Theme Parks and Obstacle Courses – A Novel

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45

“Fuck it,” said Pat, under his breath. The point didn’t really worry him. Last time they had played it had been about competition but today, for Pat, the game was about catharsis.

He wanted a hard game in order to vent his anxiety. Once exhausted, he would be too tired to torment himself any further.

The next ball was short and sharp; Wally re-attempted his fast serve. The ball that crossed the net was almost angry and Pat met it with enthusiasm. The rally became swift and aggressive when Wally descended to the net.

He swatted the ball straight down and stepped back, but Pat dove forward and got his racquet under, scooping it up and over and hopelessly beyond retrieval.

“YES!!! HOWDAYALIKETHOSEAPPLES!!!” he yelled, falling to his knees, ecstatic.

“You do not play golf, do you?” asked Nir, joking.

“They don’t approve of my shorts,” Pat replied, standing up and dusting the grit from his knees.

“Lleyton Hewitt with tourettes,” observed Wally.

“What is ‘tourettes?”

“It’s the disease where you can’t help swearing.”

“I see. I think many people in Australia have that,” said Nir.

“Just serve the ball, eggman,” said Pat, levelling the racquet as if it was the barrel of a gun.

Wally returned to the baseline and caught the ball Nir threw to him. He bounced it a couple of times, and then held it as if it were an idea.

“Ready, Sasquatch?” he asked. Pat slitted his eyes. Evidently, the gloves were off.

The ball was tossed up slow, but the racquet found it fast. A sharp pock slapped against the block of flats next door. The ball kicked up, Wally having aimed for his body.

Pat fended off the shot more than returned it, but fortunately, the ball made it back over the net. Wally zig-zagged across its path and slapped it back.

Again, Pat had to back up to hit the ball, barely having space to extend his racquet. This time, Wally came right down to the net in the time the high-arcing ball provided, courtesy of Pat’s desperate return.

He stretched up like he did when serving and hammered the ball down. Pat had to leap out of the way to avoid being hit by it. Nir wasn’t looking at either of them, but he nodded his approval with the slightest movement of his head.

As Wally warmed up, he started to show the capacity he had been concealing behind a rock-and-roll exterior. Less alcohol and cigarettes meant he had been able to develop some fitness, which meant he had the energy to employ his skill.

Even the psoriasis on his legs was lessened; the skin was a flushed pink, rather than a scaly, angry red. He moved assertively, rather than gingerly. Pat found that as Wally showed more of his ability, he seemed to bring it out of Pat.

Pat was much bigger and heavier, but stronger as well and when the rally provided the opportunity, he’d hack and slash, smashing the ball through Wally’s defence.

Wally and Pat met at the gate for a drink of water. The insults were long forgotten; they were joined to one another by the quest to beat the agitation out of themselves.

“Don’t drink too much,” said Nir as he pushed a ball into his pocket and thoughtfully bounced a second between court and racquet. “We will play doubles. Or, you two against me.”

***

Nir bounced the ball absently a couple of times, then twice more, fast and authoritatively. He lifted it overhead against the strings, as if both ball and racquet had to be lifted together as a kind of supplication to the Gods of Good Tennis.

As the racquet reached its apex the ball separated from it to continue to climb and then, as if it were all part of the same mysterious pendulum, the racquet swung to meet the ball as it fell. It leapt off the strings a different creature; more like a hornet than an inanimate, fuzzy rubber shell.

As the ball tolled against the court, louder and shorter-lived than any sound Wally had been able to elicit from it, Pat instinctively knew that everything about his posture was wrong.

He was too close when it landed; his arm couldn’t extend because of his feet and many other shreds of essential information crowded his conscious mind like the synaptic flashes of a blinking fluorescent tube.

The opportunity had come and gone; the entire life of the serve had expired with that sound, as conclusive as a gun-shot.

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