“Why, why, why?” A small wombat banged his head steadily against the flat surface supporting his lunch, as if blunt trauma to the forehead via wooden picnic table would give him answers.
His twin brother rolled his eyes and dug into his lunch pail. When his paw emerged with a handful of wriggling worms rather than the anticipated peanut butter and strawberry jam sandwich, his mouth dropped open and he considered joining his brother’s woeful genuflection.
It was generally acknowledged that the twins’ mother was insane. For one thing, she named her boys Scanket and Blarf, an unholy homage to her two favorite knitting projects, a blanket and a scarf. That she turned around and gave the blanket and scarf the stolidly respectable names of Wilbur and Whitby was only insult to injury.
“Even her knitting has better names than we do,” Blarf grumbled to his brother after their mother proudly introduced them to her newest sweater, which she had named Charlotte. “I’d take Charlotte over Scanket any day,” his brother whispered back – a telling statement given the swaggering machismo he’d recently adopted. Thankfully, his swagger quickly disappeared the second they needed to make a quick getaway.
“But what can one expect from wombats named Scanket and Blarf?” the townspeople would say to each other, shaking their heads ruefully after the twins had filched yet another box of chocolate bars or bottle of raspberry cordial. When caught, the brothers would be reprimanded and put to work to pay off their misdeeds. But this only served to make them craftier, not more honest.
Despite their unfortunate names, Scanket and Blarf cut quite a swath at the village school, bestowing sweet treats on the lucky animals in favor that day and smirking at everyone else. Everyone wanted to be on the good side of the wombat twins and not just because they had access to all the best desserts.
“Why worms?” Blarf moaned. “She promised us peanut butter and jam today.” Scanket shook his head at his naivete. Sure, their mother may have promised a normal noon meal while snuggled up by the fire, knitting needles clacking away between her paws, but inevitably she would wake in the deep of night, caught by a feverish notion that told her earthworms would be far healthier for growing wombats. In her mad haze, she’d rush out into the dew-laden, moonlit garden, dig some up some unsuspecting garden pests, drag them back into the kitchen, and label them a meal.
“She’s daft, Blarf,” his twin said prosaically, before wandering over to the nearest picnic table and confiscating a tuna fish sandwich and an onion tart from two classmates who had fallen from favor. Blarf still longed for a normal mother, one who didn’t name her knitting and baked cookies instead of kale. Scanket simply adapted, creatively augmenting their meals and choosing to find their mother’s lunacy amusing. He knew she loved them, she just had odd ideas about how to show that love, he thought as he emptied his pail of worms into the schoolyard garden.
After the usual round of afternoon admonishments from the teacher, the animals streamed out the school house doors. Blarf veered off to the side and began pulling things out of his knapsack. “Knitting needles, two sets,” he mumbled. “Red blankets and safety pins, check.” After watching his twin blankly, Scanket asked for instructions. Blarf had terrible and wonderful ideas and Scanket was always on board.
Tugging the requested wagon behind him – he didn’t even have to steal it, it had been abandoned in the lane three days ago – he saw that Blarf had donned a uniform for mischief. Knitting needles poked out of his hat like bug antenna and a red blanket was swirled around his neck. He handed Scanket a set of knitting needles and another blanket, this one a cheery yellow.
Snapping on his goggles, Blarf climbed into the wagon and demanded that Scanket push him to the top of the lane, where the red brick curved downward in a steep trajectory to the town square. Poised over the precipice, Scanket gave the wagon a mighty shove and jumped in behind his brother.
Red and yellow capes flew out behind them as the wind whistled through their antenna. The village was reduced to a blur of color and sound and Blarf laughed for the first time in a week, the sound pealing out behind them as they ricocheted around corners and narrowly missed a shopkeeper sweeping his stoop. Scanket gave a mighty whoop and a cluster of chattering magpies quickly dispersed as they slammed to a halt at the bottom.
Hopping out and grinning at the open mouths of the animals in the square, Blarf started pulling the wagon up the hill for another ride. Until Scanket saw the curious faces of the schoolmates who gathered around, and a fully formed scheme jumped into his head as if sent down from above.
The twins made one pound, three shillings, and five pence – enough to keep them in jam and peanut butter for weeks – before a wagon carrying two caped rabbits and a young vole brandishing knitting needles crashed into Randall and the raccoon, proving himself terribly fussy about bruises and knocked-askew scarves, shut the operation down.
This is the third in a collection of stories about animals who talk and drink tea and get themselves in trouble. The first story, about a fastidiously dressed raccoon named Randall, is here. The second, about a world-weary lemur named Mortimer, is here. These stories have become some of my favorite things in life, so I hope you enjoy them.