Tammas is 20, a loner and a compulsive gambler. Unable to hold a job for long, his life revolves around Glasgow bars, home with his sister and brother-in-law, the dog track, betting shops, casinos and occasionally a day at the races. Sometimes Tammas wins, more often he loses, but betting gives him as good a chance as any of discovering what he really seeks from life since society offers him no prospect of a better or more fulfilling alternative. First published by Polygon in 1985.
Year of Publication
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This excerpt is taken from: pp223-6 Minerva paperback edition (1995)
And the taxi was moving off from the kerb. And loud cheering coming from the upstairs windows of the building. John’s head could be seen and also Rena’s mother staring down. And then a clattering of feet and folk emerging from the close and chasing after the taxi, a couple of them tossing confetti. The taxi slowed to do a u-turn and the cheering was loud once more as it trundled past them all, with Rab and Rena’s faces at the window, laughing at everybody. Some of the guests started trotting behind it, waving and shouting Good luck and All the best. Tammas went with them and then Julie was beside him and they laughed at each other, and he paused to encircle her waist with his right arm, and squeezed her, half lifting her from the ground. Ahh! The breath came from her in a gasp and he let her go. She continued waving but was breathing quite harshly, now holding her waist with her hand. Christ, he said, Sorry Julie… He shook his head, gazing after the taxi; it was nearing the end of the street, turning, out of sight. Sorry, he said.
You just caught a muscle I think… She peered down at her waist, rubbing it.
I’m really sorry.
The other guests and relatives were returning into the close now and he waited a moment before sticking his hands into his trouser pockets and strolling after her. There were still faces to be seen at the upstairs window, and also at other windows in the tenement building. He walked to stand near Billy and Alec. Julie was speaking to a girl who looked as though she was not one of the actual wedding guests, and there were others – mainly elderly women – who were standing looking on. A boy said to Tammas: Hey mister was there a scramble?
Tammas did not reply. Billy was saying, You going up the stair?
Aye in a minute… He nodded in the direction of Julie.
O aye… Billy sniffed. I’m wanting to see you but man, it’s about the factory and that.
Tammas nodded. I’ll be up in a minute.
My da’s getting the forms, if you’re still interested.
I’ll see you when you come up then… Billy turned and walked after Alec who had already gone into the close.
Eventually Julie came, accompanied by some wee kids who were staring at her dress.
Tammas asked, You going up the stair?
Going up the stair…?
Are you no?
They’ll be starting the records for dancing.
He nodded, offered her a cigarette.
I dont smoke.
O aye, sorry. He sniffed and went on: Listen Julie I’m sorry and that I mean lifting you like that, hurting you, it was really stupid – I didnt mean it I mean Christ, if I hurt you. He shook his head.
Dont be daft, you just caught a muscle.
It’s alright. She smiled. They’ll be expecting us up the stair.
Aye… He took out his matches, struck one and waited a moment before taking a light; he blew out the smoke.
Julie moved slightly in the direction of the close. The kids were still there and a couple were standing in front of her. She scowled at them: Away yous go and stop being so nosey!
But they continued to stand there, giggling, until Tammas suddenly leapt at them making them jump and they shrieked laughter and rushed along to the next close.
Julie was staring in the opposite direction. I was looking forward to the dancing… I was, I was looking forward to it.
Yes. She made a shivering sound.
Fair enough… They stared at each other for a brief period, both looking away at the same time.
Betty thingwi’s got a face down to the floor.
What d’you say?
Julie was gazing back down the street as she replied, She’s got a face down to the floor.
What d’you mean?
You know fine well.
He shrugged, smiled very slightly. The silence continued for perhaps as much as half a minute. Then he added, I’m not going with her you know.
I’m no… He puffed on the cigarette.
She nodded, she was biting on the corner of her lower lip; now she crossed her elbows over her breasts, her hands gripped the sides of her arms, just below the shoulders. She shivered. She said, I think we should go up the stair. Eh, you coming up? It’s really freezing.
He nodded but made no other movement.
What about a pint first? he jerked his thumb in the pub’s direction. No a bad lounge. Fancy going over for a minute?
Tch! I’m no going into a pub like this!
You look fine. Honest I mean…
Julie paused before saying, You dont go into pubs dressed like this but.
It’s a lounge.
It’s quiet; it’s really quiet.
Julie stared down the street without replying.
Could you no go up and get a coat?
She glanced at the close mouth.
I dont know.
Just for a pint, come on, I’ll wait for you.
She turned and said: What did you forget your speech for?
I dont know, I just – I forgot.
Julie shook her head.
Tammas sighed. He smiled. Come on, come on we’ll go.
I’ll need to change first.
I’ll wait for you here.
She nodded quickly and walked into the close, and kept walking along, to the foot of the staircase, where she glanced back over her shoulder. Tammas pointed to where he was standing inside the entrance and whispered loudly: I’ll just be here.
About ten minutes later the door on the first storey opened and footsteps down, but it was Alec who appeared. He strolled out with his hands in his trouser pockets. She told me to tell you no to wait Tammas.
© James Kelman