We’re at McDonald’s restaurant in Clayton for four-year-old Michael’s birthday party and after thirty minutes of schmoozing with other parents and watching Archie, Lewis and Tyson fang their way through the maze of tunnels and slides in the play area Reservoir Mum finds it appropriate to say, ‘You look cute with your black shirt and long shorts and your little cap… like a little school boy.’
The only thing I can think of in response to this is to pick up a chicken nugget from Lewis’s abandoned Happy Meal and crush it in my manly fist. When I open my hand and let the nugget carcass fall to the table all pulpy and sad Reservoir Mum laughs and holds her belly. ‘Ouch,’ she says. ‘That hurt a bit.’
‘That’s it,’ I say, ‘To protect you I will adopt an unfunny approach to life until after the birth.’
‘What about Wednesdays From The Womb?’ she asks. ‘You’ll need to be funny then.’
‘I’m only doing two more From The Wombs,’ I say, ‘because…’
I am interrupted by Tyson’s familiar lobotomizing scream. He’s at the top of the playmaze, hands and face pressed against a plastic window dome, looking down at me as the dozen or so other kids are all exiting the lower tubes in a mad dash for the unveiling of the ice-cream cake.
I try to grab Archie by the arm as he rushes by but he’s on to me and shimmies his way to freedom. Lewis is not so lucky. When I spin him around to face me I say, ‘Mate, can you go up and help Tyson find his way down?
He looks to the playground, then back towards the restaurant, ‘Only if I can drive the Tarago,’ he says.
I glance over my shoulder to Reservoir Mum. She’s shaking her head and so I whisper into Lewy’s ear, ‘Not until you’re five,’ and release him back to his cake frenzy as Tyson screams again:
The birthday boy’s grandparents are sitting just behind us, watching, and Grandad says, ‘You better get going. Don’t think he’ll be coming down himself.’
I signal to a waitress carrying a stack of empty trays. ‘Hey,’ I say, as nonchalantly as possible, ‘What are the chances of you helping my son out of tight spot?’
‘We don’t go in there… anymore,’ she says, clutching the trays to her breast. ‘Not since…’
‘Not since what?’ I ask.
Her eyes go glassy and distant before she walks to the door, all stiff legged and creepy.
‘Oh well,’ I say to Reservoir Mum, shrugging, ‘Up you go then.’
‘Good one,’ she says, pointing to her baby bump.
‘I promised myself I’d never go into one of those things again,’ I whisper, wiping some sweat beads from my brow, ‘Can’t we smoke him out… or send in some ferrets?’
Reservoir Mum pats me on the bum and kisses my neck. ‘It comes with the territory. You’ll be fine.’
My bum tingles at her touch and something pavlovian signals my body to obey. I get down on my hands and knees, glance back over at Grandma and Grandpa and then place myself at the mouth of one of the tunnels. It’s time to stop postponing the inevitable. I must forge ahead and face the peril of the maze.
Although I was aware of some of the challenges that lay ahead it is only after I have spent the first day inside the maze that the full extent of my task is realized. I have already suffered two friction burns from sliding down some spiral slides. I then lodged myself in a smaller tubular slide for several hours. It was only after my own sweat and tears lubed up the plastic walls that I was able to slide back down to the bottom. Fighting exhaustion I managed to slink a little further until I found a small room that allowed me to stretch into an L-shape. I will camp here the night. Tomorrow I will follow the only path my adult physical form will allow – through the ball-pit of despair.
Loving Tyson as much as I do is constantly reigniting a frantic desire to find him and it is only this that keeps driving me forward. Today I climbed over a corpse in suburban attire – bone colored slacks, faded Hawaiian shirt and brown sandals. His arm was trapped under a fallen rock. I could see where he had tried to sever his arm but failed. No movie deals for this poor bastard. Beside him, scratched into the plastic, was a simple message: Fuck you, Ronald ~ TG, July 12, 2009. I scratchd in Ditto ~ RD, Sept 18, 2011 and then dragged the body several meters to the ball-pit. After shoving it in I jumped aboard and used one of the sandals to paddle my way to the other side. There were times when I was sure I wouldn’t make it. The other side was obscured by the rising steam of a thousand lost and soiled nappies and the stench of socks and vomit reduced the oxygen levels around me and I am almost certain that some of those bastard balls had eyes, my friends. Desert birds circled overhead as I pulled myself from the corpse to the relative safety of another multi-colored tunnel. Just inside I found a plastic lid. Its rim was filled with some coke zero and the remnants of a well soaked French Fry. I lapped at it and felt the strength return to my limbs.
I think I am hallucinating. I just met Burke and Wills, and Katy Perry. When I asked for directions and survival tips they started stumbling after me and moaning, Braiiins. They chased me through the tunnels and even though I have lost them the maze prevents me from really knowing if their groaning is coming from a thousand s-bends away, or the very next turn.
When I finally reach the highest part of the maze my relief is replaced by the horrifying realization that Tyson is not here. Pressing my face and hands against the plastic dome and looking out I see him below me eating ice-cream cake with the other party goers. Reservoir Mum is laughing and holding her pregger’s belly. I think I might die here. I bang at the plastic several times before finally falling back in despair and I spin around and around and out of control until my journey ends with a thud. My head and upper body are outside the playmaze. I am looking at Grandma and Grandpa again.
‘He came out already,’ Grandpa says.
‘Yes!’ Grandmother says, laughing. ‘Did you have fun in there?’
I pick myself up and limp slowly to the table and sort through empty boxes until I find another abandoned nugget. When I return to the grandparents I hold it up and crush it in my manly hand. I am just about to let it fall to the ground in a pulpy sad mess when it occurs to me that this would be littering and therefore inappropriate and so I lift it to my mouth and eat it, in their direction, angrily.
‘Ooh, off he goes,’ Grandmother says, looking past me and clapping.
I turn around just in time to see Tyson disappear back inside the playmaze. I will go back in there. But only to let Katy Perry eat my brains out.