Disentangling himself from her embrace he reached for the pack of Players on the bedside table. He had discovered the pleasure of a post coital cigarette the first time he and Sally had made love. Now he studied her long fingers as they handled the white tube, tapping each end against the silver top of the cigarette case before carefully inserting its cork tip into the shiny black holder. On their first meeting he had lit up two Players as they watched the sun sink below the horizon. He had been taken aback by her response to the gesture with which he had impressed so many previous dates.
"George darling, do throw it away," she had said in that husky voice that had so attracted him to her in the first place. "I can't bear those ghastly things. They are so infra dig."
She had popped the clasp on the croc skin hand bag and withdrawn the silver case, the holder and a slender gold tube that he at first took to be a lipstick but had turned out to be an expensive lighter.
He should have been irritated at the snub, the evident insult to his male superiority but something about her actions, the slow deliberate way she performed the ritual, had drawn him to her. Perhaps it was those long red painted nails. Perhaps it was the careful, almost lovingly gentle way she handled the cigarette that made him want to feel those same fingers touching his body.
"Craven 'A' is the only fag for me. You're welcome to your coarse tobacco. It suits your personality." She inhaled deeply and allowed the smoke to drift from her nostrils. Tiny crow's feet appeared momentarily as she half closed her eyes to protect them from the acrid vapour.
That was months ago. Since then they had met as often as possible and he had soon discovered that her fingers were indeed as expert at helping him to relax as they were at handling those cork tipped cigarettes. Now, as he experienced again the slight dizziness that accompanied the first deep inhalation of smoke enriching the memory of the pleasure they had just shared and that he wished could last for ever he pondered the words he had rehearsed so many times in his head since receiving the letter.
He tried to imagine Sally's thoughts as she lounged beside him on the satin sheets languidly dragging on her expensive cigarette. She rarely inhaled fully and it had long been his contention that she used the device more as a fashion accessory, an act of bravado in defiance of her wealthy parents rather than, as he did, to accelerate the dissipation of tension. The one time he had tried to smoke one of her tubes of mild and mellow tobacco, the smoke purified by the cork tip, he had found it to be every bit as disappointing as he had expected.
She, on the other hand, when reluctantly accepting his challenge to "try just one drag", had practically choked on his Player. He had had to slap her on the back to try to relieve the coughing fit that ensued and both had subsequently collapsed laughing onto the chintz sofa of the small but luxurious living room of her flat.
He allowed his gaze to explore again the bedroom to which Sally had brought him so soon after their first meeting and in which they had since spent - how many hours? He could not be bothered to make the calculation, instead taking in for this last time the understated quality of the furniture and wondering at the craftsmanship of the person who had fashioned the matching pieces from the blond wood with its honey coloured inlays. The heavily brocaded silk drapes matched the eider down that normally covered the bed but was now slumped in a soft green tangle that hid the sheepskin rug.
He had, over time, come to recognise some of what the artist who had created the painting that had been carefully positioned so as to be seen from the bed was trying to say. The first time he had seen it he had been shocked by its crudeness, the unnatural hues and exaggerated shapes seemed like the work of a child. Even, he thought, a disturbed child. He had not dared to voice his opinion for fear of revealing his ignorance of such matters.
Gradually, he had come to realise that the artist had, in fact, found a way into the essence of the subject so that after the initial shock it was possible to discern a deeper meaning than might be conveyed by a purely figurative depiction.
It was Sally who broke the long silence: "Penny for them?" she asked. Her nails drifted teasingly from his shoulder to his wrist generating an arpeggio of exquisite shivers that followed their progress down his arm.
The time had come to deliver his speech. He could prevaricate no longer. "I was just …" He paused for she had continued speaking.
"I don't know …" She paused too before: "I'm sorry, carry on."
He grasped the opportunity for delay. "No, you go first."
"There is no easy way to tell you this but we have to stop meeting. I am leaving in the morning. Mama and Papa have insisted I leave the city and join them in Yorkshire. It is so much safer there and the bombing seems to be getting worse."
He tried not to show his relief. Now there was no need for him to deliver his own news. They were to part at her instigation. He supposed he must pretend to be devastated by her announcement although pleased that she had sought and found refuge from the nightly raids on London.
"Is there nothing I can say to persuade you to stay?" he asked.
"No darling." She leaned towards him and placed a soft kiss on his cheek. "After last night I realised that I was being selfish staying here. Mama is sick with worry. I could not continue fobbing her off with excuses. The poor thing was practically in tears when she pleaded with me over the blower this morning."
"At least say you will miss me." He hoped he had been successful in conveying the right amount of disappointment with his voice.
"Of course, my love, but aren't you due a posting soon anyway? Isn't that what you were about to say?"
It wasn't. But the suggestion presented an opportunity for more lies. "Lincolnshire is not so far from Yorkshire. Perhaps we could meet up whenever I get a 48 hour pass."
"That would be lovely, my sweet. But now I really must get moving." She slid from between the satin sheets. He watched as she wrapped her delicious body in a silk robe, savouring this last glimpse of her beauty. Somehow he must find a way to erase the memory from his thoughts next time he faced the possibility of being shot from the sky and think instead of the son now carried in his wife's belly in that lonely cottage on the Welsh border.