Theme Parks and Obstacle Courses – A Novel

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Inside, isolated clusters of people leaned and loitered. Pat rested on the bar, looking first to make sure he didn’t put his arms in any fluids sitting on the surface. Sally saw him and came over. She was wearing her white-singlet-and-cowboy-hat combo. She arched an eyebrow.

“Can I have a light beer and a coke, please?”

“Just a coke?”

“Please.” Sally poured the coke from a bottle, which was one of the Re:Public’s points of distinction; while the music was dirty, the drinks were top-shelf. She took a beer from the fridge and swiftly levered off the cap.

Pat took the stubby and pulled it towards him, but she held it by the base, in her fist. He looked at her, and she levelled a penetrating gaze in return. He met it – barely. She lifted the stubby off the bar, his hand almost over hers.

Then she brought it down, hard. Cold beer effervesced out of the mouth and down the neck of the bottle, over his knuckles and down over hers. She grinned. He wasn’t sure what she meant exactly, but it felt like a challenge.

It was terrifying.

At 3am, the Re:public saw the last of its patrons drag their sodden selves up the alley and into the early morning. Johnny reversed the Val up from its sneaky park and left it idling at the door. Pat pulled the roller door shut.

He didn’t padlock it; Sally and the other barmaid were still inside. They still had to balance the tills and clean up the bar.

“You can sit in the front, Patty,” said Stevie, who had changed into a shirt with a collar and cuffs.

“You sit in the front, Stevie. It’s your birthday. Wally and me, we’ll sit in the back.” Pat opened the heavy door to the Val and Wally pushed the passenger seat forward. He climbed in over the hump of the driveshaft and squeezed in behind Johnny.

Pat climbed into the vacant seat, pulling the passenger seat back until it clicked into place. Stevie got in and Johnny took off. The big, throaty V8 chugged like a tugboat as it reversed into Flinder’s Lane.

All the bars in that part of the city closed up at 3am because that was as late as their liquor licence allowed. They disgorged their crumpled, crushed and soggy patrons into the lane. Papers of hamburger wrappers rolled along the gutters.

Some people sat on the kerb and smoked, so trashed that even sleep was beyond them. Groups of drunks staggered along the road like the ragged ghosts of beauty and style.

“Blow your horn, Dad,” said Stevie.

“No, son,” said Johnny. “Down here, it’ll push the bins over.” Like a naughty child, Stevie reached across his dad and pushed down on the centre of the steering wheel. The horn sounded like it belonged on an ocean liner.

“Jesus, that hurts my head in here,” Wally said. Of the four people that walked in front of the car, only one turned around; a skinny, bearded man in stovepipe jeans. He flipped them the finger. Johnny wound down the window.

“Get off the road, you degenerate!”

“Fuck off, grandad!”

“If I was your grandad, I’d neuter myself!” Johnny pumped the accelerator; the back wheels screeched on the asphalt. The skinny guy turned around and flipped them off again as he stepped up onto the sidewalk.

“Thankyou, fuckstick!” yelled Stevie as they thundered past.

“Hellacopters, Dad,” said Stevie.

“Don’t know if it’s in the stacker, son.” Stevie pumped a button on the c.d. player. ‘Dirty Women’ by Black Sabbath came out.

“Where we going?” asked Wally.

“Surprise,” said Stevie. The cream interior of the car turned amber as they drove through the broad puddles of streetlight that stood on the road.

“How old are you today?” asked Wally.

“Twenty eight.”

“I remember your eighteenth,” said Pat. “If I’d had to kick out everyone drunker than you, it would have been a very quiet night.”

“I wasn’t that bad, Patty.”

“Not after you puked. I’ve never seen anything like it,” he said, elbowing Wally to get his attention. “It was as if he’d eaten a souvlaki in three bites. The shredded lettuce, the lamb; everything was intact, as if it had never been chewed.”

“Nice one,” said Wally, taking a cigarette out of his pack.

“Oi,” said Johnny, one hawkish eye in the rearview. “No smoking in the car.”

“I’m just getting it ready,” Wally replied.

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