A Valentine At Waterloo Is Worth Two Dutchmen In The French
Directly I came into The French House I could see the poor sod had been sitting
there crying about it. I had to keep my head and if I ran straight over he might’ve started blubbing all over again, so I nodded over to him and stood at the bar and ordered a bottle of black market beer. God knows I wanted a drink in front of me when the sorry lad got jabbering as he had first thing that morning.
‘Hullo’ he said sullenly when I sat down.
‘Alright lovely?’ I said and touched his wrist.
He was hunched over, he looked like he’d been up all night.
‘Here’ I twisted the cap on the bottle and filled our glasses
‘Cheers’ he said woefully.
‘So what do you want to do?’
‘It is yours you know.’ he said
‘So you say’ I said abruptly then I softened my tone and continued
‘So what would you like to do? I mean are you sure you are…I mean it’s…’
‘Yes I’m sure…you’ve been the only one and I am seven weeks late.’
Then there was silence and he sat sulking. I was speechless, I hadn’t got a
boy into trouble before, not as far as I know and certainly not intentionally. I tried to work out the date of when we had collided in the dark corner of a Soho bunker.
‘But I thought we were careful…’
‘Not careful enough.’ He said bitterly.
For a few moments we sat quietly. William Valentine was a beautiful boy, long eyelashes framing dark blue eyes and black hair slicked back. He looked into my face as if looking for something and then said urgently
‘Will you help me?’
‘Help you? Of course, now there’s no point looking all glum William, lets have us another drink and we’ll…’
Suddenly he was crying, silently with his elbows on the table and both hands
covering his face, his shoulders jerking up and down.
‘I feel so ashamed…’
‘There there! No need for all that, I said I would help you didn’t I?’
Behind Williams shoulder, I could see the mirror and in its reflection two Dutch pilots I had been chatting with the night before.
‘Sorry’ William blubbed ‘Sorry to be such a pain, this hasn’t happened to me before.’
‘Me neither! There there…’ I said eyeing the Dutch pilots in the mirror as William rubbed his face making it redder and blotchier. His eyes were pink as a white rabbits and as scared.
‘Here…do you have anyone you can go to?’ I said offering him my hankerchief.
‘I feel so…foolish…sorry…I think I could go to my uncles in Bournemouth for a while and think…I think I need to think…My uncles so kind.’ He blew noisily on the hankerchief and offered the gooey thing back to me, I refused it and said
‘Keep it. Now look here, I have said I will help and that it will be alright so dry your eyes William there’s a good egg. Have you got a boyfriend that you can talk to? Someone who’s you know…had a…’
‘Had a what?’
‘Well you can’t seriously be considering keeping it?’
I was getting impatient, rattled, he was drawing attention and I tried to sit more upright to block people seeing him, especially the Dutch pilots. Then William stuttered
‘I thought…I mean…I know we hardly know each other and that I can hardly expect you to want to…to…’ William really bucketed the tears out, stammering
‘I can hardly expect you to…offer to marry me…I mean could you imagine marrying me? You said you would help and well…if you took me on it would be alright do you see?’
He his top lip trembled, his tongue tip licked a teardrop and quietly I managed to choke out the words
‘I know it’s sudden… but…would you at least consider it…I don’t know if I could bear the shame…I don’t know what else to do…it’s a rotten mess that’s what it is, but if you would just think about marrying me? I mean I wouldn’t be a burden…I can be very quiet and well maybe you could learn to love me…learn to love the two of us…’
He looked down and patted his belly as he said this and bit his quivering lip.
‘Now stop all that talk.’ I said sternly ‘Don’t be ridiculous you know very well that marriage is out of the question for a woman in my position. I think the best thing that you should do is go away…I mean go to your uncles like you said and see what he thinks is best…maybe you should speak to your father…how old are you?’
‘You’re joking I couldn’t tell father! He’d disown me…my uncle’s cool with this kind of thing though, the same thing happened with my brother but it was just trapped wind in the end. I am not that young, I am twenty two in March!’
‘Twenty two is that all? William darling, you are just a boy…sweet William Valentine….’
He looked disappointed but hopeful, it was as though I held his life and future in my hands and then I made my mind up.
‘Now listen, this is what we will do…first you will dry your tears, then we’ll head to Waterloo and get you a ticket for the next ferry to Bournemouth. Do you have your papers? Good. You’ll go there and just take all the time you need…maybe work on your little poems…I’m sure your uncle will know what to do, he’ll see you right…then as soon as you have your head screwed on straight you can write me OK?’
‘Oh thank you!’
He was about to lean over and kiss me as he gushed
‘Oh yes Bornemouth, my uncle always keeps my bunk for me, I have a few things there…and I could work on my water poems. Oh good idea thank you!’ I tapped his arse and shooed him up to the mens lavatories to wash his snotty face.
‘Are you feeling better William?’ I said
‘I had a wave of nausea in the toilets but it passed…I been sick most mornings of late…but thank you.’
He nudged me and we sauntered down what was once Old Compton Street towards Cambridge Circus to get a flying rickshaw. The shells of the buildings of old Soho were derelict but there was a bright opportunity in the air that Saturday. The purple rain was relentless as ever and black burnt branches fingered the lilac sky. People bustled and queued for rations. Once in the flying cab we relaxed and from on high we saw the Covent Garden slums below. I saw a young boy struggling with a red-faced screaming child, the lad had him by both arms and the urchin was kicking and screaming. I looked over at William who saw them too, he squeezed my hand and smiled at me and I played with his fingers and gave them a little absent-minded kiss.
As we crossed a checkpoint on Waterloo bridge I looked East and saw smoke
pouring into the skies above the remains of St Pauls. I felt as though we were at the main aorta of London, the very pumping heart. At the port of Waterloo I was so glad there was no more drama and no more tears. Cupping my hands around his face, I planted one on his mouth, we kissed and as we held each other I whispered
‘My funny William Valentine.’
‘Love you’ he mumbled.
‘Steady on sweetheart, people will talk.’ I laughed and opened the gate to the ferries.
He stood on the step, waving and called out
‘I will write!’
I hurried through the crowds of Waterloo and crossed the flooded banks of the Thames and dived into a speakeasy on Villiers Street for a quick sherry. The best black market sherry in town.
‘Alright Georgie” I said recognising the barman ‘Blimey when are you due?’
‘Doctor said in the new year.’
‘What is it?’
‘Think it’s a boy and footballer too!’ George said and panted, patting his balloon-like belly
He was a milky little man, George’s ruddy cheeks bloomed, he beamed and waddled off wiping the tables.
I sipped the sherry and thought about William and decided I had done the right thing packing him off, his uncle would see him right. How could I marry William? He was beautiful, I would have spoiled him and spoilt him. Then I thought about the Dutch pilots and the ripe look Amsterdam’s golden boy had given me. It’s better to be safe than sorry I said out loud and swallowed a condom.
© 2009. Salena Godden