James Kelman's latest story collection, If it is your life, is published by Hamish Hamilton.

as if from nowhere

I reached for the notepad from the back end of the cabinet. Nurse Liddell and colleague had entered the ward. The cabinet was by the side of the bed. I only had to reach, it was very convenient. Of course it was convenient for god sake I was hospitalized, a patient. Awaiting the results of further tests! Oh the drama, the drama!

Yes. One eschewed negativity. To hell with negativity. This is what one uttered, within the sanctity of one's own brain.

Still and all, still and all. The truth. Yes the truth; breathe in and breathe out: the truth is I knew it was not good, I was not good. Otherwise, otherwise I would not have been there, not like this.

Something less than good.


What other terms do we have? Pleasant. Nice. Joyous. Smashing. What else? I could not think of many more. Unlike bad. Evil, crappy, unpleasant, shit, horrible, terrible, malevolent, worsening, maleficent, malodorous, pestilent, horrendous. Hell's bells, a million of them. Thus the human condition. But truly, my condition was not great, otherwise

oh man, man man, man man man

I opened my eyes. I had to. It is good to open the eyes; one's eyes; mine; my fucking eyes.

I reached again for the notepad, to hell with it man, one reaches for it, grasps. Impaired memory. The lapse into melancholia was to be guarded against and one did. One guarded against it. One exercised oneself, one's faculties. Yet reaching for the notepad happened prior to the thought itself. A surely remarkable phenomenon. Ergo

Now aware of the intestines. Interrupting the thought, the last thought. Aware of my intestines.

In what respect aware: simply aware, that is all. But overwhelmingly so.

What about them? Clogged tubes. Clogged tubes.

The chart hung on the rail at the foot of the bed. If only I could read it. Telescopes: patients are not supplied with them thus one cannot read from a distance. But for something horrendous why not inform the patient? Patients too are people.

I used a notebook to monitor the situation, noting symptoms, physical changes, thoughts, feelings. Anything at all. Wee doodles and drawings. Any damn thing I pleased. It was my damn notepad and my damn situation; my physicality. Drawings. Any damn thing.

I wanted to draw a face. Why not. Yes. In summation of my plight I would draw a face.

I knew a face. A face. I knew a face. Where was the pencil? My thought of the moment as pictorial representation: set it down set it down set it down. Urgency urgency fucking pencil the nurse had removed the damn thing as per fucking usual stop swearing.

Who is swearing. Okay. Behind the cup. The pencil lay behind the cup. The nurse may have nudged it. I myself, I myself. I reached towards it, towards the pencil.

The tension! My heavens. Absolute – as between the pencil and the urine sample, not to knock them over, the shaky hand, the quivering knuckles.

Knuckles? My fucking knuckles! The knuckles of late middle age. Prehistoric-looking things; tiny clumps of black hair. How in the name of that which aspires to holiness do children consent to hold such a hand!

Even more astonishing, that a woman should allow such a hand to touch her skin, stroke her skin, to trace, these lines and surface of the skin who ever drew the surface of the skin, had any artist ever managed that. The greatest artists are the greatest but who among them had ever succeeded in drawing the surface of the skin oh my merciful heavens, the density of this, this skin. Skin is a surface.

It is. If the thought ever occurred in the past it had gone from my memory, vanished into that internal and all-encompassing ether which maketh manifest one's internal space. But what does "manifest" mean!

The urine sample. Even here in the hospital bed we surmount obstacles. Was it not crazy? All of it was. See the hand, the pencil, the bottle. Yea though I did reach it without mishap.

If I had gone to the lavatory I would have experienced pain. What about the pain, or pains. Pains growing from my belly or were they in from my belly, its lining. If the cancer was there, cancer of the lining of the belly.

What else could it be! Tell him tell him tell him! he screamed.

I refer to myself. Do not keep the patient in the dark. We have to deal with eternity so give us a break with that which may be known, that can be rendered manifest.

Manifest? There we have it again.

A boulder come to rest. I imagined it wedged there, the cancer entity, unyielding. I would have had to swallow it. How had I managed this! The journey down my gullet. But it had sunk and was at rest until then began its movement. The movement of the cancer entity. Feel my cancer. Touch it. This living thing, a growth that is organic but not organic. But it must feed. Upon what must it feed? Why, one's entrails, one's intestines, one's blood and tissue, one's bonemarrow; all manner of edible substances. One's body is a feast, veritably so. Tumours grow and spread. How come? How come I had never learned about the subject? Not properly. Surely it should have been required reading for all. People die of cancer every second. If cancer it was. Of course it was.

So why had I not gone before? Had fate been smiling upon me!

Was I one of the lucky ones. Oy yez oy yez. Read all about it.

What are the statistics? Horrible.

Why had my parents not emigrated from this godforsaken hellhole where death and disease and malformity

Or grandparents! What kind of grandparents were they! Did they even deserve such a nomenclature! Ancient old bastards. No, they were undeserving. They were not grandparents at all. Not-so-grandparents, this is what they were. Cowards. Why did everybody not emigrate. At an early age. Maybe they preferred to die young. Cowards cowards and again cowards. Them and their fucking offspring. Die die!

The damn notepad. Draw a face. Whose face?

Or the urine sample, I reached for that instead of the notepad and would have held it to my lips. Yes. Might one die from drinking urine? Of course not. Especially not one's own. You would just seem like a pervert. But not if it was your own. Then you would just be mad. Mad! I'm mad I tell you, mad!

Look, the guy's mad. He has a ghastly expression on his countenance.

Drinking piss. What a life. Cancer is better than that. At least I had my brains, they had not been gnawed. I imagined the movement of the cancer to resemble a gnawing activity.

There are these myriad afflictions we humans experience. All sorts of them. I was fortunate never to have had more than a couple. Not the worst. Not even close to the worst. A quaffer of urine! Oh mercy mercy, mercy me.

But apparently mothers did this of their offspring. They expressed an urge to quaff their babies' piss and some went ahead and did it. They kissed their babies' bums! Or was it licked? My god surely not! They held their babies up and rubbed their noses in their wee bums! Incredible behaviour. Yet womanly, motherly. Apparently.

A wee baby's bum. What is wrong with that, they have had their bath and there they are all nice and clean and laughing away or gurgling. Babies gurgle.

You would hardly describe such behaviour as perverted; not if it pertained to mummy, performed in the maternal spirit. But take some unshaven unkempt middle-aged grandpappy cunt. In other words I myself. I would get fucking lynched man!


Or else had one been a murderer, slave to the baser forms of violence; a wild beast, acutely dangerous to other human beings, and that violence was directed against children and very elderly invalids. One of these dirty evil bastards whose testicles one would willingly chop to safeguard others. Damn right. I would wield the axe. I had no compunction. I would shovel the ashes into the chamber, out of the chamber, whatever it took. Slam shut the door sir slam shut the door. It tolleth for you, you.

Continues in the print edition. Order now.



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