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Rating: T suggestion of adult themes (SC)(L)

Main Character: Irene

Description: A one shot depicting a very different Irene, battling with her demons.

WARNING: If you're a fan of Irene on the show today you may not like or recognise the Irene depicted in this fic. There was a time in my home and away memory when Irene was far removed from how we know her today. I originally wrote this for the fanfic challenge as something about a character that we didn't really see played out on screen. This is my version of Irene the drunk who cared about alcohol more than her own children to the extent that she let them be taken away. Thanks to Nicole for the original idea and I love music for proof reading and also giving this a title; you are the flashback Queen. :P


Irene Roberts momentarily paused in her efforts to pull everything she could out of the sideboard as she heard a key turning in the lock. She thought briefly about getting to her feet to greet whoever it was but the banging in her head quickly convinced her it was probably wiser to remain on the floor with the bin placed strategically nearby. Just in case.

She had woken that morning with a head like the dark side of a thundercloud and after yells for Fin and Damo to come and help her had been met with silence, she had reluctantly pulled herself out of bed. She needed a drink to settle her shaking hands and silence the drum that beat against her temple and her no-good kids weren’t even around to go searching for her - the reason she was now on her hands and knees in the filthy front room, frantically searching for a bottle she was convinced she had hidden somewhere. Surely there was no way she could have got through all of last week's supply already?

The familiar squeak of the handle gave way to a thud as the door was flung open.

“Fin! Damo! That you? You get in here now, you pair of little…”

She broke off the furious tirade as she realised exactly who had just burst his way uninvited into her home. He was watching her mockingly, his startling green eyes, flecked with gold and framed with incredibly long lashes . Tall enough to fill the door frame he now leaned casually against, with more muscle on him than she remembered, her eldest son never resembled his father more closely than he did at that moment. Suddenly she was lost in the past.

“Stand by your man...”

Reenie MacFarlene, leaning forward to expose a tantalising glimpse of a cleavage that any woman would be proud of and men would kill to see, crossed and uncrossed her seductively long, slim legs. She finished the song to rapturous applause and rose to her feet, guitar in hand, to take a bow.

“Thank you, all of you. You’ve been a fantastic audience and the album is in the shops Monday. Don’t forget to buy it, will’yal?”

Downtown Aussie accent disguised with an exaggerated Southern American drawl, face lit by a coquettish smile, Reenie MacFarlene certainly knew how to work a crowd. Country singer extraordinaire, sexy blonde with both looks and talent, she was at that moment exactly what the enthusiastic media machine proclaimed her to be.

Finally stepping down off the stage after two encores, applause still ringing in her ears, she dodged the crowd by using an emergency side exit and made her way swiftly out of the club, pulling a scarf down over her distinctive blonde hair as she walked. Looking up and down the street, she picked out a small pub set slightly off the main road and lit with only the bare minimum of lights. That would do fine! Irene smiled and strode determinedly towards it.

It was almost empty and as dark and dismal inside as it had promised to be from the street but it was warm enough and the dim lighting meant she was unlikely to be recognised. No doubt her entourage were frantically searching for her now, arguing with each other over where and how their superstar had gone, trying to think up some plausible excuse to as to why she had had to cancel the scheduled ten-minute radio phone interview. Irene didn’t give a damn. She had been working solidly for three weeks and deserved a break.

“Hey there, beautiful! Let me buy you a drink? I’m betting you’re a rum and coke kinda girl, you look like the classy sort.”

Irene had barely perched on the barstool and she turned impatiently in the direction of the voice, intending to put him well and truly in his place. She was used to it. When you had bleached blonde hair (a few stray tendrils had already slipped out from under the scarf), long legs, a Dolly Parton cleavage and sang in downtown clubs you got you the attention you wanted but you also got attention you didn’t want. Some men thought you were fair game.

In some cases it was true, Irene thought ruefully. She had met some on the clubbing circuit who WERE out for what they could get. Cindy Lou Rodriguez (aka Mary Clack) who’d duetted with her at Razzle Dazzle’s opening night told her she was a fool not to take advantage.

“Got myself a dinner date,” she said, curling her eyelashes in their shared dressing room and talking to Irene through her reflection in the mirror. “Seventy if he’s a day but rolling in the readies. Silly old b****r thinks he’s on for later but I’ll make sure he’s so off his face with the grog he won’t be able to stand. We get back to his hotel, he flakes out, next morning I get a champagne brekkie and sting him for cash . Easy work, love.”

Irene smiled like she was taking the comments on board but she had no intention of following Cindy Lou’s advice. She was just starting out. Cindy was some fifteen years older, had been singing for years, but she hadn’t broken into the big time yet and she never would. Irene was no fool. Razzle Dazzle had booked Cindy Lou Rodriguez because the name sold tickets but they’d booked young unknown Renee MacFarlane because she had raw talent. Her singing voice wasn’t just good, it had pure power. Enough to make an audience putty in her hands. She had class. Her voice would be her ticket out of this rat race, her way to a better life. No man was ever going to take her dream from her. At least that was what she told herself then.

His eyes were the first thing she noticed. Vivid sea green, flecked with gold and framed by incredibly long lashes. She was unable to help herself as she took in the chiselled jaw line, the two-day stubble set in a ruggedly handsome face and the well built, muscular body. He was without an inch of fat, he smelled of aftershave rather than ale. And as he grinned at her Irene felt all self preservation leave.

She flashed him a winning smile. “I’m more than a gin and tonic girl, if you don’t mind. Irene MacFarlene.”

“Of course. I can see you’re a lady. My name is Murdoch Roberts. Mud for short.” He raised her hand to his lips and gently kissed her fingers, sending delicious tingles down her spine.

“****** hell, Ma, this place stinks worse than the slammer dunnies! No wonder Fin wanted out.”

Nathan’s sharpness pulled Irene cruelly out of her happy daydream. She didn’t have to look down at her saggy breasts and vein-ridden, unshaven legs to know that Reenie MacFarlene was a million miles away now.

“Well, no-one asked you to come here poking your bloody big nose in. Just ******* well rack off, can’t yer!”

His lips curled into a snarl. “Still got the same foul mouth on you, hey, Ma? Two years in gaol and this is the welcome home I get. The place looks like a hovel and you...you look like a dog’s breakfast. Still on the grog too, I see. When was the last time you took a shower, Ma? Hey, Ma? When?”

He had moved further inside the room but not close enough for her to give his smug face the resounding smack it deserved. She reached, hands shaking, for her cigarette packet, asking herself why this son of hers always managed to push her buttons and make her feel like nothing. But she knew why. It was because he was so like Mud, the same sneer, the same anger in those dark, dark eyes.

She grasped the packet of cigarettes hungrily and, with nicotine-stained fingers and bitten down nails, reached for her lighter. The pack was empty. She cursed and threw it aside and fell down on her hands and knees, feeling under dresser and sofa, anywhere, for any discarded cigarette ends. She found a long stub, lit up and inhaled deeply. Feeling Nathan’s scornful gaze on her again, she rose, rubbing ingrained carpet dirt from her hands and on to her ripped and filthy oversized tee-shirt.

“Whatcha gawkin' at? Just nick off, will yer? I ain’t got no quids for yer so there’s no point yer comin’ here anymore.”

She turned her back on him and headed for the tiny, cramped kitchen. There were dirty pots, pans and plates covering every available surface and the trash can was overflowing but Irene neither noticed nor cared as she systematically threw open cupboards in a desperate search for a fresh bottle of grog. Her head was pounding and the darkness wasn’t helping matters either. The leckie had been off for weeks now after she had ignored the final notice for payment. What was the point paying a sparkie when the grog kept you warmer than any bloody wall heater and made you feel better too?

“You’re nothing but a filthy derro and I don’t need no money from you. I got my own.” She glanced back to deliver the statement with as much dignity as circumstances would allow and caught sight of the wad of notes Nathan was turning over in his hands. Her eyes lit up greedily.

