Непредвиденная вакансия - Часть первая - Понедельник III
Evertree Crescent was a sickle moon of 1930s bungalows, which lay two minutes from Pagford’s main square. In number thirty-six, a house tenanted longer than any other in the street, Shirley Mollison sat, propped up against her pillows, sipping the tea that her husband had brought her. The reflection facing her in the mirrored doors of the built-in wardrobe had a misty quality, due partly to the fact that she was not wearing glasses, and partly to the soft glow cast over the room by her rose-patterned curtains. In this flattering, hazy light, the dimpled pink and white face beneath the short silver hair was cherubic.
The bedroom was just large enough to accommodate Shirley’s single bed and Howard’s double, crammed together, non-identical twins. Howard’s mattress, which still bore his prodigious imprint, was empty. The soft purr and hiss of the shower was audible from where Shirley and her rosy reflection sat facing each other, savouring the news that seemed still to effervesce in the atmosphere, like bubbling champagne.
Barry Fairbrother was dead. Snuffed out. Cut down. No event of national importance, no war, no stock-market collapse, no terrorist attack, could have sparked in Shirley the awe, the avid interest and feverish speculation that currently consumed her.
She had hated Barry Fairbrother. Shirley and her husband, usually as one in all their friendships and enmities, had been a little out of step in this. Howard had sometimes confessed himself entertained by the bearded little man who opposed him so relentlessly across the long scratched tables in Pagford Church Hall; but Shirley made no distinction between the political and the personal. Barry had opposed Howard in the central quest of his life, and this made Barry Fairbrother her bitter enemy.
Loyalty to her husband was the main, but not the only, reason for Shirley’s passionate dislike. Her instincts about people were finely honed in one direction only, like a dog that has been trained to sniff out narcotics. She was perennially aquiver to detect condescension, and had long detected its reek in the attitudes of Barry Fairbrother and his cronies on the Parish Council. The Fairbrothers of the world assumed that their university education made them better than people like her and Howard, that their views counted for more. Well, their arrogance had received a nasty blow today. Fairbrother’s sudden death bolstered Shirley in the long-held belief that, whatever he and his followers might have thought, he had been of a lower and weaker order than her husband, who, in addition to all his other virtues, had managed to survive a heart attack seven years previously.
(Never for an instant had Shirley believed that her Howard would die, even while he was in the operating theatre. Howard’s presence on earth was, to Shirley, a given, like sunlight and oxygen. She had said as much afterwards, when friends and neighbours had spoken of miraculous escapes and how lucky that they had the cardiac unit so nearby in Yarvil, and how dreadfully worried she must have been.
‘I always knew he’d pull through,’ Shirley had said, unruffled and serene. ‘I never doubted it.’
And here he was, as good as ever; and there was Fairbrother in the morgue. It only went to show.)
In the elation of this early morning, Shirley was reminded of the day after her son Miles had been born. She had sat up in bed all those years ago, exactly like this, with sunlight streaming through the ward window, a cup of tea that somebody else had made her in her hands, waiting for them to bring in her beautiful new baby boy for feeding. Birth and death: there was the same consciousness of heightened existence and of her own elevated importance. The news of Barry Fairbrother’s sudden demise lay in her lap like a fat new baby to be gloated over by all her acquaintances; and she would be the fount, the source, for she was first, or nearly so, to receive the news.
None of the delight frothing and fizzing inside Shirley had been apparent while Howard had been in the room. They had merely exchanged the comments proper to sudden death before he had taken himself off to the shower. Naturally Shirley had known, as they slid stock words and phrases back and forth between them like beads on an abacus, that Howard must be as brimful of ecstasy as she was; but to express these feelings out loud, when the news of the death was still fresh in the air, would have been tantamount to dancing naked and shrieking obscenities, and Howard and Shirley were clothed, always, in an invisible layer of decorum that they never laid aside.
Another happy thought came to Shirley. She set down her cup and saucer on the bedside table, slipped out of bed, pulled on her candlewick dressing gown and her glasses, and padded down the hall to tap on the bathroom door.
‘Howard?’
An interrogative noise answered over the steady patter of the shower.
‘Do you think I should put something on the website? About Fairbrother?’
‘Good idea,’ he called through the door, after a moment’s consideration. ‘Excellent idea.’
So she bustled along to the study. It had previously been the smallest bedroom in the bungalow, long since vacated by their daughter Patricia who had gone to London and was rarely mentioned.
Shirley was immensely proud of her skill on the internet. She had been to evening classes in Yarvil ten years previously, where she had been one of the oldest students and the slowest. Nevertheless, she had persevered, determined to be the administrator of Pagford Parish Council’s exciting new website. She logged herself in and brought up the Parish Council’s homepage.
The brief statement flowed so easily that it was as if her fingers themselves were composing it.
Councillor Barry Fairbrother
It is with great regret that we announce the death of Councillor Barry Fairbrother. Our thoughts are with his family at this difficult time.
She read this through carefully, hit return and watched the message appear on the message board.
The Queen had lowered the flag on Buckingham Palace when Princess Diana had died. Her Majesty occupied a very special position in Shirley’s interior life. Contemplating the message on the website, she was satisfied and happy that she had done the right thing. Learning from the best …
She navigated away from the Parish Council message board and dropped into her favourite medical website, where she painstakingly entered the words ‘brain’ and ‘death’ in the search box.
The suggestions were endless. Shirley scrolled through the possibilities, her mild eyes rolling up and down, wondering to which of these deadly conditions, some of them unpronounceable, she owed her present happiness. Shirley was a hospital volunteer; she had developed quite a little interest in matters medical since starting work at South West General, and occasionally offered diagnoses to her friends.
But there was no concentrating on long words and symptoms this morning: her thoughts skittered away to the further dissemination of the news; already she was mentally assembling and reshuffling a list of telephone numbers. She wondered whether Aubrey and Julia knew, and what they would say; and whether Howard would let her tell Maureen or reserve that pleasure for himself.
It was all immensely exciting.

The Casual Vacancy • Непредвиденная вакансия
Часть: IIIIIIIVVVIVII
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