Theme Parks and Obstacle Courses – a Novel

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“Afternoon, mate,” said Wally, tapping his racquet against the heel of his shoe as Pat walked through the chain-link gate and onto the court.

“I thought today would be a technique day?” asked Nir.

“Pat wanted to come along and have a hit.”

“It is your session to spend as you wish.”

“New racquet, Wally?” asked Pat as he sauntered to the baseline at the other end of the court.

“Nir suggested it.”

“It’s not going to help you any,” he said, lifting his face and squinting down the barrel of the sun. Pat was talking tough, but didn’t feel particularly good.

His body was sore and sluggish. His knees and shins hurt and there was a tightness in his hamstrings.

His riposte had sounded nasty, but it wasn’t his intention to be so. Since seeing Rita some nights ago, he had become even more stressed. He had attended A.A. meetings every day to fend off the terror his near-slip had instilled.

Since hooking up with Rita, he had been sleeping between two and four hours a night. He would lie on the bed and drift under the surface of sleep, but his mind didn’t seem to untether itself.

When he first lay down, he felt as if he were trembling; his mind spun like a centrifuge with all the terrors it was struggling to process.

Wally served first, throwing his ball up into the sun and smacking it down. Pat ran forward, finding position before it hit the court. His legs creaked like bags of rusty tools. He swung and felt a pinch in the small of his back.

The ball met his racquet and, with a sonorous hum that vibrated up his arm, obediently returned to Wally’s end of the court. The volley was short; Pat chipped a long return over the net and Wally couldn’t reach it in time.

“Take it slowly,” said Nir, addressing Wally. “It’s just a point, and it is early in the game.” Pat felt annoyed at this. Rather than setting it aside as a potential distraction, he allowed it to eat at him.

Wally displayed patience as he played, using the early games to warm up and find his groove. His detachment was irritating, but the fact that the game’s outcome didn’t seem to bother him irritated Pat even more.

Pat had begun to loosen up, but the pain in his hamstring was constant. He played hard through the early games, smacking the ball around and overpowering Wally, but he felt flat.

He was running out of breath and energy. He gripped his racquet as if he had to throttle it to ensure it stayed rigid.

Wally served and the two players progressively moved closer together along the diagonal. When they drew to the net for the rally, Pat made a desperate slash, trying to send the ball high over Wally’s head toward the baseline.

Wally intercepted the shot and returned it almost out of reach. Pat made the return but as he did so felt the balance of the game shift.

Wally became ruthless. His shots were precise because he and Nir had been cultivating skill, as opposed to Pat’s style of belligerent hack-and-slash.

Wally was closing in; running him flat and shutting him down. Neither spoke between points. Nir stood silently against the fence.

There was a kind of taciturn authority to what Wally was doing, as if speaking would detract from its finality. Pat had to run because Wally was making him. Wally had the authority of superior skill and, in spite of his smoking, superior fitness.

The match had turned in Wally’s favour. Pat was still winning points, but Wally had taken the last set seven games to six and succeeded in winning the first two of this set.

Pat’s frustration was conflated by the fact that Nir had analysed their previous game and given Wally a strategic alternative.

Today, Pat was losing and his anger was more or less useless. He lunged desperately after every point, as if his body was beginning to resign itself to domination from the ankles up.

Wally descended to the net with a grace that belied his stocky, boiled-egg physique. Pat sensed his poise and resented it. His weight was well over his feet as he lunged to the right after an elusive ball.

Wally met the return effortlessly and the shot seemed driven with all the effort of posting a letter.

He skilfully placed the ball between Pat’s feet and it had the effect of a grenade on his balance. Pat didn’t know which way to go and then discovered he lacked the energy to compel his legs rigid.

His foot turned fractionally the wrong way. The sole of his shoe slid out on the sandy Astroturf. When he fell, the synthetic surface gripped his skin and peeled it off.

The shrieking of nerve endings gave him the relief he needed to prevent crying out. He rolled onto his back and let the sun blind him.

“Are you alright?” asked Wally as he stood over his vanquished friend, his figure a black hole in the brilliance.

“Yeah,” said Pat, standing up and looking at his graze. He touched it and felt the granules of sand embedded in the flesh. He exhaled and, with blood on the tips of his fingers, felt his frustration leave him. “Good shot, Wally.”

“Thanks,” said Wally. He reached out and helped Pat up.

“That is a good graze,” said Nir, touching the edge of the wound. It looked as though someone had seized the skin of his knee and torn it off in a ragged strip. “You want me to get something for it?”

“No,” said Pat. “We’ll finish the game.”

“Good,” said Nir. “Even in tennis, blood is good.”

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