Every Saturday the boys of Acacia Heights turn the communal pool into party central. They set up the stereo, barbecue a family-pack of sausages and demolish a carton. Some days a fire starts up across the lake; mushroom cloud appears on the horizon, and the smell of smoke drifts across the car park. Some boys stay. Some take off, sardined into a beaten-up Lancer, taking corners in third, racing to reach the carnage. When the flames die down they come back, dive-bomb the pool. I stay inside; watch smoke drift across the lake, thank fate for the changing wind, the suburb’s sprawl that keeps me at a distance.
Day turns to night. The boys drink on until well past one, and I double lock the door in case they get any ideas.
I’ve passed these men in hallways. I hear them on hot evenings, the clink of beer bottles, splash, shouts, and raucous laughter. My obligatory call to the council, because Mel’s out and I’m too scared to go down there on my own.
Mel’s my best friend and neighbour, too. Cherub cheeks and crow’s-feet, brown hair, with a hint of grey. We share our lives, drift in and out of each other’s space. She’s got Trevor now. Before that it was me and Mel, our friendship sealed with eclairs and a pot of English breakfast. I gave her consistency. She helped me through the break-ups. Forgave me for taking Ash back. Mel says it’s Amanda, not Ash, or any other pet name. She says Ash was my girlfriend; Amanda’s just a girl I used to know. I say Ash is her surname; that when we were young we called each other by our surnames, as if we were spies. I was going to be Ash, I say, once we got married. I well up, so Mel drops the subject.
I buy Tim Tams so that Mel feels at home whenever she pops in. She brings the last of Saturday’s roast every Sunday night, and we eat it on the balcony. Sometimes, we talk about Amanda. Mel says that I did the right thing.
‘You kept a door open,’ she says. ‘But all you let in was a cold breeze.’
I ask Mel if she believes in God. She says she never used to, but the program says you find faith in a higher power of your choosing. That got me. I sure chose wrong with Amanda.
‘I reckon God’s a woman.’
‘Believe in me if you have to,’ says Mel. ‘I’m not God Almighty, but I’m here for you.’
That’s just what I need: another God I don’t understand.
'Orbiting' iappears in Meanjin Volume 73, No. 1, available in good bookstores and via the Meanjin site as a single issue, or as part of a twelve month subscription.
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