Once there was a young wombat named Benson who lived in a tidy, happy wombat hole with his mother and his two aunts, Lillibet and Moss.
Benson’s friend Roly came over to help him build a new design for an automatic potato peeler and afterwards they had lunch together.
Benson’s mother looked at all the half-peeled and hardly-peeled potatoes and said, “I think we’ll have potato soup for lunch.”
“Oh,” said Roly.
“Don’t you like soup?” Aunt Lillibet asked.
“It gets up my nose a bit,” Roly said. “It’s not really echidna food.”
“Then I’ll make a nice lentil and coconut and potato casserole,” she said. “It’s very easy to make, but it’s difficult to wash up. It sticks to the dish like concrete.”
The casserole was delicious, but then it was time to wash up. Aunt Lillibet put on her pink rubber gloves and got her super-heavy-duty dish-scrubber and set to work.
She scrubbed and scrubbed, and then she stopped. “I’ve scrubbed a hole right through these rubber gloves,” she said.
She took them off and was going to throw them in the bin, but Roly said, “If you don’t want them any more, could I have them?”
Benson said, “What do you want rubber gloves with a hole in them for?”
“Oh, nothing,” Roly said, going all pink. He took the old gloves home with him.
The next day Benson went over to see Roly to ask him about something, and he heard Roly talking to someone. When he looked around the other side of the ant-hill, he saw Roly talking to two pink rubber gloves. He had stuffed them with grass so they stood up straight with their pink fingers waving in the air, and he was chatting to them as if they were old friends.
“What are you doing?” Benson asked.
Roly jumped, and looked embarrassed. “Nothing,” he said.
“Are you pretending those rubber gloves are echidnas?” he said.
“No,” said Roly. Then he said, “Well, kind of.” He looked even more embarrassed.
The rubber gloves didn’t look anything like echidnas. They were bright pink and soft and rubbery, not brown and sharp and pointy.
“Why?” Benson asked, amazed.
Roly wriggled a bit and said, “Sometimes I get a bit lonely for other echidnas, to talk to about echidna things, you know, like ants and the best way to get sand off your tongue, that sort of thing.”
Benson said, “You can talk to me about echidna things any time you want.”
Roly said, “I know, but most of the time we talk about wombat stuff. I like wombat stuff okay, digging holes and things, but just sometimes I feel like talking about echidna things.” He stopped talking because he thought he might be hurting Benson’s feelings.
Benson thought about what Roly had said all the way home, and then he talked to his mother about it. They talked to Aunt Lillibet and Aunt Moss and together they came up with a plan.
The next day, Benson went over to see Roly again. “I’ve got something for you,” he said. “It’s an invitation to a party at my place. It’s an echidna party, just for echidnas.”
Roly said he would love to come, but he wondered what sort of party it would be. He only knew one other echidna, and that was his friend Snippet. Two echidnas wasn’t really enough for a party.
The next day he brushed his spines nicely and went over to Benson’s place for the party. When Benson opened the door, he was wearing a stuffed green rubber glove tied to his head. Benson said, “This party is only for echidnas. Are you an echidna?”
“I’ve been an echidna ever since I was born,” Roly said proudly.
“You can come in, then,” Benson said.
Snippet, Roly’s echidna friend, was there, and Snippet had brought a friend called Snickle that Roly hadn’t met yet, from the other side of the creek.
Benson’s mother came up with a bowl full of shiny black ants. She had pink rubber gloves on her ears, and rows of rubber glove fingers stuck on her back. “Would you like an ant?” she asked Roly.
“Yes, please!” said Roly. His tongue went zot-zot-zot. “Mmm, delicious!” he said.
“Termites, anyone?” said Aunt Lillibet. She had yellow rubber gloves tied all over her hat. Even Aunt Moss had green rubber glove fingers standing up in a row all down the middle of her back. She looked more like an unusual dinosaur than an echidna, but Roly didn’t say anything. He was too busy trying out all the wonderful echidna food.
There were plates of ants in all different colours and flavours, green ants and red ants and brown ants, and there were sugar ants and beetle larvae cookies for dessert. There were separate plates of chocolate sprinkles and poppy-seed muffins for the rubber-glove echidnas, and cookies without the beetle larvae.
They blew rubber gloves up like balloons and played rubber glove soccer and rubber glove tennis with them, and they drew faces on the fingertips and played finger puppets with them. Everyone said it was the best echidna party they had ever been to. Snickle had such a good time that she invited everyone to come to her birthday party the week after.
When it was time to go home, Roly said to Benson’s mother, “Thank you for the echidna party. It was amazing.”
She gave him a hug, carefully, and said, “I know you miss your mother and your home, Roly. But even though we’re only wombats, we love you, and our home is your home, as long as you need it.”
Roly hugged her back, and gave her the very last sugar ant.