Christopher Hughes sat with his knees to his chest. He was sitting on a cot next to Alice Jones, his date for the night. Christopher had gone to school with Alice for seven years and finally after all this time he mustered up the courage to ask her to be his date. As he looked around the inside of the shelter they sat in, he wondered if the atmosphere would ruin their evening. He did not know many relationships that flourished after a night taking shelter from falling bombs.
“Another London Blitz,” Gregory Jones, Alice’s father started, “this is the year twenty-fifteen, we shouldn’t have to take shelter in our back yards anymore!”
Cynthia, Gregory’s wife placed her hand on his and gave him half a smile. Alice had been silent for most of the evening. Gregory had done most of the talking during their time in the shelter, if only complaining about the absurdity of it all. Christopher had not said much, partly out of being nervous about meeting Alice’s parents for the first time in a bomb shelter, also partly out of fear of having a bomb land on their heads. He thought those were fair enough points to keep his mouth shut.
Christopher looked down at his phone; he had received one text message before he lost all reception. The message was from his mother, it read ‘Be safe, we love you honey.’ He had read that more times than he could count. His parents at this moment were wondering if the boy they had raised since birth had been blown to ash, that is if his parents were still alive themselves. He put that thoughts aside though, such bleak concepts would only make the time they spent together worse.
Cynthia was back on her feet again, she had been ever since the warning came on the news to take shelter. There was very little space in the shelter, but she managed to find something to bring her to and fro. The ground to the ceiling was only seven feet, being a shelter dug seven feet into the earth. The length of the room was ten feet deep and six across. There were two sets of bunk beds on either side of the room. Well two cots on the floor and two mounted into the wall, Christopher considered them bunk beds. The thin layer of earth that sat on the tin roof did little to dampen the sounds of screaming and falling bombs.
Cynthia was suddenly standing in front of Christopher smiling down at him, a small mug of was cupped in her hands. She extended it to him, “It’s coffee, probably not very good but it’s hot.” As Christopher took it with a slight nod and ‘thank you’ Cynthia gestured over to a small chest at the end of the shelter, atop of the chest was a very old looking coffee maker. “I don’t know how good the beans are anymore, but I hope it helps.”
“It will,” Christopher said smiling back at her. Then she was back to pouring another cup and scurrying over to hand the coffee to her husband.
Christopher took a sip; it was terrible, but hot. As bad as it tasted it was still something, and a nice gesture on Cynthia’s part. So he took another sip. Gregory seemed to have no problem complaining about the taste, though that didn’t surprise Christopher.
Christopher looked over at Alice; she had tears streaming down her face. Her skirt had torn at the bottom and was covered in dried mud from when she had fallen running to the shelter. Her blond hair had stayed in place, but her makeup had begun to run with her tears. She was just as beautiful as ever in his eyes. Christopher had loved her for years; he was convinced it was love. They had been friends for the past year after meeting in the same Visual Arts class on their first day of their last year in high school.
She looked over at him and smiled, “What are you smiling about?” she asked teasingly.
“You, you’re beautiful Alice.” Christopher said back under his breath so only she could hear him.
She laughed loud enough for all to hear though. “With my make up like this? Yeah, talk about a hot mess.”
As sarcastic as she was, he made her smile and laugh, which was good enough for him. “It’s true; I’ve always thought you were beautiful.”
“Okay enough of that,” she had stopped crying and was now giggling through her words. “So tell me some truth now. If all this hadn’t started, where would you have taken me tonight?”
“Truth? I don’t think you can handle it.” She giggled again, Christopher found her adorable. “Really though, I wanted to take you out dancing.” Christopher loved to dance, his mother had taught him at a young age and he relished every opportunity to get on the dance floor.
“What?” she asked half question half laugh. “Do people even do that anymore?” Christopher laughed at her this time; there was truth in her question. People didn’t dance like they used to, but he knew one place left, he couldn’t wait to take her.
