IF there ever was a bad time and place to announce that you’re setting up a nightclub in Dundee, it’s from the pulpit at your father’s funeral. So let’s hear it for Club Quantum – and the start of the black comedy debut novel by Grant Hill.
As she glanced over her shoulder, Emma Morgan was being assured that the cavernous church had been built during less secular times, so the sparsely-populated pews were no reflection on the popularity of her recently deceased father.
The comforting voice belonged to her husband, Cornelius, who added, ‘unlike the big stand at Kenilworth Road’ before chuckling, oblivious to both accepted standards of funeral etiquette and not everyone being conversant with the Luton-Watford rivalry.
Emma’s murderous stares were not reserved for Cornelius. The bulk of her ire was directed at Andy. Her brother had insisted that funeral arrangements weren’t something a six-months pregnant woman should have to deal with. This selflessness was exposed as a sham when Father Kevin announced that the organist had been replaced by an indie-dance mix tape supposedly compiled in honour of the late Dave Brennan.
Emma confidently predicted that the staunch Elvis fan would be denouncing his funeral soundtrack as ‘tuneless pish’ should he happen to be listening in from the next world. Upon arriving at the church, Emma learned her younger sibling had also insisted on delivering a eulogy, which she felt sure would be little more than another shameless exercise in self-promotion. She and her husband sat on the other side of the church from Andy, such was the very real risk she would assault him at the most inappropriate moment possible. To Emma’s further consternation, Cornelius complained about this arrangement, telling her, ‘I need to be there for Andy, baby’.
In contrast to the sober funeral attire worn by other mourners, Cornelius was sporting an electric-blue tuxedo and a pencil-thin moustache he was growing in an attempt to look like Otis Redding. He tapped his foot to Blue Monday, the famous synth bass line incongruous as it echoed around the stone walls, and Emma wished she was as promiscuous as she had been in her younger days so the baby she was carrying might not be his.
The song faded out and Emma found herself praying the whole shambolic prelude had finished, only for her hopes to be shattered as the intro to Ebeneezer Goode kicked in from somewhere behind the pulpit. Cornelius leant into his wife and whispered, ‘You’ve got to hand it to Andy, that’s a cracking compilation, eh?’ in her ear.
Whether through grief or awareness that she was pregnant by an utter buffoon, Emma burst into loud, uncontrollable sobbing. This continued as Father Kevin ran through all the usual guff about God and the Bible, even though the dead man was nominally Catholic at best. He then outlined a few biographical details, mainly erroneous, before Andy was invited up to the pulpit to pay tribute. His fiancée Michelle squeezed his hand and whispered something supportive in his ear before he grunted and staggered to the front of the church. Ashen-faced and startled, Andy looked up, coughed and started to speak.
‘First of all, I’d like to thank youse for comin’, I know my old man would I know my old man’d be happy to see so many people here. Although if he were still alive youse wouldn’t be here so really he wouldn’t erm …’ Emma’s wails subsided and her heart raced in dread.
‘Ummm. There’s a Jane’s Addiction song called Had A Dad,’ he continued. ‘An it ended with the words “God is Dead”!’ Father Kevin looked concerned, offended and angry, though not as much as Emma.
‘An that’s pretty insightful for Perry Farrell. But I’m no here to talk about how the alternative crossed over to the mainstream in the early 90s…’
‘Awww,’ moaned one visibly distressed mourner only to be silenced by the angry grinding of his wife’s teeth.
‘But what Dad meant to us. He did everythin’ for me an Emma. He raised us on his own. He’d come home exhausted every day from a job he hated, an that got me thinkin’ about work an love an family an what it means to live your life.’
Wiping away a tear, Cornelius leant over to his wife and whispered, ‘Lollapalooza’ in her ear as if explaining the world’s greatest mystery.
Andy went on. ‘An Dad gave everythin’ to us. An I know he’d want us to live the lives we want, no be stuck in jobs we hate. Errm, the point is my Dad worked to give us hope, to support us an nurture us. An now he won’t even see his first grandchild born.’
Andy paused at this point to let the full tragedy of his father’s untimely passing sink in. Looking around to ensure the last line had had its desired effect and satisfied to see tissues be proffered around, he drew himself up to his full height and changed gear as he approached the speech’s life-altering climax.
‘An that’s why I’ve decided to do somethin’ to honour him. So I’ve quit my job.’
Gasps could be heard around the church. Michelle looked stunned. Emma looked as if she might go into premature labour. The smattering of mourners began muttering to each other before Andy hushed them with a raised hand.
