The Length of String

12 Sep

The Length Of String

This is a story I wrote once on twitter. It was written ‘live’, and I present it again in that form, with whatever typos and other accidents of improvisation occurred at the time.

One of those dull but mild days sorting through paper work, tidying up. Brain in neutral. Typing an email I notice I stumble over words.

Why is that? Oh. I see. I’m holding a piece of string in my left hand. That’s a little odd, and it is interfering with my typing, clearly.

I look to see where the string goes. Over the desk, down the back somewhere, but look, it runs out and across the floor, and round the door.

I stand and start to reel it in while I follow it. It continues: down the corridor, down the stairs, across the landing, another flight…

…through the hall and under the front door. I have quite a little roll of string now in my hand. Plain, white, cotton string. New looking.

I follow it out the front door, down the driveway & out into the street. It winds its way along the pavement as far as my eyes can trace it.

Well of course I pause and wonder what on earth is going on. I have no recollection of paying it out, or of picking up the end.

Yet it seems to be leading me somewhere. Naturally I start to follow, the ball getting bigger all the time. I follow it for a mile or so,

across streets, through a small park, a patch of wasteland. The ball is getting a little heavy now, some effort in winding it up.

I sit and rest for a while. I may need a wheel barrow if I am to continue. Perhaps I should just leave it here, forget about it.

Maybe that would be best. Stroll home, put it out of my mind.

That’s impossible of course. No one has that sort of will power. But I will test the fates. I will leave it there, go home, pick up the …

wheelbarrow. Return to where I left it, and if it hasn’t been half-inched, I shall continue to follow it. So, about half an hour later…

I return with my wheelbarrow. The ball of string is still there. No one seems to be paying it any attention. I pick it up and continue.

You are wondering how long is this story going to go on? You know the answer to that. But I will tell you how long this piece of string was.

This is not a story that took a day. Or even a week. I ended up following that piece of string for a month or so. Through familiar streets,

up dual-carriageways and motorways, through so many familiar lanes and avenues, so many memories, back through my life.

I imagine now you are beginning to pick up the thread too. Eventually, I think I knew where it was going, I arrived on foot in the village…

where I was born. I hadn’t been there for 40 years; it had changed, but not enough that I didn’t recognise it. I followed the string…

right up to the front door of the house where I was born. Tears now, but a strong sense of coming home. I pushed at the door, it moved back.

I entered the house. All quiet. Hardly changed. A clock ticking somewhere. Trod the stairs up to my first room. The string ever white…

against the faded carpets, the well trodden boards. There, by my old bed, the string came to an end. I thought I saw for a moment, …

…the shade of my mother, also gone these 40 years, sitting there in the twilight. But it was probably just something in my eye.

I lay down on that bed, my feet sticking out over the end. And thought. I’ve had enough of remembering now. Time to move forwards.

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