Theme Parks and Obstacle Courses – A Novel

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“The things you’re talking about, your weight and your body hair, they’re superficial things,” said Dr Helen.

“You sound like somebody’s mum,” said Pat. “Maybe they don’t ‘really’ matter,” He supplied quotation marks with his fore-and index fingers, “But they’d sure as hell matter to a tight, blonde, fat-chested English backpacker-come-barmaid like that.”

“And even if she did get past the flab and the hair, she’d find out what’s inside of me, and…”

“What do you think she’d find, Pat?”

“Shame.” He was surprised to find such a succinct name for the shapeless, amorphous thing that had haunted him for so long.

“Why are you ashamed, Pat?”

“Why do you think? Cause I’m a drunk and a fuckup.”

“When did you last have a drink?”

“Not since I left the UK. Before the hospital.”

“That sounds like something to be proud of, to me.”

“Tell me Doctor,” asked Pat, leaning forward, his voice shaking, “Would you let your daughter go out with me?”

“If my daughter didn’t tell me you were an alcoholic and if you were coping, it wouldn’t be any of my business, Patrick,” she said, sitting closer and folding her hands, elbows on her knees.

“All kinds of people carry all kinds of secrets. And as long as a person can conduct themselves with grace and restraint, nobody needs to know. It is nobody’s business but yours.” Pat looked away, out the window.

“How much time have we got left?” he asked.

“A while.” He sighed. “You haven’t had a drink since the UK?”

“I have not had a drink, or drugs of any kind, since they discharged me from the hospital,” he replied. The change of subject worked for him. He turned back to engage his psychiatrist.

“Does hospital refer to the institution?”

“I wasn’t actually institutionalised.”

“Who prescribed the Xanax?” she asked, sitting back again in her chair.

“That was the doctor, in the hospital. The way it all worked out was actually pretty lucky,” he said. “I had a psychotic break.”

“Not very many people refer to a psychotic break as lucky,” she said. “Were you disassociating when they found you?”

The use of medical terminology was always soothing. Once he heard definitive terms, he felt that the subject became something mechanical. Something with levers and gears, which had properties, and which could be fixed.

“I was. My memory of the episode is a little hazy. I remember bits and pieces.”

“That’s common, also,” she said.

“What I remember is I kind of woke up, or came to, in the alley beside the pub. When the paramedics found me, I assume Liam called the ambulance because of the noise, I was squatting down between the dumpster and the wall of the pub.

“Naked from the waist down. I had all this black shit coming out of my ears and my nose and I was just crouching there like an ape, screaming. It was more like a drone, actually. I just kept screaming as if I had reduced all my misery to this one sound, like a demented tuning fork.

“I was screaming myself hoarse, sounding the note again and again like I was trying to scream it out. The paramedics sedated me to shut me up, probably, and then they took me to the hospital emergency.”

“And you were assessed at triage?”

“They knew that I was going crazy, and they also knew that all the black stuff coming out of my ears and nose was something else, not directly related to the psychosis.”

“Did they just put you in a bed and sedate you until you had calmed down?”

“That’s the good thing about alcohol-induced psychosis,” said Pat. “If it had been pot, I might have ended up making myself schizophrenic and having to be institutionalised, not to mention medication for life…” Pat lifted his hands and dropped them onto the arms of the chair. “Once you stop drinking, you stop going crazy.”

“In some cases, people undergo a psychotic episode if they try and come off it too quickly,” Dr Helen said.

“And that’s where I got lucky,” Pat replied. “As I understand, it’s quite difficult to get admitted to a mental hospital. They try and treat you in your own home as much as possible.

“Luckily for me, however, I had this terrible respiratory infection and had to stay in a bed. During that time, they effectively nursed me back to health. I dropped a shitload of weight…”

“As a woman, I can tell you there is no better catalyst for weight loss than stress,” said Helen.

“Unfortunately, I’m still stuck with this,” said Pat, putting a hand either side of the gelatinous protuberance that mounded under his t-shirt whenever he sat down. “But the hospital gave me a safe place.

“It allowed me to do what is so hard for alcoholics; it broke off all my relationships and got me out of a ‘high-risk environment.” Again, Pat supplied his own talking marks.

“Did you hear anything from Liam?”

“Not a word.”

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