They are digging a hole for me somewhere, out where the horse paddocks start. What I have visited upon all their loved ones they will soon visit upon me. They will all be there: mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends. There will be beer and sausages, party hats and fairy bread. They will all take turns to spit in the hole, unseat their pants and with their legs astride it do what I dare not mention in such polite company as this. But I will go peacefully, I will not fight. I do not have the spleen. They will bury me standing up, no doubt, the easier to jump on my head.
name is Jack the Dancer, it is not a name I chose myself but I have lived its meaning out. When they trip lightly into my arms and dance with me in the dark they feel better for having given the nameless a name, and a good laconicism at that. They might have called me other names, recently they have, but this one had me written all over it. I know all the steps, can sweep even the tangle-toed off their feet. And they come willingly to me, that is what those ignorant killers with their picks and shovels will never understand. Did I ever dance with anyone who did not want to dance with me? Have I ever taken anyone who did not want to be taken? To each their time comes, and for each the dance that is theirs alone.
    It all began a long time ago, I do not recall it exactly. Come on down Jack and dance for us, they’d say, come and show us those steps again! Oh yes I am a dancer all right, a real Fred Astaire: I was ballroom champion in my day. Around the bar I would dance, to the music and the clapping, until someone was thrust with drunken hands into my open arms. This night it was Jenny, Sam the publican’s wife, and to the laughter and the whooping I took her thin body close to mine and danced her out into the car park and the dead urban boondocks beyond. She was found come morning with not a mark on her and my reputation was made. If you’ve had enough go and dance with Jack, he’ll take you out of here.
    After three days’ grieving Sam the publican barred me and bade me never return. You are an evil man, he said, and your reckoning time will come. (I am not evil, I am not good, I am a necessity, that’s all.) For years I wandered, cast out like Cain, through suburbs, towns and cities. I slept below bridges, in back lanes and bus shelters but I could always find someone ready to dance and I danced my fair share away. Man, woman, adult, child, I did not discriminate, I took them all. Sometimes I took groups, like a kind of barn dance or eisteddfod, off we all went to The Great Beyond, in a conga-line, bumping our hips. Everywhere my reputation preceded me, everywhere my customers pursued me, but everywhere too the selfish bereaved tracked me down, beat me with sticks and drove me away. I settled down in a suburb on the edge of the city and made there a quiet home for myself behind the changing sheds at the local football ground. It was a house open to the weather on three of its four sides. By day I hid in the storm-water drain; at night I sat drinking on the orange plastic chair beneath the flickering fluorescent light. It did not take long for the soul-sick to find me. The grapevine is long, its tendrils innumerable; they slither through half-open windows and touch you gently on the cheek. Once called you rise willingly, find your keys, go to the fridge, make up a plate. You kiss your partner, put out the cat, check the children, tuck them down. The air outside is still and quiet and the stars above pulse and shiver. You are going to see Jack the Dancer—from far off I hear a car door slam. I comb my hair, trim my cuffs. I still get nerves even now. I go through a few quick steps with the broom and sweep away the broken glass. I set up the old Sanyo on the orange plastic chair. Come, come, I say, don’t be afraid, give me the tape and let’s hear. They choose the music, and therefore the dance; some say goodbye to this idiot’s tale with an overture from Mozart, some with their favourite pop. We eat a little of the food they’ve brought and drink the wine, spirits or beer. I did not then and have not since asked for any more payment than this. Come, come, I say, don’t be afraid, step over here out of the light.

Young Sandra McLain, that’s where I went wrong, I should have sent her back straight away. She came to me pregnant with a pain in her gut. It kicks all day long, said Sandra McLain, and talks to me in the night. It doesn’t want to be born, but I am almost full-term—what am I going to do? I sat her on the chair and put my ear to the hump. The best thing for man, said the little voice inside, would be to die quickly—better than that, never to have been born. Are you quoting? I asked. Yes, said the voice. I relayed all this to the mother. It’s like this every night, she said, I can’t stand it any more. But I cannot take the child without taking you, I said, this is really outside my brief. But Sandra McLain did not want to be taken. I put my ear to the hump again. You in there, listen, what you’re asking is impossible, I do not do unborn deaths. What are you, said the little tyke, have I brought my poor mother here for nothing? I want to go back where I came from. Is your name Jack the Dancer or not?
    Yes, my name is Jack the Dancer, I am a real gangly-dangly vaudevillian Fred Astaire, and that night I danced the most peculiar dance with steps I never thought I had in me. Part jitterbug, part tango, part waltz, part jazz ballet, and yet none of these; singular, unique; with moves so original I surprised even myself. One moment the child was my partner, then Sandra McLain, then both; one moment I saw the door open and the light far off, far away, the next the door closed and we were spinning in a vortex, my feet going nineteen to the dozen. This went on all night and well into the following morning, I could hear the trucks out on the highway but I could not stop the dance. Sandra McLain was gone now, had gone with the first light of dawn, all that was left was her shell and the hump and the belligerent child inside. Do you want to go or not? I asked. Of course I do, it muttered: for those who have already lived, it said, a short dance is enough, but this is life and death for me, I want to enjoy it while it lasts. My God! Is there no end to our selfishness, when even a child in the womb can demand a birthday party that goes on all day!
    By lunchtime I was exhausted. I am an old man and not as fit as I was. By the time the child let go and swam dog-paddle through the air down the corridor towards the light I could hear the distant clatter of football stops in the changing rooms and a siren blast in the afternoon air. I retreated to the storm-water drain, like an injured dog licking its wounds. I had taken them both, mother and child, and with it brought down years of unleashed vengeance upon me. Sandra McLain’s de facto hired a plane and had the skywriter write high up in the blue ether: Jack The Dancer Must Die. They hunted for me by torchlight and paid children for news of my foxholes. Medicos stroked their beards and said they knew about me all along. By night I moved from one hideout to the next, a fugitive damned for doing only what he had been asked to do. In a wrecking yard I hid in the boot of a Volvo sedan and listened like a frightened mouse to the crying and caterwauling outside. So they will kill me, I thought, but then who will kill them? Who will take them down to the river and bathe them in blood? I am not evil, I am not good, I am a necessity, that’s all. Without me they will live forever—let’s see their faces then!
    A child punched a hole with a hammer and nail and put his eye hard up against it. I watched the pupil widen. You have just looked Death in the eye, I said, now go back and tell them you’ve found me.

Out on the horse paddocks the preparations are almost complete. The hole has been dug, the trestle tables laid, the fence festooned with streamers. Some mother has baked a cake, the children all wear fairy wings. They will be given little plastic toy trumpets to blow, just like Gabriel did. Through the nail-hole I see violet, giving way to a dirty pink. Night is falling, they will soon be here. I hope the killing is quick.