It was one of the most important things they did together: with each other and for each other. They would buy a bottle of wine—just a little bit more expensive than they should be buying—and watch the asterisms over Fitzroy. When it was about to happen, it was always a silent agreement. They both knew, on rare afternoons when the terracotta haze spread its wings over Melbourne to greet the rising moon, that the lights would be at their brightest. They both had an eye for the atmosphere and an arcane sense of infinitesimal shifts in lunar alignment.
It would take him at least an hour to set up the telescope. Years before they’d moved in together, when he’d first taken her back to his tiny apartment, it was the first thing she’d noticed. It stood in the corner of his modishly decorated living room in all its engineered magnificence. She also noticed how he’d set it up; its huge face peering outwards to the northern sky like an eager sunflower. She wouldn’t pester him while he was bringing it into line with the sought-after parts of the sky. She would put on some Nina Simone and pretend to busy herself in the kitchen, subduing and concealing her impatience. They’d pour out the scarlet wine and toast to things made up on the spot. The soft buzz the telescope made while he was setting it up sounded calm and measured against the agitated hustle of Smith Street and the relentless whirr of nearby Alexandra Parade.
She always knew when it was time. Even still, he’d let out a faint gasp and then peer over at her with a look of juvenile anticipation. Immediately across from them, in a block of shiny new apartments, obscured faces and busy arms went about their nighttime routine. Glazed eyes glued to laptop screens and couples immersed in HBO didn’t notice them in their dreamlike ritual. Down on Rose Street below, pairs of ragged sneakers hung from power lines and twenty-somethings trundled silently home from failed bar hopping quests and cheap Thai food in Collingwood. When it came to taking turns at looking, he’d always remind her to watch where she stepped, even though they’d completed the routine countless times. Barefoot under the luminescence of the moon, they’d look at the stars over Fitzroy.
Out west, over the lustrous dome of the Exhibition Building, a cluster of young stars flickered and whirled. They both knew it wasn’t like star-gazing in the outback—where each speckle of the cosmos stood out unmistakably against the black of the blackest ether—but they didn’t care. Something about the eerie doubleness of the evening lights captivated them. Something about the hazy film the city atmosphere cast over the telescope’s lens was mysterious. To the east, below Saturn, stood the commission flats, with their hundreds of yellowed windows glowing like the eyes of a deep-sea monster. Meanwhile, immediately below Jupiter—which they often observed before all the others—stood the brightly lit advertising boards of Clifton Hill, with their severe mantras for health insurance and airline specials.
‘Look here,’ he’d say. ‘Now look here.’ Because the night was cooling they’d grow swift in their observations. Shifting from foot to foot, she’d sigh at the spectacle of it all while he gently pushed her hair aside for better viewing. Time always sped up when they star-gazed. Before they knew it, the moon they’d been observing over the church tops and traffic lights of Northcote had voyaged far to the hills over Abbotsford. They’d laugh and playfully remind themselves at that point, which usually came right before the night’s retirement: ‘It’s not the moon that’s moving, it’s us.’