Do you think it’s because when you open your mouth to yawn, a little piece of yawniness comes out and someone else catches it, like when you get the measles?”
Aunt Lillibet said, “I think it’s because when you see someone yawning you think they’re getting an extra share of air, so you yawn too so you don’t miss out on the air.”
Benson thought about it it. He went and got a bucket and put it right beside him.
Aunt Lillibet said, “What have you got an empty bucket for?”
He said, “It’s not empty. It’s full of air, so if everyone keeps yawning and using up all the air, I’ll still have some here in my bucket. “
Aunt Lillibet said, “That’s not how air works. It goes everywhere. It doesn’t just stay in a bucket. “
Benson went and got a lid and put it on the bucket. “Now it will,” he said.
Aunt Moss said, dreamily, “I think yawning makes you sleepy. When it’s getting close to bedtime, you start yawning so that you feel sleepy and you know it’s time for bed.”
Aunt Lillibet said, “Moss, I think you should stick to knitting instead of coming up with such silly ideas. The only reason anyone yawns is because they see other people yawn.”
Benson’s mother said, “I think it was all that delicious bread and soup that made me feel sleepy.” She yawned a long tired yawn.
Aunt Lillibet said, “I know, we’ll have an experiment and see who’s right. I’ll close my eyes, and you can all yawn as much as you like. If Benson’s right, the bits of yawniness will come out of your mouths and and I’ll catch them and start yawning. If I’m right, then I won’t see anyone yawning, and I won’t start yawning.”
Aunt Moss put down her knitting and closed her eyes.
“No, Moss,” Aunt Lillibet said, “I close MY eyes. You do the yawning.”
“Sorry, Lillibet,” said Aunt Moss, “all this talking about yawning is making me sleepy.” She opened her mouth in the most enormous yawn. Everybody else started to yawn. too.
“For goodness sake, Moss!” Aunt Lillibet said. “Wait till I’ve closed my eyes!”
Aunt Lillibet closed her eyes. Everyone else yawned. After a minute, Benson closed his eyes too. It was easier to yawn that way.
Aunt Lillibet said, “Moss, don’t yawn so loudly! I can hear you, and it’s making me want to yawn too!”
Aunt Moss mumbled, “Sorry, Lillibet.”
Aunt Lillibet waited with her eyes shut. She didn’t yawn even once. She opened her eyes and said, “See? I was right!”
Everyone else was sound asleep. Aunt Lillibet looked at them, one by one. Then she put down her crotcheting, gave a big yawn and went to sleep.