Theme Parks and Obstacle Courses – a Novel

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“Rita, does it always have to be so hard?” Pat shifted in his chair, wanting to leave.

“Don’t be like that,” she said with a grin. “What are you drinking?”

“Water,” he said, nodding at the glass.

“Alcohol, silly,” she admonished.

“Whatever you are?” he replied.

Rita went to the bar. She was very tall and could easily lean with both elbows on the bar with her chest well above it. She gave Pat her profile.

The light attended her in one continuous line; fuzzy on the crown of her head but solidifying as it flowed along her cheekbone before trickling down her neck and along her shoulder. She soon returned with two tumblers of what was, most likely, vodka and tonic.

“This is a brief walk for me,” she said. “I just finished work. On Collins Street.” Some of the suits had noticed her and their heads swivelled.

“Where are you living?” he asked. He could just see the tumbler in his peripheral vision as she set it down.

“I bought an apartment up near the Victoria Market. There’s no car space, but given that I’m working on Collins Street, I hardly need one.”

“I’m living in a backpackers,” he said, and cringed inwardly.

As with the taste of the bourbon, looking directly into her big green eyes landed him in a long-gone state of mind.

No matter where he had travelled or what he might have achieved, sitting here in her company, he was still firmly tethered to what she believed him to be.

“How come you’re living in a backpackers?” Rita lifted her drink and took a sip before pushing the straw back down into the glass with the tip of her tongue.

“I’ve just come back from overseas,” he said. “Travelling.”

“How long have you been away?”

“Years,” he replied.

At first, he feared such an answer would be evasive. In actuality, it was enigmatic. “Europe.”

“I wanted to go on a working holiday in Europe,” she said. “Never got there. Couldn’t discipline myself to save the money!” She laughed and tossed her hair theatrically, playing to the audience behind her.

“What are you doing for work now? When we were – going out…” he had made it past the issue with minimal disruption, “You were working with… disabled people?”

“Disabled and elderly,” she said. “That stopped after I hurt my back moving house. That was, when I think about it, when I was 23. Which means I haven’t seen you in over ten years.”

“What a horrible thought.”

“I’ll say,” said Rita, taking another sip from her drink. “I started work in a bank, retail banking, and I got promoted to the private bank. I’m an assistant to a private banker now.” Pat already knew this; he had googled her and seen her profile on ‘linkedin’.

“What’s that like?” he asked.

“Fuckin’ boring. But the money’s good.” Rita settled back in her chair. “It’s pretty good, as far as work goes. I get to dress up and I’m spending my time in a corporate environment with a better class of people.”

“I see.” Pat suspected Rita would have slotted him into the class marked ‘worse’.

“You know what I’ve learned in the last ten years?” she asked. “People want to buy things from pretty people.” She beamed at this insight, flashing a radiant smile.

“Sounds like you’ve found your niche,” said Pat. Rita was now returning in all her dimensions. She was far less intimidating once he was reminded of how artlessly superficial she was. And obtuse; the sarcasm of his reply had harmlessly drifted past her.

“Where did you travel in Europe?” she asked.

“Oh, everywhere,” Pat began with a depreciative wave of his hand. “I was based in the UK and pretty much went where I liked. Italy, France, Spain, Greece…”

“Did you go to Hungary?”

“Only Budapest. Other than that, I didn’t spend a whole lot of time in Eastern Europe.” Pat fidgeted. Rita continued to bear down with her eyes.

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