People You Can’t Live With

Once there was a young wombat named Benson, who lived in a lovely wombat hole with his mother and his two aunts, Lillibet and Moss.

Benson’s Nanna had a fall and hurt her ankle. Benson’s mother, and Aunt Lillibet and Aunt Moss were very worried.

“She obviously can’t look after herself,” Aunt Lillibet said. “She can’t live by herself any more.”

“I think she should move in with us,” Benson’s mother said. “We’ve got plenty of room, really, and she’d be no trouble.”

“Benson can sleep in my room,” Aunt Moss said, “and Nanna can have his room. I’ll sleep with Lillibet.”

“So long as you don’t snore,” Aunt Lillibet said.

Benson said, “Does Nanna want to live here? I thought she liked her own house.”

“That’s the trouble,” his mother said. “She won’t want to leave her own house.”

“You’d better go and talk to her,” said Aunt Lillibet. “But be tactful.”

“What’s tactful?” asked Benson.

“It means being careful what you say so you don’t hurt the other person’s feelings,” said his mother.

Benson and his mother went to visit Nanna. They took some rose-hip jelly, and some comfrey ointment for her ankle.

Benson loved talking to Nanna. She was funny and interesting and she knew lots of jokes.

“Do you snore, Nanna?” Benson asked her.

“I don’t know,” Nanna said. “I don’t listen when I’m asleep.”

“When you come to live at our place, you can’t sleep in Aunt Lillibet’s room if you snore,” Benson said. “Aunt Lillibet snores, but she doesn’t like other people snoring.”

“Benson!” said his mother.

“What?” said Benson. “I was tactful, wasn’t I?”

“Why would I come and live at your place?” Nanna said. She didn’t look happy.

Benson said, “Because you fell over and you can’t live by yourself any more. You need to come and fall over at our place.”

Nanna said, “I’d rather fall over at my place. That way I can say all the rude words I want.”

“I’m sure Nanna would never say a rude word,” Benson’s mother said.

Nanna said, “Benson, put your hands over your ears and shut your eyes.”

Benson put his hands over his ears, but he peeked a bit. Nanna said something that might have been a rude word.

Benson said, “Nanna, why don’t you want to come and live at my place?”

Nanna looked uncomfortable. She opened her mouth and she shut it again.

Benson said, “Everyone said I should be tactful, but you don’t have to be tactful because you’re old.”

“Thank you, Benson,” said Nanna. “The thing is, there are some people you just can’t live with.”

Benson’s mother said, “I know Lillibet is difficult sometimes, and even Moss is a bit forgetful, but I’m sure we could make you comfortable.”

Nanna said, “I don’t mean Lillibet or Moss.”

Benson’s mother said, “Oh. Well, I suppose Benson isn’t what you’d call quiet, and sometimes he can be a bit naughty.”

“It isn’t Benson!” said Nanna. “It’s me!”

“You?” said Benson’s mother.

“Yes, me! You wouldn’t want to live with me!” said Nanna. “I’ve been living by myself for so long, I’ve gotten used to doing exactly what I like. And most people don’t like the same things I like,” she said.

“What do you like that no-one else likes?” asked Benson. “Is it peppermint-flavoured chips?”

Benson’s mother said, “I’m sure it can’t be anything important. We’ve all got little likes and dislikes, and we just get used to living with each other.”

“Not this one,” Nanna said.

“What is it?” asked Benson. “Spitting? Cartwheels? Stealing other people’s sandwiches?” Benson had lots of friends who had annoying habits. “Biting?” His friend Alejandro’s little brother Quentin was a biter.

Nanna screwed up her eyes and said, “It’s opera!”

“Opera?!” said Benson’s mother.

“Opera?” said Benson. “What’s opera?” he asked his mother.

“It’s a kind of singing and you dress up at the same time, and sometimes the singers wear funny hats,” his mother said.

“It’s wonderful!” said Nanna. “I love to listen to it, and sometimes,” she whispered as if she didn’t want anyone else to hear, “I even sing along.”

“We wouldn’t mind opera,” Benson said.

“You say that, but when it comes down to it, either you love it or you hate it, and everyone else I know hates it,” Nanna said.

Benson sat down and folded his arms. “Try me,” he said.

Nanna looked at him. “Are you sure?” she said.

“Yep, let’s see how bad it can be,” Benson said.

“All right then,” she said. She took a deep breath, spread her arms out wide, looked up at the ceiling and sang. Really really loudly. In a strange voice. In words Benson couldn’t understand. She sounded like a train whistle and a vacuum cleaner and a flock of cockatoos put together. Benson tried very hard to listen, but after a minute he put his hands over his ears and shouted for her to stop.

Nanna stopped. “See?” she said.

Benson’s mother had her hands over her ears as well. She took them off. “Yes, I see,” she said. “Maybe it’s not such a good idea for you to come and live with us. But you could come and stay just for a little while, until your ankle is better.”

“That sounds like a lovely idea,” said Nanna. “Can I bring my opera hat?”

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