Short story: An American Dream? by Glenys Warlow

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FAY Smithson’s natural instinct was to put her head down; instead she took a deep breath and arranged a smile across her face to mask her anxiety.

It was important to look confident even though she didn’t feel it. She still expected someone to bar her way and tell her she had made a mistake. A smile greeted her,

“Would you like me to take your jacket, Ma’am?” Fay shook herself out of her reverie to look at the attendant.

“Um? Um, yes please….. if you wouldn’t mind,” she replied quietly as she let it slide off her arm.

The attendant indicated her seat. In no time she was offered a drink and newspaper. Fay settled back comfortably in the huge red leather seat trying not to draw attention to herself. Would her working class background betray her? She closed her eyes and thought of the life she had lead until a few months ago…

Delores Jackman had a mundane job at London Transport’s head office. The only respite from the boredom was Friday nights when she would join a few girls in The Masons Arms for a couple of Babychams and gossip. The main attraction of the pub was the US Marines based at the American Embassy. The girls found these young men exotic with their swagger, warm drawl, smart uniforms and ready cash. They egged each other, on simpering and giggling, hoping to attract their attention. One night Delores’ eyes locked onto those of Corporal Vinny Smithson.

That night Vinny accompanied Delores back home. It wasn’t long before they married. It was a quiet do and six months later Fay was born. Renting a couple of attic rooms with shared bathroom they settled into family life. It was difficult to manage on one wage. Soon Vinny tired of nights at home; it wasn’t what he was used to. Things got a lot worse when he was posted back to the States. With no money Delores and Fay were compelled to move into a tiny bedsit in a rundown part of town. Delores found an evening job at the local hospital and, with no alternative, left Fay alone in bed hoping that if she did wake, her deaf landlady would look after her until she got back.

Vinny never returned. Neither did he write or send any money. Delores and Fay lived a frugal but happy life together. Fay, a compliant, quiet child knew she was loved and made no demands on her mother. Unable to afford the uniform, Delores turned down Fay’s place at grammar school. Nevertheless at 16, Fay left the secondary modern with good exam results to work in the typing pool of an insurance company. Thirty years later Fay was PA to the director.

A tear threatened to spill from Fay’s eye as she thought of the cancer which took her mother’s life. It had taken them both by surprise when suddenly Delores was given just six months to live. In those last few months they had talked for the first time about Vinny Smithson.

Afterwards Fay took stock of her life. What had she got? There were no relatives. She didn’t know her father or even if he was still alive. She had no savings as she had spent what little she had accrued making her mother’s final months as memorable as possible. True she lived in a comfortable, modern apartment which she had shared with Delores but still it was rented. She needed a change of direction but what? While she still pondered on what to do a chain of events started to change her life.

Jim, her boss, sent her out shopping. There was nothing unusual in that, she often had to organise theatre tickets, restaurant reservations and buy presents, all part of her role as far as she was concerned. At the counter waiting to pay for the purchases she noticed the sign. She had never done the lotto and needed to ask the assistant for help.

“Just choose any six numbers - birthdays, house numbers, something significant,” she was told, “or, of course, you could try the lucky dip!” The assistant continued laughing.

Fay looked in her purse. She had a two pound coin. Without further thought she quickly crossed a line of familiar numbers and requested a lucky dip. Later that evening she saw the lotto results flash on the TV screen, she jotted them down quickly. She saw the numbers didn’t match those she had chosen but then remembered the lucky dip. She reached into her handbag. Fay smiled as she recalled how she had held the piece of paper with the unfamiliar digits in her trembling hand while she tapped on her phone with the other. She felt silly - what if she had got it wrong? She was correct.

Now she was flying first class across the Atlantic to meet a family she had never known. She thought she would revel in the luxury her ticket afforded, enjoy the cosseting but instead she remained apprehensive. She took another gulp of her drink.

Once the numbers had been verified and the cheque handed over, Fay had engaged a genealogist to trace her father. What she discovered was that he had remarried and had a second family. After several emails and phone calls Fay asked to meet one of her relations. Her eldest half-brother invited her to join their Independence Day celebrations, he explained her father and the rest of the Smithsons would be together to celebrate.

Another glass of champagne helped to put things into perspective. Fay thought positively, she was embarking on a holiday of a lifetime which may lead her to a new family but even if it didn’t she was going to ensure she enjoyed her first ever trip abroad!