jan burke
jan burke

Goodnight, Irene



He loved to watch fat women dance. I guess O'Connor's last night on the planet was a happy one because that night he had an eyeful of the full-figured.

We had gone out that Saturday night for a drink at Banyon's, and somehow an honest-to-God bevy of bulging beauties had ended up in the same place. O'Connor never got up and danced with any of these women himself; I'm not sure he really would have enjoyed being the dancer as much as he did just watching them swing and sway with amazing grace. I don't think he heard a word I said all evening, which is just as well, since I was only grousing on a well-worn set of subjects. He just sat there, with an expression crossbred between reverence and desire, whenever some big old gal got up to shake and shimmy.

O'Connor and I had managed to remain friends through one of the ugliest divorces in the state of California—the divorce of his son, Kenny, and my older sister, Barbara. We were friends before their romance started and we both thought it was doomed from the word go. My sister has been a glutton for lousy relationships for years, so no surprise there. But I'm still mystified about how a great-hearted guy like O'Connor could have anything to do with the gene pool of a nasty little bastard like Kenny.

My guess was that O'Connor's ex-wife was a real harpie, even though he never talked about her to me. Barbara told me they had split up when Kenny was a baby. Kenny had lived with his mother until he was fourteen, at which time she had packed him up like worn out clothing and sent him to live with O'Connor—no note, no warning, just a call saying the kid was coming in on a flight from Phoenix that afternoon. She had taken off for parts unknown—no one had heard from her for years.

The dancing ladies called it a night, and we decided to do the same. As I drove him home, he started telling Irish jokes, a sure sign he'd had a few too many. The jokes were old, but O'Connor could make me laugh just by laughing this ridiculous laugh of his. It started as a kind of noiseless shaking, then guffawing, on to tears, and he ended by taking out his handkerchief and blowing his big nose. I could never watch this performance with a straight face—by the time the handkerchief came out, I was a goner.

Kenny's red Corvette was parked in the driveway, so I pulled up at the curb. O'Connor climbed slowly out of the car. "You're dear to me, Irene," he said with a wink and little drunken bow.

"O'Connor, please don't sing it. It's one o'clock in the morning. People are trying to sleep."

I should have known better; he was going to sing it anyway, and my plea only made him relish doing so all the more. He laughed as he turned and took his bearings on the front door, heaved his big shoulders back as he took a deep breath and then began to belt out "Goodnight, Irene" at the top of his lungs as he shambled up to the darkened house. This was old hat to me and his neighbors, but next door Mrs. Keene felt honor-bound to turn on her lights to register annoyance. He grinned and went on in, waving as he closed the door.

The morning after our night at Banyon's, somebody left a package on O'Connor's front porch. Mrs. Keene was out watering her lawn and later she said she saw him come padding out in his barefeet and bathrobe to pick up the paper. He was a little hungover, I guess, because she said that he didn't see the package until the return trip. She was a little embarrassed to see him in his robe, so she didn't call out a "good morning" or anything, but she's a nosy bird and she was curious about the package.

Nobody knows exactly what happened after that, except that the explosion knocked Mrs. Keene on her keister and sent little pieces of O'Connor just about everywhere they could go.

© Jan Burke