“Where’dya get that? Rob a servo or something, did yer? Well, yer can just let yer poor old Ma have a couple of quid until me social comes in. Need to get food, yer know, for Fin and Damo.” Her voice was coaxing now and she turned her best wide eyed smile on him.

Nathan’s expression hardly changed. His face was a cold slab, his eyes ice cold and filled with contempt. And it was enough to chill her to the core.

“That you, Mud? I’ve done yer tea. Steak and ale pie, just how yer like it, and the babe’s in bed so we can have some quality time. There’s that TV show on tonight, the one yer like. We could watch it together.”

Irene finished up the thick custard mixture she was making to go with the shop-bought apple pie and turned to look to her husband, puzzled by his silence.

He was leaning casually against the door-frame, his crisp white shirt taut against hard muscles. His immaculate trousers, pressed so lovingly by her that morning, had scarcely creased.

And her heart skipped a beat as it so often did. Eighteen months of marriage and a thirteen month old son had done nothing to stop the pulse that beat inside her every time she looked at the man she loved so much. True, married life hadn’t been quite what she had expected. She had fallen head over heels in love with the enigmatic Murdoch Roberts from the moment they met and a whirlwind romance had seen her pregnant and giving up her career to be a stay- at-home mother.

It was only right though, she reasoned. Mud was a man’s man. It wasn’t fair to expect a man like that to put up with his wife flaunting herself on stage. He only got jealous because he loved her. After all, a man like Mud could have any woman he wanted but he had chosen Irene. Looking after his child and keeping his house, they were both full time jobs and she missed her singing and the stage, but it was a small price to pay for the man she loved.

“Did you hear me, love? That TV show about the American cowboys. I saw it in the TV guide and I just thought you’d love it. But we can always watch something else if you like?” She added, still bewildered by the deafening silence. His expression hardly changed. His face was a cold slab, his eyes ice cold and filled with contempt.

“Where did you go today?” His voice, the same voice that had held her entranced so many times, whispering sweet nothings in her ear, was like a stranger’s.

“I didn’t go anywhere, love, I stayed in all day. What’s the matter?”

In a flash, he had crossed the room and before she was even aware it was happening he had struck a blow to her cheek. Knocked back by the sheer force, Irene put a hand up to soothe skin which still burned with the sting of his hand. She looked up at him in shock, expecting remorse, expecting him to be as shocked as she was by his anger. But there was no sympathy in those dark eyes.

“Now let’s try again and this time don’t lie to me. I know you left this house today because you were seen.”

“But I didn’t…” Irene paused as realisation suddenly washed over her, “Well, I went the shop for some bread and milk and apple pie. I got it for your tea. I took Nathan in the pram. We were only out half an hour or so.”

“Enough time to be flirting with Jack Walker from the corner shop?”

“Jack Walker? Love, he said hello to me, asked after you and Nathan, that was all. I certainly didn’t flirt with him!” Irene wanted to laugh at the ludicrous suggestion but something in Mud’s face told her that wouldn’t be the best idea.

“You’re the only man for me. You know how much I love you.” She spoke gently, soothingly, just as she would have soothed their small son, but Mud was in no mood to be appeased.

His hand suddenly gripped her wrist with a vice like grip and with his free hand he cleared the contents of the table, sending papers, letters, baby milk and plates crashing to the floor. Roughly he threw her against the table, pushing her down onto it with such force that it knocked the wind clean out of her body.

Irene tried to meet his eyes, hardly able to believe that the man she loved could behave like this. There was no love in his eyes now. They were black and dead as a night sky as one hand pressed hard against her throat and the other tore furiously at her clothes.

He bought his lips to her ear and lowered his voice to a menacing hiss. “You’re mine and I want you to never speak to Jack Walker again!”

Nathan's voice cut into her memory, asking where Damien was. Leaning casually against the moth-eaten sofa, smugly aware his expensive and clean designer jeans (very recently purchased, Irene guessed, to judge by the fat wedge of notes in his other hand) looked entirely out of place in the blackness of the filthy room.

