Theme Parks and Obstacle Courses – a Novel

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“Watch where you’re going,” Pat growled. The man didn’t reply, nor did he turn around. He simply lifted a hand and extended a finger in the universally recognised gesture for ‘fuck you’.

Pat watched as the man bounded away on his elastic, buoyant gait. Pat picked up his pace. He felt as if his swollen heart had risen into his oesophagus and begun to knock against his Adam’s apple.

He stretched out his legs and as his stride lengthened, his pace built from a run into a sprint. Evidently, the man who had struck him couldn’t hear it. As Pat came within arms’ reach, he swung and cracked the heel of his hand against the top of the triathlete’s head.

The man stopped running and cowered against the fence, hands raised in a defensive attitude above his face.

“What! What did you hit me for!”

“What do you think, dickhead?”

“But…” he stuttered, “You bounced into me!”

“Listen,” said Pat, leaning forward and over the man, holding out his open hand, “If you argue with me, next time you’ll get the knuckles.”

And to make his meaning explicit he balled the hand up into a fist, aimed pointer and index knuckles at the man’s face and shook them with a none-too-subtle malignancy.

Feeling refreshed by the confrontation, Pat crossed the Yarra river and returned home along the opposite bank. This side of the river had been a stack of concrete-grey cubes before he had left Australia; now, it boasted a busy café at the water’s edge, and above that rose the recently-constructed Federation Square.

It housed a series of galleries and museums along with restaurants and cafes. While these developments had improved the bank’s profile, this side of the river hadn’t managed to secure any more of the afternoon sun.

The sunny side was lined with two-storey wooden sheds used by various rowing clubs. Mid-afternoon sunlight glinted off the struts of a single- skull rowboat as two schoolboys lifted it down from a trailer and carried it to the water.

Pat climbed the stairs under the Swanston Street Bridge, the main street which ran up through the central business district like a spine. He turned right into the first perpendicular, Flinder’s Lane, and kept shuffling to keep the cold away.

Pat entered the hostel and stood in the foyer, panting and sweating. Running back through the city meant that he’d done a kilometre or so over bitumen and concrete.

At rest the ache in his shins began to sound, as if the bones still conducted echoes of the impact. A door slam drifted down the stairwell. A few people moved about some floors up, rattling around like pebbles in an old tyre tube.

He went into his room, kicked off his shoes and hung the heart rate monitor over the open wardrobe door to dry. He cycled through the functions of the watch and went into the file of exercise data.

Using the pencil he’d stolen from the bar, he recorded the date, the time for the distance and his average heart rate, as well as the maximum. He wrote the numbers straight onto the wood with the soft grey pencil.

There were no other details; in fact, the numbers seemed out of place and utterly arbitrary on the old wooden door, like an asteroid field drifting through space.

The large wooden doors of the communal hostel showers swung inward on squeaky hinges. Flourescent light, baffled through cracked white plastic, descended onto the tiles like flakes of dirty snow.

Given the insufficient ventilation, the doors had absorbed steam out of the atmosphere and bloated up like sheets of sponge. He looked at his reflection in the mirror and touched the grey hairs that had sprouted at his temples. Before the hospital, his hair had been dark brown.

He went to the shower cubicle and turned the tap on, allowing the water to run until it was hot. Idly, he put a hand either side of his stomach and hefted it, observing the slack band of porridge-white flesh that hung over the towel.

He pinched it between thumb and forefinger. It felt like a tube of skin, filled with a viscous fluid. Steam filled the cubicle. He took off his towel and hung it on the back of the door before stepping under the spray.

The water that ran over his body felt like a full embrace. He shut his eyes and pushed his face under. Fingers of water drew tracts through his stubble.

His thoughts returned to the meeting.

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