Theme Parks and Obstacle Courses – A Novel

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37

Pat was sitting at a footpath table out front of a small café in Flinders Lane. He had his duffel coat buttoned tight around his scarf and the Monday newspaper spread part-way across his lap and the rest of the way over the table. He took a sip of his coffee, watching the ascending plume of steam as it rose toward the sky.

“End of the working week-end,” said Wally. He wore a Dr Seuss scarf wrapped around his throat, joining his head to his torso in one lumpy taper. “How was it?”

“The people came in, the people got drunk, we scraped them off the floor at close and they all crawled home. Usual shit.”

“Fabulous,” said Wally, rubbing his hands one over the other in a greasy, profit-loving manner. “I love how they do that.”

“They don’t seem to get sick of it.”

“Wonderful, isn’t it?”

“Hmm,” Pat said, as he lifted the coffee to his lips.

“Hey, um,” Wally began, with a secret-agent glance over his shoulder, “You want to come to a meeting this morning?”

“Sure.”

Wally had begun to recover from his need to drive to A.A. meetings an hour out of town. It turned out he had seen a guy who he thought may have been one of his teachers when he was in high-school, and this led him to the conclusion that no matter where he went, the risk of running into someone he knew was ever-present.

When they met at the door to the Re:Public, Wally wore a beret-style cap, not entirely unlike Pat’s, except it was made of brown tweed.

“You look like a greyhound trainer wearing that,” said Pat. They walked to the mouth of the alley. “It’s possible someone will recognise me, and then recognise you, just by association, you realise? And they might think you’ve become a greyhound trainer, as well.”

Wally turned, reached up and took Pat’s beret off his head. Then he slung it, Frisbee style, towards the kerb where it came to rest on a bus shelter.

Pat chuckled as he retrieved it. Wally thrust his hands into his pockets and marched off along the footpath.

The heating in the Salvation Army shelter was cranked right up; sweat began to itch in Pat’s hairline soon after they had entered the meeting room.

He took off his beret, stuffed it in his pocket and began to undo his scarf as he walked towards the front row of seating. Wally grabbed him by the arm.

“Where are you going?”

“I’m going to sit down, what do you reckon?”

“Don’t sit up the front, Jesus,” said Wally, shaking his head. Pat shrugged and pulled off his coat, hanging it over the chair in front of him. They sat and Wally kept his coat on, hunkering down in his seat. The parka swelled around him, making him look like a mound.

“Good morning to all of you,” said Draga, coming to stand at the front of the room, Styrofoam cup in her hand. Steam curled from the lip like smoke from a torch. “I bring this meeting to order. It’s been a while, so I might speak, if no one objects.”

“That’s my sponsor,” said Pat, in Wally’s ear. Wally had crossed his arms, as if in an effort to keep Pat and his obnoxious gags at bay.

“My name is Draga and I am an alcoholic. If anything, I probably owe it to sobriety that I have come to enjoy coffee so much,” she said. “You know you really like something when you can even enjoy the bad stuff.”

Pat looked over his shoulder. Although people split up according to dress on the footpath, they assimilated once inside. Some of the business people had taken off their jackets.

“When I drank, I was drinking plenty of bad stuff. It was cheap and I needed plenty of it,” said Draga, drawing Pat’s attention back to the front of the room.

“My husband and I, we had separate jobs as well as owning a taxi. First he lost his job; he was a machine operator, and then I lost mine. I stayed at home while he drove the cab. That was okay, until he went blind from the drink. Don’t know why that happens to some and not to others,” she said.

“Then I started driving the taxi and every day at midday when the bottle shops opened, I would drive through and buy a four-litre cask of white wine to get me through the shift.

“We were functioning alcoholics, in that sense; we managed to keep our house. Everything seemed to be going alright until…” She dropped her head slightly, as if looking through the floor, over her glasses.

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