Theme Parks and Obstacle Courses – a Novel

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Rita broke off the gaze, taking the straw from her glass and laying it by. She sipped from the glass itself this time and when she put it down, the rim was marred with lipstick.

“What did you do for work?” she asked.

“Pubs. As usual. I’m a career publican, it looks like.”

“You’ve bought one?” asked Rita.

“I’m still looking around.” Pat settled his hand on his own glass and rested his arm on the table. He had intended to lift it, but the reality of its damp coldness was heavy against his hand.

“So you were working in a number of pubs in Europe, in the UK?”

“Here and there, when I needed to support myself. Otherwise, I was taking off, travelling the continent.”

“Life of adventure,” she said and smiled.

Pat was pleased to discover that his fear had dissipated. Just as he was never going to be any more than he had been at age twenty, neither was she.

Her egotism and pretension were still there, blatant and unsophisticated as ever. It gave him courage.

“I travelled a lot in Europe, only really stopping to work when I needed to. Pubs are a great way to do it – you’re at the front-lines of everyday life.”

He paused to admire his turn of phrase. “Meeting people across a bar, seeing how they spend their leisure time might differ from place to place, but it’s the way people from all kinds of cultures come together. It’s great to be a part of it.”

The sentences slipped blithely from his tongue. Pat believed these things to be lies, not just omissions of crucial detail relating to mental breakdown and substance abuse.

But seeing himself recreated in the eyes of someone he respected, who had once desired him, fired him. He felt like he was creating someone he wanted to be and if she believed it, that would give him permission to do so, as well.

He began to incrementally claw back some of the decade he had come to count as lost.

“A lot of pub owners, particularly in Europe, have figured out they just have to covert a room into a dorm and travellers are easy money. I worked in a few places; one in London, and one in Bruges, in Belgium.

“I lived and worked there, for my rent and a small wage. Some of the things that went on…

“One day, I heard what sounded like a cannon go off in the alley. I went outside and found this group of Germans trying to break the windows with rocks. I just moved ‘em on; couldn’t understand what they were saying because they all spoke German.

“Anyway, I asked the owner what had happened and it turned out that he and some of his mates had been up on the roof, getting stoned. They saw the Germans down below and they just happened to have a bag of bananas with them, so they decided to throw one.

“The Germans threw it back, so they threw more bananas. It escalated and one of the Germans threw a bottle. So, one of these idiots on the roof just happened to have a rocket…”

“Rocket?” Rita asked.

“Fireworks. The ones you put in a bottle, light and they shoot up into the air? Anyway, one of these idiots lights it, in his hand, and fires it down at the Germans.”

“Oh my God.”

“It’s a miracle the idiot didn’t blow all his fingers off.”

“You got a long way out of Brisbane, didn’t you?” She asked.

“Working in those places, there’s never a dull moment. Always people up to something, or going somewhere. It’s a great thing, to be surrounded by young people in the midst of their great adventure.”

Pat lifted the glass and closed his lips around the straw. He sucked lightly and then pushed his tongue into the end, trapping the fluid inside the straw.

He felt the coldness and thought about his options. Yes or no. True or false. Off or on. Drunk or sober.

“Are you seeing anyone?” asked Rita.

“Not seriously,” Pat answered, after releasing the straw, allowing the drink to slide back into the glass. “Are you?”

“I was seeing a guy I worked with. At the bank.”

“What happened?”

“Married. Wife and two little kids.”

“Oh dear. Wouldn’t he…”

“Leave them? Oh, God, I wouldn’t want him to! Can you imagine it? I don’t want to be a mother.”

“Ever?”

“Don’t know,” she said. “Probably not. Do you want kids?” she asked. “Do you have any?”

“Not yet. I’m not sure, I guess. We’ll have to see.”

“I haven’t been laid in a while,” Rita said, looking toward the door as if she expected someone to come through it. When she turned back, she was smiling. She was trying to shock and intimidate him. This was the Rita he liked.

“Do you want to go?” he asked.

“What about your drink?” she asked.

“Leave it,” he replied.

Rita lifted her overcoat from the back of the other chair and struck out toward the door; chin up, shoulders back, forcing Pat to follow in her wake.

She towed the attention of the bar’s be-suited male inhabitants behind her like streamers from a maypole.

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