Starved of love during the war, Arthur certainly made up for it when he returned. Drinking at the officer's club became a nightly occurrence and woman after woman after woman, who were also starved during wartime, strolled through the club and were plucked like duck feathers and fed.
He never forgot the first one. Her name was Martha and she waltzed into the bar mere days after they had returned from war, her hair curled into a tight bun, wearing a light yellow dress far too short which stopped at the knee, and she smiled at him.
She had asked him for a light and he gave it to her. He offered her a drink and she accepted. He asked her back to the barracks and she said yes and he lasted barely seconds.
She understood, and she smiled and laughed and he never saw her again.
The next night there was Ruth, single but looking for someone to settle down with. He took her to the barracks and she settled down with someone else.
Then there was Elizabeth, a red-haired, brazen girl who he saw again and again and again until she realised he was not the one she was supposed to marry, and then he had Margaret. Married, but bored and childless with a silent husband who had not made love to her since before the war. He took her in the alleyway behind the club and returned for a drink and a go with Ellen in the park.
Then there was Barbara, then Sandra, then Nancy, then Dorothy, then Joan, then Anne.
Then he stopped remembering their names, and then he stopped stubbing out his cigarette.
Soon he and some of his fellow officers ran out of women, and he and Stanley and Alf ventured to new pastures. Already feeling lightheaded from a few beginners at the officer's club, they stumbled down Cortenay Place together and into one they had never been to before. They had barely made it through the door when he glanced toward the angelic singing voice and saw the magnificent woman attached to it. He looked her up and down from her black mane made of silk, down her silver sequined dress to her impossibly high red heels.
"Jesus, would you look at that," said Stan as they sat down close to the stage.
The more drinks they had, the louder Stan and Alf got, whooping and cheering for her while Arthur sat somewhat quieter, watching those hands move with her words and those hips move with the rhythm of the music.
He was up at the bar buying another round of drinks when he heard the click of heels approaching directly behind him and a voice said in a beautiful Irish lilt, "So are you goin' to buy to buy me a drink or are you goin' to stare at me all night?"
He turned around, smiling and she ordered herself a white wine, batting her eyelashes at the bartender.
They did not talk until she got her drink and he paid and instead of going back to his table, he stayed and was about to open his mouth when she looked down at the three beers infront of him and said, "Those all for you?"
He laughed and said, "No not for me, for those buffoons over there," and cocked his head in said buffoon's direction.
"So I haven't seen you in here before, what brings you here?" She asked.
"Change of scenery I guess," he said. "The buffoons insisted."
She cast her eye over him, trying to determine who he was and where he came from.
"You a soldier?"
"Good guess, how did you know?"
"The haircut kind of gives it away," she said with an approving look at his head.
He ran his hand over his shorn locks and smiled. He had become so used to being around soldiers with an identical haircut, he had forgotten others existed.
"Molly!" came a voice from near the stage, pitched loud to be heard over Stan and Alf, who now each had a girl on their lap and were not being coy about it.
"So will you be back again you think?" she asked, picking up her drink off the bar.
Looking into those bright green eyes, he said, "I think I will be, yes." And she left him at the bar, brushing past his arm as she went.
He went back to the barracks alone that night for the first time in he didn't know how long, curled up into an empty bed, fell straight to sleep and dreamed of red high heels.
*Copyright Sarah Hardie 2011
*Copyright Sarah Hardie 2011