Theme Parks and Obstacle Courses – a Novel

tattoos+flames1

10.

Any venue where the punters go specifically for the music, whether it’s dance, rock, or whatever, are always the best places. People in mainstream clubs tend to behave like herd animals; most of the behaviour tends towards rutting and fighting, generally intensified by alcohol.

While both of these directives were strong on any given night, most people came to The Re:Public for the music. The bill of fare was guitar-driven rock, primarily seventies and eighties punk and its veins of influence as they spread towards the present-day. The crowd was diverse, late-twenties to forties, and fairly laid-back.

On Friday night, doing the door was hard work. Once the corporate grind-houses disgorged their workers into the streets, they began drinking as much as they could in the hope of obliterating all memory or knowledge of the jobs they despised.

The ‘Pub had a ‘no suits’ policy, which meant that Pat spent a lot of time refusing entry. Most suits had begun drinking at five pm and were well and truly liquored-up by the time they darkened his doorway. The greatest misconception as regards (un)civilised people is that alcohol is a social lubricant; it seems to be the one thing that prevents different people from inhabiting a confined space.

Earlier that evening, Pat had gone to get a curry from the Indian restaurant a block east and when he returned, dusk was coming down. The earliest neons were beginning to burn holes through it. The bouncers working the door at the club on the nearest corner, Shagpile, were taking turns throwing ice-cubes through the open third-floor window of a building across the street.

Pat went straight into the ‘Pub, signed his name in the register and came back outside to find Johnny sitting across the way in an alcove, a beer sweating on the one leg he’d elegantly crossed over the other. Pat pulled the string of his lanyard over his cap, the number 13 standing out against the background of hibiscus flowers that covered his Hawaiian shirt.

“Stevie’s coming down to work with us tonight,” Johnny said. “Nice shirt, by the way.”

Wally was propped at the end of the bar, umpteenth cigarette staining his knuckles when Pat went inside for a coke. A short but taut blonde in a tight white singlet, spray-on jeans and a cowboy hat was working behind the bar. Wally reached for her with his free hand as she headed past.

“Sally, let me introduce you to Pat,” he said, motioning with his cigarette. The brim of the hat went up as she raised her head. Her blonde hair curled slightly at the ends where it lay arranged across her shoulders.

“Hi,” she said.

“Hi,” said Pat, his voice punctured by the sharp thrill of attraction that registered as terror. Sally put out her hand and he shook it. It felt small inside his much larger one. Strong and alive. It was as if the contact drew him down, made him sink. He thought he could feel his head bow and his shoulders crumple, like those of a hypnotised steer.

“Show Pat your flames, Sally?” asked Wally. She smiled and the brim of the hat dipped as she set to undoing her belt. Terror started scratching up Pat’s oesophagus from its den in his stomach. She unbuttoned her fly to reveal a ball of flames tattooed on a place that could best be described as her very low abdomen.

“Very nice,” was the best Pat could manage before dragging himself back outside.

“And then dad, and then…” said Stevie, waving his arms, “I got him by the collar, and I said to him, ‘DON’T YOU EVER DO THAT AGAIN!!!” Pat put his coke by the door and crept up behind Stevie, grabbing him from behind in a bear-hug.

“Did ya Stevie, did ya?” asked Pat, as he lifted him off the ground. Stevie kicked and struggled. Pat read Johnny’s face over Stevie’s shoulder. Johnny was smiling. Pat returned Stevie’s feet to the bitumen and he wheeled around.

“Jesus, Patty, Jesus!” he said, “You scared the shit up me!”

“Yeah, well, you scare the shit up me all the time.”

“How was England, Patty?”

“It was alright, alright. Pretty cold. I’m glad to be back. I missed you.”

“Didja really?” asked Stevie, his smile glowing as if he had been given the golden compliment.

“Besides, I couldn’t leave you to look after your old man on your own.”

“Oh, he looks after me, Patty, he looks after me,” said Stevie. “Hey,” he said, “You notice anything different about me?” Stevie turned his head slightly, as if offering his best side.

“You’re uglier.”

“No,” said Stevie, punching Pat’s arm.

“You’ve started shaving.”

“No! Something else.” Pat gave Stevie the once-over, and noticed nothing.

“You’ve gotten taller – I can see more of your ankles.” Stevie looked down to investigate if this was in fact the case.

“Oh, shit,” he said, briskly rolling up the sleeves of his shirt.

“You’ve got ink,” Pat said. Johnny whistled a low, sharp breath and looked away. Stevie folded his arms across his chest and spread his feet.

“What do you think?”

Stevie’s right forearm said ‘STEVEN’, while the left said ‘DECARLI’. The capital letters alternated red and blue and each took up a patch of skin about two inches squared.

“Very sharp, mate, very sharp, indeed.”

“That’s right!” said Stevie.

“Are you out here on the door with us tonight, mate?”

“Not enough bussies, so Dad’s got me working inside.”

“Shame,” said Pat, and Johnny shot him a look. “Least it’s not cold in there.”

“I didn’t bring a jacket. I caught the tram up from St Kilda by myself tonight!”

“Tell ya what, Stevie, you’ve got the world at your feet.”

“Thanks Patty,” Steve said, “I’ll share it with ya.”

“Have you met the new barmaid?” asked Pat. “She’s got a tattoo.” Stevie rubbed the coal-black stubble of his twenty-three year old goatee. Then he looked up suddenly to meet Pat’s eye.

“We’ve got something in common.”

“Exactly,” said Pat. “You can play, ‘If-you-show-me-yours-I’ll show-you-mine.”

“Conversation starter!” said Stevie, turning briskly and heading inside.

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