by William McIlvaney
chapter is told from the point of view of Harkness, a young man
assisting Laidlaw on the case. It opens using the sound from a
TV set to underscore the contrast between this life and the life
that is going on in the streets of Glasgow. His mind can not get
away from the case and it trivializes the life he observes in
the flat of his girlfriend, Mary and her family.
- "All of us at some time
or other," the minister was saying, "have been to the
seaside." It wasn't exactly a riveting start. "The
sea attracts us. Yet we hardly stop to think of it as the source
of all life. For us it's hardly more than a social amenity. Weather
permitting - and that's all too rare, I can hear you say, in
Scotland - we fill the car with food and children and go down
to the sea on trips. We play. We laugh. We splash water on one
another. We eat our sandwiches. And it's not until Wee Johnny
finds himself in difficulties or Wee Mary is caught in the current
- or perhaps a stranger drowns - that we remember the awe-inspiring
power of the sea. In some ways, the presence of God is like that."
- Harkness was finding it hard
to focus on who he was. He found it impossible to connect himself
as he was with Mary's mother offering him "a wee cup of
tea" and home - made ginger biscuits. He sat eating biscuits
while the photograph of Jennifer Lawson weighed on him like the
corpse, while Mary's father sat watching "Late Call"
on the telly as if it was news of Armageddon.
- The room seemed as unreal as
a stage - set. They all seemed to know their parts. He watched
Mary's father, trying to catch a glimmer of dismissal of what
he was hearing. There was nothing. Mary's father stared solemnly
at the set as if the minister was telling him something. Harkness
began to worry about Mary's father. He also began to worry about
ministers who clasp their hands across their knees and talk about
God as if they were His uncle, who seem to suggest that He's
not such a bad lad when you get to know Him and that whatever
His past, He means well in the future. He also began to worry
about Mary's mother making ginger biscuits and about Mary. Harkness
began to worry about everything.
- He felt bruised with contradictions.
Where he had been was being mocked by where he was. Yet both
were Glasgow. He had always liked the place, but he had never
been more aware of it than tonight. Its force came to him in
contradictions. Glasgow was home - made ginger biscuits and Jennifer
Lawson dead in the park. It was the sententious niceness of the
Commander and the threatened abrasiveness of Laidlaw. It was
Milligan, insensitive as a mobile slab of cement, and Mrs Lawson,
witless with hurt. It was the right hand knocking you down and
the left hand picking up up, while the mouth alternated apology
- Tomorrow with Laidlaw he would
no doubt see some of it he had never seen before. Jealous of
his own affection for the place, he reminded himself that what
he would see would only be a very small part of the whole.
- "Tonight let us reflect
for a moment on this great mystery which surrounds us,"
the minister was saying.
- Harkness's thoughts were a secular
gloss on the minister's words. He watched Mary's father complacently
watching television, her mother reading the Sunday Post, Mary
herself putting papers in her briefcase for tomorrow's teaching
- each with a finger in the dyke of their own illusions. He decided,
to his surprise, that he didn't want to share their illusions.
He wasn't sure, as he had thought he was, that he and Mary would
be getting engaged. The things which were happening outside,
and which he didn't know about, seemed more real to him than
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