Sam held the black-and-white photograph of his first wife in the gnarled fingers of his hand.
"Here's looking at you, kid," he said, holding it up towards his failing eyes, as much aware of the liver spots on the back of his hand as of Jenny's prim beauty. Her delicate hands were crossed over a pleated knee-length skirt and her face shone in the white sunlight of a distant age.
All Sam's memories were in black and white. At the time they were in the same colour as any photograph taken in the modern day would be, but as all he ever had to remember his youth, from those grainy pictures of childhood to early middle-age, were in black and white, so too were his memories. Young people, especially those born since the 1960s, knew only a brilliant world of Technicolor but for Sam the past was remembered in the same monochromeas those Humphrey Bogart movies he and Jenny used to watch at the flicks. Except for the odd Hollywood epic or Disney cartoon, there was only black and white and the various shades of grey in between.
"Play it again, Sam," he whispered, voicing one of the catchphrases Jenny adopted from the same wartime movie that inspired his own endearment to his dear departed wife. At least, he thought she was departed. For all he knew, though, Jenny might still be enjoying her dotage somewhere, perhaps with the son and daughter she took with her when they divorced and whom he hadn't seen for many decades now.
Theirs was a romance, and then a marriage, that spanned the grey days of ration books and the steadily brightening days of the 1950s. It also spanned his years of National Service and study for his Accountancy exams. Two children and a house in Twickenham later, it all ended so messily. The photographs that recorded those precious shared moments he and Jenny had enjoyed together were all that was left now. And she, as unable as he was still to watch Casablanca in quite the same way, was happy to leave these photographed memories to her ex-husband. What tangible memories did she have now? Or were they ones she'd still rather forget.
Sam didn't forget, couldn't forget, those happy days, even though right from the beginning he'd been unfaithful to her. There were the whores he visited with the lads during his National Service. The girlfriend he had at college while his guilt still prompted him to bring flowers back to his wife after every evening of infidelity. The syphilis he contracted which brought his deceit, and later his marriage, to an end when he had two women to confess that he'd been more unfaithful than even a mistress and a still loving wife could ever have imagined. A pursuit of the fairer sex that had been both his greatest source of joy and that of his eventual downfall.
But bugger it! He'd fucked his way through more women than most men had hot dinners and he wasn't sure he regretted a single moment of it.
Although there was no mirror across his cluttered living room to which he could refer, he knew he still cut a fine figure of a man. He might be stooped, his nails as tough as hell to cut, and his hair thinning, but he dressed well and he could still pull the women. Okay, they were women much the same age as him, smelling less sweet than he remembered Jenny's teenage flesh (indeed they sometimes smelt rather more like piss), but he was still a man who could give pleasure. Thank Christ for Viagra! Not to mention the lubricating creams that ensured that a woman whose passion exceeded her stamina didn't suffer unduly from the thrusts of his prolonged and stubborn erections. Modern Science was a wonderful thing and Sam was glad he'd lived long enough to benefit from it.
There'd been no mention of medical matters in his conversation with Dorothy during the intermission of the theatrical production they'd both seen the night before. He was sure, however, that her interest in him was not confined merely to his extensive knowledge of the movies referenced by the play. What did modern theatre directors really know about film noir anyway?
Dorothy was a stately woman who had learnt that the best way to preserve her allure in advancing age was to be more truly her own self and less a caricature of the girl she once was. But even as he kissed her when their taxis drew up after the show, he couldn't help wondering what it might be to kiss the lips of a woman he'd seen age from youth to maturity, rather than someone who appeared as if she'd always been a sophisticated mature woman.
A woman, perhaps, like Jenny.
In those early days of courting, when the dance hall and the flicks were the best places to chaperone a dame for the evening, Sam remembered Jenny as a catch whose virginity was as easily prised from her as it was from any of the girls he'd dated while still at grammar school, taking advantage of the bombsites that dotted wartime London. But she was someone special: one whom for so long he was able to forego all other temptation. Indeed, if in his days in National Service he'd never discovered the pleasures of the ladies of the nights and the easy prey of the servicemen's favourite haunts, perhaps he and Jenny might have stayed together until even now.
