Theme Parks and Obstacle Courses: A Novel

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41

Pat began to replay Wally’s speech in his head. He lingered over the nuances of Wally’s performance, slowly shaping and altering them to the kind of performance he would have given.

He felt that Wally had been too funny; too casual. At the centre of all the great A.A. stories Pat had heard, there was a riveting tragedy that drew their listeners in, like an undertow.

Pat couldn’t imagine himself as a drummer. Not as a musician at all, really. His experience with rock and roll had been as a bouncer front-of-stage, or occasionally lifting road cases.

He would have to be really desperate to do that for a living; you felt as if your whole life was lived in support of someone else’s creativity.

Pat decided his rock and roll A.A. story would be more to do with living on the outskirts; standing in the vault of shadow that covered the pit in front of the stage when the lights shone into the crowd.

His would be a story of wasted talent. Better – unrecognised talent. It must be the most bitter of ironies to be capable and still not be able to make it.

It was also the ultimate excuse.

Bloody Wally – he was always so funny, and the worst part was that it was natural. Wally’s shortness and fatness gave him a kind of edge. It was as if people didn’t take him seriously, and there were no expectations; he could just open his mouth and take them by surprise.

Pat, on the other hand, could feel the weight of expectation every time he stood up at a meeting. Stepping up behind the lectern felt like climbing the scaffold.

It sounded pathetic; even the vague echo of the voice somewhere down the back of his head, but he wanted people to like him. Pat wanted them to like him the same way they liked Wally.

Wally didn’t have to work for it; being short, fat and funny seemed to do all the work for him. Even more frustrating, Wally was a musician, which meant that people set themselves up to like him before he even met them.

Pat found that most of the time, he was so big and shambling that people were scared of him. It was a barrier he had to work to surmount from the outset.

Thinking wasted a lot of water. When Pat turned off the tap, the air was almost opaque with steam. The heat of it made him sweat, even as he pulled his skin dry with the rough towel.

When he opened the cubicle door, cold air dashed in. The big doors squealed on their hinges and a figure, silhouetted by the fog, entered the room.

Pat towelled down as quickly as he could. He dried his hair standing half-in, half-out of the cubicle and then tightly wrapped the towel around his waist.

As he padded across the cold, damp tiles, he lifted his hand to the door handle and pulled it open. Someone came towards him out of the fog. It was Sally.

She was barefoot, the frayed cuffs of her jeans a darker blue from the wet tiles. Not knowing what else to do, naked except for the towel at his waist, he stiffened like a soldier and held the door for her. She winked, and he remembered with a clutching horror the night in the computer room.

She giggled and saluted with her toothbrush on her way past.

He hated himself for being such a coward.

***

The Collins and Spring Street corner-building that housed Dr Helen’s office felt like something he would have seen in France; pale stone and painted wrought-iron.

It no doubt fitted with the fantasies and aspirations of the well-heeled, apparently wealthy people who constituted Dr Helen’s clientele. Pat felt out of place; denim rather than worsted wool, leather instead of suit jacket or blazer, squeaking rubber safety soles instead of the scrape of leather on polished marble.

The waiting room was probably the least nerve-racking part of the ordeal. The walls were close and he could sit on the couch with his back to the wall, watching the door.

He heard a voice through it; a woman’s, louder as the consultation room door opened. Then the front door opening and closing. Pat expected Dr Helen to appear soon after, but he heard another door elsewhere in the apartment.

The nervousness in his stomach effervesced. A toilet flushed and the pipes under the floor hissed as a tap was turned on. Some time after, presumably as long as it took Dr Helen to dry her hands, the door opened.

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