Theme Parks and Obstacle Courses – a Novel

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38

“Once my husband was dead, there wasn’t much reason for doing anything. But the one thing I couldn’t bring myself to do anymore was drink.”

She lifted her eyes, returning to the room. “That’s what a lot of people can’t understand. It isn’t always a sordid, tragic story. My husband and I loved each other, and in a way, we were happy. Drink or no drink, I was going to miss him just the same.”

Draga returned to speaking to her porthole in the floor. Much of the power of what she said came from the fact that Pat, and most probably everyone else, felt as though they were eavesdropping.

“I live in Eltham, and I still own the taxi, but I don’t drive it anymore. I could go to a meeting out there, or closer to home, but I keep coming in here.

“I used to leave my taxi in the city and come to The Salvos for the lunch-time meetings, every day. And now I come here still. Even though the people are always changing, it’s the place; the city and the way it changes with the weather. That, and you meet some of the most interesting people.

“All of you,” she said, reaching out to the congregation, “That’s why I’m still here.” Pat shifted in his seat; the seat in front pressed against his knees. He sat up straighter and felt the flimsy plastic upright of his own chair flex against his weight.

“We have new people with us today, is that right?” she asked. “Can I ask them to come up and speak?”

Wally unzipped his parka and put it on his seat. He took a deep breath as he walked towards the front of the room, and, as if suddenly remembering, turned and threw his beret onto the chair.

It caused the parka to slide off towards the floor with a synthetic whisper. Pat caught it.

Wally stood behind the lectern like a nervous policeman behind a riot shield. He gulped and heaved. He sweated; after wiping his brow with the back of his hand he unwound his scarf a few turns, and then, as if deciding it wasn’t going to help one way or the other, left it where it was.

“Hi.” He began, and exhaled. “Hi. My name’s Wally, and I’m an alcoholic. And, um, I… don’t really know what to say.”

“How long have you been sober for?” asked Draga.

“I have been sober for four months,” said Wally, with a sudden certainty. “I was traveling out to Seaford for my meetings, because I’m frightened of running into anyone I know.”

There was a murmur of assent from around the room; when Pat turned around, he saw some long-haired, bearded people nodding and a few besuited types nodding, also. One of them was loosening his tie.

“I came today, with my friend Patrick,” said Wally, pointing. “Pat and I were working in pubs together almost ten years ago. He went to Europe to work in English pubs,” there was laughter and Wally brightened, “And we lost contact for a while. But I’m not supposed to be speaking about Pat. Um…”

“When did you realise that you were an alcoholic?” asked Draga, again.

“I think I probably always was, but I’ve started slowing down as I’ve gotten older. I’ve got all the signs, like my dad. I get this really bad psoriasis, on my elbows and on my feet?

“I’ve always got it. See, a lot of the problem for me is, I was in a band. I was in a punk band in the late eighties, early nineties.”

“What was the band?” asked someone.

“The Shrunken Heads.”

“Wow! Really?”

“Really,” said Wally.

“You were the first band I saw! I snuck in to see you at the Prince of Wales when I was under age!” came another. And then, “You’re the drummer! The guy who used to play in his Y-Fronts!”

“Yeah, that’s me,” Wally said, and laughed. “Anyway,” he continued, unwinding his scarf and hanging it over the lectern, “We weren’t huge, but we had a cult following in Europe and the US, and we would tour there now and again.

“Sometimes big tours, sometimes small ones, but there’s always booze. Sometimes, in places like fucking Denmark, you won’t have anywhere to sleep but the floor of a freezing cold van, but there will always be beer. Rock and Roll hospitality.”

“Right on!” someone cheered. Draga slitted her eyes and compressed her lips into a thin, pale line.

“Yeah!” said Wally. “It was! We never made a lot of money, but then, we weren’t fucking Van Halen. And who wants to be? Who wants to suck the corporate cock that hard?”

“We try not to swear,” said Draga.

“Oh. Sorry,” said Wally. “We did a lot of travel, met a lot of people, and we had a lot of fun. Sometimes, we had so much fun, I couldn’t remember any of it afterwards!”

The room warmed into laughter and the heat pushed Wally upwards, like a balloon.

“One of the hard things to get used to is a new routine.” Wally put his hands on the lectern and gripped it like it was a length of railing.

“I started a business with a friend of mine, because I suddenly had all this money, and I could feel the intense desire to just throw it all into the air!” He laughed, and others joined him.

“So I bought into a business, and now, I have to do all these things. It’s like being back at school, man. Some days I have to go into the office and do stuff and make phone calls, and I have to open at certain times and close at others, and balance tills and order things.

“It’s a bit of a pain in the arse. When you’re in a band, you don’t have to do that. They push you into a van in one place and then push you out in the next and most of the time in between, you’re passed out on the floor. Now, I’ve got responsibilities. It sucks.”

He looked around himself, as if hoping to find something to say, or possibly avoid something else.

“And I have this psoriasis. Sometimes, as I’ve gotten older especially, it gets so bad it’s like I’m covered with scales from my knees to my ankles like a fat, bald, Puff the Magic Dragon.

“I have to hobble to the bathroom. I feel like a f…, I mean, I feel like a cripple.” More laughter. “I mean, not that there’s anything wrong with that,” said Wally, holding out his hand towards the back of the room. When Pat turned, he saw a wheelchair parked against the back wall.

“A couple of years before my Dad died, he had to have his toes amputated. He was limping for good, then. And my mother, she never really said anything. Now he’s dead, and it was the booze, but she doesn’t say anything to me. But when she looks at me, I can see her misery…”

Wally opened his hands now, palms up, and held them out to the congregation. As if to prove he was holding nothing back.

“And now… now I’m an alcoholic,” he said finally, and settled his hands on the lectern.

 

 

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