A Ball of String
by Pauline Barclay
Lia looked at the clock on the wall, it was two minutes before eight. She raised herself from the sofa and at the same time hit the off button on the remote for the TV. With heavy steps, she headed towards the front door, and like previous Thursdays, she would stand outside and clap.
Reaching the front door, Lia pulled her jacket from the coat hook and slipped it on. Her spirits tonight had no more lifted than when she had slipped out of bed at seven thirty that morning. A positive person, she had tried to stay focused and optimistic, but today it wasn’t working. Why? She knew why and right now she didn’t want to torment herself further with all the things she would have been doing on her birthday had lockdown not been imposed. Zipping up her jacket, she pulled open the door and as the night air brushed against her face, to her dismay, she felt the prick of tears. Come on Lia, she silently castigated herself, self pity is not you. You are the one who wipes away other people’s tears not mopping up your own. Even as she knew she was being silly, she couldn’t stop thinking about her son and daughter-in-law who would have been coming to visit, bringing her only granddaughter, Roo, just eighteen months old. Her family lived no more than twenty miles away, but they might as well been on the moon at the moment.
Wiping the back of her hand across her wet cheeks, Lia took a deep breath, mentally shook herself and stepped out into the cool night air. She pulled the door closed behind her and was surprised to hear a buzz of voices in the street. Looking to her right and then her left, she spied neighbours standing in their gardens waving and calling out to each other. On the opposite side of the road it was the same. It seemed, every week more people joined in. In all the years she had lived in Bramble Road, she had never seen all of her neighbours, collectively or individually. It had taken a national emergency for everyone to show their faces. Taking it all in, she walked the few yards to the top of her driveway. A few hands started to clap and then the street erupted. The noise was almost ear splitting. More clapping, banging of pans and whistling joined in. The, normal tranquil, street was a cacophony of sound. Voices cheered, some called out, ‘Thank you NHS and front line people.’ The atmosphere was electric. A tingle shot down Lia’s spine at how everyone had rallied to show their support. She clapped enthusiastically, her own disappointments of the day evaporating.
Caught up in joining in, it took several seconds before she realized her name was being called. ‘Lia,’ she heard, and instantly turned to the source of the calling.
‘Catch Lia,’ Mark from next door called and at the same time he raised his arm and threw, what looked like a ball towards her. She reached out her arms and cupped her hands. As soon as she was sure she had it in her grasp, she looked back at Mark, who added, ‘Hold on to a length and then throw it to your next neighbour.’
Unsure what the game was, Lia did as requested. Twisting round on her heel, she called out to her neighbour on the other side, ‘Charlie, take this,’ and holding on to a length, she threw it to him. Seeing him catch it, she added, ‘Hold on to a length yourself, then pass it to your neighbour.
Within minutes the string ball had passed along and around the street until everyone standing outside had taken hold of a length.
‘Everyone, please…’ Mark’s voice boomed out. ‘Instantly there was a hush in the street. ‘Now can we all gently pull on the string together,’ Without question, heads nodded and in silence hands gently pulled.
‘This is what we must all do,’ Mark continued, ‘and, like holding our imaginary string, we must all pull together. Help each other and, no matter how difficult our days are, let us make sure we hold each other up. We all need help, some more than others, and not just today, but when we come out the other end and all of us try to rebuild our lives.’
A hush settled over Bramble Road. The residents absorbing what Mark had said. And then, as if a starting gun had been fired, a loud applause filled the silence of the street. ‘We are in this together,’ a chant started, building to a crescendo.
Goosebumps pricked at the back of Lia’s neck as a lump rose in her throat, threatening to choke her. The tears of earlier, no longer held back, splashed down her face. Her vision blurred, Lia looked down at her hands, there was no string, there never had been. Unsure she was able to speak, Lia gazed around at her neighbours. It was true, they were all in this together and whatever it took, she would hold on to the string because they all needed each other. She was there for them as they were there for her. Thank you, Mark, thank you for the string and thank you my special neighbours. Together we will get through this because like the string, we will pull together.