Theme Parks and Obstacle Courses – a Novel



The restaurant spanned the side of the hotel that presented itself to the sea. As night gathered along the horizon, the sky was drawn in shades of black.

Darkest at middle sky and middle sea, it shifted tones until the rags of cloud that reflected the crescent moon’s light were balanced by the white foam that flecked the waves below.

“I thought you’d abandoned me,” said Nat, pushing the words out past the bread she chewed.

“What made you think that?” Pat was briefly alarmed that this woman might possess a kind of intuition that would find him out completely, ahead of time.

“Don’t know. A fear I have.” She put the rest of her bread down. He watched the long, sinuous line of her mouth as she chewed.

“I just went out to check the car,” he said, wincing at the feeble lie as he spoke.

“Dad walked out on mum and me when I was a little girl. Maybe that’s what it was,” she said, referring to Pat leaving the hotel room. She had not only changed the subject but shouldered its burden for him. “Dad’s back now, though.”

“That’s pretty unusual,” he said, working to turn his mind away from the sinkhole of his own thoughts.

“That’s my parents. Dad started writing to her a few years after he left and then, one day, he came home. He was back by the time I was fifteen.”

“Did you miss him?”

“Terribly! And I thought it was my fault. You know how kids do,” she said.

“Were you angry?”

“Nope. I was just glad to have him home.”

“Do your parents get along well now?”“They do, but dad drinks too much. Makes it hard for mum. The other night we had some guests around, and my dad got plastered and started telling them how my sister’s pregnant and going to have a baby.”

“What’s so bad about that?” he asked.

“It’s my sister’s news! What do you think?” the sudden flash of anger caught Pat off-balance; he felt hurt and embarrassed, rather than angry in response.

Natalie shook her head, exasperated. He saw the waiter out of the corner of his eye. The man discreetly dropped his gaze and veered off toward another table.

“Easy,” said Pat. “I didn’t mean anything by it.” He felt like a little kid who had been chastened, suddenly brought back to the reality that he was a fat, ugly man keeping company with a woman who was beyond his station. Even if she had been a hooker.

Outside, the night sea was a jumble of obtuse angles.


The ghost of hospitality had been through their room to turn down the bed, revealing an expanse of crisp white sheet. The warm amber of the large corner lamp glowed softly on the stained timber, but the note between Pat and Nat was discordant.

She had walked back up the stairs ahead of him with her arms folded. She went into the bathroom and again, he sat on the bed. When she appeared, it was in her underwear.

She stood in the doorway, one hand on the door and the other on the jamb, pausing for effect. He noticed that the barbell that pierced her belly was off-centre.

She smiled and waited for him to speak, but he didn’t have anything to say. He still felt hurt from the restaurant. She came and sat beside him. He looked away. He didn’t understand the feelings that now seeped out of his belly and filled his chest like a gas.

She kissed him and he obediently moved his lips, but she smelt different to last time. Her hand was soon on his lap; he felt a cold constriction of his bowels, but certainly no erection.

She felt around with a grip that was strong but careful, but when he didn’t respond, she gave up with a huff. She got into the bed and angrily pulled the sheet over her, facing the opposite wall. He got into bed with his clothes on and switched off the light, folding his arms over his chest.

He got into bed with his clothes on and switched off the light, folding his arms over his chest.

“What happened?” he asked.

“I don’t know,” she said, “but it wasn’t my fault.” He stared at the ceiling until its gravelly texture slowly materialised out of the dark.

“I’m going to sleep in the car,” he said.

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