Theme Parks and Obstacle Courses – A Novel

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43

“So you stayed in hospital until you recovered, and literally walked out the doors and got on a plane to Australia?”

“More or less. Obviously there was a bit of an overlap, but I pretty much came straight home. I still had some money from working and I just… left. I wanted to change my life, and luckily, I was able to. The sudden psychosis allowed me to do it, a lot more easily than most people can.”

“What about the medical bill from your stay in the hospital?”

“We have a reciprocal health care scheme with the UK, so Medicare paid the lot.” Pat lapsed into silence and looked at the scuffed toes of his shoes. “I had what they thought was pneumonia,” he continued.

“They started treating it with antibiotics as bacterial pneumonia, but I wasn’t getting any better. That meant they had to keep me in hospital until they could figure out what was wrong. It turned out I had fungal pneumonia.”

“I’ve never heard of it,” said Dr Helen.

“It’s very rare. Turns out you get it from bats. There were bats roosting under the pub, in the boiler room.” Helen wrinkled her nose with revulsion.

“Didn’t you know there were bats where you were sleeping?”

“I didn’t mind them, at all.”

“Ugh,” she said. “Rodents with wings.”

“I didn’t know they were going to make me ill. I actually liked the fact they were there. Sometimes I’d hear them chittering away in the dark.”

“That would have interfered with my sleep, I can tell you.”

“You like ducks, I like bats. What can I say?” He smiled. “There were times living in the pub, with Liam, when I just wanted to die. The psychotic break fixed that, conclusively. Dying from drinking would be like trying to drown yourself in an electrified pond.”

***

When Pat left Helen’s office, he felt light-headed. And slightly ashamed of the way he had begun to unravel. When his voice had started to waver, he thought he might have begun to cry. Embarrassment was the worst part; the stress was oddly exhilarating.

He crossed Spring Street and followed the footpath downhill, past the Parliament House steps and into the park. The pavements were just beginning to thicken with the five o’clock pedestrian traffic, as regimented as schools of fish.

Pat headed further into the park, along the bitumen paths. It would be good to have a more regular job, he felt; it would help to take his mind off itself. He remembered once walking around the grounds of his primary school when his mother had dropped him back in between classes after a dentist’s appointment.

All that freedom brought with it a sense of separation, of untetheredness. He could have walked out of the school grounds and kept on walking. The possibility had been frightening. As it was now.

He had nothing to do other than go to work tonight. Hang around the hostel. Watch the lights of the city blinking and shimmering through the night winter air, as sharp as stacked fluid transparencies of glass.

Or keep walking.

He had been drinking coffee before his doctors’ appointment and then a few cups of water in the waiting room. Now, the fluid needled at his bladder. He had held on for the hour of the session, and didn’t want to use the bathroom in his hurry to leave Dr Helen’s rooms.

When his time was up, all he wanted to do was get out. A square public toilet block squatted under a wide-reaching elm. He cut across the grass and entered through the door marked with a male icon. Inside, a man leaned against the wall opposite the urinal with his arms folded, staring at the floor.

Pat went to a cubicle and looked inside. The toilet was smashed. The cubicle next to it was covered in heavy graffiti. The numbers and messages scrawled on the walls became circular, tightening into a cluster like blackberry thorns as they converged around the glory-hole bored through the chipboard divider. He exited in a hurry.

“Hello?” he yelled from the door of the women’s. When there was no response, he skipped across to the cubicles. The toilets were stainless steel; a bowl without a seat. Relief sounded with the faint buzzing of his stream of piss against the metal.

He finished, shook it out and stopped to wash his hands, feeling that the observation of hygiene was pushing his luck.

Which was exactly when he heard the clicking of high heels; evidently, a woman had come across the grass and the only warning of her arrival was the two footsteps on the concrete apron outside the door. Pat turned towards the sound, his embarrassment turning to horror when he recognised the woman standing in the doorway.

“Pat!” said Rita, surprised. “Why… are you in the women’s toilets?”

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