Theme Parks and Obstacle Courses – a Novel

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Pat threaded his arms under Stevie’s and, locking his hands behind his neck, pulled him into a full-nelson. He dropped the neck of the broken bottle, confirming Pat’s belief that he wouldn’t vindictively attack him.

“NO! NONONONONO!!!” Stevie howled, his words dissolving in a torrent of pain and frustration. Pat held him tighter and began to frog-march him backward to the Valiant.

“Can you open the fuckin’ door?” he demanded of Wally, who stood at the gutter, wide-eyed.

“Yes, right. Sorry.” Wally opened the door and lifted the passenger seat forward. Pat crouched and fell, rather than sat down backward, with his face against the back of Stevie’s neck so he couldn’t headbutt him.

Stevie fought hard; Pat had to lie down on the seat with Stevie on top. Pat pulled his feet in. Stevie started to kick the back of the passenger seat. Wally shut the door.

“Where am I gonna sit?” asked Wally, leaning in the window.

“You’re gonna have to catch a cab,” said Johnny.

“My wallet’s back at the pub!”

“Jesus, just catch a cab!” Johnny put his foot down and the car pulled away. “He’s like a child – I swear!”

Pat slowly loosened the nelson as he felt Stevie relax.

“Let me up Patty,” he said. “I’m alright now.” Stevie moved across the seat and sat behind his father. He wiped his nose with the back of his hand. Pat sat up straight, moving his jeans around to try and un-wedge his underpants.

Stevie covered his face with his hand, trying to hide the fact he was crying. His tears were the only sound, apart from the engine. Johnny was hunched over the wheel, impassive. If he could hear, he gave no sign.

“I just wanted to hang around. I want to come home when I want to come home. I’m not a little kid.”

“What are you talking about?” asked Pat, hoping Johnny would interrupt and be the father any time soon. “You catch the tram on your own. You come and go from the pub as you please.”

“It’s my voice, isn’t it?” he said. “There’s something wrong with my voice.”

“No mate,” said Pat, “There’s nothing wrong with your voice.”

“There is. I sound like a retard.”

“Jesus mate, I sound like a retard too, depending on what time of day it is.”

“But you can get a girl.”

“Who says?”

“You can. Last time we went, you screwed one of the girls and you didn’t even pay.”

“I did pay. Later on. You always pay, eventually.”

“I went back to see Irene. I went to see her and… they don’t always do what you want them to.”

“What did you ask her to do?” said Pat, concerned that rescue would turn out to be the easy part of the job.

“Tell me she loved me.” Johnny was so quiet, the car may as well have been driving itself. “Sometimes they do it. I’ve never had anyone refuse before. But this girl, she got really upset.”

“And they threw you out?”

“They called dad. That’s when I went outside.”

“Where did you get the bourbon?”

“I bought it on the way. I had it with me already. I just asked her to tell me she loved me. No big deal. When she got all upset I said to her, ‘It’s alright, I know the difference. What do you think I am, a fucking retard?”

Stevie laughed; a bitter, snotty laugh. “I just want a girl to like me, that I don’t have to pay. What’s wrong with me, dad?” he demanded. “What’s wrong with me?”

Stevie’s question devolved from words to sound; a keening, despairing cry that Pat could feel on his skin.

“What’s wrong with me, Stevie?” asked Pat.

“What do you mean?” Stevie asked, surprised.

“What do you think is wrong with me?”

“Nothing.” Stevie looked at Pat, surprised. Pat saw the flash of Johnny’s eyes in the rear-view. He was paying attention, too.

“Everything’s fucking wrong with me. For starters, I’m an alcoholic.”

“But… you work in a pub.”

“And it takes almost all my time not to drink. You know the only thing worse than being sober and being this hopeless?”

“What?”

“Being drunk. Because then I’m completely hopeless. I’m back in Australia because I’m a loser.”

“No you’re not, Paddy. I wish I was more like you.”

“Stevie, I am glad you’re not like me. For what’s wrong with you, you’ve got an excuse. I’m fat and I’m ugly and I’m a failure and there’s no-one to blame but me.

“I had to come back from overseas because I was such a mess and I had nowhere else to go. I’m terrified of taking my clothes off in front of a girl because I couldn’t possibly get any more naked and they’ll be able to see every last thing that’s wrong with me.

“At least you fucked Irene. I get so scared that I can’t even get it up. You know where I was before we came to get you?”

“Where?”

“I went to Lorne to take that girl away for a dirty week-end. She got angry and I couldn’t get a hard-on and that made her angrier. So I got out of bed and drove home.”

“Did you really?” asked Johnny. “Where the fuck is she?”

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