We threw aerosol cans into the bonfire. Everyone would then run back and wait. The fire hissed and popped as our feet wiggled nervously in the sand, the tide making rumbles as it edged closer up the shore with each sigh of the sea.
It had been a long hot day. Swatting flies in the afternoon sun with a book while the neighbourhood kids rode their bikes round and round in circles on the dusty, broken asphalt. We’d gone to the other beach, met some friends there on those plastic chairs, and they told us about that party at that other beach. You know, the one where you drive through the cemetery and through the international airport? The part at the end of the runway, where the barbed wire suddenly and pointlessly stops?
We knew it, we nodded.
We drove the Hyundai Matrix down the track at about two kilometres an hour, following the crooked fences and edging around the sharp corners near the graves. They had crumbled and gone all askew from all the bulging tree roots that were now scraping the undercarriage of the little car as it struggled for traction in the sandy dirt.
And now we waited for the explosion.
The birthday cake sat untouched on a deck chair, forgotten and dangerously close to the fire. The alcohol was safe inside, underneath the palm-thatched verandah.
Besides the fire and the reflection of the moon on the sea, everything was dark.
The neighbourhood teenagers had come down, and they stood even further away than us, silently staring at the fire. Everyone braced themselves.
The can in the fire started to hiss and fizz.
The fire started spitting sparks into the sky, about two metres high.
Then all of a sudden, boom. Embers shot higher than the trees, scattering across the sand like hot, orange fallen stars. We jumped back, we shrieked, we swore. We called the instigator an idiot, we laughed at our own stupidity. Hands trembled, hearts in throats.
The boys ran back inside, scouring the house for anything they could. Fly spray, hair spray, shaving cream, aerosol deoderant. They ran back out with a bounty.
Some screamed for more, others shook their heads. ‘You f*cking idiots!’ they mumbled. Everyone knew the stakes here. If things went wrong, if things went bad, you had to hope you’d survive until a plane out to Darwin the next day. But what was there to do that was perfectly safe here anyway? Even those playing it safe could come unstuck.
And even those who disapproved wanted to see it again. The wide charcoal sky lit orange, the sand on fire.
In went each aerosol can, hissing, waiting, sparks starting slow and then BANG.
Bits of hot firewood were shooting into the sky, poor man’s fireworks leaving black specks across the postcard beach.
Some of the explosions were huge, some were disappointingly small, but the suspense was no different every time. How far would we need to run back? Would it be bigger or smaller?
Anywhere else, someone would have called the police. They would have come out of their house screaming about how they needed to work the next day or that their baby had been woken up or that they just plain disapproved. But here, nothing. Tacit approval from the local teenagers and quiet grumbles from the sea.
Once all the aerosol cans in the house had been exploded, we stood around the dying fire with our hands on our hips, looking out to that vast sea shimmering under the moonlight, figuring out what to do next.
We were young, we were stupid, we were crazy. We were living in a place with no rules. We were trying to fix things and we had no idea how. We’d seen first hand things most people our age only saw on the TV. We were all struggling and failing and living on the hope that is fanned by the tiniest of gains.
We were the kind of people who chased the fireworks, even when we didn’t quite know why.