The Fox at Nevern Square
by Lisa Griffiths
The flight to London was uneventful. Folded like a pretzel in her seat, Nadia did her best to sleep. As much as she had to fly for work, she could never fully fall asleep on a plane.
This trip was both personal and work-related. An old friend from school had recently moved to the city, opening a co-op gallery in the Notting Hill area. Erika Martinez was an artist, and she insisted that Nadia come to visit the shop the next time she was in town.
Nadia looked forward to the fun distraction; the work meetings could be grueling. Besides, she needed a ray of light to look forward to—London’s weather in the middle of January could be dismal at worst and somber at best.
Declining Erika’s invitation to sleep on the tiny sofa in her flat, Nadia reserved a modest room at a small hotel halfway between Notting Hill and the meeting place. The hotel, called 20 Nevern Square for its location, was only two and a half blocks from the Earls Court station on the Piccadilly line and a very convenient straight shot from Heathrow Airport.
Nadia’s train ride from the airport to the station was also uneventful; the cars were full of business travelers in various stages of rumpled attire, all yawning and looking at their phones. At her station stop, she stepped onto the platform, made her way up the stairs, and out into the gray of Earls Court Road. She quickly oriented herself and headed west.
As she turned onto the hotel’s street, Nadia took a good look at the faded brick buildings; none were more than four stories high, each had a plaque affixed to a wall bearing the year built (all late 1800s), and they all faced a small, gated square that contained overgrown greenery. She briefly read the name on a sign attached to an iron gate: Nevern Square.
She took a quick look at the darkening sky, then climbed the steps that led into the hotel.
A young, dark-haired girl greeted her at the front desk.
“Good morning,” said the girl in an Italian accent.
Nadia saw the nametag which read Francesca. “Good morning,” she replied. “I have an early check-in reservation for Nadia Lopez.”
Francesca checked her computer. “Ah, you are from California. I have always wanted to visit. You must have sun all the time.”
With a laugh, Nadia said, “Well, not all the time but definitely more than you have here.” “It must be so nice,” Francesca said with a sigh.
“It is, most of the time.”
Nadia got her room key and headed up the stairs, leaving the girl to her California daydreaming. By the time she reached the third floor where her room was located, she thought she was going to spontaneously combust. The heat rose with each level and her coat and many layers of clothing made her feel trapped. She found the room, opened it, and unceremoniously dumped her bags. Once inside, she stripped off several layers.
Realizing that the room’s heat was on, she swore out loud and turned it off. She moved to the window, pushed the drapes aside, and opened it up to let in some cool air. There was no screen, so she stuck her head out to view a small garden at the rear of the hotel. It was quiet except for the faint sound of traffic back up on the main street.
Some movement caught her eye. By the time she tried to focus on what it had been, it was gone. Was it an animal? A person? A breeze caused her to shiver. Looking down at herself, Nadia noticed that she was hanging out of the window clad in a camisole. She thought it best to close it and draw the drapes.
After texting both her meeting chairperson and Erika that she’d arrived, she set her alarm and took a much-needed nap. She had two short hours before the meeting.
Nadia was ready to go once she’d had a quick shower, a cup of hot tea, and a wardrobe change. She left the hotel ready to battle the rain in boots, coat, and scarf. The sky above still looked threatening. She mentally crossed her fingers that it wouldn’t start raining until after she got to her meeting.
Turning the first corner, she saw a flash of color out of the corner of her eye. She stopped and scanned the small back garden visible from the sidewalk. Her breath caught in her throat.
A red fox, its coat vibrant and full, stood staring at her. Nadia found herself transfixed, her eyes frozen.
When she found her voice, she said, “You are so beautiful.”
The fox continued to watch her for a moment, then turned and walked off nonchalantly behind the shrubbery.
The spell was broken, and Nadia blinked. She smiled while still looking at the spot where the fox had stood. She had no idea why but felt that there had been some connection between herself and the creature.
Pulling herself away, literally and mentally, she walked to Earls Court station.
She managed to get through the meeting without letting the jetlag affect her too much and was happy when it was over. The hosts invited all eleven attendees to dinner at a restaurant off Fleet Street.
While enthusiastically eating her fish and chips, Nadia told those sitting near her about the encounter with the fox.
“Oh, those are actually quite common in London,” said Harry, an English colleague.
“Seriously? I have never seen a fox up close in my life. I thought I was special,” Nadia replied.
“No, sorry. You have to see a unicorn to qualify for that,” he said as the table erupted in laughter.
Nadia joined in with a toast of her ale. “Cheers!”
