Living in a bedsit, just coping with the boredom of being a busconductor, and fully aware that his plans to emigrate to Australia won’t come to anything, Robert Hines is a young Glaswegian leading a pretty drab life. There are compensations, however, in his wife and child, and his eccentric, anarchic imagination. Kelman provides a brilliantly executed, uncompromising slice of Glasgow life – an intelligent, funny and humane novel. It was first published by Polygon in 1984.
Year of Publication
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This excerpt is taken from: pp217-9 JM Dent paperback edition (1985)
Well what you acting like this for? christ. I thought that was what we were talking about this morning. I mean when we were talking this morning Sandra, that’s what we were talking about, me leaving the buses.
You’re a worrier woman you’re a worrier!
Somebody’s got to.
Sorry. She shook her head. He had gone over to her; and he clasped both her hands. Again she shook her head. See this mummy of yours! he said to Paul; amazing, she’s amazing. One of these days you’ll understand that.
Sandra’s eyelids had closed and he kissed her forehead. D’you mind if we just stay in though…
Aye. Aye, he said, I do mind. This is supposed to be something good – a celebration.
You’re supposed to be glad.
I know… She smiled, I should be; shouldnt I.
Eh aye, aye, you should be. He made a daft sort of gesture, as if he was about to burst into song or something. Sausage and mash and the juicy cabbage, he cried: Served from a trio of vessels.
I’d still prefer it though, if we stayed home.
Aye… He nodded, Of course. Just a daft idea.
It wasnt daft.
Naw but, he sniffed and glanced about, picked up his cigarette from an ashtray and got another light for it from a gasring. Sandra was moving to sit down on her armchair, before doing so she bent to kiss Paul on the forehead; he had been kneeling on the floor near the television set, amusing himself with the pack of cards. Hines checked the potatoes with a fork. He stayed by the sink until they were ready. Sandra seemed to be watching television. It was a peculiar situation.
There is a situation fairly similar – if not the same – whereby one is waiting, one is standing, waiting, considering a variety of items. Then for some reason the chest is struggling to heave. The shoulders have become as though wilted, as though a spring has finally collapsed, having one aware of the weight of one’s head.
Emotionally drained perhaps. One can be emotionally drained, such that the chest struggles to heave. You steep your feet in warm water.
Sandra can sit there and he has no idea what she is thinking, absolutely none. That is a peculiar thing. They have known each other for more than 5 years and lived together only slightly less. He doesnt know what she thinks. He is no longer sure she thinks well of him. Now she doesnt seem to. Yesterday she left him for good. Now that really is a strange thing. Because she loves him.
Because she loves him she came back. She went away because she doesnt think so highly of him as she used to but returned because she still loves him.
It is probably a matter of time till she leaves again.
Eh… he turned to her. The other night there, did you really go to the pub with your Office pals?
She nodded. Her face was saying please be careful about what you say next.
Naw, he said, it just eh – yesterday, had you decided in advance? I mean the night before…
How d’you mean? Her face, showing he shouldnt be saying anything at all now.
What I cant figure out is how you would leave the way you did, taking Paul and that I mean… christ sake Sandra. He shook his head. You never planned it did you?
No. She nodded, signifying Paul and how he would be listening to what was being said and who was to know if he wasnt following every last word.
Hines shook his head. This week’s been the worst week of my fucking life. Sorry. He grinned, I mean they’re all fucking rubbish but this yin’s the fucking rubbishest. He stopped grinning and turned to face the sink for a few moments. The chest struggles to heave. An interesting point: the weight of one’s head; to lay one’s head on a weighing machine such that the neck is not involved, so that you can get an exact reading. He took the lid off the potato pot and forked at the spuds – although he didnt have to. Because the water was almost totally clear. And totally clear water meant unboiled spuds.
He smiled at her but her face… her face was so terrible, it was so fucking sad, so sad it was so fucking sad, really sad. He shifted to stare at the venetian blind, through the gaps, to the gable end at the far left corner, the gapsite with the street lights through the absent tenement line…
© James Kelman