Past It

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 morning after breakfast, Benson’s mother started baking a cake. The lovely smell filled the whole wombat hole. It was just ready to come out of the oven when Nanna arrived. She said to Benson, “I’m going to visit some old friends. I think it would be good if you came with me, Benson. They’d love to chat to someone younger for a change.”

Benson’s mother said, “You can take the cake for morning tea if you like. It’s pumpkin and date.”

“Okay,” Benson said. If the cake was going, he was going too.

Nanna said, “It might be a good idea to bring your drawing things with you, so you’ve got something to do while I’m talking to my friends.”

Benson put his pencils and his pencil-sharpener and lots of drawing paper in his backpack, and got his hat and his water bottle. Nanna put the cake in a basket and they set off.

Nanna’s friends lived in a deep, dark wombat hole. They were all sitting in a dark room, not doing anything, except for one of them who was asleep in a chair and snoring. There were no pictures on the walls, and no nice smells like cake, or orange juice. Nanna said to them, “This is Benson. We’ve brought you some cake.”

The first one, whose name was Waldo, said, “We don’t get many visitors these days. Not like the old days, when we were famous all over the country.”

“What were you famous for?” Benson asked, while he ate his cake.

“We used to be the Amazing Acrobatic Wombats,” Waldo said. “Bub over there used to stand at the bottom because he was the biggest and strongest, and Jerome and I used to balance on his shoulders, and Hope would balance on top of our heads and do all sorts of fancy back-flips and double-reverse-pike jumps.”

Jerome grunted, “We don’t do any of that now, though,” he said. “Past it.” He had another slice of cake.

“What do you do now?” Benson said. The cake was really very good. He hoped Nanna’s friends wouldn’t eat it all.

“Nothing,” Jerome said. “Past it, really.”

Hope said, “I used to wear a sparkly pink costume, and a crown with plastic diamonds.” She sighed. “I loved that costume,” she said sadly. She went to pick up another slice of cake.

“Can I see it?” Benson asked.

“Yes, if you like,” Hope said. She put the cake down and went into her room and put her costume on.

Benson thought it was beautiful. “My Aunt Moss has a pink leotard like that. She wears it when she does aerobics at the community centre.”

“Aerobics?” Hope said. “Like this?” She did a complicated walk-over pirouette with two half twists and a tuck-hop-skip at the end.

“More like this,” Benson said. His lifted his hands up straight in the air and brought them down again.

“Aerobics, hah!” Hope said. “I could teach them a thing or two.”

Waldo said, “Why don’t we show him our quick-step shuffle-off, Hope?” He and Hope started dancing across the room, flinging each other from side to side. They lifted Benson up and balanced him on their shoulders, then they spun him around and sat him on top of a lamp.

Benson said, “Wow! You’re amazing!” in between panting.

Jerome said, “They’re not as fast as they used to be but they’ve still got it. Not like me. I’m past it, I’m afraid.”

“Past what?” Benson said.

“Everything,” Jerome said. “It’s my knees, you know. Gone completely.” He took another piece of cake and ate it sadly.

Benson looked at Jerome’s knees. They looked as if they were still there. He said, “If you can’t dance or balance any more, what are you going to do now?”

Jerome said, “Not much, really. I always thought that when I retired from the acrobatics, I’d write a book about some of the things we used to do, and the places we went. But I don’t think I’ve got what it takes.”

Benson got out a piece of drawing paper and gave it to Jerome. He gave him his third-best green pencil and said, “Here. Now you have.”

“What, me? Write a book? Now?” Jerome said.

“Why not?” Benson said.

Jerome looked at the pencil and the paper. “You’re right. Why not?” he said. He put his head down and started writing.

Hope said, “You know, I think I’d make a good aerobics teacher.”

“I think so too,” Nanna said. “Why don’t you go and talk to the people at the community centre?”

Waldo said, “Do you think anyone would be interested in dancing lessons? I bet Hope and I could show them a thing or two.”

“I’m sure you could,” Nanna said. “I think lots of people would love to learn, once they saw you and Hope dancing.”

Waldo said, “What about you, Jerome?”

Jerome didn’t even look up from his piece of paper. “Don’t bother me now, Waldo,” he said. “I’ve only just gotten started on this history of the Amazing Acrobatic Wombats.”

There was no cake left, so Benson figured it must be time to go home. In the corner, Bub gave a really big snore and woke himself up. “Oh, are you going?” he said. “You should come again sometime, young fellow. You really liven the place up.” He rolled over and went back to sleep.

When they got home, Benson’s mother said, “Would you like to give me a hand in the kitchen, Benson?”

Benson lay down flat on the floor. “I don’t think so,” he said. “I’ve been talking and dancing and helping people write stories all morning. I’m too tired. I think I’m past it!”

“Too tired even to help me make pancakes?” she said.

And Benson found he wasn’t past it at all.

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