Excerpt: 'Kieron Smith, boy'

James Kelman's 'Kieron Smith, boy'
Kieron Smith, boy
By James Kelman
Hardcover, 432 pages
Harcourt
List price: $26.00

Part One

In the old place the river was not far from our street. There was a park and all different things in between. The park had a great pond with paddleboats and people sailed model yachts. Ye caught fish in it too. Ye caught them with poles that had wee nets tied at the end. But most people did not have these. Ye just caught them with yer hands. Ye laid down on yer front close into the edge on the ground. Here it sloped sharp into the water, so ye did not get too close. Just yer shoulders reached that bit where the slope started. Ye rolled up yer sleeves and put yer hands together and let them go down it. Just slow, then touching the water and yer hands going in. If ye went too fast ye went right in up yer arms over yer shoulders. Ye only went a wee bit, a wee bit, a wee bit till yer hands were down as far. Then yer palms up the way, holding together. If a fish came by ye saw it and just waited till it came in close. If it just stayed there over yer hands, that was how ye were waiting. It was just looking about. What was it going to do? Oh be careful if ye do it too fast, if yer fingers just move and even it is just the totiest wee bit. Its tail whished and it was away or else it did not and stayed there, so if ye grabbed it and ye got it and it did not get away. So that was you, ye caught one.

But they were quick, ye had to do it right.

Ye were having to watch it as well how yer body went, lying on yer front, if it was wee bits at a time ye were moving. And ye did not notice till ye slid right down and the water was up yer shoulders, oh mammy. Yer hands reached the bottom and ye pressed and pressed to push yer feet back up and if a big boy caught yer feet and pulled ye out or else that was you and ye went right the way in the water. That happened to people and men had to go in and get them. Daft wee b****r.

On the bottom was all slimy mud, broken bottles and bits of glass and bricks and nails and old stuff, everything. Prams and bike-wheels, and shoes, and then a man's bunnet. I saw that.

One time I was soaking the whole way through and my maw was completely angry, how I was going to die of pneumonia or else diptheria if ye swallowed the water. My da was home on leave and he gived me a doing. But I liked going to the pond. The men sailed their boats there and had races, and their boats were great. Ye saw their sails and how the boat was tipping right over till it was going to capsize but it did not, it was just picking up speed because the wind was there and it was good, so they were all sailing great and the boys all shouting, and the men too. Go on Go on, Hold There.

Old men as well, if their boat was going to win the race and they shouted their names if the boat had its name and they did. All had good names, Stormy Petrel and Sea Scout. Oh hold there Sea Scout.

I told my granda. He would have liked it, if the old men were there too, he could have went with me and they had seats, people could sit in the seats and just watch.

My Uncle Billy had a model yacht when he was a boy. He got it off somebody whose da worked in the docks. It was not a toy. Model yachts were real boats and they sailed good. It was just they were wee. If ye could have made a wish and shrunk to a Tom Thumb ye could have climbed aboard and put to sea for treasure islands. Then if ye were getting chased, ye could hide anywhere ye wanted. It would just be a thing like a cat or a dog, ye would have to be careful then, if they caught ye, and ate ye. Or if it was a mouse, they dragged ye into their hole, oh mammy.

Our old house had mice. My maw and me and Mattie were going to have breakfast and there they all were on top of the kitchen table and up on the sink and the draining board, piles of them. My maw went potty and started greeting. Me and Mattie scattered them and chased them but we could not catch them and did not know what to do. My maw was shouting in a high voice. Ohh ohhh!

We went and got my granda. He was not going to come but then he did. My grannie said it was just silly to climb up all the stairs, he would have no breath. Aye I will. That was what he said. I am going.

He made it a laugh. It is a big safari hunt. So then he gived me a joke. How far we going son?

Safari's the kitchen granda.

Our house was three up on the top storey. My granda stopped at all the landings on the way up to get his breath back. When we went into the house he knew where the mice were all hiding. My maw went away out the room. My granda showed us. Oh there behind the chair. See in that shoe. Oh look at the side of the cupboard.

Then he done something, then we had shoes in our hands. We sat waiting for them to come out and when they did ye were to bash them, and if ye got one it was great. They were just wee things, and when they were there ye saw how wee they were, a bit of body at the top, then just with their tails. Ye held the shoe at the ready and had to be quick and ye had to get them the first time. Matt was good at getting them. My granda sat on the chair and told us what to do. Then there were wee wee toty ones. They did not even run so ye just bashed them. My granda said they were babies. But ye were still to bash them, ye were not to let them go else they were going to grow up and it would be a plague of them, so ye had to do it and ye did not want to because if they were just wee and they were babies, but ye had to.

My granda had two cats that were mousers, a big one and a wee one. After we got the mice that was what my granda said, Oh I should just have brought the cats, the cats would have gobbled them up. I was not thinking.

The cats were there in my grannie's house. The wee one lied on the floor near granda's feet. If I went there the cat crawled under granda's chair. He did not like people except my granda. But I could pet him. My grannie did not. The wee cat went to her but she never petted him. Except she spoke to him. Oh what are ye wanting now?

The big cat was a friendly one and rubbed against ye but it stayed in the front room all the time and was down by the window or else on grannie's bed. The sun came in the window on her. But if ye kicked out the wee cat the big one came in. My granda done it. He just said, Oh I have had enough of you. Away and kick him out son.

So I done it. The cat did not like to go. I just took him. Cats do not like cats. My granda said, They like people better.

What about dogs?

Dogs do not like cats.

Do cats like dogs?

Some cats. Dogs are worse than people, that is what cats think.

Cats do not like anybody, said my grannie, they are just selfish besoms.

Oh we are all selfish besoms, said my granda.

No we are not, said my grannie.

Aye but if they are mousers.

Granda said about me getting one but it was my da, he did not like them. My maw did not either, she said they could be dirty. Where had their paws been? Ye did not know except it was dirt, cats were always in dirt. So were dogs.

My granda was great. If he came to the pond with me, he would have liked it. Some boys had poles and men let them steer the boats on their course and they walked round the banks. The men set the sails then launched the boat in a certain way, just pushing it out. They knew where it would land and told the boys. If ye did not know people ye just followed a boat ye liked. Some boys chased ye, others let ye stay. They did not listen if ye asked them a question. Ye could never get too close to a boat and they never let ye sail it.

Uncle Billy's boat got lost, else he would have gived it to me. But my granda said it was all just toys, how in our family it was real boats. He ran away to sea when he was fourteen and telled the Captain he was fifteen. He was in the Merchant Navy same as my da except my da's job was better. My granda was just able-bodied. My da said they were ten-a-penny.

I had cousins at sea. One was in the Cadets. I was wanting to join. My maw did not want me to but my da said I could, it was a good life and ye saved yer money, except if ye were daft and done silly things. He said it to me. I would just have to grow up first.

Excerpted from Kieron Smith, boy by James Kelman © M&J Kelman, Ltd, 2008. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

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