Theme Parks and Obstacle Courses – a Novel



Nat had a scarf in the back seat of the car. Before they set off, she wrapped it around her neck, tucking the tails into her jacket before zipping it up. She walked past the car and down the stairs that led to the sand. Pat followed.

The concrete stairs were slippery with the fine grit the wind had strewn across them. The rusted rail was coarse under his hand. Sand and wind had abraded the coating of the metal so the rust could get purchase with its millions of tiny teeth.

“You ever seen the Cote d’Azure?” he asked.

“What’s that?”

“It’s along the coast of France. The colour of the water is amazing; like a bottle-blue, but the beaches themselves are a few feet wide and all stones. Awful. In Italy, the sand is the colour of dirt.”

“I’ve never travelled,” she said. “Well, I have been to Bali. And I did go to Fiji once, when I was a kid.”

“Travel’s amazing,” he said. “Long as you’re actually going somewhere, not just running away.”

“Were you running away?” she asked. The afternoon darkened as a line of cloud stretched across the sun like an incision.

“I didn’t get far. The bottle was always close behind.”

“Did it follow you home?” Nat asked, lifting her sunglasses so they rested on top of her head.

“It goes with me everywhere,” he said. “The trick is coming to accept that and to resist drinking out of the fucking thing.”

Nat pursed her lips. She turned to him and as she did so, the wind unwound a strand of her hair and pulled it across her cheek. “I have something to tell you,” she said.

“Go on.”

“I have an STD. I’ve got herpes.”

“Oh,” said Pat, feeling suddenly relieved.

“I’m not a prostitute now, but I did do a bit of work when I was younger.” She gritted her teeth and squinted, as if waiting for an explosion and the resulting shrapnel of disgust and anger. Pat didn’t say anything. “You’re not angry?” she asked.

“Why would I be angry?”

“Because I sort of lied to you.”

“Technically speaking, you said you weren’t a prostitute, which may have meant you weren’t – aren’t – one now. Either way, I don’t mind.”

“I’m not a prostitute anymore. I only did it a few times, and one day, a condom broke with a client and I ended up with herpes.” She kept talking as if trying to deny Pat the opportunity to respond in case it was negative. “Is that okay?”

She had expected outrage, not a kind of wilting withdrawal. Pat had become quiet, dropping his head and retreating further into the folds of his jacket.

He felt a similar shame to what he had at A.A. when Wally and Draga had spoken. Their confessions and the concomitant humility they required shone over him like a glaring halogen light.

They made Pat all too cognizant of what he was.
















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