Theme Parks and Obstacle Courses – A Novel

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47

The three went into the café in single file, Pat holding the door for three university-age girls as they left. The last girl smiled and dropped her eyes as she went past, and Pat felt a thrill in the pit of his stomach.

Nir went to a table and sat with his back against the wall. Seeing Nir had taken the seat he had wanted, Pat went to the seat next to him, facing into the room. Wally sat facing the two of them, with his back to the door.

“You wouldn’t sit there if this was 1920s Chicago,” said Pat as Wally pulled his seat in, the legs scraping shrilly across the polished-concrete floor.

“That’s at the barber,” he said. “Somebody I don’t need to go and see, anyway.” Wally rubbed a hand on his pate like Ali Baba polishing his lamp.

“What can I get you?” asked the dreadlocked waitress, the bells at the end of her skanks ringing as she scratched her neck with a pencil.

“Espresso,” Nir said.

“Macchiato,” said Wally.

“Latte,” Pat replied. She scribbled and went to the counter.

“You do not drink?”

“Nope.”

“Us neither,” said Wally, not wanting to miss the opportunity for affirmation. “We’re retired.” Nir bent his eyebrows in the universal sign for ‘I don’t understand’. “We are both alcoholics.” Pat almost fell off his seat.

“But you own a pub!” exclaimed Nir.

“Well…” said Wally, putting his hands on the table as if he had been caught out. “I do. That’s true.”

“How can you own a pub if you don’t drink alcohol?”

“What’s the matter with you, Wally?” Pat cut in.

“What?” asked Wally. “I’m not ashamed.”

“You shouldn’t be,” said Nir. “Life does all kinds of funny things to people.”

“It’s not the same for everyone,” said Wally. “If I drink, well, one drink is too many, and 100 isn’t enough.”

“That’s funny. Are you the same?” Nir asked Pat.

“I’m probably worse. I become crazy. Dangerous. Once I passed out in London and came to in Dover.”

“Really?” Again, the shifting of the brows.

“Lost two days, just like that.”

“I do not like alcohol myself.”

“How come?”

“I do not like the taste. It sounds strange, but true.”

“I’d drink it if it tasted like piss. And often have,” said Pat, laughing. He had been angry with Wally for telling Nir without his permission, but talking about it openly now came as a relief.

“That’s true,” said Wally. “Sometimes, I’ve drunk all night and day and night. I was talking to a doctor one afternoon in a bar, and when I told him I’d been drinking the last twenty hours, he told me that was really dangerous.

“You can drink so much, apparently, that you get the equivalent of toxic shock and fall down dead. How about that, eh?”

“Australians drink a lot. New Zealanders, too. Amazing,” said Nir. “I am slightly untrue. I do not drink not only because I think it is bad. It is a waste of life to be drunk.” The waitress returned with their coffees. She set them down unobtrusively.

“It’s a waste of life being sober sometimes,” said Pat, growling.

“Life is much better than death. Before I moved to Australia,” he said, nudging the butt of his racquet with his elbow, “I did my two years of military service. I became a commander.”

“What was that like?” asked Wally.

“As you would say, it was shithouse. Being in charge of other people is not for me. Once, one of my men was blown up by a land mine, in Lebanon. We were not supposed to be there, of course, such activity is illegal…” Nir shook his hand in a see-sawing motion, “But, this is our government.

“My very good friend was killed. First, we had to pick up the pieces and put them in a bag. Then, I had to go to his parents and tell them. Both parts were equally bad. My friend and I, we grew up together. After he was killed, I decided to just play tennis for fun. Life is too short, and too precious for drinking.

“Or too much tennis.”

“Exactly,” he said, lifting his cup and taking a noisy sip of espresso.

“Won’t that keep you awake?” asked Pat, turning his glass in the saucer, eyeing the soil-coloured swirl in the froth of his latte.

“I am going to go home where I will have dinner with my wife. I will eat and then, before bed, I will smoke a little hash.”

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