Theme Parks and Obstacle Courses – A Novel

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44

Wally and Johnny were standing in the alley when Pat got back. Wally was dressed in full lycra; white, orange and lime. A racing bike with a matching colour scheme leaned against the brickwork beside him.

“You look like a fucking radioactive boiled egg,” said Pat.

“Gee, Pat, tell us what you really think. Don’t hold back now.”

“Are you coming or going?”

“Coming. I just brought my new bike home from the store.”

“Want to go to the gym?” asked Pat, his pockets bulging with his fists.

“Can’t. I’m going to see my personal trainer / tennis coach.”

“I’m coming.”

“You can’t – I’m riding my new bike.”

“Then you can dink me on the fuckin’ handlebars. I’m coming.” Tennis would make an excellent outlet; it was that or stay at home, drawn ever downward into the vortex of his own thoughts.

Rather than relief, the sessions with Helen of late seemed to make the vortex spin even faster. Worse, he had seen Rita.

Pat changed into his tennis outfit at the courts; long camouflage shorts and t-shirt, along with his running shoes. One of the nodes on the sole had begun to peel away. He poked at it with his racquet.

Wally soon emerged from the change rooms with his bike helmet clipped to his bag. Gone were the ‘Gilligan’s Island’-style denim cutoffs; he wore longish basketball shorts and a sleeveless t-shirt, matching, from the Nike store.

The Re:Public was turning a dollar and the evidence was creeping into Wally’s lifestyle from the edges. New bike here, refurbished warehouse there, designer sports gear as well. And, worst of all, the bastard was losing weight.

“Pat, I’d like you to meet my tennis coach, Nir.”

“Pat,” said Pat, extending his hand to the small, wiry man on the other side of the net.

“Hello,” said Nir, sliding his strong, thin hand into Pat’s. The hand felt all bones, like he had a grip on a handful of cutlery. Nir had wide, brilliant blue eyes and olive skin.

“Where are you from?”

“Israel. My wife is from here.”

“Nir is a barista who used to be a tennis pro,” said Wally. “He bats me around the court once a week.”

“Looking forward to it,” Pat said, striking the edge of his shoe with the frame of his racquet. The instrument hummed.

“Pat’s feeling a little bit Apocalypse Now today and insisted I bring him along.”

“Ah yes,” said Nir, laughing.

“You need to make him run,” said Wally.

“That, I think, we can do.”

***

 Wally and Nir stood at one end of the court, while Pat stood at the other. He was far too distracted by Rita and by all the garbage he had loosened in Dr Helen’s office to paralyse his game with over-analysis.

The racquet twitched in his hand. Wally served, while Nir stood to the side. The ball came over the net as swift as a swallow. With the precision of the preoccupied, Pat returned it. The day turned in his stomach like a black hole; detritus and gas spinning around the edges of a voracious nothing.

Wally came forward and chipped the ball back. Pat ran in and returned it cautiously, knowing he couldn’t afford to come too close to the net. Because he was not as agile, Wally would out-manoeuvre him at close range.

Wally rallied and sent it spinning into the air. The spin was misleading and Pat realised the ball was moving faster than anticipated. He bent his elbow at an awkward angle, but the racquet found the ball.

It came down close to Wally’s feet and he had to jump aside to return the shot. This time, the ball came back along the same trajectory as his previous hit, but without the spin. Pat was in precisely the right position and he adroitly smashed the ball into the corner of Wally’s service box and out.

Wally acknowledged Pat’s point with a readjustment of his shorts band as he turned his back and stalked to the base line. Nir threw him a ball on the way. Striking a professional pose, Wally stuck out his butt and pressed the ball to the strings, before throwing it upward.

He reached with the racquet and hammered the serve. The angle was wrong; it slammed into the canvas band at the top of the net.

“Fault,” said Wally, to himself as much as anyone. He served again, this time a little softer. This ball came straight toward Pat, as obediently as a dog. He swung and missed. He looked down, amazed the ball had gotten away.

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