Jay looked across the dunes, past the sand tussock, the beach to the ocean in the distance. It was late summer and it had been a good one. A strong northerly was blowing today. It was against the tide, whitecaps littered the ocean from one end to the other. It was warm despite the wind. He lived in a small group of large sections on the outskirts of Armisfield Bay. A seaside village that had been there for over a hundred and fifty years. He was the fourth generation of Williams to have lived here, a fact he was proud of.
Twenty years ago he had moved to the outskirts of town for a little more serenity. Jay’s house sat on top of a small hill overlooking the Bay. The mains for the town’s water supply hadn’t made itÂ as far as his place, a point he and his neighbours had never been happy about. Last year his daughter had bought them one of those new LED panels that told you where the water supply was at. He’d scoffed at it. He had his measuring stick, a ladder and a notebook, which told him all he needed to know. Though he had to admit, the ladder was getting harder to climb with every passing year.
They had two tanks. A large concrete one that covered just about all their needs, as well as a wooden head tank on a tall stand they used as an emergency or for the vege garden. The latter was high maintenance with the sea salt eating away at the wood. They’d had to replace several wooden panels and one of the struts having done this only a few years before, though it added real character to the house.
He’d finally relented and had gotten the local electrician to install the digital screen when he couldn’t make sense of his readings. It had been a second dry month. The new tech could track their daily use. What was intriguing were spikes in usage on days when he was sure he hadn’t been there. He checked his bank statements. He’d gone to stay at his friends for a few days. Becky had been away which had meant with the exception of the irrigation for the vegetable patch, no water should have been drawn. Given it was on a timer, the amount it drew was consistent. The same thing had happened during the first week they’d installed it.
Jay checked around the bottom of the tank. It was overgrown, so he had to pull up the grass and weeds that had risen around its base. Most of the tank sat above the surface, so he had to get a spade to dig around it. It was dry, the sides of the tank looked good, nothing had been compromised. A patch of grass on the northern side of the tank facing away from the house looked out of place. Where the grass looked brown this patch was bleached, it was dead, despite a small shrub shading it from the sun. He pulled it aside. The dirt beneath it was loose, which was strange. He grabbed his spade, dug a larger square around it then used his gloves to pull the remaining dirt away from the tank itself.
A steel tap had been drilled and fixed to the bottom of the tank. A thick black plastic pipe had been connected to it. He dug a little further, cut the lawn to find the source of its direction while looking over his shoulder at his neighbours’ fence. He should have known. Frank Hardwick had been a dickhead in school and was even worse later in life. Jay thought of Frank’s son, Ryan. Everything that had happened with his own daughter, how it had all unfolded. Thankfully the kid had moved away. It had only taken several veiled threats and finally, a secret cheque to convince him to go. He never spoke about it with his daughter. Hadn’t wanted to. He thought she suspected, though it had been for the best. She was all he had after his wife had passed away. He really needed to find someone else, to give his daughter some breathing space, though he couldn’t bring himself too.
How cautious had they been in conserving their water? The lawn looked like a sandpit. All the while this bastard had been stealing it! He heard a car pull into his neighbours’ driveway. Rage rose quickly inside him, he gripped the spade tighter. Jay took a second to decide what he’d do. Part of him wanted to storm around there with his spade in hand and hit the guy over the head. He’d deny it, they’d come to blows. The guy was a few years younger than himself, or so he liked to remind him. Any threat now would end badly. He cast the spade to one side and quickly covered the trench he’d made. He’d bide his time. Let him hurt himself with what he’d done.
It had been a few weeks. Still no rain. The long-range forecast showed nothing on the horizon. He checked his LED panel. He had less than a fifth of a tank in there. A few more weeks and he’d be paying an exorbitant rate for a refill, though right now it looked inevitable. It was time for a holiday. Jay made a show of loading his car in the driveway. Becky was there with her own bags.
Frank reversed on the road and rolled his car a bit further back from his drive, no doubt heading out for his Wednesday golf haggle. He tapped the side of his head as he clocked Jay packing. Jay ignored him and kept going with his business. He’d filled the rest of the water tank with cleaner. One that while odourless, absolutely ripped apart any bacteria that had nested in there. It wasn’t for human consumption. Side effects if taken: violent diarrhoea, extreme headaches and likely hospitalisation. He felt bad for Peg, Frank’s wife, though she was healthy. If she was drinking it, then so be it. Jay grinned to himself, Bob Seagar sung about Mainstreet as he took a left out of the Bay.
