Theme Parks and Obstacle Courses – A Novel

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56

“You mean, you fucked a woman in a brothel who wasn’t a hooker, to start with, and you didn’t have to pay for it?”

There was a taint to Wally’s incredulity, as if somehow he should be able to go back and claim a refund, or possibly a voucher.

“I asked her to keep an eye on you,” said Johnny. “Now that’s what I call service!”

“Was she any good, I mean, professionally?” asked Wally.

“She was fine.”

“Did you get a shot away?” Stevie asked.

“No.” Pat turned in his seat to face Stevie, as if facing an accuser. “No.” His voice began to warp under the pressure of the throat that shrank around it.

“I couldn’t keep it up. Because…” and his throat closed entirely. The others were silent. There was nothing to keep them apart from each other besides the sound of the motor. “Let me out, Johnny.”

“What-”

“LET ME OUT!” Pat screamed. His temper exploded as he slammed his fist down onto the dashboard.

When the car chugged away from the kerb and into the blank Sunday morning, Pat was standing on a strip of grass alongside the road. He thrust his hands into his pockets and gathered his jacket around him.

The grass left dark pencil marks of dew on his boots as he walked along. He felt a confluence of embarrassment and shame for yelling at Stevie, which would have only hurt his feelings on his birthday.

These feelings became even sharper as the Valiant receded into the distance.

**

By the time Pat had trudged all the way back from Alexandra Parade, the sun had risen in earnest. He was experiencing one of the worst possible forms of discomfort; when the body is forced to begin the day without sleep.

The risen sun grated like sand against the mechanism of his eyeballs as it shone in through the front of his skull. His skin crawled under the film of the night before.

When he arrived outside the Re:Public, the lead-coated roller door was closed. Trash was scattered around the alley. Broken glass winked amongst the grain of the bitumen. Inside the backpacker’s was a ghost town.

Most of the residents were shut up in their dormitories, trying to recover from the self-inflicted damage of the previous night. Pat clumped upstairs to his room, shucking his clothes off into a pile, directly on top of his boots.

He got under the clean, stiff sheet. It reminded him of hospital.

He spent the next however many hours hovering between wakefulness and sleep. The sun leaked under the blind. He had attempted to seal the gap with clothes, without success.

The effort made him frantic and frustrated, and he knew this was also the result of over-tiredness. He got into bed, pulled the sheet over his face and closed his eyes.

His brain spun like a phantasmagoria, throwing all kinds of crazy pictures up and down the walls of his skull. It didn’t quite qualify as thinking, nor did it figure as dreaming, guided by his waking, conscious mind as it was.

He got up and began to watch television in the communal room for a while, where a number of tragics sat inert and swaddled in their bedding. He found the pace of The Cosby Show too difficult to follow, and the canned laughter grated on his brain.

So he went back to bed. Sleep wouldn’t come; it was if his mind’s grip on consciousness had seized and nothing was going to relax it.

Once night had fallen, Pat began to feel worse. Sunday night meant there was very little to do; no work to distract him. The longer he stayed awake, the more panicked he became.

He took some coins from the top pigeon-hole of his wardrobe and went downstairs to the public phone.

Forty cents tinkled into the slot. He dialled. The phone rang twice and was abruptly picked up.

“Hello?”

“Draga? This is Pat.”

“Pat. How are you?”

“I’m not so good,” he confessed, twisting the phone cord with his free hand.

“Where are you?”

“I’m at the backpackers. At home.”

The word ‘home’ didn’t feel right. It occurred to Pat as somewhat ludicrous, but he didn’t know where ‘home’ was. Or ever would be.

When Pat had left Australia, the door of his childhood closed firmly behind him. Since then, life had been a roster of bars, pubs, hostels, hospitals, institutions, and even a cellar.

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