He'd believed he was in love, and perhaps it was love he genuinely felt as he masturbated over the grainy black-and-white photographs he borrowed from his older brother on those evenings he imagined and later remembered the visual delights of Jenny's proud bosom and the surprisingly hirsute curtains that hid the precious trophy of romantic conquest.
Although Sam imagined himself as a Humphrey Bogart when he was young, in his attitude towards women he was much more like the hero of those Ian Fleming novels he read so avidly in the 1950s. Women were easy prey and as long as you dressed and acted the part, they were fruit from a tree that never failed to give of its bounty. With a winning smile and a well chosen buttonhole, no woman was safe from his charm. Even now, as long as you made sure you never let your sartorial standards drop, there were plenty of women, still handsome if not as beauteous as they might once have been, who fell prey to his allure. A conquest, even one with hair as thin as his own, was one to relish.
Dorothy would be but one in the series of mature conquests that Sam was collecting. There was Betty whose eyes sparkled with the vitality of the youth they hadn't lost. Rose, whose naked breasts had a lift that plastic surgery could only hope to emulate. And, of course, Dulcinea whose exotic name promised treasures between her thinning thighs that even the smell of incontinence didn't lessen.
Of course, he could still afford to pay for younger flesh, a habit he'd still not foregone, but there was more pleasure to be gained from sex with a woman who appreciated him for other things than the interest on his investments that rewarded a job well done.
Sam still liked a young lady. He especially loved the way younger women exposed so much bare flesh, often letting their trousers hang dangerously close to the zone after which he most lusted. Did they know how much pleasure they brought to an old man as he waited at the bus stop or queued at the supermarket checkout? Only a few hours earlier, he carried with him the memory of the smell and vital warmth of the bare waist that brushed against his left hand while his right hand gripped the strap on the crowded Jubilee Line. But he had lost the ability to distinguish the age of a woman of sixteen years and one ten years older, just as he now had a senior citizen's appreciation of the subtle distinctions of aging flesh.
It was after seeing Casablanca with Jenny that their relationship was first consummated. In those days, there were many more cinemas than nowadays and a film would continue to be shown for many months, or even years, after its first release. After all, there was no opportunity to rent out a film on video or to wait till it appeared on television. The Odeon was a grand venue, still boasting a pit where, in the days of silent film, a pianist would keep improvised accompaniment to the madcap escapades of Charlie Chaplin or the Keystone Kops. Sam was much keener on more recent movies and had a talent for mimicking the great actors. He had an excellent take on Groucho Marks, WC Fields, James Cagney, George Formby and Will Hay, but Humphrey Bogart was his favourite.
"Here's looking at you, kid!" he said to Jenny.
She giggled as he kissed her decorously on the lips.
"Play it again, Sam," she said in a higher pitched imitation of the great man's voice.
Sam complied with eagerness, grasping his beloved around the trim waist and planting a longer smoochier kiss on her lips. He noted with desire that she closed her eyes in the same seductive way as the screen goddesses of his masturbatory fantasies.
"We can make more of the evening if you like," he said at last when their lips parted.
He was encouraged by how flushed and excited Jenny looked.
"I don't know how," she protested unconvincingly. "My mum will be waiting up for me."
"You can always say the bus was delayed," said Sam. "I've borrowed the spare keys to my older brother's flat in Chelsea. He's away on business in Gloucester and he said it was okay."
"Blooming heck, Sam!" Jenny exclaimed. "You've got it all planned."
Sam smiled, but he didn't want to let on that Jenny wouldn't be the first young lady who'd joined him on the bed in his brother's spare room. Indeed, he most certainly wouldn't admit that his brother's complicity had once extended to sharing a woman of particularly easy virtue who hadn't yet learnt that she could do better by charging her male friends for the pleasure of her company.
.... There is more of this story ...