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Authors: Mary-Anne O'Connor

Gallipoli Street (56 page)

BOOK: Gallipoli Street
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He sighed, folding the page and photo back up and putting them in his pocket, looking across at Simon as he smoked a cigarette, flicking the butt deep in thought. Wondering if his child has been born yet, Pete wagered. Only Simon shared any personal truths with him here; to the rest he was just ‘Cap', the man charged with keeping the lot of them alive. Pete stood and stretched, walking over as Simon stubbed the butt out.

‘It's quiet,' Simon said, looking up at him. The past few days had been strangely so, a lull in the carnage of the jungle hunt.

Pete was about to comment when the sound of guns thundered from the ships below, smoke billowing as they repeated in quick succession.

‘What the hell…?' Pete stared. Simon jumped to his feet and the other soldiers came forward and they stood as one, watching the scene, searching for the cause of such sudden defence. The pounding continued until finally the sound of a runner crashed towards them, a young, thin teen, carrying a note.


Pete took it and opened it, reading it with hands that began to shake, then the words came at last, words he thought he might never get to say.

‘The Japs have surrendered. It's…over.'

Men fell to their knees; others hugged and danced about, some just leant against a tree in shock while others wiped tears of joy and relief away.

One man sent a prayer of gratitude to heaven knowing he would now see his firstborn child.

Another placed his hand over the photo that lay against his heart, knowing every day from here would take him one step closer to her.

Across the sea and way down south a woman held her newborn son and was told peace had come at last.

And far, far away another woman slept, unaware that the ashes of letters in her grate were soon to come to life. The day was coming when she would hear their words from flesh and blood.


London, December 1945

‘Miss Mayfair, there's a gentleman here to see you. He says he's from Australia.' Missy put down her brush and told the doorman to let him in, wondering who had tracked her down all the way over here in London.

He held his hat as he walked in, a very good-looking man in a captain's uniform.

‘Good morning, Miss Mayfair. I'm sorry to disturb you,' he began.

‘Don't be silly. It's not every day I get to see a tall drink of water from home. What can I do for you, Captain?' She smiled sweetly, observing him with appreciation.

‘I was hoping you might know the whereabouts of a friend of mine. I've been trying to find her for the past three years actually and I believe you are the mostly likely person to know where she is.'

She turned back to the mirror, the smile instantly fading. ‘What makes you think I might know that?'

‘Because she would never break ties with you, Missy.'

She picked up her lipstick, pausing as she applied it. ‘You've been promoted, Peter.'

‘They eventually do that if you keep surviving.'

Missy met his eye. ‘You took your time getting here.'

‘Would have helped if I hadn't been knee deep in mud trying not to get killed.'

‘Why don't you tell me why you want to see her so badly and I'll tell you whether or not I know where she is.'

‘I'm sure you already know why. I sent about a hundred letters to your address.'


He ran his hands through his hair. ‘Do you mind if I have a drink first? It's been a long journey.'

Missy reached for the decanter and some glasses, pouring two drinks and handing him one. ‘And a long war,' she sighed. ‘Here's to peace.'

She sat in the front box seat, like a bird in a gilded cage, her newly cut hair short about her face and tucked one stray curl behind her ear. The action mesmerised Pete and his hand gripped the opera glasses as she moved, every gesture a torture. The red dress hugged against her, reminding him of heated memories; the same memories that had plagued him in the endless cursed jungle that had prevented him from chasing her across the world.

Her grandmother sat next to her, arrived in London just that day with Iggy and beaming with pride as he took to the stage, Missy on his arm. It was opening night and the lure of the two stars playing together at last had made it a sell-out. Pete caught Missy's eye as she turned and winked at him from the stage. She had become his closest ally in London and he knew deep down she wished Theresa would relent. But the latter remained frustratingly immovable and Missy was steadfast in her loyalty, refusing to reveal Theresa's whereabouts no matter how much he pleaded. Missy had invited him to opening night, however, and he'd known Theresa wouldn't miss that.

Missy ran her hand along the piano, dazzling the crowd in her silver gown and capturing their hearts with her playful ease as she sang ‘It Had to be You'.

Pete watched Theresa's face fill with pride and he felt the words leave his own heart and brush skin like a whisper.

He traced that skin with his eyes as she arched her neck to hear something her grandmother was saying and he snapped the glasses down. Bugger this bloody waiting. Pete stole behind, counting the bays until he found hers; he parted the heavy velvet, finding himself inches from her back.

Missy's words filled the remaining air between them. ‘Wonderful you.'

She lowered her face, sensing someone's presence, and turned, her eyes widening in shock.

Rising, she brushed past him out into the foyer and he followed.

‘You can't just run away,' he said, matching her steps.

‘Watch me.'

