Saturday, April 08, 2006


Once inside, past the vestibule and the women taking admission, the room is smaller than he expected, and before long it is filled with people. There are long tables laid out with food and drink, a few circular tables where families and old couples and single old ones have set down their glasses and plates and are chatting or just waiting, and on either side of the room there are rows of folding chairs, leaving a small space in the middle for the dancing to come. The rest of the crowd, women in their twenties and a smaller number of men, stand crowded together just inside the door.

The pipers march in and play a few tunes; people sing along to the ones they know. Then the pipers march away again and the master of ceremonies comes out and makes announcements and introduces the fetching young woman who plays the harp and reads a bit of verse. The old folk at the tables listen intently, except to turn their heads and try to hush the crowd standing behind them, who are more intent on talking and flirting than on music.

The harpist finishes, and a juggler comes on, a middle aged man who sings some songs in Gaelic while he juggles. Twice he drops a ring, but no one minds.

And then the haggis, the sacrificial sausage, is carried out, wrapped in plastic foil. A Burns poem is read in its honor, it is toasted and ceremonially cut and then served with the traditional sides. This out of the way, the band takes over, and the dancing begins, in disorder and good spirits.

He sips his sweet, aromatic beer straight from the dark bottle and watches the dancing, watches the crowd, noticing faces and the different ways that people dance or watch or stand together or move through the crowd. He is neutral and amused and at rest; he feels no impatience to leave. It doesn't matter but he will take it all in. He can not help it. It is his fate.

On the sidewalk outside, a group of men, cigarettes and kilts, and, suddenly, where the street slopes down to the river, the span of the great high bridge soaring overhead, vaulting outward into the darkness and mist.

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