Theme Parks and Obstacle Courses – A Novel

melbourne-5

17.

Melbourne is a city with manic-depressive weather. When Pat caught the tram from the foot of Swanston Street, wind spattered the windows with the onset of rain. Once the tram arrived at the University end of the city, the sun had parted the clouds and the sky was blue. Pat alighted, thrust his hands into his pockets and, turning his back to the university, walked towards Lygon Street.

Lygon Street is the centre of the Italian community in Melbourne. Located in the inner city, it has shifted from a working-class ghetto at the turn of the century to become one of its most fashionable suburbs. Both sides of the street are lined with cafes, restaurants and clothing boutiques.

Pat spotted Wally’s bald, egg-shaped head at a table near the corner of Lygon and Elgin Streets. He quickened his pace. When Pat pulled a chair out from the red-and-white chequered table, Wally sat with hands clasped in front of him, looking nervous.

“So, Wally, we’re a long way from the Pub.” Pat sat down and put his elbows on the table. The vibrations of Wally tapping his foot in a high-speed tattoo against one of the legs moved through the table and into his arms. Wally sucked on his Marlboro, lit-end flaring. He took the cigarette from his mouth before he spoke.

“How’s your day?” he asked, his words jumbled in the smoke, which looked like the fumes of whatever was worrying him.

“Good thus far,” said Pat, “But it’s early.”

“How do you find working in the pub?”

“Yeah,” Pat said, allowing Wally to draw the conversation wherever he wanted to take it. Whatever was driving that leg was soon to emerge. “Fine. Good.”

“You like living upstairs? Isn’t too noisy?”

“Most of the people staying in the single rooms are couples, so they’re pretty quiet. I’m glad I’m not trying to sleep on the first floor where the dorms are.”

“Can I get you a coffee or anything?” asked the waitress with the sleek black ponytail that came out to their table.

“Latte, thanks,” said Pat.

“Espresso,” said Wally. The waitress departed the table with a smile. “And a bottle of water!” he yelled after her. “Pat,” he said, “I’ve got a problem.”

“Who hasn’t?” Wally didn’t laugh. Pat pushed his chair out from the table and leaned back.

“I’ve got some problems with my health and I want to talk about them with you. So you don’t think anything’s weird. If you notice anything.” Pat felt a pang of fear. He didn’t want to lose another friend. Cancer. Leukemia. Maybe even AIDS.

“Fuck,” said Wally, turning his head and expelling a plume of smoke towards the front of the restaurant. “I’m an alcoholic.” Pat laughed. “It’s not fucken funny, mate,” said Wally, wounded.

“No, no, I’m not laughing at that,” Pat said.

“Neither am I,” said Wally, settling back against his chair.

“How do you know?” Pat asked.

“Gee, I wonder. Maybe because I’ve been pissed for the last 15 years?”

“That would do it,” said Pat. Wally fumbled his lighter and cigarettes into his hands and lit another.

“I’ve got really bad psoriasis.” Wally stacked the lighter onto his packet of cigarettes like he was shuffling cards. He rolled up his shirtsleeve to expose the angry red eczema that ran from a crusted white ring of calcium-looking coral at his elbow, down his forearm, towards his hand.

“I was on-tour with the band last year and when we were in New York, we just drank and drank. It got worse and worse. You know I’ve got really bad circulation?”

“I didn’t.”

“It got so bad it was like my legs were filling up with fluid. I was limping everywhere and one day, I couldn’t get my shoe on. I went to the doctor and…” Pat understood. He had his own scenario to draw on. “I must have told you something like this before,” Wally said.

Wally’s band had been fabled drinkers; Wally’s appetite for booze had formerly intimidated even Pat. When he had been bouncing in Johnny’s pub, there had been occasions when the band had played Saturday night, Pat had gone home to sleep through the day and when he’d come back Sunday evening, Johnny, Wally and a few of the crew were still marooned at the bar.

“I don’t know how Johnny does it,” said Wally, resentfully.

“Mate, he’s 55 going on 75. The only colour in his body is that inch- square tuft of hair on the back of his head. It’s even leached out of his tattoos.”

“The Mule is like that,” said Wally, not paying attention. “He can drink all day and night and then leave it alone for weeks at a time. Goes off to that farm of his in the country. Fucks around with his sheep and horses.”

Which was a lot of the reason The Mule wasn’t sitting in on the conversation, Pat suspected. ‘Mule’ was a nick-name for the band’s singer, Stacey Wright. Stacey was almost as wide as he was tall, and hence had earned his nickname.

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