Theme Parks and Obstacle Courses – A Novel



Pat had adopted his usual posture with his back hard up against the armchair as if it were a wall. One foot was stood on top of the other and his shoulders were hunched, like a vulture’s.

His skin crawled beneath his clothes. He hadn’t had time for a shower after the tennis game, so he had thrown his sweaty gear in a corner and put on a polo shirt that had been pulled out of shape by too many turns in European laundromats. His blue jeans had a brownish tinge at the knees.

“What’s been happening, Pat?” asked Dr Helen. If she sensed his high degree of agitation, she gave no sign. The light flared on the lenses of her glasses, obscuring her eyes.

“Not much,” he replied. “This afternoon, I played tennis.”

“I play tennis too,” said Dr Helen. The late-afternoon sun slanted in across the floor of her office, dividing the room between them.

“It’s a great game,” he said, and the comment landed flat. Pat found his sessions with Dr Helen to be a bit like roll-starting a stalled car. He felt he had to push the conversation into momentum before he could discuss anything deeper.

“My husband was a tennis player when he was younger,” replied the doctor. She was used to his rhythms and played along.

“Would I have heard of him?”

“No, probably not. But he did play professionally.”

“I never played it before in my life,” said Pat, “But it’s a great game to watch. Fast moving, easy to follow. You watch about five minutes’ worth and you can understand it.”

“I agree,” said Helen. “Strategy and skill. Where do you play?”

“Brunswick. We don’t wear whites or anything. Well, my friend Wally does. Since he’s been on his ‘health kick’. That’s not really fair,” Pat said, rubbing his face with his hands, trying to rub the heat and tension out of it.

“We’ve both been on a health kick. But he owns a pub, so he can buy flashy sports gear.”

“I see.”

“We’ve been playing a bit over the last few weeks. Wally has this Israeli tennis coach, who used to be a Special Forces soldier or something. Anyway. Last time Wally and I played, I pasted him. Not that he’s bad, but I’m stronger and… probably angrier.”

“We’ll have to watch your medication,” said Dr Helen. “Can’t be interfering with your game.”

“I went to play tennis with Wally today, and I was all set to punish him. I haven’t been able to sleep lately, and I’ve been doing a lot of running. My body was sore and aching and I don’t have much energy.

“Worse, he and Nir…” Pat’s voice spiked like an adolescent boy’s and he suddenly became hoarse with emotion. Helen picked up on his distress and frowned. Her sympathy made him feel worse.

“Who is Nir?”

“The Israeli tennis coach. He and Nir had had some strategic discussion about how to take me apart. Even worse, they’d been working on his technique since we played last and he was fitter. All this from a guy who was drinking and smoking on Saturday night.

“When we got on the court, he outplayed me, plain and simple. My exhaustion got the better of me and, next thing, I’m lying flat on my back because he’s tripped me up.”

“How did he do that?”

“Technically, I tripped myself up, but he swatted the ball into my legs and I was all over the place. I fell over on the Astroturf and peeled off half my leg.”

“Ouch,” said Dr Helen.

“Hurt like hell,” said Pat, “Still does. It’s one of those nasty grazes that bleeds for a while and then stings and weeps. I’ve got like a big sheet of gauze over it so it doesn’t stick to my pants.” He rubbed the side of his leg, indicating the wound beneath his jeans.

“I was lying there on my back, staring into the sun, and the pain was… a good thing.

“I was angry and frustrated that this rotten little shit had just outplayed me, and suddenly it felt as if all that frustration and resentment just flowed out through the wound.”

Dr Helen watched him impassively, her writing hand folded over the notebook that rested on her knee.

“As I lay there on my back, on the court, I felt… calm.” Pat shifted forward in his seat as he discovered he had arrived at the point of what had, until then, felt like a pointless story.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: