Once there was a young wombat named Benson who lived in a warm, cosy wombat hole with his mother and his two aunts, Lillibet and Moss.
Aunt Moss was going to visit her friend, Rebekah, and she asked Benson if he would like to come along. “Rebekah’s grandson Ralph lives with her, you know, and I’m sure he would love to have a friend come to visit.”
Benson thought Ralph wasn’t really a friend. He never came to the playground, and they didn’t really know each other. Ralph was kind of quiet, and he was seriously interested in things that Benson wasn’t interested in, like studying clouds, and watching ants.
Benson opened his mouth to say, “No, I think I’ll stay home,” and then he saw that Aunt Moss was making strawberry custard tarts to take to Rebekah’s place and he shut it again.
“Okay,” he said, “I’ll come. But I think I’ll bring a book.”
“That’s a good idea,” said Aunt Moss. “I think Ralph would love you to read to him.”
They packed up the strawberry tarts carefully while they were still warm, and Benson put his library book in his backpack and they set off.
Rebekah was very excited to see them. “It’s so lovely to see you!” she said. “And Benson, Ralph will be so happy to see you. Thank you for coming!”
Ralph didn’t seem to be very happy to see Benson. He was in his room with the door shut, making awful noises.
Benson said, “What’s the matter with Ralph? Is he sick or something?” It sounded like Ralph had the worst stomach pains in the world.
“Oh no,” said Rebekah. “He’s learning the violin.” She knocked on the door and called out loudly, “Ralph, we have visitors.”
Ralph came out. He had a violin that was almost as long as his arm, and a long bow with hairs sproinging from it everywhere.
Aunt Moss said, “You’re learning the violin? How wonderful! The violin is such a beautiful instrument. Perhaps you could play for us while we’re eating morning tea?”
Ralph couldn’t wait to play. He put the end of the violin under his chin and played. And played and played.
It was the most horrible thing Benson had ever heard. It was a noise like an ambulance siren and a cockatoo, one in each ear at the same time. He held his breath and jammed his hands over his ears and shut his eyes but the screeching of the violin went on drilling into his head.
Even Aunt Moss was a little taken aback. She did the only thing she could think of and started clapping very loudly. Ralph stopped playing and smiled.
“Thank you for playing for us, Ralph,” she said. “Have you been learning for very long?”
“Two weeks,” said Ralph. He started to play again. It sounded like two chainsaws fighting to see who could be the loudest.
Benson grabbed the plate of strawberry tarts. “Here, have a strawberry custard tart,” he shouted.
Ralph stopped playing and took one of the tarts.
Rebekah said, “He loves playing so much. He hasn’t had a single lesson. His cousin Corlette didn’t want to play any more so she gave the violin to him. He never stops playing.”
Aunt Moss smiled. “I can see that he loves it.”
Ralph finished the tart and started playing again. Rebekah shouted, “Why don’t you boys go outside and play for a while?”
Benson thought that was a great idea. They both went outside. Ralph brought the violin with him. As soon as they got outside, he started to play again. Benson dug a deep tunnel as fast as he could, and stayed there with his hands over his ears until it was time to go home.
On the way home, Aunt Moss said, “The violin is a most beautiful instrument.”
Benson said, “I think it’s the worst thing I ever heard. It was worse than a jackhammer digging up a road. It was worse than a jet plane landing on your head.”
“Now, Benson, Ralph is just learning,” said Aunt Moss. “He’ll get better and better if he keeps practising.”
Benson said, “If I were his grandmother, I would sneak into his room when he’s asleep and get that violin and chop it into tiny pieces and bury them in the compost heap.”
Aunt Moss was very quiet for a while. Then she said, “I think we might go around past Nanna’s place, and see if she’s home.”
Benson loved visiting his grandmother.
“Benson!” she said, when she opened the door. “What a lovely surprise!” She gave him and Aunt Moss enormous hugs.
Aunt Moss said, “I thought you wouldn’t mind if we dropped in. We’ve been to see my friend Rebekah. Her grandson Ralph is learning the violin.”
“Yes,” said Benson, “and I’m never going there again.”
Aunt Moss explained to Nanna about the old violin and how much Ralph loved to play it. “I thought,” she said, “that it would be good if Benson could hear how nice a violin sounds when it’s played well.”
Nanna looked thoughtful. Then she went into her room and brought out a violin, very old but polished and smooth. She took her bow and started to play. Benson put his hands up to his ears, but the sound was like golden syrup flowing warm and thick through his head and all around him. It had bright bits like honeycomb sprinkled here and there, and then it was like the creek at the end of the afternoon, gentle and green, and then it was like the dark velvety sky at night with tiny distant stars. When Nanna stopped playing Benson felt as if someone had woken him up in the middle of a warm, comfortable sleep.
“That was a violin?” he said.
“I told you the violin was a beautiful instrument,” said Aunt Moss. She asked Nanna, “Do you think you might be able to give Ralph a lesson?”
“Yes, of course, though it’s a long time since I gave lessons, Moss,” Nanna said.
“You used to teach people to play the violin?” Benson said. “I didn’t even know you could play.”
“I don’t play much when there are people around,” Nanna said. “Not everyone likes the violin.”
“They would if they could hear you play,” said Benson.
Nanna laughed. “It’s very nice of you to say so, Benson,” she said. “I’m sure I sounded worse than Ralph when I started.”
“No,” Benson said, shaking his head. Even remembering Ralph’s playing made his head buzz. “Nobody could sound worse than Ralph.”