It was dark by the time she was returning to the hotel from the station. She was almost there when she noticed a man walking toward her on the sidewalk. He was tall and thin, wearing a tweed coat and cap. Even with the limited light of the street lamp, she could see that he had a very welcoming face. His eyes were dark and shiny. When he smiled, Nadia felt she knew him from somewhere.
He tipped his hat and said, “Evening,” as he passed her.
Nadia managed a small “Hi” with a smile. By the time she turned to watch him, he was already turning the corner.
What was in that ale? she asked herself.
Once inside the lobby, she greeted the girl at the desk. “Hello, Francesca.”
“Hello again, Miss Lopez. You have a message here.”
Francesca handed an envelope to Nadia. It was sealed and had the logo of a fox printed in the bottom corner.
“Do you know who sent this?”
“A gentleman left it just moments ago. I believe he owns a restaurant not far from here.”
Nadia was puzzled. She decided not to open the note in front of Francesca. “Thank you, and good night.”
She barely made it into the room before ripping open the envelope. On cream colored cardstock was a note written in very neat script:
Welcome to London! Please be my guest for a delicious dinner at the Red Fox Tavern at the corner of Kenway and Earls Court Road. We have the best homemade soup in the district.
George Emerson, owner
Nadia reread the note. She was fighting with herself as to whether to be wary or flattered.
She ran her finger over the words. She decided she could be both and went to bed.
After breakfast the next morning, she took the Underground to see Erika. They caught up over a tour of her friend’s ceramic studio and shop.
“The rent is ridiculous, but I can’t resist the creative vibe,” said Erika.
“Hey, if you’re happy and not borrowing money from friends and family, then it sounds good to me.”
They had lunch before Erika needed to get back to work. “Let’s get together around seven for dinner. I know this great Thai food place.”
Without planning it, Nadia said, “I was thinking about a place close to my hotel. It’s called the Red Fox Tavern. They have homemade soup.”
“You and your soup. Okay, I’ll look it up and see you there.” Nadia said her goodbyes and left.
She took a walk around the gated garden once she was back at Nevern Square. Being January, many of the trees were bare. But it was easy to pick out the fox with the surrounding plants in dull colors. He was sitting toward the center next to a small bench. Again, he stared at Nadia.
She leaned into the iron fence, pressing her face between the bars. “Hello, there,” she said. “So nice to meet you. I’m Nadia.”
The fox blinked slowly.
A car horn sounded nearby and startled Nadia so that she looked in the direction of the noise. When she turned back toward the fox, it was gone.
At a quarter to seven, Nadia left the hotel to meet Erika for dinner. She walked over to Earls Court Road and made a left. Just a block down stood the tavern. It looked like an old, traditional pub with its wood trim painted green, leaded glass windows, and the name itself in fancy, gold typeface.
Nadia walked in and felt the warmth coming from a huge fireplace and the good mood of the patrons. She looked around for Erika, and not seeing her, headed toward the oaken bar. She ordered a pint of local beer. The place was packed, and she wasn’t sure they’d be able to find a table.
Erika walked in and waved at Nadia. The two friends hugged in greeting.
“This place is so busy,” said Erika. “We may have to eat at the bar.”
Nadia searched again for a table but noticed a sign that read More Seating Upstairs. She pointed it out to her friend, and they made their way up.
It was much quieter upstairs with plenty of dining tables. They chose a small one by the window which had a view of the busy street below. Erika ordered a drink while they looked over the menus. Nadia asked about the soup.
“It is a creamy sweet potato with a sprinkle of cheese and a touch of pepper,” said the waiter with Spanish flair.
“I see it comes with fresh sourdough bread and butter. How can I say no?”
Erika ordered a traditional Shepard’s Pie. “I’m going to run to the ladies’ room. I noticed a sign that said it was down in the basement. If I don’t come back in ten minutes, send the cute waiter to find me.”
Nadia looked out at all the lights. It had just started to rain.
She felt rather than saw someone approach the table. Expecting to see her friend, she turned and was surprised to see a man, the very one who had tipped his hat to her the previous evening.
“Hello and welcome,” he said in a soft English accent.
Nadia attempted a greeting but could only clear her throat and smile. “Sorry, hello.”
“I’m George Emerson,” he said and extended a hand. “I’m so glad you could join us this evening.”
“Oh, you sent the note. My name is—”
“Nadia, yes I know.”
She was puzzled. “How did you know my name?”
“You’ve already introduced yourself to me,” he said with a smile. “And while I thank you for the compliment, I must say that you are quite beautiful yourself.”
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