The Good Times was James Kelman’s first work after winning the Booker Prize for his novel How Late it Was, How Late. The twenty first-person narratives portray ordinary people – men and boys facing uncomfortable truths, encountering betrayal or struggling to understand women and work. Tender and lyrical, The Good Times is a dazzling collection from one of the world’s masters of the short-story form.
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: pp232-4 Vintage paperback edition (1999)
An extract from the story entitled ‘Constellation’
When I got off the bus there was this star shining. It was hardly even dark yet there it was shining away. I could make out the five points like how ye drew it as a kid. Seeing it ye knew how the prehistorics picked them out and gave them names. That was the way I felt looking at it right at that very moment, except I wouldnay have known which name to give it.
But it was like this was a special night. The moonlight through the trees. Now the cloud shifting fast. Imagine taking a taxi and missing it all. That was what happened to these people with money, they were too busy rushing here and there. It was them got left behind. They never saw the space, they never got the time. My auld man was right. Money was supposed to buy ye everything but naw it didnay. It was the lack, not having it. The poor inherit the earth. That is what the bible tells ye. Wrong, says my da, it’s theirs already.
I breathed the dampness from the leaves and the grass. The smell of the river was in the air. What a night! People took alcohol, got stoned, shot junk into their veins. For what? For more than this? More than what I was experiencing right at that very moment? What would it matter if I didnt see her? What would it matter if I never saw her again in my whole life? Plus if every single friend she ever had, if every one was a lover? What would it matter?
I stopped walking and bowed my head, I was smiling at a certain thought, it always made me smile. I glanced up and for a moment my face was straight but then I chuckled and shook my head. I carried on walking. But it was definitely funny how it happened. How it crept up. Not like a bolt from the blue. That is one thing it wasnt because it was gradual, a really gradual thing; and when it arrived it was all-embracing.
I patted the side of my head, rubbing the hair. I had got a new haircut this morning and it was amazing difference – really short. I was sick having to wash it and brush it all the time. Now it was a case of splashing it with water and drying it off with the towel, it straightened itself out.
But I liked this walk, it was different to where I lived, ye could smell the grass and the trees never mind see them. At that very minute she would be sitting in the bedroom, maybe with her sister. She wouldnay be in the living room with her parents. She didnay like sitting with them. And she never watched telly anyway, that was another thing about her, she liked being on her own, playing her music, looking through her auld papers, photographs and stuff, letters. Even her music was different, usually women singing. She had opera. She just sat there listening; sometimes with her eyes closed; it made her shiver; that was what she telt me.
Even being late I was dragging my feet. When I realised I was doing it I wondered how come. But sometimes I liked walking slow, no for any reason, it just gave ye a chance to think about things. The same gon to bed, I looked forward to it because I got the space for my head, I could just lie there, let my mind go. I liked to think about what she was doing, if she was sleeping, seeing her face on the pillow and touching it, touching her cheek. Sometimes I went early because I needed to think about her. I had to get her straight in my mind, check out things. I would try to see her in different situations and wonder how she was in them. I just couldnay picture it. Meeting auld people for instance, relatives, I couldnay imagine how she would be with them. I tried to picture her having a conversation and I couldnay. Even with the likes of her grannie and grandpa, I knew she saw them quite a lot but I couldnay imagine how it would be; her sitting there with them and talking, it was like frae another world.
© James Kelman