Polar Bears and Fireflies

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

One evening after dinner Benson was reading a book from the library about a country called Canada. He looked up from his book and asked his mother, “Can we get a polar bear?”

His mother said, “Where would we get a polar bear?”

“I don’t know,” Benson said. “Maybe a zoo has got an old one they don’t want any more.”

Aunt Lillibet said, “Polar bears live in the ice and snow at the north pole. That’s why they’re called polar bears.”

Benson said, “Maybe one would like to come on a holiday somewhere warm and sunny like here.”

His mother said, “Why do you want a polar bear, anyway, Benson?”

“Because they’re all white all over, and they’re so soft and cuddly,” Benson said. “He could stay in my room.”

Aunt Lillibet said, “Benson, a polar bear is as big as a tree!”

Benson said, “Are they?” The one in the book looked about as big as a puppy.

“They’re carnivorous,” Aunt Lillibet said. “Do you know what that means?”

Benson shook his head.

“It means they eat meat,” Aunt Lillibet said. “All they eat is meat, just meat and nothing else. That means you, and me, and Aunt Moss and the possums and all the kangaroos and wallabies, and…”

“Stop!” Benson said, putting his hands over his ears.

Aunt Lillibet said, “For a polar bear, you’d be a nice snack before dinner.”

Benson’s mother said, “I think that’s enough, Lillibet. I think Benson’s got the idea.”

Benson said, “Well, how about a beaver, then? A beaver’s not too big. He could live in a box under my bed.”

Aunt Lillibet said, “A beaver? You might as well get your own rat!”

Benson said stubbornly, “I think they’re cute. See?” He held up the page so Aunt Lillibet could see the picture.

“It looks like a rat,” she said.

Benson said, “I think it looks like cousin Elmer.”

“Exactly,” said Aunt Lillibet. “Besides, they’re aquatic. That means they live in rivers and streams. You couldn’t have one under your bed unless you slept on top of a river.”

“What about a moose?” Benson said.

“No,” Aunt Lillibet said. “Are you crazy? A moose is the size of a bus!”

“They have nice eyes,” Benson said. “Anyway, there are some things from Canada that live here too. Like fireflies.”

His mother said, “I don’t think so, Benson. We have lots of flies here, but we don’t have fireflies.”

Benson said, “Ralph has butterflies.”

“Butterflies aren’t flies,” Aunt Lillibet said.

“What about dragonflies?” Benson said.

“They’re not flies either,” Aunt Lillibet said, “and before you ask, they’re not dragons either.”

Benson was imagining tiny dragons flying around, landing in the trees and on the flowers.

“But sand-flies are flies, and so are fruit-flies,” his mother said.

“Fruit-flies?” Benson said. “What kind of fruit are they made of?” He imagined tiny flying bananas and little pineapples with wings and small, furry kiwifruit flying everywhere.

“They’re called fruit-flies because they EAT fruit, not because they are fruit,” Aunt Lillibet said.

Benson was disappointed. Sometimes Aunt Lillibet was no fun at all. “Anyway,” he said, “we do have fireflies.”

“No, we don’t,” Aunt Lillibet said.

“Yes, we do!” Benson said stubbornly.

“No, we don’t!” Aunt Lillibet said more stubbornly.

“Yes, we do!” Benson said so loudly he would have been shouting except that he knew it wasn’t polite to shout at your auntie. “I can see some right now, outside in the bushes.”

“No, you can’t!” Aunt Lillibet shouted. “We don’t have fireflies!!”

“Fireflies are small and twinkly and they flash off and on in the bushes at night like little bright sparkles, don’t they?” Benson said. “Well, look!” He pointed to the bushes outside at the end of the yard.

His mother got up to look. “Lillibet,” she said, “there ARE little sparks twinkling in the bushes outside. Benson’s right. Except it’s not fireflies, I think it’s a fire!”

“What?!!” Aunt Lillibet said, jumping up to look.

Benson’s mother said, “Someone probably didn’t put out their camp-fire properly, and the sparks are spreading through the bushes. Come on, we’d better do something before they take hold and start a real fire.”

She and Aunt Lillibet rushed outside with buckets of water and some old blankets. They put out the fire in the bushes, and beat out the sparks that were burning in the grass, until all the fire was out.

When they came inside again, Benson’s mother said, “It’s a good thing you noticed those sparks in the bushes, Benson. It could have been very serious if they’d spread and turned into a real bushfire.”

Benson said, “You know, if we got a rhinoceros, it could trample out fires with its feet.”

“No!” said his mother and Aunt Lillibet together.

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