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The Dreamer – A Short Story By Angela Clapcott
Saturday teatime was always the same. Newspaper spread over the table, radio on and Charlie chewing on his pencil, checking his football pools.
Every now and then he would call out “yes another draw” or “oh no! I felt sure they’d be a draw”. Then as was always inevitable, he would put down his pencil, fold up the newspaper and toss the then screwed up football coupon for the kids to destroy.
A big sigh would pass his lips, and then with a wide grin, he would put his loving arms around Amy.
“Not this week darling, but it will happen, one day we will be rich, and move out of this old place, we’ll buy our own house with loads of space for the kids to play.
Amy would smile and stroke his cheek. She loved this big man with all her heart, but she had no illusions. With two children and a baby, with Charlie only on a labourer’s pay, she knew that even with her taking in dressmaking and alterations, they would never rise to anything other than this small two up, two down with outside toilet, a nightmare in the winter. She would certainly like a better place for the children to grow up in.
Charlie, however, never lost heart, he would also go to the dogs every Friday night with his 1 shilling & sixpence to spend and if he won on one race, felt it was the beginning of his luck, and put all his winnings on the next. Never once had he gone home with any money, always empty pockets.
“I was so close Amy, the first race was a doddle, and the next one lost out by a whisper. One day I will be coming home with pockets full of cash, you see if I don’t, and I’ll buy you the finest frock we can find”.
Every Friday she would smile and cuddle up to him, but never give him a word of disapproval. She knew that his half-crown (2/6d) would have helped an awful lot with the housekeeping, but after all, Charlie never drank despite being tempted on many occasions by his workmates, and he only ever had eyes for her. She adored him and so did the kids, and besides, he worked so hard he deserved some dreams.
Charlie arrived home one Saturday lunchtime after his morning shift. He loved this time because he knew he was free until 6 o’clock Monday morning when his hard grind started once again. As was usual he dozed off in the old wooden carver after finishing his soup and bread, dreaming of winning the pools, a big fat cheque being presented to him, and Amy and the kids looking on with pride.
He was suddenly woken by Maisie’s shrill voice and sobs.
“I can’t go to the party in these shoes, they’re old and ugly and too small for me now, it’s not fair”.
Charlie opened his eyes and saw Maisie standing in the middle of the room stamping her feet. She looked lovely. Amy had cut down one of her own dresses and styled it for the ten-year-old. The tiny blue flowers looked so delicate against the white background and the skirt was softly pleated, but her white socks looked so white against the ugly brown lace-up shoes. She wore these shoes every day walking to and from school, and they’d once belonged to her brother Tom, so they really did look awful.
Charlie gently gathered his daughter up in his big arms and placed her on his knee. She looked so sweet with her ginger curls falling softly around her face and her big green eyes filled with tears.
“Oh Maisie, you look so beautiful, no one will notice your shoes. You’re going to have a wonderful time at this party and all the girls will be so envious of your pretty dress, to be sure there will not be another like it. One day Maisie I will buy you the most beautiful shoes with silver buckles, fit for a princess.”
However, young Tom, who was now thirteen, turned to his dad,
“One day, one day, that’s all you say Dad, but that one day never comes. Maisie will never get those new shoes, Mum will never have that new frock you always promise her, and we’ll never have a large house with an inside lavatory. I’m leaving school and getting a job, my money will help to get all these things.”
The smile faded from Charlie’s face, and he placed Maisie down as he slowly rose from his chair.
“You’ll never win the pools and the dogs will never come in for you Dad.” Tom bravely added.
For a moment there was an uneasy silence. Charlie, Amy, and Maisie, all stared at him. This was the first time anyone had ever challenged Charlie.
A sigh of despair came from Amy, “Oh Tom, don’t say such things to your father”.
Maisie sidled up to her mother, and Tom looked very sheepish, wishing then that he hadn’t lost his temper.
Charlie gently placed an arm around Tom’s shoulder, as he slowly looked around, and for the first time saw just how bad things really were.
“What a blind fool I’ve been all these years, Tom’s right, I’ve been so caught up in my own dreams, not reality, I haven’t noticed all your real needs”.
No one moved as they all held their breath; it was as if time had stood still.
Charlie continued looking around the shabby room. He could see other people’s half-finished clothes hanging around the room waiting for Amy to complete to earn a little extra money, there was damp washing around the fire, what little fire they had, the floor was void of rugs, in fact, there was really no comfort at all for any of them, just the love they all shared, was that slipping away he thought.
“What a selfish fool I’ve been, I promise there’ll be no more gambling in this house and no more Friday nights at the dogs, in future the extra 2 shillings and sixpence will go into the kitty and we will all watch it grow together. Tom, there’ll be no more talk of you leaving school, stay on as long as you can, get a good education, no labouring for you young man.”
Tom felt very sorry for his outburst, he truly did love his father and couldn’t understand why he had said what he did, but this is what he had been thinking lately as he saw his mother sewing late into the night and how tired she was.
He buried his head in his father’s huge broad chest.
“I’m sorry Dad, I didn’t mean to go on like that, it’s just that Mum’s always tired, and I know Maisie is unhappy about her shoes, the other girls will laugh at her, I know what it’s like when all your friends have better things than you, it happens to me all the time, but I can stand up to them, she’s different, she’s a girl”.
“You were right to do so Tom, I have been selfish”, whispered Charlie, “I’m so sorry”, I love you all but never realised what a bad father I’ve been, not to mention husband”.
As he spoke he looked down at Amy’s tired face and drab clothes, he bowed his head in shame, then planting a kiss on Amy’s lips, and picking up his daughter once again, he said,
“That’s that, no more throwing money away. I can’t do anything about your shoes now Maisie, but no more empty promises, no more useless dreams.
Charlie felt so ashamed that all these years he had put his family through empty promises built on his silly dreams, The newspaper did not come out that night, the radio did not go on and the football coupon stayed in his pocket. No one mentioned them and instead they took out the pack of cards and played ‘Happy Families’.
The following Wednesday morning it was cold and wet and after Amy had seen the children off to school she made an extra brew and sat in Charlie’s big wooden chair, she felt a strange feeling of contentment, she somehow knew things would be different, Charlie had promised not to gamble away the much-needed money and although Maisie didn’t have any new shoes to wear at the party, there were no more references to the outburst on Saturday. The atmosphere was clearer. She proceeded to write down a list of how best the extra 2 shillings & 6 pence a week would be used.
The silence was interrupted by the rattle of the letterbox as a brown envelope dropped on the doormat addressed to Mr. C Messenger. It was unusual to get a letter, never mind such an official-looking one and Amy felt very anxious all day. She was so relieved when six o’clock came and she heard Charlie throw his bicycle up against the wall and call out, “I’m home” as he always did.
Charlie looked a little nervous as Amy placed the letter in his hand and the children hovered excitedly around. He quickly slit the envelope open and let out a cry.
“Who says empty dreams, believe me, kids, my dreams weren’t that empty after all, this cheque is worth a few pounds, nine hundred and fifty in fact. It will be the answer to all our dreams, new house, new frocks, new shoes, a grown-up bicycle for you Tom, and much, much more”.
They all looked at him wide eyed and opened mouthed…….
“I never checked my last week’s pools, all six draws came up. We’re rich and I mean really rich”.