The Blue Wool

This gen­tle short story by Wendy Clarke will warm your heart.

The People's Friend Special - - TRAVEL -

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.

Mum frowns.

“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.

The End.

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