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Saved by a Wallaby

(c) Linda Hutchison May 2020

Anna and Bill were at home with their parents, Toni and Daryl, on a Saturday afternoon. The sun was shining, Toni was out the back on the deck reading a magazine, and Daryl was happily scrubbing down their mountain bikes after their morning outing. Spotify was playing some 1990’s tunes in the garage, with the volume cranked up so Daryl could hear it over the sound of the hose. Anna and Bill had been drawing on the footpath and riding their scooters, but Daryl called out to them to help.
“Kids, unpack the car please. You need to put your helmets away.”
Their station wagon was parked in the street in front of their house. Anna put down her chalk, opened the back door of the wagon, and climbed into the back seat. She started putting wrappers and drink bottles in her backpack. There was a packet of chips and muesli bar in her backpack that she hadn’t eaten.
“Bill! Now,” called Daryl.
Bill scampered over and opened the rear of the wagon. He took out the family’s cycling jackets and carried them into the house. As he came back to the car, he noticed their cat, Smoky, climb in where the jackets had been. He climbed in after him and spoke over the back seat to his sister.
“Hey Anna, Smoky’s in the car.”
“What? But we never see him.” Anna lifted her head to see Smoky peering over the back seat at her. She laughed.
“Come in Smoky, you can help us.” Anna clambered over into the front seat, where a collection of hats and sunscreen lay on the car floor. Bill pulled the rear door down behind him and then climbed over into the front seat with Anna.
“What do all these buttons do?” He started pointing and prodding things. The radio came on suddenly, and they both jumped.
“Arrrgh! The news!” They turned it off again.
“What does that lever do,” Anna asked Bill, pointing to the handbrake.
“No idea. It doesn’t look important.”
“I’ll ask Dad.” Anna poked her head out the passenger window, with Bill not far behind her. Smoky was in the back seat with his front paws on the window ledge.
“Dad? Can I pull this lever-thingy?”
Daryl was rocking away to a Pearl Jam number and did not quite hear what Anna said. Later he would tell the police that he thought she asked if she could close the window.
“Sure thing, love. Go for it.”
Anna and Bill looked at each other in surprise but did as their Dad told them. Anna pulled the lever and then let it go as it shifted down towards the floor of the car. Nothing seemed to happen at first, so they continued gathering things. Bill scrambled back into the back seat where he found an old pair of socks and his half-eaten sandwich.
“Yuck.” He lifted his head to throw the sandwich into the rear of the car, then noticed that their house seemed to be getting further away.
“Um, Anna. I think the car’s moving.” She lifted her head and looked out the windscreen.
“Oh no. Oh no! Dad!”
Daryl looked up to see the family station wagon slowly picking up speed as it made its way down the street. He dropped the hose, which bounced off the bike he was cleaning, then twisted in his direction, spraying him fully in the face. As he grappled with the hose, wiping streams from his eyes, he saw the car disappear on its way down the hill.
“Toni! The children!”
Toni had her headphones on while she was reading. Later she would tell the police that she thought Daryl was looking after the children and would frown at Daryl meaningfully. Daryl would look away and rub his eye as though something was in it.
Anna and Bill meanwhile were now both in the front seat, watching the houses go past and the corner coming closer and closer. Anna had the steering wheel, and Bill was desperately trying to think how he could stop the car.
“What about the brakes, Anna?”
“Bill, I can’t reach the pedals.” The car snaked gently across the bitumen as Anna got the hang of steering. Bill was getting a bit anxious.
“The corner! Turn the wheel!”
“Not yet. We’ll end up in Mrs Smith’s garden. I have to time it just right.” She poked her tongue out with concentration. Just before they reached the corner, their neighbour appeared around the bend from the opposite direction on their way home. She narrowly missed the children, but they got a glimpse of her staring at them with her mouth wide open, as if she were about to swallow a hamburger whole. They started laughing, but only for a moment.
“The corner!”
Anna turned the steering wheel and made it around the corner, barely missing the curb on the opposite side of the road. They were still rolling, but not as fast as before and the next stretch of road sloped only very gently. Later they would tell the police that they weren’t very scared at that point.
Back home, Daryl had rushed out the back to find Toni, who first laughed at him because his head was dripping wet, and then shook the magazine at him when she heard what had happened. They both ran out the front door to see the car turn the corner and disappear towards town. They looked for their helmets, but realised that they were still in the car, so they jumped on their bikes anyway and rode off after the children.
Anna was steering and thinking about what lay ahead on the road.
“Bill, we’re heading towards the gully. You’d better get our helmets.”
He looked at his sister seriously.
“Oh yeah.”
Reaching over to grab them from the back seat, he saw Smoky sitting on a towel, looking remarkably relaxed given the stress of the situation. The children took it in turns to steer the car while they strapped on their helmets. Later the police would say that they were very sensible for their age, and Toni would say that they get it from their mother. Daryl still had something in his eye.
The car had picked up speed and was heading rapidly downhill towards the gully. Toni and Daryl were way behind, their legs still creaking from the morning’s ride.
“Anna, Bill! Try the handbrake!”
The children couldn’t hear them because they were singing a song their mother had taught them to sing when they were afraid. Suddenly a wallaby appeared on the side of the road, and they realised that there was a dirt side road just downhill from the wallaby.
“Go there, Anna. It’s uphill.” Bill had seen on television how trucks could stop if their brakes failed by rolling up a long hill. Anna turned the steering wheel again just in time and the car rocked and bumped its way along the track, slowing down each time it hit a bump. Smoky would later tell his friends that this was the best part of the ride. Toni would have told them he was possibly fibbing because she found deep claw marks in the back seat.
“Bill, hold the steering wheel.” Bill moved across and held it firm as the car gradually slowed. Anna reached down and hauled as hard as she could on the handbrake. The car came to a shuddering halt.
“Oh, so that’s what the lever does!” Anna laughed at Bill and Bill laughed back, both in great relief. Smoky sat down and started purring. Toni and Daryl arrived not long afterwards on their bikes. They had some explaining to do when the police also arrived a few minutes later. Mrs Smith had called them when she saw the children roll past unaccompanied in the car.
“We suggest you drive these children straight home and give them afternoon tea. They will be very shocked by the experience.”
“Not as shocked as Daryl will be,” said Toni quietly to herself. She spoke up, “Where are the car keys, Daryl?”
“They will be, um, on the kitchen table,” Daryl replied, his face dropping as he realised what that meant. Toni merely pointed uphill towards home. Daryl would later tell his mates that it was great to get some extra training, but the truth was he used parts of his vocabulary on the way home that he usually saved for when he hit his thumb with a hammer.
Later that evening, when the children were in bed, Toni was in a more conciliatory mood, largely brought on by a glass or two of Pinot Noir.
“We were lucky today, Daryl. It could have been a lot worse.”
“It sure could have,” he sighed, “they could have scratched the paintwork.”
Toni threw her cushion at him.

Saved by a Wallaby: Work
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