Theme Parks and Obstacle Courses – a Novel



Johnny turned back to Pat and gave him a disapproving look.

“What?” asked Pat. “Don’t you wish you were twenty-three again?” Johnny muttered and looked away. Pat moved his face, but the smile was still-born. He didn’t remember much of twenty-three the first time, and most of what he could recall, he could do without.  

“How long has Stevie been living with you now?” he asked.

“I’d have to say, a good three years or so,” said Johnny.

“What’s it like?”

“Same as having any kid, I guess. Stevie’s pretty much the same as your average ten year old, but he’s got more common sense. He won’t burn his hand on the stove or wander into traffic or anything like that, you know? You don’t have to keep an eye on him.

He comes and goes when he wants; we cook together at night, that sort of thing. In fact, no one would know he was retarded until he speaks. That and the fact he’s so happy. Anyone that happy has to have something wrong with them, right?” Johnny laughed, waving his stubby at the irony.

“I’m glad he lives with me now. When you divorce, it opens up a space in you that never closes. Having him back… he’s my son, you know?”

Pat said nothing. He was theorising on the nature of barren spaces.


“How long’s it been since you worked in a pub?” Johnny asked, leaning against the wall on the other side of the front door.

“A while,” said Pat, remaining intentionally vague. “It’s not as cold on the door here as it is in England. Night comes down over there like a ton of bricks.” Pat stamped his feet to send the blood back up through his legs.

By eleven o’clock, The Re:Public was close to capacity. Three men in suits stopped just inside the mouth of the alley and stood facing the garbage bins in the spread-legged attitude of men pissing.

They chatted between themselves, zipped up and began rolling down towards the door. Their urine preceded them, trickling in a black stream down the bluestone-paved declivity that ran down the centre of the alley.

“Evening, gents,” said Pat. “How are we tonight?”

“Good thanks,” said the first one, not breaking stride to answer. Pat stepped in front of the door to bar his way.

“I’m sorry, we have a ‘no suits’ policy on a Friday night after nine.”

“Aw, what?” said the second guy, wiping his nose with the blade of his hand. In the low light, all three seemed to be dressed near-identically. “What kind of a rule is that?”

“If people are in suits, it generally means they’ve been drinking since five and when they get to us, they’re pissed. Besides,” Pat continued, hands in pockets, rocking back on his heels, “It’s the wrong vibe. This is a pretty laid-back place.”

“We’re not drunk,” the first man said.

“That and the fact you just pissed all over our bins, then,” Pat replied.

The dynamic of the three suits quickly jelled. The first guy who had attempted to push past asked,

“What’s that?” He jutted his chin at Pat’s security number, where it hung from a lanyard around his neck. Pat had learned the hard way not to wear it pinned to his shirt when some years previous the pin had become embedded in his chest in a fight. “Is that your I.Q?”

“That’s his record of kills,” said Johnny, from where he sat.

“Come on guys,” said Pat. “Come back another time, not wearing suits.”

“How much do you get paid?” asked the leader, hands in pockets. His eyes glittered with superior hatred.

“Mate, you can’t come in,” said Pat.

“Really, I’m curious. How much does a… person like you get paid?”

“I’m doing this for free, just so I can say no to you,” Pat responded, shrugging it off. “What do you think?”

“What did you study?” he persisted. “Do you have a degree?”

“Come on, Alan,” said the balding suit. “Don’t do this – it’s embarrassing.”

“No, really,” said Alan, “I have to be qualified to do what I do. It’s about discrimination – choosing one share over the other, in order to make a profit. Now, if a bar is the same, how much you stand to make depends on who you add to your portfolio.”

The balding, but shaven-headed suit whose regrowth clung to the back of his head while leaving the pate distinctly shiny, shook his head ruefully. He turned away from the door and began walking back up to Flinder’s Lane.

“It’s not the same,” Pat began, his tongue coming unstuck from the floor of his dry mouth. “We have to choose the right people. If we choose people that don’t compliment each other, then we end up with an empty bar. Or fights. Or one, then the other, or both.”

“That’s a very good answer,” said Johnny. Alan considered it.

“Come on then,” he asked, “How much do you get paid?”

“Not enough to put up with shit from idiots like you,” said Pat, his embarrassment finally catalysing into something else.

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