Theme Parks and Obstacle Courses – a Novel

The-Tan-

39

After the meeting, Pat had the rest of the day to do whatever, but the idea of nothing pressing made him feel fat and lazy. Pat believed that busy people seemed more innervated because their time was broken up into segments the way a book is divided into chapters.

Completing one activity and going to another; a change of focus and a change of location translated into a sense of momentum. With nothing other than television awaiting him, he could feel the hours begin to sag into a flabby clot. Disgusted and frustrated, he pulled on his running shoes.

Pat had heard that running the ‘tan track in reverse was actually more difficult than running it the traditional way. The ‘tan was only a short run – four kilometers, but renowned for its difficulty because of the Anderson Street hill.

Other than the hill, the rest of the course was on a downward slope. Running it in reverse meant you could run down Anderson Street, but then you had to contend with the gradual ascent.

He stood at the top of Anderson Street, ignoring the schoolgirls with ironed hair and leggings as they strode along with their iPods and dark glasses.

He scratched at the bitumen like a rooster and set off along the fence-line, feeling the scattered gumnuts pressing through the soles of his near-new runners.

The first kilometer was always the worst; if it doesn’t shake, it aches. Pat’s ankles cracked and popped, the left one worst of all from a childhood injury.

He had once tried to jump onto a stone in the middle of a creek, slipped off and broken his ankle on the rocks beneath the water. The beating of his heart fell into rhythm with the slapping of his footsoles as he leaned away from the decline of the hill.

In the way you fall asleep without noticing, Pat began to think of things other than his present state of discomfort.

He thought of that decades-old fall into the river. The freezing shock of the water and then the painless shock of his foot not obeying the impulses his brain sent down the leg.

Having to put one hand down on the rocks and using the other to pull the leg above water, his jeans indigo-blue from wet and the bizarre and sickening distention a few inches up from the cuff.

Wally’s speech at A.A. had been remarkable. The way he seemed to simply develop momentum, going from being a bumbling twit into a figure of real authority.

Pat had been amazed how many people knew him – life must be easier when you’re famous. You’re only half a rock star until you’re an addict of some kind, anyway.

Something else made Pat uneasy, and if he pushed into the fog that swirled around his own motives, he knew it was jealousy. He was jealous of the way everyone had wanted to listen to Wally because he’d been in a band.

Pat hadn’t always been jealous of him, although there was some invisible quality that came out of Wally when they had been working the same places together.

Pat had stood by the stage and the girls would look through him, wanting to talk to the tubby little guy in his y-fronts who sweated all over his drumkit.

As Pat rounded the corner, the bitumen ended and the track changed to sandy loam. It hissed beneath his feet and the slapping disappeared.

In addition to jealousy, Pat knew Wally had been telling the truth. Perhaps that was what gave him the ease. Wally had sounded like he was genuinely confessing things that he had managed to process.

There wasn’t any guilt anymore – he had passed beyond it. Pat didn’t feel that way himself, however; he was guilty. And the guilt burned under his skin with the heat of shame.

He needed to confess. He needed to tell the whole truth. To someone. He just didn’t feel like there was anyone he could comfortably tell.

Something struck him from behind; it was a bodily impact that jolted him out of both his rhythm and his thoughts. It was caused by a slightly-built man, probably about five foot eight.

He had a triathlete’s build and wore high-cut jogging shorts with a loose singlet that flapped around the bony cage of his torso. It was four o’clock; few people were on the ‘tan, as most of the office-workers were still in their offices until 5. The track was at least five meters’ wide.

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