Five days later they both returned. All was quiet. The maintenance guys had been and gone. The tank was full, the pipe had been removed and sealed. He poured himself a glass of water and let it settle on his counter. He’d had filters installed and a had bought himself a testing kit, just in case his buddy retaliated. He’d called for his cat, a grey moggy named -˜Tibbles.’ She’d been in a cattery and should have been here. There was a knock on the door. Frank, was standing there, looking pale and drawn.
-˜Sorry to disturb you, Jay.’
-˜Frank. Are you okay? You’re looking a little peaky.’
-˜Something I drank, I think.’
-˜Yeah? Funny that. I just had our tank emptied and cleaned. I’d heard reports about the possible contamination, so opted to get it serviced.’
-˜Peggy’s still in the hospital, unfortunately. She’s lost a third of her body weight which wasn’t much to begin with. They’re saying she should pull through.’
Jay felt his stomach clench, though managed to keep it together.Â -˜Oh. Ah -¦ I’m sorry to hear that.’
-˜Look I’ve got some bad news. Someone dropped your cat off yesterday. It may have been a day early and seems she’d been wandering. I found her on the road in front of your house. I-˜m afraid she’d been hit.’
He placed a black bag on the steps. -˜Sorry to be the bearer of bad news.’
-˜Is this really how you want to go about it?’ Said Jay.
-˜Sorry, I’m not following.’
His take on a confused face didn’t look confused at all.
-˜You and Peg being sick, blaming me for drinking my water and now you kill my cat.’
-˜I take it you found the pipe.’
Jay just looked at him.
-˜I’m sorry Jay. It was poor form, though IÂ figured you owed me something on account of you paying my son to disappear. It broke her you know – Peggy.’
Jay looked over his shoulder to see if Becky was in earshot. She wasn’t.
-˜I’m not sure I know-.’
-˜Cut the shit, Jay. I get it, she was pregnant. You’re not a fan of ours and my son wasn’t good enough for your daughter. He moved away, left his friends and family and now he’s behind bars in the city. Guess your take on his potential was right. Though you not giving him a chance, didn’t help.’
-˜What?’ Said Becky from in behind them. -˜Is that true?’
-˜Yeah, it is Becky,’ said Frank.
-˜Dad, what’s he talking about? Is Ryan okay?’
-˜He could be better, though he’s alive. He’ll be in there for another twelve months.’
Jay’s face hardened as his daughters face crumpled.
-˜Get out,’ said Jay.
Becky started screaming as Frank turned to go. Hitting his chest with her fists as he tried to pull her into a hug. She moved out the next day. Jay hadn’t slept at all. He watched from the window as his daughter loaded the car. Clouds gathered above the beach, huge inflated things that looked like giant mushrooms, their stalks seeming to inhale the ocean below, inflating their oversized shroomed heads, all of them looking like time bombs ready to explode.
He’d buried the cat where the original crime had taken place, under the shrub by the north-side of the tank. All he could do was stare at Frank’s house as he did it. The guy had brought nothing but misery to him. Hadn’t he just tried to get on with it? To protect his wife, his daughter in all things? What do you do when a son leads a girl astray? His girl, the last breathing piece of his generation. To be sullied by what? A blind path that’ll likely lead to ruin? He’d knew he had done the right thing, though where did it leave him? Alone. What had it all been for? He’d failed.
The rain started to fall. A cruel joke in all things when it wasn’t needed. Jay stood at the base of the head tank. He wore a long-sleeved shirt and shorts. He held his arms out wide, laughed at the sky as the rain got harder.Â It began to pour. In no time at all, he was soaked through. The water tank seemed to be mocking him. Jay ripped open the door to the shed under the house. He took up his chainsaw, climbed to the base of the head tank. If Frank wanted water, he’d give it to him. The rain had become torrential as he started it up the side of the small crest. One strut would do it. He cut the one closest to Frank’s house.
Frank’s face appeared above the fence. Jay could see his face writhing, his arms waving, he was screaming at him as he worked his way through the strut. Water spilt from the top of the tank, it was almost full with everything that had fallen. Gradually its weight shifted, the strut snapped, the platform that held it buckled and the tank fell forward taking Jay and Frank with it. Two bodies, being washed down the side of the hill towards the Bay that had created them.