A collection of 47 short stories which reflect the broad scope of Kelman’s writing since 1972. Ranging from casual tragedy to wild farce, from the concrete to the lyrical, the book demonstrates Kelman’s distinctive way of creating high art from his daily experience and from the people around him.
Winner of the Cheltenham Prize for Literature, 1987
Out of print
Year of Publication
This book can be purchased or ordered from your local independent bookshop or from Waterstones
This excerpt is taken from: pp1-3 Secker & Warburg hardback edition (1987)
An extract from the story entitled ‘Old Francis’
He wiped the bench dry enough to sit down, thrust his hands into his jacket pockets and hunched his shoulders, his chin coming down onto his chest. It was cold now and it hadnt been earlier, unless he just wasnt feeling it earlier. And he started shivering immediately, as if the thought had induced it. This was the worst yet. No question about it. If care wasnt taken things would degenerate even further. If that was possible. But of course it was possible. Anything was possible. Everything was possible. Every last thing in the world. A man in a training suit was approaching at a jog, a fastish sort of jog. The noise of his breathing, audible from a long way off. Frank stared at him, not caring in the slightest when it became obvious the jogger had noticed and was now a wee bit self-conscious in his run, as if his elbows were rotating in an unnatural manner. It was something to smile about. Joggers were always supposed to be so self-absorbed but here it seemed like they were just the same as the rut, the common rut, of whom Frank was definitely one. But then as he passed by the bench the jogger muttered something which ended in an ‘sk’ sound, perhaps ‘brisk’. Could he have said something like ‘brisk’? Brisk this morning. That was a fair probability, in reference to the weather. Autumn. The path by the side of the burn was deep in slimy leaves, decaying leaves, approaching that physical state where they were set to be reclaimed by the earth, unless perhaps along came the midgie men and they shovelled it all up and dumped it into the midgie motor then on to the rubbish dump where they would sprinkle aboard paraffin and so on and so forth till the day of judgement. And where was the jogger! Vanished. Without breaking stride he must have carried straight on and up the slow winding incline towards the bridge, where to vanish was the only outcome, leaving Francis alone with his thoughts.
These thoughts of Francis’s were diabolical.
The sound of laughter. Laughter! Muffled, yes, but still, laughter. Could this be the case!! Truly? Or was it a form of eternal high jinks!!
Hearty stuff as well. Three blokes coming along the path from the same direction the jogger had appeared from. They noticed Francis. O yes, they soon spotted him. They couldnt miss him. It was not possible. If they had wanted to miss him they couldnt have. And they were taking stock of him and how the situation was in toto. They were going to get money off of him, off of. One of them had strolled on a little ahead; he was wearing a coat that must have belonged to somebody else altogether, it was really outlandish. Francis shook his head. The bloke halted at the bench and looked at him:
You got twenty pence there jim, for the busfare home?
Francis was frowning at the bloke’s outfit. Sorry, he said, but that’s some coat you’re wearing!
Sorry, I’m no being sarcastic.
A funny man! he called to his two companions. He’s cracking funnies about my coat!
Surely no! said this one who was holding a bottle by its neck.
That’s cheeky! He swigged from the bottle and handed it on to the third man. Then he added: Maybe he likes its style!
The first bloke nodded, he smiled briefly.
And he wants to buy it! Heh, maybe he wants to buy it! Eh, d’you want to buy it?
Frank coughed and cleared his throat, and he stared at the grass by his shoes, sparish clumps of it amid the muddiness, many feet have stood and so on. He raised his head and gazed at the second man; he was dangerous as well, every bit as dangerous. He noticed his pulse slowing now. Definitely, slowing. Therefore it must have been galloping. That’s what Francis’s pulse does, it gallops. Other cunts’s pulses they just fucking stroll along at a safe distance from one’s death’s possibility. What was he on about now! Old Francis here! His death’s possibility! Death: and/or its possibility. Was he about to get a stroke? Perhaps. He shook his head and smiled, then glanced at the first bloke who was gazing at him, and said: I didnt mean you to take it badly.
Your coat. Frank shrugged, his hands still in his pockets. My comment… he shrugged again.
Aye, I didnt mean you to take it badly.
I never took it badly.
The second bloke laughed suddenly. Heh by the way, he said, when you come to think about it, the guy’s right, your fucking coat, eh! Fucking comic cuts! Look at it!
And then he turned and sat down heavily, right next to him on the bench; and he stared straight into his eyes. Somebody whose body was saturated with alcohol. He was literally smelling. Literally actually smelling. Just like Francis right enough, he was smelling as well. Birds of a feather flock together. And what do they do when they are together? A word for booze ending in ‘er’. Frank smiled, shaking his head. I’m skint, he said, I’m out the game. No point looking for dough off of me.
Off of. There it had come out again. It was peculiar the way such things happened.
The two blokes were watching him.
© James Kelman