Theme Parks and Obstacle Courses – A Novel



Pat watched the other travellers file past, pushing trolleys of luggage, giving him the once-over. In every passing face he read, ‘Thank God that’s not me.’

The officer pulled out his books and t-shirts and spread them across the stainless-steel table. He set the three pairs of socks beside them and seemed to pay them no mind. Humiliation burned in Pat’s cheeks.

“What are these?” asked the officer. He held Pat’s various medications up, for all to see.


“Not drugs?”

“What do they fucking look like?” he asked, lifting his eyes and baring his teeth. He read surprise in the customs officer’s eyes, which swiftly gave way to gratification.

“What have you found?” asked the woman from the x-ray, interrupting the exchange. She took hold of the officer’s wrist and drew the two rectangular boxes down to her eye-level, before taking them from him. “This one’s some kind of antibiotic, probably for an infection, and these are… Xanax.” She handed them back to Patrick.

“They’re controlled substances,” said the male customs officer. The woman gave him a hard look before turning her attention to Pat.

“This is your luggage?” she asked, looking at the few effects spread across the stainless steel. “All of it?”

“Yes,” he shrugged.

“Thank you,” she said, handing back Pat’s medication. Pat thanked her and piled his things back into his bag. He rushed to clear the gate as quickly as possible, leaving his embarrassment and humiliation behind him.


When the steel doors to the arrivals foyer hissed open, Pat spotted Johnny Decarli leaning against a pillar. His arms were folded and he wore a satisfied, knowing smile. Pat walked towards him, dropped the Gladstone bag to the floor and caught him in a bear hug.

“Patty,” said Johnny, from the depths of the much larger man’s embrace. “How are ya?”

“I’m back.” Better to say ‘back’ than ‘home’. ‘Home’, like ‘love’, was a word much too big for Pat to have in his mouth. “I’m irritated. I got asked what I was doing in Thailand three fucking times. And then, some prick decided to dig through my bag.”

“That’s normal,” Johnny said, extricating himself from the bear hug and straightening the front of his shirt. “My brother’s a priest and it’s the same with him. They’re very suspicious of single men travelling alone.”

“If he’s a priest, I’m not surprised.” Pat tried to make a joke to conceal his embarrassment at Johnny’s discomfort. There’s something about old friends. They return you to the shades of hope and vulnerability that are the native possession of the young. Johnny didn’t know about London, and Pat wasn’t ready to tell him. Maybe he never would be.

Maybe he’d never have to.

They crossed the parking lot, Johnny walking in front. He lifted his key chain and an R2D2-style beeping issued from a slick Valiant.

“Is this a Charger?” Pat asked. It had the short back and long boot of a Charger, but seemed longer again.

“72 Regal. Looks like a Charger, but with a longer wheelbase.”

“Jesus, Johnny,” Pat said, “You must be doing alright.”

“Business is good. Which is something I need to talk to you about.” Johnny opened the driver’s door and slid into the seat. Careful not to knock his own door against the Commodore parked close alongside, Pat got in and closed the door. ‘Please tell me he’s not dealing speed with bikies anymore’, he thought to himself.

Traffic on the freeway returning from the airport was late-morning light. The sky condensed into drizzle and settled on the road. Johnny drove with one hand on the wheel, the other elbow propped on the sill. Both his shirt sleeves were rolled half-way up the forearm to a crease so sharp it looked ironed.

“Is that a new tatt?” asked Pat.

Johnny tightened his grip on the wheel and rolled his forearm to afford Pat a better look. The tattoo was of a knife; one end was the blade and the other end, instead of a handle, was a nun in full scarlet-and-white habit. “My father always said there are three things you should never do; get tattooed by a woman, be tailored by a woman or get your hair cut by a woman. Now, in my old age, I’ve had all three and I’m proud to say I proved him wrong.”

Old age had descended on Johnny at the age of fifty-five. From the wrinkles and the loose fit of his face around his skull, he looked seventy. His hair was completely white, except for a patch an inch-square at the back, just above his neck. It was perfect black, the only indicator of the colour it had once been.

“Where am I taking you?” Johnny asked. “I’m just driving at the moment.” And then, “Where are you staying?”

“I was going to stay at a friend’s place. On the couch.”

“We can do better than that, mate.”

Pat knew this was a kindness, but he felt it drawing him closer into personal proximity. This would eventually require that he give details of where he had been the last few years. He still wasn’t sure what to say about it, or how much – or even if he had the courage to tell the truth. His sense of dread returned.

2 Responses to “Theme Parks and Obstacle Courses – A Novel”

  1. Ok so how do i read the whole novel so far featuring disables stevie and wandering hands Wally?

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