Theme Parks and Obstacle Courses – A Novel

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8.

“And I kept drinking. Probably for about another month or so. Until one day…” Pat stopped briefly and took a breath. He was giddy with exhilaration. “And I have no memory of this, I was told about it at the hospital – they found me. Outside. Behind the dumpster.”

He could feel the momentum of his listeners, as if all of them were tilted on the lip of a wave. He took another breath; maybe for resolve, maybe for the shame.

“The people who owned the laundromat a few doors down found me. I was squatting, sodden from the rain, in the shadow of a dumpster. My hands were over my ears like I was trying to block out a sound. I had black shit oozing from my ears and my nose and mouth and I was screaming my lungs out.

“Just one note. I’d scream and hold it like my body was some kind of demented tuning fork. I must have screamed holes in my vocal chords – speaking to the doctors, my voice was like gravel for days.

“Drink had chased me across the world and into a dungeon under a pub. And finally, when it came down into the cellar, I put up my hands and surrendered.”

He stopped talking, finding himself exhausted, with no more words in his mouth. There was no response other than respectful, conciliatory silence from the roomful of strangers.

“I’m so glad I don’t know any of you,” he said. “The thing I am most frightened of is telling people I know. My friends have no doubt been wondering where I have been; what I’ve been doing. I’m back in Australia, I’m in my early thirties, and even my clothes don’t fit me properly.” He found himself without anything else to say. He gathered his jacket around him.

“Thank you, Patrick,” said Draga, quietly. Not knowing what else to do with himself, he slouched back to his seat. “Welcome,” she said.

Pat tried to listen to the next speaker, a fidgety young woman in her mid-twenties, but couldn’t hear or concentrate. He found himself shivering, as if from cold. The one thing he couldn’t shift, no matter how much encouragement or therapy or medication he underwent, was the shame.

***

He felt heavy and lethargic when he left the midday meeting, but the sun was out and the wind in abeyance and soon, his mood lifted. That afternoon, Melbourne felt like it could have been Paris. Cold wind trickled over the hard, pale stones. Crystalline, brittle sunlight gilt the trees that were marooned on their small islands of earth in the footpath.

He walked down Collins Street, past the Athenaeum Theatre and continued over Swanston. He looked in a few shop windows, admiring the Mont Blanc pens and other gentleman’s accoutrements. He had a vague feeling of being a stranger amongst all the business people, but that had become a constant feeling. Most of all, he wanted to walk this way because it was the way he used to walk Rita to work. Years ago.

Pat went to the Myer sports department and bought a pair of bottom-of-the-line Asics running shoes, and a heart-rate monitor. This was not quite the bottom-of-the-line; the base model was only a heart-rate monitor, so he spent an extra forty dollars for the model that also had a stop-watch and a digital clock.

Having a watch was exciting; it made him responsible again. Out of the hospital and back in society, he now had to do things like catch planes and turn up to a paying job.

***

The walk back through the city was mid-afternoon quiet; the traffic at a three PM lull before peak hour kicked off at four PM. Back at The Re:Public Johnny was gone, as was his car, and Wally had gone to sleep with his feet on the desk in the office. Pat changed into a pair of shorts and a baggy jumper.

He laced up his new runners that were so white that the panels of leather seemed to glow. He strapped the heart-rate monitor onto his wrist and, sitting on the bed, looked at his reflection in the mirror. He used his key to undo the oversize screws and put it down the back of the wardrobe, deep, so not even the incidental daylight could catch it.

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