In the dog days of summer, when the earth rolls and sighs and a heat shimmer wobbles and distorts everything in the middle distance and beyond, who has not wanted, as evening falls, to take their mattress and pillow outside and sleep like a well-heeled vagabond under an open sky? In Boxstead Court, in Keilor Downs, as evening fell and the stars came out on just such a night as this, Michael Ebeling, the panel beater, who had not had a very good day, decided to do exactly that. He took the mattress from his bed and laid it down in the street, away from the fluorescent streetlight that threw down a cold-hearted glow. He took off his shirt, his pants, his socks and lay with his arms by his side.
    The little Ebeling children watched all this from a crack in the curtains at their bedroom window and when their mother came in to tell them it was time to tuck in and say goodnight they pleaded with her in a chorus of whining to let them take their mattresses out there too, even if just for a while. There is nothing you can do with a belligerent child but whack it or give in, and soon Fiona and the children were lying out on the bitumen too. They all felt a little strange out there, under the open sky, the parents on the double mattress, the three children lined up on the singles alongside them, ranked according to age. No-one said anything, Michael Ebeling himself was not in a sociable mood, but soon the youngest child Sylvie sat up and asked couldn’t they all sleep top to tail? Michael Ebeling smiled and little Sylvie lay down with her feet towards him, her fists clenched hard with excitement. Shayne and Josie crawled over and lay down beside her and after some ribbing and tickling and giggling they all looked up at the stars.
    Like a bowl, thought Fiona, who had not often seen stars, a big upturned bowl with a million holes and you, on your back, inside. And when the Armisteads from across the road brought their mattresses out too and laid them down in the street, John Armistead stopped and said, pointing up: That’s more stars than I’ve ever seen. The Franconeris followed shortly after, the Hegartys, then the Rashoos. Soon the
Watts came out, the Nedovics, the Ngos; the Kovacs, the Osbornes, the Quirks. In no time at all Boxstead Court was full, between one mattress and another there was not a slip of space to be seen: they all lay on their backs, strange bedfellows, all looking up at that star-filled sky, all wondering how this had happened.
    But so
metimes things do happen, and sometimes they must. Life is too short, and its mundanities too many, to not once in a while say why not. And for one night only in that faraway suburb the atoms bounced sideways and the rules were changed and for one night the days were forgot. Ned Nedovic slept with Maggie Quirk, Geoff Hegarty with Mary Ngo; Julie Kovac with Nick Franconeri, Fiona Ebeling with Jennifer Watt. The sons of the Armisteads shared their bed with the lovely daughters of the Rashoos, the Hegarty children with the Nedovics' sons, the Ebeling girls with the young boy Watt. And all through the hot sleepless night that followed torches flickered and giggles were heard; soft music through an open door, the distant sound of cars on the freeway; and when dawn broke over Boxstead Court and the mattresses were carried back inside and the children dressed and the lunches made and the cars backed out of their driveways, something still lingered, some ineffable thing, like a porchlight left on all day. And it lingered through that day and the days that followed, but it could not linger forever. It was only one night, one night amongst millions, and yes, they still talk of it now, but with that sadness that sadly is all that’s left to those for whom the good times are over.