Then, for no reason except prudent verification, Tomagra slid his hand along the back of the seat and waited until the train’s jolts, imperceptibly, made the lady slide over his fingers. To say he waited is not correct: actually, with the tips of his fingers, wedge-like between the seat and her, he pushed with an invisible movement, which could also have been the effect of the train’s speeding. If he stopped at a certain point, it wasn’t because the lady had given any indication of disapproval, but because, as Tomagra thought, if she did accept, on the contrary, it would be easy for her, with a half-rotation of the muscles, to meet him halfway, to fall, as it were, on that expectant hand. To suggest to her the friendly nature of his attention, Tomagra, in that position beneath the lady, attempted a discreet wiggle of the fingers; the lady was looking out of the window, and her hand was idly toying with the purse-clap, opening and closing it. Were these signals to him, to stop?Was it a final concession she was granting him, a warning that her patience could be tried no longer? Was it this? – Tomagra asked himself – Was it this?
He noticed that this hand, like a stubby octopus, was clasping her flesh. Now all was decided: he could no longer draw back, not Tomagra. But what about her? She was a sphinx.
With a crab’s oblique scuttle, the soldier’s hand now descended her thigh: was it out in the open, before the eyes of the others? No, now the lady was adjusting the jacket she held folded on her lap, allowing it to spill to one side. To offer him cover, or to block his path? There: now the hand moved freely and unseen, it clasped her, it opened in fleeting caresses like brief puffs of wind. But the widow’s face was still turned away, distant; Tomagra stared at a part of her, a zone of naked skin, between the ear and the curve of her full chignon. And in that dimple beneath the ear a vein throbbed: this was the answer she was giving him, clear, heart-rending, and fleeting. She turned her face all of a sudden, proud and marmoreal; the veil hanging below the hat moved like a curtain; the gaze was lost beneath the heavy lids. But that gaze had gone past him, Tomagra, perhaps had not even grazed him; she was looking beyond him, at something, or nothing, the pretext of some thought, but anyway something more important than he. This he decided later; because earlier, when he had barely seen that movement of hers, he had immediately thrown himself back and shut his eyes tight, as if he were asleep, trying to quell the flush spreading over his face, and thus perhaps losing the opportunity to catch in the first glint of her eyes an answer to his own extreme doubts.
His hand, hidden under the black jacket, had remained as if detached from him, numb, the fingers drawn back towards the wrist: no longer a real hand, now without sensitivity beyond that arboreal sensitivity of the bones. But as the truce the widow had granted to her own impassivity with that vague glance around soon ended, blood and courage flowed into the hand again. And it was then that, resuming contact with that soft saddle of leg, he realized he had reached a limit: the fingers were running along the hem of the skirt, beyond there was the leap to the knee, and the void.
Italo Calvino, “The adventure of a soldier”, In “Difficult Lovers”. London: Vintage Books, 1999, p. 7-9.