Theme Parks and Obstacle Courses – a Novel

man-reading-paper-in-the-park

13.

One of the best things about being in the hospital after crashing his brain was that it reset all his fundamental habits in relation to sleeping and eating.

Pat woke up at seven am and became tired at ten pm, sometimes earlier because of the Xanax. He found that even after the late nights from bouncing both Friday and Saturday, he still woke up at seven to find early morning lurking on the other side of the curtain.

Pat threw the covers back, put on a t-shirt to conceal his body in the event he ran into anyone in the hall and padded to the bathroom. He washed his face under the tap, using his fingers to push the cold water into the corners of his eyes.

 ***

The grey morning rose from the damp street like cold steam. He walked from the mouth of the alley, kicking at the rubbish strewn around the bins. He walked down to Swanston Street, turned left towards St Kilda Road and turned right again into Flinders Street.

He strode through the perpetual shadow cast by the railway buildings, his gait matching his mood. His stride seemed to founder in the bottom of the footfall, his foot slipping a little in the shoe. The early-morning, especially-diligent office workers bounced past on the hard soles of their shiny leather shoes, heads bobbing atop spines that were umbrella straight.

The air was cold but the sun was hot. It had risen high into the sky and soon, because of his pace, he was sweating. He took off his coat and folded it over his arm. He sat down outside a café across the road from where Rita used to work, cauterising his appetite by pouring hot coffee into his empty stomach.

He read the paper front to back, trying to ignore the suits around him. Eventually, over the brim of the paper, he saw Rita climb the steps of her building and push through the revolving door. He drank off the rest of the cold coffee, paid the bill and left.

There was a wormhole in his imagination, and it led to wherever it was that Rita had gone. He fed all kinds of supposition down it like a man trying to feed a wet newspaper through a water pipe. Depending on how Pat was feeling, or what he’d heard or seen that day Rita was married, or she’d had some children, or she’d risen to a management position in the bank.

He felt that he could attribute (or blame) the reasons for their break-up on the very reasons she would have been a corporate success; cunning, duplicitous and completely unconcerned with the truth as-is. In actuality, the truth where Rita was concerned was like a door; it was simply a portal to go backwards and forwards through until you got your tail caught in it.

Without any interaction with her, the possibilities effloresced to hang briefly in his imagination like the bloom of fireworks, before fading to make way for the next explosion in their series.

 ***

Pat still had a few hours to kill, so he walked to the other end of the city and bought a paperback from a second-hand store. He continued walking, up to a park near a church. The sun had managed to take possession of the morning and stare some heat into it.

He sat on a bench and attempted to read. He had bought an airport thriller, expecting that anything too complex would simply compound his unease. The book, about an archaeologist looking for Atlantis / Da-Vinci-code-knockoff was infuriatingly stupid, however. He saw a homeless man sleeping on a bench not too far away and lifted the book in front of his eyes as a barrier.

Pat worked at the story for as long as he could stand before thumbing a few pages ahead at a time, trying to see if things improved. The only thing that developed, however, was the page count. The protagonist always accompanied his hard-bitten gems of humour with a grin, usually ‘dogged’, sometimes ‘grudged’ and occasionally turned his head on a rakish angle.

Pat checked his watch as the sun climbed higher. The feeling of seclusion, when you’re up so early it feels like like the city belongs to you, had evaporated with the cold.

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