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  When the door opened he said, Hullo, I live two doors along, I was wondering whether I could get the len of a saw for a minute, if ye've got one.

It was a guy answered: A saw?

I lent my own to my brother last week. I only need it for a minute.

Eh aye, okay...

Sammy could hear him rummaging about in the lobby press. Then he was coming back to the door and saying: Ye'll give us it back the day?

Aw aye. Half an hour at the most.

I'm no being cheeky, just it was my fayther's, it's been in the family a good few years. Where is it ye stay again?

Two doors along. McGilvaray.

I dont think I've seen ye.

Sammy nodded.

Ye there long?

Aye quite a while, me and the missis... Sammy stuck the last bit in to relax the guy. Alright? he said, putting his hand out.

Aye; aye nay bother son.

Sammy touched the blade and gripped it, put his right hand onto the handle: wood; a nice feel to it.

Back in the house he hung the key-ring on the hook and gave the cutting edge a lick of soap afore starting. He should have tapped the guy for a fag while he was at it. Ye could tell from his voice he was a smoker. Okay; Sammy spat in the palms of his hands and gave them a rub. Fine, right; he prepared a dining chair and laid newspapers underneath it. Then he went eeny meeny miney mo and stuck on a cassette: And then he was off and running:

After three four years of marriage, it's the first time you havent made the bed And the reason we're not talking

Fucking hell man what a fucking song to pick! Stupit bullshit pish--showing how traumatic a time a guy's having whose missis has just walked out and left him--obviously the cunt's never done a hand's turn in his life but it never dawns on him that might have something to do with it. Mind you it never seems to dawn on the cunt that wrote the song either. It was Helen drew his attention to that, how ye could tell from the way the auld George Jones boy sang the words that he wasnay being funny nor fuck all, nay irony intended.

Sometimes when Sammy was in a singing mood he sang his own words:

After twenty years of marriage, that's the first time we've had it in the bed and the reason we're not talking's cause we're doing something else instead

No especially humorous but the kind of thing him and Helen could sometimes chuckle about. She was a bit of a feminist the same woman .

Mind you it wasnay that bad a song for the job in hand cause he was taking it cautious. Plus he kept getting these clicks from the shoulder bone when he pulled back the sawing arm and it was off-putting. By the time he was finished he was fuckt and gasping for a smoke, a drink and a fucking lie on the fucking bed, plus his hole if she was to walk in right at this very minute.

Who's kidding who.

At least he hadnay sawed off a finger. He gathered up the newspaper page with the wood shavings and folded it into the rubbish bin. When he returned the tool to the guy he kept his hand out: I'm Sammy, he said.

Boab, pleased to meet ye.

They shook hands.

Didnay take ye long, said Boab.

Naw it was just a wee footery job. Good saw by the way, good feel to it.

Aye like I says it was my fayther's. It's been in the family for donkeys'. I think it was my grandfayther's.

Is that right? Hh! Heh ye wouldnay have a bit of sandpaper?

Naw son sorry, ye're unlucky; I had some but it's away.

Just thought I'd ask.


If it was getting to ages he would have put Boab around the fifty/sixty mark but who knows, he might have been aulder; Sammy had thought he could mind his face but he couldnay be sure. He seemed okay. There again but ye meet guys that seem okay and they turn out evil bastards; ye cannay always tell.

It was good to have done the stick. He gave it a test round the house and it worked fine. Yesterday was a nightmare. It was never gony happen again. This stick was the difference between life and death; no quite but nearly.
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    Excerpted from How Late It Was, How Late by James Kelman. Copyright © 1994 by James Kelman. Excerpted by permission of W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Delta Trade Paperback edition published March, 1996.