The day the war ended, Tilly Galloway sat at her desk on the second floor of the Daily Herald building in Sydney’s Pitt Street and cried with delirious joy.
She held a sodden handkerchief in her left hand, smeared with what was left of her foundation and mascara, and a cigarette was gripped tightly between the middle and index fingers of her right, the imprint of her Regimental Red Helena Rubinstein lipstick like a kiss on the cork tip end. She dragged hard, filling her lungs with heat and smoke, and her blood with the rush that had kept her going for so long now she couldn’t imagine getting through a day without it. When the tears stopped, when her shoulders stopped shaking, she lit another from the butt of her fourth that morning and leant back in her chair, eyes closed, feeling her heart knock against her ribs.
The whole bloody thing was really over.
She opened her eyes with a quick blink as the cacophonous sounds of victory swept right through her. The phone next to her typewriter rang but it took her a moment to hear it amid the crying and shrieking laughter all around her in the women’s newsroom. She tugged off her marquasite earring, reached for the black receiver and pressed it to her ear.
A song blared from the wireless in the corner—something triumphant with trumpets and stirring strings—and her colleagues, police reporter Maggie Pritchard and Frances Langley from courts, were spinning each other around an imaginary dance floor, Maggie’s blonde curls bouncing at her shoulders and Frances’s glasses slipping to the end of her large nose and in danger of toppling to the floor as they threw their heads back gaily and hooted and hollered.
‘Hello? Are you there?’
Tilly looked back across the sea of empty desks and abandoned Remingtons. Cups of tea were going cold. Someone had pushed open one of the windows overlooking Pitt Street and a gust of wind whipped through the floor and unsettled stacks of copy paper, which swirled into the air like joyously thrown wedding confetti.
‘I’m having trouble hearing you, whoever you are,’ she yelled down the line. ‘In case you haven’t heard, the war’s over. We’re celebrating.’ Tilly puffed on her cigarette and flicked the ash into an overflowing ashtray on her desk.
‘Tilly! Can you hear me now?’ Tilly recognised the voice of her flatmate and dearest friend, Mary.
She covered her free ear with a cupped hand. ‘I can barely hear you, Mary.’
‘Can you really believe it’s over?’