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A Ball of Wool

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A Ball of Wool by Grace L Sutherland

“Um … ‘scuse me … I think you dropped this.”

Elizabeth looked up, curbing her instinct to recoil at the apparition in front of her. The girl was skinny; lank, mousy hair fell raggedly around her shoulders; lip, nose and eyebrows all sported piercings, not to mention several up each ear; a snake tattoo coiled from the back of her hand, around her arm and up to her nearly-naked shoulder. What there was of her clothing left very little to the imagination.

“Oh, thank you, dear. It must have fallen out of my bag.” She took the soft pink ball of wool and returned it to the tapestry tote by her side.

“OK if I sit here?” The girl indicated the seat opposite Elizabeth.

“But of course, dear.” The girl sat, and for some time they both remained silent, each looking out the train window whilst every so often stealing surreptitious glances at the other. Elizabeth kept a firm elbow on the handbag at her side.

Finally the girl spoke. “Are you knitting something for one of your grandchildren?”

“No, I only have one grandchild, and she would be a teenager by now. I have no idea where she is. But I love to knit, so I make things for needy children.”

“Wow. That’s really kind.” The girl hesitated a moment, then went on, “I’ve got a kid. She’s two and a half.”

Elizabeth’s eyes widened. “My goodness! You don’t look old enough!”

“I’m seventeen!” The girl protested indignantly. “Besides, it wasn’t my fault. I was raped.”

“Oh, you poor thing,” Elizabeth commiserated. “Yet you kept the child?”

“Sure. It’s not her fault that her old man’s a pig. Me Dad wanted me to get rid of it, but I told him that would be over my dead body. He said he could arrange that, too. That’s when I moved out.”

“So how do you manage?”

“I got a room. It’s not much, but it’s a roof over our heads. I pick up a bit of work here and there – I don’t do nothin’ wrong, just housework, washin’ dishes at cafes, runnin’ messages, stuff like that.”

“What about your mother?”

“Mum died when I was a kid. Cancer. There was just Dad and me after that. But most of the time there was just me, ’cause he was too busy drinkin’ and gamblin’ and chasin’ every woman he laid eyes on.”

Elizabeth nodded in mute understanding.

Finally the girl broke the silence. “What about you? How did you lose track of your only granddaughter?”

“Her mother died when she was five. That was also cancer. My daughter was the most beautiful person you could meet. She was pretty, a slim blonde with sparkling blue eyes, but far more importantly she was beautiful on the inside. Kind to everyone. Brought home enough stray and injured animals to start a menagerie. Full of life and fun. Wrote wonderful poetry. Why she had to die, and not that wretch of a husband of hers, is beyond me. He was just like your father: a drunkard, gambler and womaniser. I could even have forgiven him all that, but I could never forgive him for beating her as he used to. To this day I am convinced that his bashings helped to trigger her cancer. After my daughter died, he took their little girl and disappeared. I never heard from them again.”

Elizabeth’s eyes were misty. The girl’s eyes were wide. “What … what did you say your daughter’s name was?” she stammered.

“I didn’t. But it was Cara. Cara Elizabeth. Cara means dear one, and Elizabeth – which is also my name – means beloved of God. It fitted her perfectly.”

“Oh my God!” The girl exclaimed. “That was my mother’s name! And it is my daughter’s name, after her. My mum loved poetry, too. I remember her reading a poem to me. Something like ‘Swinging in sunshine, up in the air, free as the … something, something … wind in my hair.’ I don’t remember any more of it.”

Elizabeth was now sitting forward, her gaze much more intent.

“You said your mother died of cancer. Do you know what kind of cancer it was? And by the way, what is your name, dear?”

“My name is Rose. Mum loved roses, especially the big yellow ones. When I was little my hair was really blonde, like hers, and she used to say I reminded her of them. Mum died of breast cancer when I was five.”

“Do you know what your mother’s maiden name was?”

“It was a two-part name. The second part was Jones. The first part started with a B … Barton? Beetson? I’m not sure.”

The older woman took a deep breath. “My name is Elizabeth Broughton-Jones. My daughter, Cara, had a daughter named Rose. She named her that because her beautiful blonde hair reminded her of the yellow roses she loved so much. She died of breast cancer when her daughter was five, leaving the child in the care of her despicable father. The lines you just quoted were from a poem she wrote.” She broke off, her voice trembling. “The coincidences are just too great, my dear. I don’t know how this miracle has come about, but I believe you are my long lost granddaughter.”

Rose sat open mouthed. When she found her voice again, all she could say was “Wow!”

After what seemed an eternity, Elizabeth spoke again. “I am reasonably well off. I will not have my granddaughter and my great granddaughter living in squalor. You must come and live with me.”

“You’re kidding!” Rose gasped. “You don’t even know me!”

“I’ve heard enough to know you are genuine. Here’s my address and phone number. Get your things sorted out and come over as soon as you can.” She scribbled on the back of an envelope out of her handbag and handed it to Rose, then leaned over and hugged her. “Now, this is where I get off. I will look forward to seeing you again and to meeting my great granddaughter soon.”

A little later Rose was opening the door of the tiny room she rented above a delicatessen. As she entered, she smiled at the newspaper on the table and sent forth a silent thanks for reporters who felt it their civic duty to reveal every minute detail about the lives of the rich and not-so-famous. She was proud of herself, too. She had done her research well, and it was about to pay off handsomely. Memorising the few lines of the poem was a brilliant manoeuvre, and she was sure it had helped to clinch the deal. It would take a bit getting used to the new name, and getting her daughter to respond to a new name, too, but it would be worth it. She would be a really wonderful granddaughter – and heir – to Lady Elizabeth Broughton-Jones, the elderly, lonely, millionaire widow who loved to ride on trains and knit.

At about the same time, Elizabeth was entering the heavy wooden door of her rambling, dilapidated mansion. Her silent thanks was for lazy reporters who would blindly publish any story that was handed to them ready to print, without bothering to check the facts. She had known she would only have to ride the trains for a while before some gullible and greedy young thing popped up to claim her place as the long-lost Rose (who had never really existed.) Even though she could have done without the piercings and tatts, this child would scurry to care for her and meet her every whim in order to guarantee her place in the will, and so ensure that Elizabeth would never have to face her fear of a future in the dreaded nursing home. Only after Elizabeth’s demise would she learn that the estate had disappeared many years before due to Lord Broughton-Jones’ gambling habit.

Elizabeth dropped the ball of soft pink wool into the garbage. After a dozen or so stints on the floor of a railway carriage, it was too dirty to use. Besides, it had served its purpose well.

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