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  • Jan Flynn

Allow Me to Explain

Regarding wombats, unicycles, karma, and kitchen sinks

There’s a reason you’re looking at a wombat

I can explain. As you may know, I also write on (you can find me there using the search bar under my profile, @janmflynn1537). Currently, Medium is conducting a four-week contest, the Medium Writers Challenge, in which writers are urged to undertake writing on at least one of the four chosen themes: Work; Space; Reentry; and Death, using specific tags for each of the submitted articles. There’s a panel of celebrity judges, and big money enticements — $50,000 for the grand prize winner!

I was the annoying kid in school who always had her hand in the air (except in math class, during which I skulked in the back of the room counting the holes in the acoustical ceiling tiles — at least I was using numbers). So of course I sat down and whipped out pieces on the first three themes. Work? Got it. Space? Sure. Reentry? Plenty to say about that after fifteen months of COVID.

But when I got to Death, I froze. Stiff, you might say. It’s not like I haven’t written about death. I’ve written about it quite a bit, in fact, as well as grief. But those writings arose spontaneously, in response to my own inner promptings. Turns out that writing about death is a little like sex: not nearly as appealing when one is expected to do it on demand.

I procrastinated. I waited for inspiration to strike, with the usual result (crickets). And then, to the rescue came the witty and gifted Roz Warren, whose work on Medium I try never to miss because it’s always worthwhile and usually hilarious. Roz, in her wisdom, intuited that there might be many writers who found the Medium Challenge themes to be ponderous or dreary, especially the D-word.

So she offered an alternative challenge, with her own four themes, and extra brownie points if you managed to address all of them in one story. Her themes, as you may have guessed, were: wombats; the kitchen sink; unicycles; and karma. And yes, she offered a prize: two cents.

My writing mojo was instantly refreshed. I sat down and battered out the story below. Not to self-aggrandize, but I managed to work in not only Roz’s selected themes but the Medium Writers Challenge ones as well. I offer it to you here for the very low price of zero dollars and no cents.

I Failed As A Wombat Trainer

I should never have taken the bet, but I’m not one to back down from a challenge. And I tried, I really did. I gave it my all. But trying to get a wombat to ride a unicycle is harder than I thought. I mean, I knew it wouldn’t be easy. Wombats are roly-poly creatures, not well-balanced, and surprisingly grumpy. Also, their legs are very short, which meant I had to spend plenty of time and money on unicycle customization.

It’s not like you can walk into any bike shop with a miniature unicycle and just tell them you need it modified for a wombat. Not without getting laughed at, anyway. There aren’t even many YouTube videos that demonstrate unicycle customization at all, let alone for my specific purpose. I had to jigger the thing myself, and I’m no engineer. I threw everything but the kitchen sink at the effort, and the result wasn’t pretty, even with all the glitter glue I used to attach the jumbo paper clips I used as pedals.

The wombat didn’t appreciate all my hard work. Once his training began in earnest, I couldn’t seem to get Steve (that’s what I named him) to see the point of unicycle riding. Not even when I tempted him with his favorite food, wallaby grass. Yes, that’s a thing, and believe me, it’s not cheap.

I don’t have a big yard, so I took Steve and his unicycle to the dog park where he’d have more space in which to unicycle. The dogs weren’t an issue, since they were either leery of Steve or his rig, but I got into an altercation with one of their owners who tried to tell me that Steve didn’t belong. “Where is it written that wombats aren’t allowed?” I asked, with more heat than I’d intended to, “What are you, a speciesist?” I whipped out my phone, ready to record what happened next, but at that point the dog owner backed off, shaking his head. Like I’m the one with the problem!

So I resumed the training session, but it didn’t go well. Not at all. After the fifteenth try, his paws all sticky and glittery, Steve got so fed up that he bit me. Let me tell you, wombats may look cuddly, but their teeth are no joke. Trying to explain what happened to the emergency room doc who stitched me up nearly got me a psych evaluation, until I showed him a pic on my phone of Steve on the unicycle. Then the doctor looked at me solemnly.

“That’s not a happy wombat,” he said. “They weren’t made to ride unicycles for our amusement, you know.”

Just my luck to get the one ER doc in the state who used to be a veterinarian in Sydney. But he made me realize a painful truth. I’d been using Steve, a sensitive wombat with his own path in life to waddle, to satisfy my own egotistical ends. With my nearly severed middle finger in a splint, I had to admit defeat.

It was the death of a dream, and I took it hard. It was months before I felt ready to reenter the world, shorn of my desired identity as a wombat trainer. Sadly, I flew Steve back to Australia. I hope he’s happy there. Sometimes I miss him.

As for the unicycle, it was pretty beaten up. I tried to sell it to recover my costs and pay up for the bet I’d lost, but the one guy who showed up from Craig’s List told me he wouldn’t give me two cents for it.

So here I am, broke, bereft, and bitten. I guess it’s karma.

At least I can talk about it now.


So, whaddaya think? Did I hit all eight themes? Opinions eagerly sought!

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