“Where’s Damo?” he repeated, his voice harder. “It’s him I came to see, need to make sure he’s right so are you gonna tell me where he is?”

“How the hell should I know?” She replied. “Probably off gallivanting with Fin somewhere. That girl’s getting too big for her boots, right old stickybeak she’s turned into.” Irene resumed her search for the alcohol, slamming cupboards open and shut, cursing as each new search proved fruitless.

“Fin’s in care, you stupid b****. Or were you so off yer face yer missed that part? According to his last letter though, Damo was still here with you, God help him, so I’ll ask you again - where the hell is he?” Nathan’s eyes were flashing angrily and Irene shrank back against the wall.

He was in front of her now, his strong hand gripping the loose neck of her tee-shirt, pushing her back against the wall. His eyes were black and angry as his father’s as he bought his face to meet hers. Twisting her head to one side, he hissed in her ear.

“Dead set, woman, if anything’s happened to that kid you’ll wish you’d never been born!”

He flung his mother angrily aside and she stumbled to the floor, felled by the sheer force of his temper. She let out a shuddering sigh as she finally heard the door slam and knew she was alone. Nathan had always had a temper, but never before had he raised a hand to her, never before had he hurt her. Gaol had obviously changed him, hardened up the little boy who had so often stepped in to take the blows from his father in her place.

It was always the first punch that hurt the most. The whole concept of knowing it was coming but never knowing when, coupled with the sheer force as those ham-sized fists made their first contact was what sent her reeling to the floor. It was okay after that. Once the first one found its target she was able to tense her muscles and send her mind into a numbing blankness where pain was a mere memory.

She struggled to conceal a laugh as Mud rained blows on her body, screaming at her that she was a whore and a disgrace to the Roberts’ name. It didn’t matter to him that she had stolen the shoes for Nathan and Damien because their shoes were so threadbare that their toes scraped against the pavement. It didn’t matter to him that he refused her money to buy the basics which was why she’d had to steal.

All he cared about was that the policeman who had bought her home had been young and good looking. Not for a moment did he consider that the bloke probably didn’t look twice at a woman old enough to be his mother, a woman who was careworn, frumpish and blind drunk. It didn’t matter that despite everything she was still too much in love with her husband to look elsewhere. Mud had a jealous, vicious temper and saw only what he wanted to see.

A flash of white through the open doorway caught Irene’s eye but it took a moment or two before her deliberately blank mind registered what or rather who it was.

Little Nathan was watching them with a look on his face that could only be described as fury. His small hands were balled into fists and his eyes alternated between her and his father. He took a step forward and Irene shook her head frantically, her free hand desperately trying to make him leave before Mud clapped eyes on him.

It was too late. Mud noticed her frantic gestures and followed her gaze. Straightening up, he reigned in his blows and Irene breathed a temporary sigh of relief as his hands moved instead to open the door.

“Come to watch, our Nathe? Come to see what happens to yer Mam when she goes off with young coppers? Needs teaching a lesson, yer mam does, we wouldn’t want her leaving us now, would we?”

Irene wanted to protest that it wasn’t true, tell him he had it wrong. She wanted to explain to Nathan until that look of mistrust left his beautiful eyes but she didn’t dare.

“Don’t hit my Mum.” Nathan’s voice came out in almost a squeal of terror and Irene wanted desperately to hug him to her chest and tell him it would all be okay.

“Don’t you want me to teach her a lesson, Nathe? You think its okay for yer mam to cheat on me? Do you want her to leave us?” Mud’s eyes were flashing dangerously but ten-year-old Nathan stood in front of him, shoulders set in a determined line.

“She won’t leave us if you stop hitting her. Will yer, Mam?” he locked eyes with her beseechingly and Irene nodded, bestowing on him a gentle smile.

“You think so, huh? And here’s me thinking you were turning into a man to be proud of! Instead I find you’re a namby pamby mothers boy. Maybe it’s you that needs teaching how to toughen up, our Nathe. What do you reckon, are you a boy or a man?”

