Theme Parks and Obstacle Courses – A Novel

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The sun was beating down on a mid-week afternoon when Pat alighted the tram at the corner of Fitzroy Street and Canterbury Road. Things in St Kilda had changed considerably in the years he had been away.

St Kilda was once famous for nothing more than heroin and prostitution. Gentrification had slowly been rolling that away. Now, all that was left were a few mad people stumbling out of the Gatwick Hotel, encrusted with dirt and hopelessness, more often than not carrying a beer or cask of wine.

Pat walked to the end of the tram stop and crossed the street. A police officer wearing a bright-orange vest that said, ‘Police’ stepped out from a shopfront, where he’d been hanging like a bat.

“I’ve been waiting for you,” the young officer said, standing in front of him to bar his way.

“I tried to get here as quick as I could,” said Pat, digging his hands into his pockets and slouching.

“I’m going to give you a ticket for crossing against the signal,” the policeman said, drawing a thick ticket book from his extra-large back pocket.

He wore sunglasses under the peak of his cap; Oakleys, which gave him that bogan look the Australian cricket team had become famous for. “Can I see your driver’s license?”

“No.” The officer looked up abruptly, his eyes concealed by the magenta tint of the lenses. Pat held the angle of the stare, trying to push through the tint with his own.

“Do you have something with your address on it?”

“I don’t have anything,” he said with a terse smile and a shrug of the shoulders.

“How can you not have anything?”

“I’ve been overseas for the last three years.”

“Where’s your passport, then?”

“Didn’t think I’d need it to catch the tram.”

“Wait there,” said the officer, who turned and made for another policeman who was ticketing someone else. Pat walked past them to the traffic light and struck the button for the crossing signal.

The traffic flowed past in a thick stream. Had it been quieter, Pat would have stepped out and crossed anyway, out of spite.

“Excuse me,” said the other officer, who had walked to stand at his elbow, a man in his mid-to-late forties. “Excuse me!” There was a tang of offence in his voice. Pat turned to him and grimaced. “Where’s your proof of address?”

“Like I told the officer,” said Pat, squaring his shoulders, “I don’t have anything. I’ve been back in the country for the last few weeks and that’s all. I’ve been living in the UK.”

“If we can’t verify your address, then we’ll have to arrest you and do it at the station.” The confrontation was sinking to a primal footing. And this is the thing with alcoholism; you spend all your energy on staying sober and anything above and beyond becomes too much trouble.

“Fuck,” said Pat, turning his head and restraining himself from spitting in the gutter.

“Do we have to arrest you?”

“Look, not even my passport has my current address.”

“Do you pay bills?” The older officer asked while the young one stood back, watching from behind lenses that kept his expression a secret. The senior officer was stern and insistent, but strangely, kind.

When Pat read this in his face, he felt ashamed. This policeman was the last place he expected to see either sympathy and concern  outside of Alcoholic’s Anonymous, or maybe the shrink’s office.

“I live and work in a backpacker’s hostel in the city. I’m meeting the two owners to play lawn bowls over here, at the bowling club.” He felt as if he had given up, and his shoulders hung in surrender.

The younger officer smirked, but Pat didn’t care; he didn’t understand what had passed between the senior officer and himself.

If attendance at the St Kilda Bowls Club was anything to go by, very few people had jobs to go to on a sunny mid-week afternoon. Johnny and Stevie were playing on the pitch closest to the gate.

Pat walked down the gravel drive, flanked by policeman on either side. The young officer was proud and erect on his right, while the senior walked on his left.

Johnny had crouched to bowl when Stevie spoke to him, not taking his eyes off Pat and his escort. Johnny straightened up, clutching the bowl at his side, wearing shades under the floppy brim of his cricket hat.

The short sleeves of his bowling shirt flapped around the sticks of his skinny, tattooed arms; the images partially sunken into the parchment-white folds of skin.

“This man works for you, apparently?” asked the senior officer.

“He does, most of the time, depending on what he’s done.” Johnny stood relaxed and spoke slowly. Everyone else at the bowls club had straightened up from their games and tables to watch.

“Can you confirm his address?”

“Sure. He lives at The Re:Public. It’s a backpackers’ hostel above a bar, my bar, in ACDC lane in the city.”

“Can you prove it?”

“I can prove my address, and you can send the fine, or the court summons there, if you’d like.” Johnny took his wallet from the back pocket of his bowling whites and handed the policeman his licence.

The younger officer intercepted the handover and began scrawling details onto his pad.

“This is a St Kilda address,” said the young officer.

“I’ll make sure he gets it,” Johnny said. “What did he do?”

“Crossing against the signal.”

“Traffic signal?” asked Johnny. The officer said nothing, just turned a deeper shade of frustration. “Jesus, Pat, two-police escort for jaywalking. You must be some mean jaywalker.”

The younger officer tore the ticket out of his book, passed it to Pat and both officers turned and headed back to Fitzroy Street. Pat scrunched the flimsy paper into a ball and flicked it onto the green.

Wally appeared, not in whites, with Wayfarer sunglasses clamped over his eyes. He looked as if he’d slept in his clothes. He carried two pots of beer and a tumbler of coke in a triangle with both hands.

The afternoon sunlight struck the beer and Pat watched the beaded lines streaming from the bottom of the glass to the foam tethered at the top.

“What the fuck have you done?” asked Wally.

“Jaywalking,” said Johnny.

“Normal people catch a taxi. Pat catches the divvy van,” Wally said, setting down the drinks on a nearby table.

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