Theme Parks and Obstacle Courses – A Novel


Pat hit the street and started walking fast, his mind churning like a cement-mixer. He decided against another coffee. A second one on an empty stomach would mean caffeine anxiety, which would ruin the entire day. He wanted to thrust his hands into his coat pockets, but the paperback prevented him.

Time takes on a peculiar, plodding rigidity for the sober. Pat passed a few people in the halls of the backpackers as he returned to his room, but saw nobody he knew or wanted to speak to. He hung up his jacket and went downstairs to the bar. While the door was open, neither Wally nor Johnny were anywhere to be found. No cars in the alley; no clue as to where they had gone.

Since the hospital, Pat found an excellent way to subdue his discomfort was to beat it out of himself with exercise, and he considered it, but he’d have to go back upstairs, get changed, plod down to the running track, and so on…

The Re:Public was dark and the reek of booze-sodden carpet met him when he walked through the door. He wandered behind the bar and noted how the reflections of the bottles in the mirror behind them were a series of dark, imbricated shapes that looked like wet leaves decaying in water. He ran his finger along the bottle-green edge of the long glass shelf as he listened to the low hum of the beer fridges.

He took down an unopened bottle of Jack Daniel’s from behind the one already capped with a spigot, knowing the front one would be sticky from pouring. At that stage in the brief history of his sobriety, even bourbon on his skin might be a risk.

He sat the bottle down on the bar to regard it. One of his mates from years ago used to call bourbon ‘Banshee water’. It was a spirit, certainly; an evil one. He began to trace the curlicues of the label with his thumb as he replayed footage of the shrink visit in his head.

Helen was very sexy. There was something about the way her body was concealed by all that expensive wool that he liked, but the feelings of attraction were all fixed at the polarity of fear. What did he have to offer any woman, much less a wealthy, professional woman like that?

He was fat, ugly and had a five-year hole in the middle of his life with the word ‘loser’ echoing around inside of it. He recalled ice-blue eyes under glass, a charcoal suit and black patent-leather heels.

“So come on Pat, how are you?”

“Fuckin’ shithouse,” he said to the bottle. “Look at me. I take off my shirt and I’m built like a raw Christmas pudding. I roll over in bed and the sensation of the sheet on top of me makes me feel ill.

“And I’ve got nothing to say, other than car-crash stories about being so sick I had to be institutionalised, and then actually being institutionalised (which I acknowledge is fascinating in a morbid way), and then moving to another country to start again. And that’s me.”

Pat didn’t even have the motivation to string together a pornographic fantasy based on the morning’s encounter. The medication, the ‘good’ drugs, had shorted-out his sex-drive. If he could desire Dr Helen, it might have been easier to view her comfortably.

How am I? Lonely. And I know if a woman scents that, she’ll be immediately repelled. The other thing is that I have just come to the discovery that I know fuck-all about anything, he mused, tracing the ‘Old Number 7’ part of the logo. Self-pity. ‘I’m so hard, I’m so tortured’.

Being an addict makes you so deep when you’re twenty years of age. It’s proof of your intensity; it sounds the depths of your soul that the world can hurt you so much and all of that other Charlie Bukowski bullshit.

Pat bent forward, head level with the bottle, forearms on the bar. The truth about being an alcoholic is that there isn’t necessarily some blossoming horror-story at the centre. The fact is that every reason is a good reason to drink.

If you’re miserable, it’ll make you feel better. If you’re happy, it’ll push you over the line into ecstatic. For every addict, there’s generally one drug to form a special relationship with, because it lights them up like a Christmas tree.

The best thing about whiskey is the colour. You can enjoy it at any age or stage of alcoholism. Like honey, but deeper. Less a colour and more like a dimension. Pat ran his fingers over the back of the rectangular bottle while watching their silhouettes through the front. Dark, shaggy, spectral.

“Hey Pat,” said Wally nonchalantly, as he appeared in the raw parallelogram of afternoon light that burned in the doorway. Embarrassed, Pat wondered if he had been talking aloud.

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