That Monday evening of the last day of spring fell darkly across the harbour. Low storm clouds scudded across the sky. Every now and then weak moonlight shone through. Waves slapped against the seawalls and pylons. The brown-out ensured that eventide came quickly. Rain was forecast. In a tiny flat in one of the newish high-rise blocks around North Sydney, eyes watched the water with more than their usual keeness.
"Tom, make some more tea."
Mrs Walsh was not a woman to be argued with, especially not at this time, and her husband went into the kitchenette to put the kettle on again. The far-off sound of something chugging startled him.
"Is that them?", her voice heightened momentarily, then sank again.
"Ye..No, just another ferry - going to Mosman I think."
Adela Walsh dropped her binoculars into her lap again and sank back into her armchair, picking up her knitting.
"Is that tea ready yet?" she snapped.
Mrs Walsh knew that the time was near and the tension was churning her stomach. Very soon the moment would be to hand, and this was not a time for the faint-hearted. Tom sat down next to her again, the cups of tea clinking gently in their saucers as he set them on the side table.
"Soon", he said, picking up his well thumbed copy of their jointly written book Japan As Viewed by Foreigners.
The clock struck ten, its imitation Big Ben chimes echoing through the quiet room. Mrs Walsh continued with her knitting. Comfort squares for the boys over there - the Australian boys, fighting for king and country. Their boys, her boys. Not that she had any actual children. But still, her boys. Poor boys, mislead by a lying government. Fighting fascism, they said, but at the same time they had banned her own Women's Guild as a threat to national security. 'A threat', the words cut her deeply. 'All the killing and destruction in the world, so unnecessary, so avoidable', she thought yet again. Well, the Walshes were not going to just sit back and accept it.
"I'm sure that plane was something to with it", said Tom.
"The one I was telling you about - about 3 o'clock on Saturday morning, a little sea plane, I saw it when I got up to make some cocoa. I couldn't sleep, and ..."
"Yes, yes, but what about the plane?"
"Well, as I was saying, a little sea plane, it flew up the harbour, darting in and out of the clouds, flew right over Garden Island, under the bridge, then a few minutes later it came back, right over the top of us and back up towards the Heads".
"A little sea plane, well where could that have come from, how could it have got this far?"
Mrs Walsh was getting crotchety again.
"I don't know, perhaps they have a ship off the coast, or even a big submarine, I was reading..."
"Oh, you were reading, reading what?"
Tom fell back into a broody silence. The sound of the wind whistled around the corner of their little balcony. He turned on the radio and the station dial began to glow. "There might be something on the news", he said, as turned the needle to 2GB. Tom admired the handsome Fisk Radiola, it's timber cabinet warm and solid 'paid 30 guineas for that', he thought 'At Nicholson's, I think...'.
The deep, sensual voice of the newsreader began to come through, interrupting his thoughts.
"...Allied airmen, again taking advantage of the moonlight, raided Jap bases in the Solomon Islands, at Rabaul and Dili on Friday night, and turned back 80 enemy fighters attacking Port Moresby.
"Oh turn it off Tom. Its all lies anyway."
It is being reported in Washington that Premier Stalin may allow the use of Siberian bases for aid raids on Japan if the British increase their air offensive on Germany's war production.
The Federal Commerce Minister today appealed for a great increase in the production of Australian tobacco leaf. The Minister is hoping that production could be increased by at least fifty percent.
The Maritime Services Board was appointed Mrs A. Duggan as supervisor of the Board's first aid posts. Ten posts have been established between Walsh Bay and Woolloomooloo. These posts have been staffed only by men until recently."
"Wait, there's something about the planes."
The deep voice from the radio continued to purr.
"The Minister for Air announced today that two stand-by air warnings were sounded in Sydney and Newcastle early yesterday morning. It was later established that the two unidentified aircraft seen over both cities were not enemy machines."
"Turn it off Tom. They'll soon have that horrid hate broadcast on again."
Tom turned the radio knob around to 'off' with a loud click. He knew how much she would be upset by that show.
"'The Jap As He Really Is' - what sort of a name is that for a radio program?" demanded Mrs Walsh "worrying all those mothers and wives about their boys over there. How would they know anyway, none of them have been to Japan - they wouldn't be able to tell your Japanese from a Chinese ...".
Mrs Walsh's voice trailed off into silence as she rose from her armchair.
"Some more tea, dear?" he said.
Mrs Walsh was again staring out of the window, her knitting abandoned.
"Turn the light off, I want to open the curtains".
Tom switched off the lamp as he went through into the kitchenette. Mrs Walsh drew back the black-out curtain across the french doors. A cold, steely harbourscape glinted in the pale moonlight. As she stared at the island of light in the floodlights of the naval dockyard, a loud explosion boomed through the night. Their building shuddered, and the glass in the french doors vibrated. A thin crack appeared across the middle of one of the panes. She jumped, looking towards the Heads. A column of water was rising somewhere on the other side of the zoo. She turned and looked straight into the ashen, shaking face of Tom.
"It's started", she blurted.
"I think I've just broken the tea pot, dropped it in the sink, smashed it", he said.
Mrs Walsh shook him by his shoulders "Oh Tom, it's started Tom, it's started". The sounds of gun fire rose up from the harbour.
1081 words at 22 July 2004
copyright Bruce Baskerville