Gregory leaned forward pointing a finger at Alice as he spoke, “Alice, that’s class this man is showing. Not enough young men take a girl out dancing anymore.” Christopher was slightly surprised Gregory didn’t find something about him to complain about, but he took the compliment all the same, not that it would last. Gregory showed great skill at losing interest in one topic and then putting in his two cents about something else. “I wonder who is behind this attack anyways. One of those communist countries I’m sure.”
Gregory looked over to Christopher, “Do you know how many civilians were killed by the German bombing in world war two?”
Christopher shook his head. Around sixty-seven thousand citizens of the United Kingdom’s died, he thought, “No idea, I don’t like to think of that sort of thing.”
Gregory grunted to himself. “Typical youth, not caring about the men who gave their lives for this country. Don’t they teach you those things in your history classes?”
“The United Kingdom’s suffered three-hundred and eighty two thousand casualties during world war two. I said I don’t know how many civilians were murdered. The men who stood a chance and fought bravely I remember, the people who were robbed of their lives I do better not knowing.”
Gregory sat silent for a moment, seemingly taken back by this response. “It’s good to think that way I suppose,” he finally said in response.
“As for who is behind this attack, I suppose we will just have to wait until we can watch the news again to find out, for now it doesn’t really matter.” Christopher realized that could be taken as rude once he said it, though he didn’t really care.
Christopher was glad he took history again this year or he would have never remembered that number. He smiled to himself and sipped at his terrible coffee again. Once the mug was empty Cynthia pointed him to the chest where he could put it away, or help himself to more. The thought of more wasn’t as appealing though.
Christopher got down on his knees in front of the chest against the wall of the shelter. Moving the coffee maker off to the side he flipped up the latch holding the lid down and opened the chest. It was full of all sorts of things. The first thing he noticed was an old map, it was clearly from the world war era. Then he saw several other small mugs like his and he added his to the pile. Next to them was the bag of coffee grounds used, he didn’t want to know how old they were.
“That was my grandfather’s chest,” Gregory said. “He built this shelter to keep himself and my father safe through the London Blitz.”
Christopher nodded and looked back over his shoulder, “You don’t mind if I take a look through this do you?” Gregory shook his head, “Thanks.”
Moving the maps out of the way he found a stack of books, they looked like journals. He passed them back to Gregory and Cynthia who happily took them and began flipping through the pages. Under the journals he found a briefcase with a crank handle coming out one side. He took it out carefully, feeling like he had just dug up a relic that must be handled with care. As he opened it he realized it was an old record player. Age had taken its toll on the case but the inside seemed to be in perfect shape. It was beautiful. Christopher gently placed it on the cot where he had been sitting and took one final look into the chest.
“That was my grandfathers as well,” Gregory said again. “He used to always talk about it but I’ve never seen it. I had no idea it was there.”
At the bottom of the chest under where the record played had been was a single vinyl record. The singers name had been worn off the label and there was no cover for it, but the name of the song read ‘Be Careful It’s My Heart’. He took it out just as carefully as he had the record player.
Christopher placed the vinyl in the record player and began to turn the crank. Once he had everything ready he placed the needle on the record and the music began to play. It was almost stereotypical, exactly as he pictured it sounding. He could almost see the black and white movie this might have been played in. He found himself surprised it still worked, and smiling to himself as he rose to his feet.
Christopher extended one hand to Alice, as if inviting her to the dance floor. She smiled and shook her head. “Come now, I told you I was taking you dancing.”
She smiled once again and rose to her feet herself taking his hand. With one hand in his she placed her other hand on his shoulder as he placed his at his side. “Hardly the scene of romance,” she said, again with a hint of sarcasm.
Christopher wiped away a tear from her eye and smiled down at her, “Well then forget about the shelter. I can’t hear the bombs or see shelter around us, all I hear is the music and all I see is you.”
Suddenly he began leading her slowly through the dance, moving with the tune playing through the room. He could not read her thoughts; he simply knew she was thinking the same as him. Amongst all the chaos around them, as he held her there was nothing else. It was her and him, stepping in a circle to a nineteen-forty’s hit. In all the horrors of war, they found something beautiful together.
And Christopher thought to himself that even if a bomb were to land on their heads, at least he got to have one last dance with Alice Jones.