(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Warren Matthews, an American Fulbright scholar, and his wife, Carol, move into a basement flat in London owned by Carol’s aunt Judith. Carol soon finds she hates London, and the new living arrangements do nothing to cement an already crumbling marriage. She announces that she will return to New York with Cathy, their daughter. She will get an apartment and a secretarial job. She suggests that she and Warren use their months apart to think over the future of their relationship. The couple agree to tell Aunt Judith that Carol is returning to the United States because of an illness in her family. Warren offers no resistance to Carol’s plans. After a party at Cathy’s nursery school at which the child is given a cheap music box that plays “Happy Birthday,” mother and child depart.

Warren is lonely. He cranks the music box backward, listening to its formless tune, then goes in search of female companionship. He recalls his reluctance as a soldier on furlough in 1945 to engage the services of the prostitutes who frequented Piccadilly Circus. He takes a bus to Piccadilly and makes a quick choice among the women there. He accompanies one, Christine, to her room in a house where she plies her trade while her six-month-old daughter sleeps. Warren enjoys the sex, and the following morning, he enjoys breakfast and casual conversation with Christine, another prostitute, and Grace and Alfred Arnold, who own the house. Christine invites Warren to stay, without charge, and he accepts. That night, during sex, each declares love for the other....

(The entire section is 633 words.)