The water tank had always stood high and round. An obscene, now obsolete, metallic blot behind the low-roofed houses of Andamooka, South Australia. When we were younger our parents told us to stay away from the tank. They say a boy was found drowned in it’s water years ago. He had gone missing days before and when they found him, blue, soft and bloated, it took five strong men using ropes to pull the body out of the tank. But no bygone death would scare us away, only lure us closer to the alien structure. The thing had a concrete base scratched with our names and names of children that had come before us. We often wondered, while lying on the concrete under the shade of the tank, if the drowned boys name was scratched beside ours. From the concrete the four metal legs of the structure stretched high, supporting a wide wooden base on which sat the cylindrical tank that was the real object of our interest and desire. The only way up to the tank was a metal ladder welded to one of the legs. We dared not touch it for both the wrath of our parents and the fear that we would ourselves be found drowned, bloated and blue. We stuck to the ground. Chasing one another and sucking on dripping red icy poles that stained our tongues and turned our hands sticky. In the long hours of the afternoon the shadow of the tank stretched and distorted on the red dust ground creating a monster that we would pretend in our games was going to devour us whole.
In the beginning there were nine of us, all no more than three years apart. Then Adam moved out of town and so did Ian so then there was seven. As we grew and changed the tank stood still, stagnant as the water it still held. Our games changed from tag to kiss chasey because it was no longer fun to touch each other for only a second. Girls on boys, boys on girls, we would dart and hide around the tank legs. Never wanting to be caught but always hoping to be. Kiss chasey took us up to the tank. Jeb was the first to climb to the top after being caught against the ladder by Lisa who took no prisoners. He swung his legs over the platform which the tank sat on and leaned his back against the corrugated iron we had only ever seen from afar. We stopped and watched him as his head swung from side to side, looking at far away things our eyes on the ground couldn't see. He told us later that we looked like ants from up there.
Eventually we stopped running around the tank. Paul was the oldest and the first to tell us it was immature. The girls who we had known our whole lives began to change and morph into creatures we did not understand. They would sit with their backs against the tank whispering gravely secret things. And we would sit underneath them on the concrete, watching their legs swing back and forth, wondering how to reach them. For a whole week once Lauren never even came to the tank. When we asked her in school where shed been she hid her blossoming red face in her hands and ran away. The other girls would tell us nothing other than that she was bleeding. Jeb asked from where and if she had tried a band-aid.
Lisa was 14 and Dan was 12 when their parents sent them to a boarding school in Adelaide with money left to them by a dead relative. We watched from the water tank as the car piled high with luggage drove down the main highway, became a blot, then disappeared, taking our friends with it. Kathy cried and waved a red kerchief Lisa had given her as a keepsake. Though without them life rolled on. We began staying out later, staying until the shadows were so long they became the night. Up on the high tank, awash with moonlight we would watch the town at rest. On weekends our curfews stretched late into the night. So late that our small voices would be accompanied by the drunk chorus of our fathers, carried to us on the wind from the pub not far away. Paul started going to the pub sometimes with some of the older boys he knew would sneak him drinks. One afternoon he came to us with an unopened beer can. He had smuggled it out the pub underneath a thick jumper his mother knitted for him last winter. We watched as Paul steadied the can on the concrete and cracked the tab. Beer frothed and flowed white down the sides, wetting the concrete and soaking Paul's hand. In a circle around the wet patch of beer we passed the can one to the next, revelling in both rebellion and the beginning of a love affair.
It seemed from then that we grew very quickly. Kathy soon became the object of our desire. Her body that had once looked as flat and hard as ours, overnight became curved and soft. On hot summer days she would lay back lazily on the concrete, her top pulled taught against her chest. She would stretch and we would all watch with lust out of the corner of our eyes as her skirt slipped high up her round full thighs and her top rode up to expose her navel. We had seen women like her around town and in magazines but at the same time none of them were truly like her. Nothing felt as close and as real as Kathy did. Lauren, with bony hips and flat chest, watched Kathy with eyes of contempt and desire, though a desire wholly different to ours.
Paul's father was a formidable man who worked hard and coughed often and died when Paul was 17. Paul was the only child and all that was left for his mother. He dropped out of school and went to work in the opal mine that breathed life into our town but sucked life out of our men. We missed him. After he left the four of us drank more and stayed out longer. Despite losing our main supplier we found other ways. Jeb and I stole from our parents while Lauren and Kathy used their assets to find us the liquor we wanted or maybe we needed. In quiet nights, leaned up against the corrugated iron we would tell each other how we would get out of this town of opal mines and red dust. Our legs dangled over the water tank and into the dream of adulthood, of cities and of aeroplanes, of office jobs in glass buildings. From the top of the tank we were invincible.