Theme Parks and Obstacle Courses

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Final

“Before I went overseas, I had a car accident. On the Great Ocean Road. My brother and I…” Pat’s eyeline crossed over Natalie’s. His shame reared up and struck him.

He dropped his head and wiped his face on his sleeve. He wanted to get down from the lectern, but the audience seemed a long way away, as if he was looking down at them from a great height.

“It was his new car; we were taking it for a spin. We went over a hump in the road and came off on one of the hairpin bends. And I killed him. Then, I ran away and my life unravelled and… you know the rest, because you’ve all been there, too.

“The truth is, I don’t really like myself. And I’m scared that if you know me, then you won’t, either.” His hands kept moving on the lectern, like a pair of unsettled crows shifting along a power-line as it was shaking in the wind.

“My name is Patrick,” he said, “And I’m an alcoholic.” As suddenly as he had begun, he had come to the finish. He could think of nothing else to say, so he stepped back from the lectern and returned to his seat. Natalie lay her hand on his sleeve.

“Thank you, Patrick,” said Draga.

Pat didn’t hear anyone else speak for the rest of the meeting. The sound that dominated his thinking was the pulse in his ears. The gentle pressure of Natalie’s hand stayed constant.

Once the meeting had finished, Pat stood and made for the door. Natalie manoeuvred her hand into his and closed it. He allowed it. It was a kind of surrender he needed to make.

Even looking at the floor wouldn’t allow him to avoid Draga’s gaze, given that she was short enough to walk straight in front of him and look up into his face.

“That was very brave today, Patrick,” she said. “As brave as anything I’ve seen in here. And I think you’ll find,” she slowed down her speech as she made sure he met her eye with his, “You have asserted yourself. We all heard it. We witnessed it, and we believed you.”

***

“How was the romantic getaway?” asked Johnny, drawing his shoulders up against the cold as he stepped out into the night. In one hand, he held a stubby of beer. He yawned and looked for all the world, Pat thought, like an Australian version of Edward Munch’s The Scream. “I like your shirt.”

Pat wore an old Hawaiian shirt he has bought earlier that day from the Op-Shop in the Salvation Army hostel. It was an enormous sheet of pale-blue polyester with sailboats on it, all of which were upside down.

“It came good, in the end,” said Pat as he hung his lanyard with the security number around his neck. When Johnny met his eyes, Pat looked down.

“How long you been off the booze?” he asked. “Since you got back?”

“Since before,” Pat replied. “I dried out in London.”

“You’re doing well.” Johnny said all this while looking up the alley, away from him. As if to make it easier.

“I’ve been struggling to get it up,” said Pat. “It’s the medication.”

“I used to have that. It’s why I gave up heroin.” He sipped his beer. “And, what’s worse, it kills you.”

“I’m sorry I’ve been weird.”

“Forget it. We understand.”

“Who knows?”

“Everyone knows.”

“Since when?”

“Since you got off the plane, probably. After the bowls club: definitely.”

“You know about Wally too, then?”

“Wally? Him, too?”

“Fuck,” said Pat.

“Are you going to A.A.?” asked Johnny.

“A lot. I’m exercising, as well. It makes a good outlet for the stress and the… frustration.”

“I went to N.A. for a while.”

“Did it help you stop?”

“It did. For a while.”

“Are you – I mean, did you…”

“Off and on. Then, Stevie got older, and he is the way he is… without me, now his mum’s gone, there’s no one to look after him.”

“I’d look after him,” Pat said.

“I know you would, mate. And we’d always look after you.” He waved his stubby up at the Re:Public, as if it was a monument to this.

“Why did I give the two of you a job?” asked Wally, rolling down the alley with Sally on his arm.

“Thank God you’re finally here, boss,” said Johnny. “Where you two crazy kids been?”

“Chinatown. Late dinner,” said Sally.

“Shouldn’t you be behind the bar?” Johnny asked.

“Boss gave me the night off,” she said, as she squeezed Wally’s arm.

“She’s taller than he is in heels, too,” said Pat, indicating Sally’s extra couple of inches.

“They’re all the same height lying down,” said Sally, and brayed. Wally frowned sheepishly.

“Let’s go inside,” he said, ducking in the door.

“See ya later, boss,” said Johnny.

“You know, Pat,” said Johnny, squinting up at the street as a taxi came to a halt in front of the alley. “There’s one thing about Stevie; he’s got a natural gift for living. He lives his life as if it’s a theme park.

“You live your life like it’s an obstacle course. I only learned how after I gave up the smack. And now, you have to learn to do it, too.”

Stevie came outside, carrying three cokes. He gave one to Pat and one to his dad.

***

Acknowledgements

Thanks to Rodney Hall, who remains a great encourager and mentor. Thanks also to Dr. David Leonard, Glenys Yaffee and Colleen Weir for their insight into alcohol-induced psychosis and associated medical procedure. Thanks to Keran Murphy, who put up with me. Lastly, thanks to all those, none of whose stories have been reproduced here, who continue to inspire through the ongoing, everyday heroism of staying sober.

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