Letter From America

Entry by: jaguar

26th October 2016
My aunt, who lived in the US, was the only interesting thing about me as a teenager. It was the late 70’s, the era of Wranglers, Happy Days on TV, American recipes and music bubbling up through our stolidly British culture. To have an American aunt was a cool thing.

The trouble was, in reality, Auntie Barb was about as cool as I was. She lived in Indianapolis and while it might contain the largest shopping mall in the country, Barb never went near it. Instead she stayed in her small town, small-minded, relentlessly republican home with her small, toad-like husband. Even Camberley, where I grew up, was slightly more advanced and forward-thinking.

So I’m not really sure how I became the expert on all things American. One day I was hanging out at the edge of a group in the café, not on the main table, not even close to the action. Then I said to Cathy, the only other girl who’d be seen with me, that this café was nothing like the American diner it aspired to be.

Carolyn, one of the sharp-wits on the main table snapped her head round like an eagle sensing prey. This was unusual, Cathy and I weren’t even interesting enough to be bullied. We wandered around in the grey bubbles of everyone else’s indifference. Sometimes I had dreams where dark-suited judges forced me to try and prove I actually existed. Yet Carolyn was definitely staring at me, her lips pursed as sharp as a beak. ‘How the hell would you know what an American diner is like, Maggie?’

I swallowed. ‘I’ve been in loads. My aunt lives in America. My dad’s sister, she married an American. We go over every year.’ I was simultaneously babbling and lying. We didn’t go every year, had been three times in total. Apart from the flight and the drive to Auntie Barb’s the holidays were so dull my dad swore we’d never go again.

The main table reassembled itself to make a space for me. I looked at Cathy, torn between loyalty to the dull life I’d probably have to resume shortly and the chance of a brief moment in the sun. ‘Can my friend come too?’ I couldn’t believe I’d actually asked. The in-crowd turned to inspect Cathy who coloured up and gestured at her watch.

‘I’ve got to go anyway, Maggie. I’ll see you tomorrow.’ She seeped out of my view and my everyday life as I clambered into my new seat and my new persona, American expert, interesting and exotic person, downright liar. I had to make most of my answers to their questions up on the spot. By the end of my inauthentic banana milkshake I had invented a quirky aunt, a new town and a date for my next fictitious American holiday.

For a long time I got away with it. I asked Auntie Barb to mail me the newspaper from Carolyn’ s birthday for its all-important Peanuts cartoons and the yellow nail-polish you could only get in the States. Then I skulked inside ‘studying’ while I was supposed to be on holiday. My parents were quite delighted by my focus on my o’ levels and Carolyn overlooked my tardiness in bringing her paper in (it took ten days to arrive).

Then it was a whole year later and the gang asked me to bring back cigarettes from my next holiday. I said the rules were stricter out there, I wouldn’t be able to buy any. They suggested I was a coward, the sort of person who could make even an American connection dull. They thought I should be able to find a way. I agonised over it but the only way I found was to announce Auntie Barb wasn’t well, we weren’t going to visit her. I did think about killing her because I was fed up of lying but my conscience wouldn’t let me.

I stopped going to the café after school so often because there never seemed room for me at their table and Cathy and I had little contact nowadays. I felt like a dog tethered outside waiting for a master who would never return. The only thing that stayed the same was my letter from America. Auntie Barb had stopped sending the newspapers after a year because she thought all my friends would have one. She shared my fondness for Snoopy though so, every month, I got a book of Peanuts cartoons and, on my birthday that year, I got a diary.

I didn’t miss being part of the gang as much as I thought I would. It had been an effort finding things to sneer at constantly, keeping that cynical tone in my voice, never letting down my guard. It was like being part of a pack of starlings, always looking for someone to peck at, never confident you wouldn’t end up on the ground, lunged at, exposed. Having to spend so much time on my own seemed to condense my essence, made me surer of what I didn’t want to be which is almost the same as knowing who you are.

On the day I decided to stop being miserable the cartoon in my diary said: ‘I’m mad at Woodstock. I say let him flock together with birds of his own feather.’ I went into the library after school rather than traipse down the town like a ghost haunting my old gang. There was a new girl sat there reading a Peanuts book. I sat at her table and smiled at her. She looked nervously behind me so I gestured at her book and said. ‘Way to go, Charlie Brown.’