The Blue Wool
This gentle short story by Wendy Clarke will warm your heart.
I knew how much little things could comfort someone feeling anxious . . .
NOBODY knits any more?” Mum holds up the tiny blue sleeve on her needles. “What’s this, then?” The ball of wool is in my lap and, as my mum’s needles click and the rows grow, the ball rolls softly across my palm.
The new baby will be with us before summer begins.
“What do you think we should call him?”
“Who?” Without thinking, I’ve pressed the blue wool against my cheek.
“The baby, of course! I like Nathan.”
“That’s a stupid name.” Mum and Dad are excited, but I’m happy with things the way they are. Just the three of us.
“What would you pick, Louisa? We can’t call him the bump for ever.”
I let the wool run through my fingers. Mum and I are joined by the blue thread, and I like it.
This must be what it was like when I was born. We watched a programme about it at school and the boys all pulled faces when the cord was cut.
Mum lays down the little sleeve and digs around in her striped knitting bag for her scissors.
“Don’t cut it!” My voice has come out louder than I realised and Mum stares.
“Don’t be silly, Louisa.
I’ve finished the sleeve.”
With a snip of the scissors I’m free. The ball of wool drops from my lap on to the floor and I watch it roll away, feeling empty.
“Well? It’s like a big spacecraft, isn’t it?”
I take Ben’s hand and we walk round to the side of the radiotherapy machine.
“I lie on it?” He points at the table. “It looks hard.”
“You do,” I say. “When the time comes to have your treatment you’ll have a super-sucky beanbag that fits to your body to keep you still. You’ll be like an astronaut in his rocket. Why don’t you climb up and have a try?”
As a play specialist, this is what I do with children who are about to start treatment.
If they’re younger I’ll place a favourite toy on the bed and sing silly rhymes. With an older child, like Ben, it’s easier to role play.
He’s already pushed himself up on to the table. He lies back and stares at the machine over his head.
“Mum says it’ll zap all the bad bits to make me better.”
“Your mum’s right, Ben. That’s just what it’ll do.”
He hesitates and I see, beneath the bravado, the little boy he really is.
“Will Mum be able to stay with me?”
Ben turns and looks at his mother, who’s hanging back, biting her lip. I can imagine what she’s thinking – that she’d give anything to swap places with her little boy.
“Not when you’re having your treatment; the special rays are just for you. But she’ll be right there when you’re all finished.”
“Cool,” he says again, but the confidence has left him.
If only I could think of a way to make it all right. To help them both through this difficult time.
Something about Ben reminds me of my brother, Nathan, now a young man studying engineering at university. I smile. Mum had been right – he couldn’t stay the bump for ever.
My smile fades as I remember a pale face on the pillow, as Nathan lay in a children’s ward very much like this one . . .
His breathing was shallow and irregular. He was asleep, his fingers wrapped around the red wool of the cardigan Mum had been knitting for me.
As she stroked the hair from his forehead the cardigan lay neglected on the white sheet, just the ribbing around the cuffs needed to finish it off.
I shake away the memory, preferring to think of my brother as he is now – strong and athletic, his childhood asthma gone.
But the memory lingers, along with the fear. Maybe it’s what drew me to this profession.
“Time to go back now.” I help Ben off the bed.
His mum is waiting at the door, a smile pasted on her face, and I watch Ben run the short distance to her. A distance that I know must seem like a mile.
I follow them out and close the door, wishing, as always, that there was more I could do.
Then I recall the way Nathan had stroked the soft wool as he slept.
Ben’s mother and I stand side by side at the large glass window. I give her a reassuring smile. She smiles back and we both look through the glass.
Ben is lying on the black table beneath the radiotherapy machine. He looks smaller than he did when I went to see him on the ward this morning.
I’d gone over, again, what was going to happen. How the special doctors would be able to talk to him, and his mum would be right there in the next room.
He’d been nervous, but when I’d told him my idea, he’d smiled.
Even from this distance I can see Ben’s hand. In his fingers is a thread of wool, the finest I could buy.
It runs down the side of the table, along the floor or the radiology room and disappears under the door.
Ben’s mum shifts beside me.
“All right?” I ask her. “Yes,” she says. “I am.” She looks down at her hand and I follow her gaze.
The end of the blue wool is wrapped tightly around her fingers, joining her to her son. I smile, happy to have helped.