‘I've come halfway across the world, Theresa. I'm not giving up now.'

‘You should,' she threw back at him, quickening her steps as she descended the stairs, the red dress trailing behind her.

He grabbed her hand, turning her around. ‘Why haven't you answered any of my letters?'

‘Let go of me.' She flung him away and walked on.

‘I wrote hundreds, saying I'm sorry in every possible way known to man. What's it going to take, Theresa? Theresa? For God's sake stop running!'

She'd reached the street and the cabbie opened the door for her. ‘Don't let him in, thank you,' she instructed and the beefy man obliged, holding up his hand.

‘Please,' he said through the window as she stared straight ahead. ‘Please give me a chance to explain. Theresa!' he called as the cab pulled away. Its tail-lights receded and he stared after them, his shoulders slumping.

‘What did ye expect, lad?' Mildred asked from behind and he turned to her, meeting her understanding gaze.

‘A chance.' He shrugged, feeling defeated and exhausted after years of imagining a different scenario, where she fell into his arms.

‘So find another,' she suggested, ‘and this time choose someplace where 'tis harder to escape.'

‘I would have thought you'd hate me too.'

Mildred tucked her arm into his and steered him back to the theatre. ‘If I hated every foolish man I'd met there'd only be women in me life and, bless them all, 'twould be terrible dull all the same.'

‘He wants me to forgive him.'

‘So forgive 'im.'

‘I can't.'

‘Why don't ya just tell 'im that then?'

Theresa looked over at former Private Ben Hill and sighed. ‘Because that would involve facing him.'

They were sitting in a café near Hyde Park, where they had met regularly over the two and a half years she'd been in London. Initially, she had made enquiries of her father's family but the old widow Lady Chambers was long dead and the estate had gone bankrupt in the stock market crash. No other relatives were to be found but after what she'd heard of her father she deigned to pursue the title she should inherit.

She hadn't actually expected to find anyone who knew her mother but she'd put a notice in the papers anyway. To her shock Ben had responded the very next day, telling her he'd never forgotten ‘Redsped'. She and her captain had been good friends to him during the war and he would be proud to know her daughter. Her planned search for her mother's friend Beatrice had never eventuated, cut short at that first lunch as Ben introduced the same Beatrice as his wife.

Since that day Beatrice rarely missed a meeting either but had stayed home tonight with their youngest daughter, who had fallen sick with the flu. Her name was Rosie.

Through them she had pieced together part of her mother's story: the way she worked, the courage she showed, her reckless driving and determined nature. Her love for a dashing Australian captain.

It seemed they had the last cursed fact in common.

‘And why can't ya do that?' Ben's one eye was kind as he watched Theresa struggle with her emotions, her stubborn expression so like her mother's.

‘Because he…he'll twist things around and make me feel confused.'

‘Why don't ya just give 'im a chance?'

‘Because he doesn't deserve it!' she blurted out.

‘Y'want to punish 'im for hurting ya.'

She stubbed out her cigarette angrily. ‘You don't understand, the things he said–'

‘Were cruel.'

‘And the way he just sat by while–'

‘While his aunt tore ya to shreds, yes, y'told me many times.'

She was silent for a moment as she studied her glass.

‘And now yer angry with me,' Ben said.

‘Yes. Oh, I don't know. I'm just angry in general, I guess. Why couldn't he stay away?'

Ben leant forward and held her fingers gently. ‘The same reason why ya can't stand to be near 'im is the same reason why he wants it so badly.'

‘And what's that?'

‘Ya won't be able to deny the truth when it's right in front of ya.'

She didn't say anything, just pulled her fingers back and lit another cigarette. They were all the same, Ben, Missy, Nana, even Uncle Iggy. They all thought she should forgive and forget but it wasn't that easy. Just as it hadn't been easy to force herself away from him, away from her newfound home and back to war, albeit in Europe this time. Far away, working in aerial transportation, bringing soldiers back to London, then studying medicine once the war was over. Fulfilling all the plans for her head and ignoring all the ones made by her heart.

She'd made a life for herself. She had Missy again. She had Ben and Beatrice, wonderful friends who had understood and loved her mother. She had family, regularly writing to them and seeing them on the happy occasions they came to England, such as now. She had her work. She had everything she needed. The fears that filled her dreams at night, dreams of Pete dying in battle, calling out her name in remorse, were just the foolish lamentations of her heart. Her head cleared them well away each morning.

Ben waited patiently while she processed her thoughts, knowing her well enough by now to almost read them as the shadows crossed her face.

‘What are ya really afraid of, Theresa?' he said at last.

She shrugged, the words coming reluctantly. ‘Maybe I…I am a fallen woman. I mean look at my mother…maybe it's in my blood.'

BOOK: Gallipoli Street
7.76Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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