Theme Parks and Obstacle Courses – a Novel

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14.

Pat put on his jacket, crammed the paperback into the pocket and crossed the road, entering an Art-Deco building of pale grey stone, its ground-floor windows enclosed by lattices of black iron. Inside, the foyer was cold and still.

He hit the button and waited for the lift, but it was so slow in arriving he climbed the fire escape stairs to the third floor instead. There was no one in the hall and he felt a little like a trespasser as he stood in front of apartment number 308.

He rang the doorbell as instructed by the little white cardboard plaque over the knob and went inside, closing the front door gently behind him. The door ahead was shut, as was the door on his right. The door to the waiting room was open, so he went in and, obeying the cardboard sign tacked onto it, closed it behind him.

When the door opened, Pat was met by an attractive woman in her late forties. He had worked his buttocks right to the edge of the cushion so his knees were less than an inch from the coffee table, over which he wrung his hands. He had drunk four paper cups’ worth of water from the drinking fountain, and all it seemed to do was make his throat drier.

“Patrick,” she said, “I’m Helen. Come on through.” He stood and she extended her hand for a firm, friendly shake. She led him into the main room, he stooping more than necessary under the transom of the door. She courteously waited for him to enter before closing the door behind him.

“Should I give you this?” he asked, holding up a small, once-folded piece of paper.

“Is that your referral?”

“It is,” he said. She took it from him and sat it on a side-table.

One thing was for sure – the rent on the apartment had to be astronomical. Helen’s office would have qualified as a large lounge room in any house. The raucous whisper of traffic was pleasantly audible from the street, three stories below.

Through the north windows stood an office building and through the west, Parliament house was clearly visible. Its white sandstone façade reflected the brightness of the morning. The sunlight was a soft off-white where it lay on the carpet and graded into peach as it climbed the walls. A rectangular, ceramic light fitting hung by a chain from the ceiling.

“Take a seat,” she said as she sat in the armchair that stood just away from the centre of the room. The chair intended for him was made in some antique style and positioned in the corner. It made a desperate creaking sound as Pat sat down, and then a more protracted groan as he leaned back. Helen ignored it.

“What time do you start in the morning?” Pat asked.

“Depends on the day. Today I start early. I have my first client at 7:30.”

“Early,” he said.

He huddled into the chair, drawing his coat around him. He stood one booted foot on top of the other, as if trying to make himself smaller.

“So, what brings you to see me?” asked Dr Helen, crossing her legs.

“I’m having a bit of trouble,” he began. “Do you mind if I take off my jacket?”

“Please,” she said, standing. “I’ll put it in the hall closet.”

“It’s fine,” he said, “I’ll just put it here,” and he lay it on the floor beside his chair. He composed himself and began again.

“I’ve just come back to Australia from England, where I was very sick.” He stopped speaking and tented his fingers.

“Are you alright now?” asked Dr Helen.

“More or less. I’m holding on. But I need your help.”

“That kind of sick,” she said.

“I had an episode in the UK, which is why I came home. You see, I’m an alcoholic.”

“I see,” said Dr Helen.

“Do you want to write any of this down?” he asked.

“I tend to make my notes afterwards. I think it’s more polite. This way, you have my full attention. Unless you’d like me to write?”

“No, no,” he said, “You’re the expert. Sorry – I haven’t done this before.”

“That’s okay,” she said, “You’re on a roll. Please continue.” Helen sat upright, hands resting on her lap. She gave him nothing he could interpret, which made him feel uneasy.

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