Theme Parks and Obstacle Courses – A Novel

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6.

Pat needed a few things, but shopping would have to come later; he didn’t want to rock up to his first meeting with anything other than his hands in his pockets. He closed his coat against the late-morning cold and hunkered down against the wind.

Melbourne was like London, but less so, in every way. Busy, but fewer people. Rainy, but not as wet. Windy, but not as sharp.

He didn’t have a watch yet, but from the laptop in the office he knew he had about twenty minutes to get there. He hadn’t walked these streets in a long time and didn’t know how far away The Salvation Army Hostel actually was.

He walked straight out of the Re:Public, into ACDC lane, up Flinders and left into Russell, heading up the hill. The wind came tumbling down it and swept his longish hair either side of his face.

This close to lunchtime, the corporate mills were beginning to disgorge workers who spilled out into the street clutching umbrellas and suitcases. No matter how bad things had gotten, Pat mused, they’d never gotten that bad.

The hostel wasn’t as far as he’d thought; he was five minutes early. The city location meant there would be a lot of attendees, and they probably ran a broader social spectrum. A few shaggy, derelict-looking people perched on the stairs below the door.

Some white-collar types stood at the far side of the pavement, at the greatest distance they could manage in case they saw anyone they knew. For lack of anything else to do, Pat went straight inside.

In London, he’d attended these meetings in a church. It had lent a terrific sense of theatre, as well as excellent acoustics to the proceedings. Here in Melbourne, the Salvation Army used a rectangular room, like a school assembly hall.

Folding chairs were loosely arranged into rows and a trestle table with a thermos, biscuits and paper cups spanned the rear wall. Otherwise, it didn’t look as if its decor had been altered since the last of the roll call boards for the Great War were mounted circa 1918.

“Hello,” said a woman in her early sixties, walking straight towards him and extending her hand. “I’m Draga.”

“Pat,” he said, shaking her hand. Almost by way of apology, he added, “I’m new.”

“Welcome,” she said, and closed her other hand around his. Her grip was warm and dry and sincere. “Where are you from?”

“I just got here from Europe. London.”

“Do you have a sponsor here?” she asked. She wore a knitted jumper, tracksuit pants and old-lady style, slip-on shoes.

“I did, in London. But not here in Australia yet, no.”

“I’ll give you my phone number,” she said, “and any time you’re needing, you can call me. Would you like that?” A smile twinkled in the eyes behind her glasses.

“That would be great,” he said. His sponsor back in the UK, Barry Dawes, would have thought Draga was a joke, but Pat liked her.

He took a chair near the back and day-dreamed through the welcome and the first couple of speakers, beginning to sweat inside his coat. He took it off and draped it over the back of his chair.

“Would you like to get up and speak, Patrick?” Draga asked. He nodded and rose from his chair. Fear gathered like cumulus in the vault of his stomach.

He strode to the front of the room, embarrassed by the sound of his footfalls until he stood behind the school desk that served as a lectern. He clutched its sides, as if trying to get hold of what he had to say.

“Good morning,” he said, and then realised it was afternoon and he’d already stuffed something up. He took a deep breath to fuel the sentence he dreaded; “My name’s Pat and I’m an Alcoholic.”

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