“No, Mud, no!” Irene screamed, scrambling to her feet, and flinging her aching body between her husband and her son but Mud threw her aside Irene felt her head connect angrily with the side table. Something in her foot made a very definitive crack. She looked at it in despair as Mud continued to taunt Nathan.

“Time to learn how to be a man, little boy,” he sneered throwing the first blow in the direction of Nathan’s face, drawing blood from her precious boy’s nose. And Irene, ignoring the excruciating pain in her ankle, ignoring the aching of her bruised body, crawled desperately towards her small son but it was too late. Far, far too late.

Her head was pounding worse than ever, an empty dull thudding that was increasing in both strength and repetitiveness, but she struggled to her feet. Her encounter with Nathan had left her more in need of a drink then ever but Irene was nothing if not resourceful.

Pinning her against a wall and threatening her, Nathan had thought he was in control. But he hadn’t noticed her hand slip inside his jacket pocket and stealthily withdraw a handful of notes. She ran them through her dirty fingers, caressing them gently, her thoughts centred wholly on just how she was going to spend it.

Nathan had said she needed a shower but a shower was way down her list of priorities. First up was trousers. A dirty pair was slung down the back of the sofa. They’d do fine. Next, shoes. They didn’t match but who cared? She knocked down the coat stand Nathan had made long ago in an after-school carpentry class as she reached for her outlandishly bright yellow jacket. It had matched her blonde hair perfectly when she bought it - although her hair was in need of re-dying by now. She dreaded to think what her roots must look like but who cared about appearances and what people thought? Grog gave you the freedom not to care.

She wasn’t sure if she slammed the door behind her as she left the house but it wasn’t as if she had anything worth nicking in there, was it? The hot sun on her face burned her sun-deprived skin. It was going to be a scorcher, a perfect day to sit in the bandstand at the park and drink herself into oblivion.

The nearest store was only a block from her house but it still amazed Irene how quickly she covered the distance. It was wonderful what she could do when she set her mind to it. Wonderful how grog helped you like that. Inside the store she purchased two of the largest bottles and handed over too many of her precious dollars, ignoring the derisive look on the face of the old chook who served her.

Once outside, she thankfully took the first merciful swig and as the sweet, hot taste of the liquor warmed the back of her throat she felt the thumping in her head stop and her mind beginning to melt away into beautiful oblivion. She meandered her way to the park, swigging from her bottle as she went, every drop drowning out the hateful things Nathan had said to her.

“Here’s to you, Nathan! Cheers for my drink, son!”

She had no idea if she was speaking aloud. It wasn’t as if it really mattered anyway. Not like Nathan was around to hear. No doubt he would be off spending his ill- gotten gains or looking for Damo. Damo! Irene suddenly stopped dead in her tracks, a feeling of overwhelming horror and fear enveloping her.

She located an empty bench and sank into it, her fingers twisting into the gnarled wood as she took another swig. Nathan had been looking for Damo. Damo, who wasn’t with Fin because Fin was in care. Irene remembered Welfare taking her away. If Damo wasn’t with Fin, then where the HELL was he?

Nathan could look after himself, always had, and anyway he’d been in gaol the past two years so he was hardly her concern anymore. Fin was a right old stickybeak, always whining about something or other, trying to get Irene to change and stop drinking. As if Fin had any idea how the real world worked! Those bloody do-gooders, The Roses, or whatever they were called, they could keep Fin for all she cared. Irene didn’t need her incessant nagging.

Damo though! Her lovely, lovely, sweet, innocent Damien had always been her blue-eyed boy. He had never had the swagger of his brother or the lip of his sister and had never given her any backchat or told her what to do. Lovely Damo, who had always done anything she’d ever asked of him. He’d clean the house or run to the store for her ciggies, even standing on a corner in the pouring rain for an hour once until he could talk an older kid into buying them for him.

She felt a tear trickle down her face at the terrible thought she may have lost him and reached once more for the comfort of the alcohol.


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