The Stockhausen was the final item on the programme. When at last the conductor had retired and the clapping had died down-not as warm as it might have been, she thought; something to do with Stockhausen-she slipped out of her seat and made her way to the ladies' room. She turned on a tap and scooped water into her mouth-the Usher Hall had nothing so modern as a drinking fountain-and then splashed some on her face. She felt cooler, and now made her way out onto the landing again. It was at this point, though, that Isabel caught sight of her friend Jennifer standing at the bottom of the short flight of stairs that led into the grand circle.
She hesitated. It was still uncomfortably warm inside, but she had not seen Jennifer for over a year, and she could hardly walk past without greeting her.
Isabel made her way through the crowds.
"I'm waiting for David," Jennifer said, gesturing towards the grand circle. "He lost a contact lens, would you believe it, and one of the usherettes has lent him a torch to go and look for it under his seat. He lost one on the train through to Glasgow and now he's done it again."
They chatted as the last of the crowd made its way down the stairs behind them. Jennifer, a handsome woman, in her early forties-like Isabel-was wearing a red suit on which she had pinned a large gold brooch in the shape of a fox's head. Isabel could not help but look at the fox, which had ruby eyes, and seemed to be watching her. Brother Fox, she thought. So like Brother Fox.
After a few minutes, Jennifer looked anxiously up the stairs.
"We should go and see if he needs help," she said irritably. "It'll be an awful nuisance if he's lost another one."
They took a few steps up the short set of stairs and looked down towards the place where they could make out David's back, hunched behind a seat, the light of the torch glinting between the seating. And it was at that moment, as they stood there, that the young man fell from the layer above-silently, wordlessly, arms flailing as if he were trying to fly, or fend off the ground-and then disappeared from view.
For a brief moment they stared at each other in mutual disbelief. And then, from below, there came a scream, a woman's voice, high-pitched; and then a man shouted and a door slammed somewhere.
Isabel reached forward and seized Jennifer's arm. "My God!" she said. "My God!"
From where he had been crouching, Jennifer's husband straightened up. "What was that?" he called to them. "What happened?"
"Somebody fell," said Jennifer. She pointed at the upper circle, at the point where the top layer joined the wall. "From up there. He fell."
They looked at one another again. Now Isabel moved forward to the edge of the circle. There was a brass rail running along the parapet, and she held on to this as she peered over.
Below her, slumped over the edge of a seat, his legs twisted over the arms of the neighbouring seats, one foot, she noticed, without a shoe, but stockinged, was the young man. She could not see his head, which was down below the level of the seat; but she saw an arm sticking up, as if reaching for something, but quite still. Beside him stood two men in evening dress, one of whom had reached forward and was touching him, while the other looked back towards the door.
"Quickly!" one of the men shouted. "Hurry!"
A woman called out something and a third man ran up the aisle to where the young man lay. He bent down and then began to lift the young man off the seat. Now the head came into view, and lolled, as if loosened from the body. Isabel withdrew and looked at Jennifer.
"We'll have to go down there," she said. "We saw what happened. We had better go and tell somebody what we saw."
Jennifer nodded. "We didn't see much," she said. "It was over so quickly. Oh dear."
Excerpted from The Sunday Philosophy Club by Alexander McCall Smith, pages 3-11. Copyright© 2004 by Alexander McCall Smith. Excerpted by permission of Pantheon Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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