‘I’ve decided to invest in somethin’, my own business, a family business. I’d like to invite youse all, my family, my father’s friends, even though there aren’t that many of you, to the grand openin’ of Dundee’s newest nightclub!’
The muttering ceased. Everyone sat open-mouthed and confused at Andy’s stupidity, except for one renegade funeral-goer who clambered onto his pew and began applauding.
Emma eventually succeeded in pulling Cornelius back into his seat by grabbing his tuxedo, and continued to take her anger out on her husband’s favourite fashion item during the short journey to the crematorium, wrenching the sleeve until the stitches surrendered. As the body of a man he loved and respected was reduced to ash, Cornelius watched his wife transfer a considerable volume of tears and snot on to an oversize, electric-blue handkerchief. He wondered how anyone could do something so violent to such a beautiful piece of tailoring. The awesome power of grief, he reasoned with a shudder.
A quarter of an hour later, Andy had finally shaken hands with the last of the mourners, most of whom had advised him not to make any rash financial decisions and reminded him of the Bank of England’s gloomy economic forecast. Michelle rubbed his arm and looked concerned, not least because her future sister-in-law was making a mockery of her condition by pacing towards them wielding a shovel stolen from the nearby garden of remembrance. Pushing assorted relatives, family friends and hangers-on aside she broke into a sprint as she neared Andy, with Cornelius, hampered by the tightness of his tuxedo trousers, lagging some way behind. Emma grabbed her brother, pinned him against the wall and held the shovel to his throat.
‘Did you just ruin your own father’s f***in’ funeral to talk about f***in’ Wayne’s Addiction an a f***in’ nightclub?’
‘Jane’s, baby, come on.’
‘Shut up, Cornelius. Did you Andy? Did you just do that?’
‘I didn’t ruin anythin’.’
‘Andy, what’ve you done?’ Michelle asked whilst attempting to wrest control of the potentially lethal digging implement from Emma, who refused to surrender her grip on either it or Andy.
Several minutes of undignified grappling followed before the combination of Cornelius and Michelle managed to prise Emma away from a life sentence in Cornton Vale as she swore there was literally nothing in her brother’s stupid, massive head.
‘Metaphorically nothin’, you mean,’ he said, after regaining his composure and adjusting the collar of his shirt to restore blood flow to a dome that would, by any objective standard, indeed be described as substantial. ‘An I’ve done something brilliant. We’ve got it all worked out.’
Bitter experience made Emma all too aware of the last sentence’s significance. ‘We?’ She turned to her husband. ‘Cornelius? What d’you know about this shite?’
‘Well, Andy mentioned it and I mentioned I know this DJ who’d be perfect. I mean, I can’t be the DJ, even though Andy asked me to…’
‘…when you’re in such a delicate condition.’ He attempted to pat Emma’s belly only for his hand to be slapped away.
‘Andy, we need to talk about this,’ pleaded Michelle, her eyes fixed on the shovel Emma retained possession of whilst making it explicitly clear why it was unacceptable for him to blow half the money their father had worked his whole life for the minute he died.
‘It’s what he would’ve wanted,’ he protested, looking skywards. ‘I’ll make him proud of me. An besides, I can’t fail. The Quantum’s already locked in.’
‘Oh? An what the f***’s the quantum?’
‘It’s not an it,’ interjected Cornelius. ‘He’s a he. The DJ.’
Andy nodded enthusiastically. ‘DJ Quantum. You know quantum theory? That for every decision you make, there’s a parallel dimension where you made the other decision, went left instead of right.’
‘Where your Dad listened to the doctor about all that red meat,’ added Cornelius sagely.
‘Well, that’s DJ Quantum. He’s got every possible song in his head, every possible mix, so he always knows what the best song to play next is.’
Cornelius manoeuvred his sleeveless arm around as if working a turntable. ‘Every song. Is the best song. Ever. He’s even better than me when I had that residency in Ibiza. If he DJ’d a wake, your Dad would get up and dance.’ He considered this for a moment. ‘Maybe not after being cremated right enough.’
Emma pointed at Andy. ‘You’re a prick. You,’ she pointed to Cornelius, ‘don’t get any ideas. Let’s go before I kill him. Michelle, you really can do a million times better than that big-headed c***.’
Emma turned on her heels and marched off in the direction of the street. Cornelius watched her go before turning to Andy and Michelle.
‘Remember, if DJ Q needs a night off I’m your man. Residency in Ibiza.’ He gave them the thumbs-up before waddling off after his wife.
Andy watched them disappear into the distance and put his arm round Michelle. ‘What a bitch, eh? Imagine actin like that at your own Dad’s funeral.’