Goodnight, Irene

The man throws a shovel at me and tells me to dig. It’s heavy, construction grade, and slips through my hands onto the ground beside me.

‘Pick. It. Up. And. Dig. Cunt,’ he says, and I scrabble for the handle.

Chook. I gather that’s his name. He has a brick shithouse physique and a shiny bald head, gleaming with sweat in the high beam of the headlights.

‘Chook’ they’d called him, back at the clubhouse. The guy in charge, flame-faced and furious, had barked ‘Take him out bush, Chook, and give him a shovel.’

I knew this job was bad news as soon as Sharon texted. Goodnight, Irene is an unusual request. Maybe for a funeral, or a wake, or the end of a hard fought soccer game back home when Bristolian emotions are running high. But it’s a queer fit for a Saturday night, deep in the bowels of the Merrifield industrial estate. Dressed as a bearded lady no less. It had fuckup written all over it right from the get go.

Elvis is my mainstay. Sequined jumpsuit and pomaded quiff. I’m happy doing country and western cowboy, and Sinatra’s ‘My Way’. Austin Powers’ swinging sixties at a stretch. But this gig—in a bloody dress—if it hadn’t been offering double the usual, and I hadn’t been so desperate for the cash, I would have told Sharon to stick her bearded lady and call me when she’d booked me something halfway decent.

The bikes out the front should have rung a bell. In a long neat row outside the fibro hut, like the exoskeleton of some giant mechanical centipede.

When I pushed through the door and asked for Sonny Maloney you could have heard a pin drop. Leather clad bikers in black vests and tattooed sleeves, parting the way like the sea for Moses.

I got about five stanzas in—was just at the bit where the guy jumps in the river—when the blood came down behind Sonny Maloney’s eyes, and the directive was given to take me away.

Chook encouraged me out the back with the butt of his sawn off, and rolled me in the van for a long bumpy ride.

He’s a man of few words, Chook, but he did extend the courtesy of explaining my predicament. The President’s darling ma had just passed, it would seem. Irene. A big hearted woman, but hairy as all get out, and it was perceived I may have been taking the piss.

My mind races.

I owe a lot of money.

‘Chook,’ I plead, ‘this has got to be a set up.’ But Chook is having none of it. His boot connects hard with the middle of my back and I hit the ground with a thud, face first, a mouth full of dirt from my own bloody grave.

So this is it.

Goodnight indeed.

I’ll see you in my dreams.