Valerie – means strong, valiant.
Air-raid siren blasts hurry Valerie’s feet over Trafalgar’s brick street. A searchlight bursts into action in the distance, sweeping the sky, illuminating the underbelly of the clouds like billowing smoke that knows something she doesn’t. Valerie passes a tall man in a grey fedora. He reminds her of her father. He has a face that looks like it’s seen a lot in his time. The man is trailing a tail of cable as he seemingly talks to himself in a distinctly confident American accent.
Valerie can’t help but stop and listen as he impeccably describes everything she’s seeing. It’s like he’s talking directly to her, reminding her this is not a place she wants to be. That was the last thing she remembers her father saying to her too. She was eight when she fled Czechoslovakia with her mother and oldest brother 12 years ago. Her father and five younger siblings stayed behind.
Valerie should head to the shelter below. She knows it and the handsome stranger just pointed it out to the microphone. And yet, she can’t seem to inspire movement in her red shoes, her only pleasure left in life. Valerie stands as if frozen in a snapshot until the booming voice fades to silence.
“I’m Ed,” the man says breaking the eeriness.
“Valerie,” she replies.
“Well, Valerie, we best get off the street. I think we’ve tested the fates enough already. Let’s get some tea.”
Valerie follows him, though not one to generally be so agreeable to the suggestions of strange men. There’s something about his voice, his face, she finds trustworthy.
“It’s a little late for tea time Ed,” Valerie says as they walk down the stairs to the church’s basement.
“Never too late for a chat with the Earl of Grey,” Ed replies.
Valerie laughs, something that she thought she had forgotten how to do.
“What’s so funny?” Ed says.
“It’s just, an American sitting down to talk with a cup of tea… in the midst of all this,” Valerie says. “Your outlook. It’s refreshing.”
“So’s your laugh. I guess we’re in good company tonight,” Ed says as they hear a bomb hit the not so distant ground.