Theme Parks and Obstacle Courses – a Novel



The door to the Re:Public was half open when Pat came down the darkened alley. He went inside in the hope of finding company to help take his mind off himself. The room was dark, but the lights behind the bar were on.

The shelves refracted the down-lights along their edges and struck a field of brilliant latitudes up and down the mirror. The bottles stood above them, clothed in the shadow of the unlit room.

Pat went into the office, noting the slumped folders and scattered papers of one of Wally’s aborted book-keeping sessions. They had the settled laxity of a compost heap. He returned to the main room and stood behind the bar.

His shoes stuck to the rubber matting that lay over the concrete as he placed both hands on the counter. The knife for cutting lemons stood beside a lonely metal shaker.

He picked it up, intending to put it where it belonged with the others of its kind, but after a brief investigation realized he had no idea where that was. He returned it to the vague ring of moisture that had marked its original position like a footprint.

There was only one bottle of Jack on the top shelf. It was irritating to look at as it interfered with the symmetry of the other bottles, standing in their pairs. He reached up and took it down, gripping it squarely in his fist.

He remembered reading stories of how Nazi scientists performed experiments on captured US airmen, dipping them into tanks of water at near-freezing temperatures, testing to see how cold it had to be before the temperature itself would kill a man outright.

Pat wondered how deep he could be immersed in bourbon before he would be forced to take a drink.

He worked his thumb under the pourer and pushed until it hurt, trying to see if he could push it out. It wouldn’t budge; he had failed to notice it had been screwed in place. The ball of his thumb smarted and bore a crescent-shaped indentation.

He tried to soothe it out by rubbing it with his index finger and discovered the tackiness of liquor on his skin. He felt a thrill in his bowels as he wondered about the rate of osmosis for liquor through the thumb.

He lifted the digit to his lips and sucked. The spirited, woody taste sent him plunging at synaptic speed through a maelstrom of terrifying associations.

Pat ran to his room, gathered up change from the wardrobe and then hurried to the payphone. Some stoned-looking Scandinavian was mumbling into the receiver, so he ran out into the street. The closest pay phone was a block away. As the coins fell into the slot, he held his breath to try and control the panting.

“Hey – hi. It’s me. I hope I didn’t catch you at a bad time? I know it’s short notice, but are you free?”


Pat was no longer in the habit of frequenting bars of any kind, other than the one he lived over, so he had to ask for directions. ‘The Stock Exchange’ was a tiny little place, the size you’d expect for the broom closet of a five-star hotel.

It was, however, agreeably dark. Pat sat in a corner with a glass of water while he waited, watching it sweat onto the table.

When Rita came in, she stopped in the doorway to take off her coat. Pat knew this was a long-employed technique she used to establish herself in any place of social gathering.

It gave the men adequate opportunity to stare, while the women were simultaneously psyched out. She folded the coat over one arm, grasped a large handful of her thick, dark curly hair and shook it across her shoulders.

She surveyed the room once and on the way back, deigned to notice him. He lifted his fingertips from the table for a wave as she strutted over.

“Took you a while to call,” said Rita, stretching her smile as broadly as she could. Pat smiled and reached out to shake the hand she offered, resisting the irritation that rose in him like a cramp.

“I haven’t been back from overseas for long. My shifts at the pub have been all over the place…” he let the explanation drop.

“We come here after work sometimes,” said Rita, draping her coat over a chair. “It’s even got the electronic ticker over the bar to list the drink specials.” She put her hands on her hips and squared her shoulders.

“Well?” she asked. Rita had modeled for K-Mart in her teens and still employed a repertory of those poses. “Are you going to buy me a drink?”

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