Непредвиденная вакансия - Часть первая - Понедельник V
The small terraces in Hope Street had once been labourers’ houses. Gavin Hughes was shaving slowly and with unnecessary care in the bathroom of number ten. He was so fair, and his beard so sparse, that the job really only needed to be done twice weekly; but the chilly, slightly grubby bathroom was the only place of sanctuary. If he dawdled in here until eight, he could plausibly say he needed to leave for work immediately. He dreaded having to talk to Kay.
He had only managed to head off discussion the previous evening by initiating the most prolonged and inventive coupling they had enjoyed since the very earliest days of their relationship. Kay had responded immediately and with unnerving enthusiasm: flicking herself from position to position; drawing up her strong, stocky legs for him; contorting like the Slavic acrobat she so closely resembled, with her olive skin and very short dark hair. Too late, he had realized that she was taking this uncharacteristic act of assertion as a tacit confession of those things he was determined to avoid saying. She had kissed him greedily; he had found her wet intrusive kisses erotic when the affair began, now he found them vaguely repellent. He took a long time to climax, his horror at what he had started constantly threatening to deflate his erection. Even this worked against him: she seemed to take his unusual stamina as a display of virtuosity.
When at last it was over, she had cuddled close to him in the darkness and stroked his hair for a while. Miserably he stared into the void, aware that after all his vague plans for loosening the ties, he had involuntarily tightened them. After she had fallen asleep, he had lain with one arm trapped underneath her, the damp sheet adhering unpleasantly to his thigh, on a mattress lumpy with old springs, and wished for the courage to be a bastard, to slip away and never return.
Kay’s bathroom smelt of mould and damp sponges. A number of hairs were stuck to the side of the small bath. Paint was peeling off the walls.
‘It needs some work,’ Kay had said.
Gavin had been careful not to volunteer any help. The things he had not said to her were his talisman and safeguard; he strung them together in his mind and checked them off like beads on a rosary. He had never said ‘love’. He had never talked about marriage. He had never asked her to move to Pagford. And yet, here she was, and somehow, she made him feel responsible.
His face stared back at him from out of the tarnished mirror. There were purple shadows under his eyes, and his thinning blond hair was wispy and dry. The naked bulb overhead lit the weak, goaty face with forensic cruelty.
Thirty-four, he thought, and I look at least forty.
He lifted the razor and delicately strafed off those two thick blond hairs that grew either side of his prominent Adam’s apple.
Fists pummelled the bathroom door. Gavin’s hand slipped and blood dripped from his thin neck to speckle his clean white shirt.
‘Your boyfriend,’ came a furious female scream, ‘is still in the bathroom and I am going to be late!’
‘I’ve finished!’ he shouted.
The gash stung, but what did that matter? Here was his excuse, ready-made: Look what your daughter made me do. I’ll have to go home and change my shirt before work. With an almost light heart he grabbed the tie and jacket he had hung over the hook on the back of the door, and unlocked it.
Gaia pushed past, slammed the door behind her and rammed the lock home. Out on the tiny landing, which was thick with an unpleasant smell of burnt rubber, Gavin remembered the headboard banging against the wall last night, the creaking of the cheap pine bed, Kay’s groans and yelps. It was easy to forget, sometimes, that her daughter was in the house.
He jogged down the carpetless stairs. Kay had told him of her plans to sand and polish them, but he doubted that she would ever do it; her flat in London had been shabby and in poor repair. In any case, he was convinced that she was expecting to move in with him quite soon, but he would not allow it; that was the final bastion, and there, if forced, he would make his stand.
‘What have you done to yourself?’ Kay squealed, catching sight of the blood on his shirt. She was wearing the cheap scarlet kimono that he did not like, but which suited her so well.
‘Gaia banged on the door and made me jump. I’m going to have to go home and change.’
‘Oh, but I’ve made you breakfast!’ she said quickly.
He realized that the smell of burning rubber was actually scrambled eggs. They looked anaemic and overcooked.
‘I can’t, Kay, I’ve got to change this shirt, I’ve got an early—’
She was already spooning the congealed mass onto plates.
‘Five minutes, surely you can stay five—?’
The mobile phone in his jacket pocket buzzed loudly and he pulled it out, wondering whether he would have the nerve to pretend that it was an urgent summons.
‘Jesus Christ,’ he said, in unfeigned horror.
‘What’s the matter?’
‘Barry. Barry Fairbrother! He’s … fuck, he’s … he’s dead! It’s from Miles. Jesus Christ. Jesus fucking Christ!’
She laid down the wooden spoon.
‘Who’s Barry Fairbrother?’
‘I play squash with him. He’s only forty-four! Jesus Christ!’
He read the text message again. Kay watched him, confused. She knew that Miles was Gavin’s partner at the solicitor’s, but had never been introduced to him. Barry Fairbrother was no more than a name to her.
There came a thunderous banging from the stairs: Gaia was stamping as she ran.
‘Eggs,’ she stated, at the kitchen door. ‘Like you make me every morning. Not. And thanks to him,’ with a venomous look at the back of Gavin’s head, ‘I’ve probably missed the bloody bus.’
‘Well, if you hadn’t spent so long doing your hair,’ Kay shouted at the figure of her retreating daughter, who did not respond, but stormed down the hall, her bag bouncing off the walls, and slammed the front door behind her.
‘Kay, I’ve got to go,’ said Gavin.
‘But look, I’ve got it all ready, you could have it before—’
‘I’ve got to change my shirt. And, shit, I did Barry’s will for him, I’ll need to look it out. No, I’m sorry, I’ve got to go. I can’t believe it,’ he added, rereading Miles’ text. ‘I can’t believe it. We only played squash on Thursday. I can’t – Jesus.’
A man had died; there was nothing she could say, not without putting herself in the wrong. He kissed her briefly on her unresponsive mouth, and then walked away, up the dark narrow hall.
‘Will I see you—?’
‘I’ll call you later,’ he shouted over her, pretending not to hear.
Gavin hurried across the road to his car, gulping the crisp, cold air, holding the fact of Barry’s death in his mind like a phial of volatile liquid that he dare not agitate. As he turned the key in the ignition, he imagined Barry’s twin daughters crying, face down in their bunk beds. He had seen them lying like that, one above the other, each playing on a Nintendo DS, when he passed the door of their bedroom the very last time he had gone round for dinner.
The Fairbrothers had been the most devoted couple he knew. He would never eat at their house again. He used to tell Barry how lucky he was. Not so lucky after all.
Someone was coming down the pavement towards him; in a panic that it was Gaia, coming to shout at him or to demand a lift, he reversed too hard and hit the car behind him: Kay’s old Vauxhall Corsa. The passer-by drew level with his window, and was revealed to be an emaciated, hobbling old woman in carpet slippers. Sweating, Gavin swung his steering wheel around and squeezed out of the space. As he accelerated, he glanced in the rear-view mirror and saw Gaia letting herself back into Kay’s house.
He was having difficulty getting enough air into his lungs. There was a tight knot in his chest. Only now did he realize that Barry Fairbrother had been his best friend.

The Casual Vacancy • Непредвиденная вакансия
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