Theme Parks and Ostacle Courses – a Novel

tennis-ball-impact

30.

Pat bounced a ball on the line. It came up again, but not like a yo-yo, the way Wally’s had. This was unsettling, so he clutched it in his fist, threw it up and hit it gingerly. It lobbed over the net and landed just outside of the service box.

Wally said nothing, just ran forward and hit it back. Pat ran in and returned it and in the space of the next three shots, forgot to try and smash the ball away. Before he could think about it, he had been seduced into the magic of submitting to something in order to succeed.

Rather than bristling with anxiety when the ball double-bounced before he could reach it, Pat felt the desire to serve as quickly as possible so as to be back in the game. When he hit a shot correctly, there was a sonorous hum in the strings that spread out into the hub of the racquet.

Soon, they weren’t keeping score; Pat deferred to Wally’s superior skill and they found themselves in a groove. They played this way until the groundsman was twisting the chain and padlock in the fence and the sun had retreated to an uneven spill on the horizon. They zipped their racquets into their cases and went off for a drink.

“That’s how you get good at it,” said Wally. “When I was a kid, my brothers and I played like that for hours.”

“I had no idea you were such a good sportsman,” said Pat.

“I’ll be paying for it tomorrow, I tell ya.” Wally bent down and scratched his red, dusty-looking leg, dislodging several flakes of skin.

“I never picked you for a tennis player. I would have thought you were a chubby little kid.”

“That was the beer. That came later. My brothers and I lived across the road from a tennis court when we were kids. That’s where we ended up. Before school, after school, sometimes during school.”

“How far did you get?”

“State level. Not that far. One of my brothers got a drum set one year for Christmas and that was the end of it.”

“What are your brothers doing now?”

“Plumbers – both of ‘em. Lucky I stuck at playing the drums.”

***

With the exception of his search-and-destroy mission to The Punter’s Club, tonight was the first time Pat had driven a car since he had been back in Australia. Johnny was good about the request, but the slitted eyes when he handed over the keys suggested that it wouldn’t become a regular thing.

Pat was due to start work at nine thirty and now, at nine PM, the night had fallen heavily onto the hills. He drove with the window down and the radio off. A multi-CD stacker was installed under the dash, but Pat couldn’t figure out how to work it.

When he started the car, the stereo produced a wheezy kind of big-band racket. He couldn’t figure out how to change the disc, or even get the radio on, so he drove in silence. He had the window down and the cabin filled with the sound of the thick wind chopping at the pillar.

The dash glowed an iridescent, spaceship green behind the instruments and the lights of Frankston glittered beyond them. But he didn’t hear the wind, because he was thinking of Rita.

Pat drummed his nails against the mother-of-pearl steering wheel as he came to the end of the main drag. He turned into the car park of the club and stopped directly out front.

The cro-mag security guards standing at the door refused to come out from the building when he lowered the window. He flipped the stick into neutral and, after pulling on the handbrake, opened the car door. Getting out of a car always had a certain effect, given how big he was. He approached the two bouncers and put out a hand.

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