Непредвиденная вакансия - Часть первая - Понедельник VIII
The Old Vicarage was the last and grandest of the Victorian houses in Church Row. It stood at the very bottom, in a big corner garden, facing St Michael and All Saints across the road.
Parminder, who had run the last few yards down the street, fumbled with the stiff lock on the front door and let herself inside. She would not believe it until she heard it from somebody else, anybody else; but the telephone was already ringing ominously in the kitchen.
‘It’s Vikram.’
Parminder’s husband was a cardiac surgeon. He worked at the South West General Hospital in Yarvil and he never usually called from work. Parminder gripped the receiver so tightly that her fingers hurt.
‘I only heard by accident. It sounds like an aneurysm. I’ve asked Huw Jeffries to move the PM up the list. Better for Mary to know what it was. They could be doing him now.’
‘Right,’ whispered Parminder.
‘Tessa Wall was there,’ he told her. ‘Call Tessa.’
‘Yes,’ said Parminder. ‘All right.’
But when she had hung up, she sank down into one of the kitchen chairs and stared out of the window into the back garden without seeing it, her fingers pressed to her mouth.
Everything had shattered. The fact that it was all still there – the walls and the chairs and the children’s pictures on the walls – meant nothing. Every atom of it had been blasted apart and reconstituted in an instant, and its appearance of permanence and solidity was laughable; it would dissolve at a touch, for everything was suddenly tissue-thin and friable.
She had no control over her thoughts; they had broken apart too, and random fragments of memory surfaced and spun out of sight again: dancing with Barry at the Walls’ New Year’s party, and the silly conversation they had had walking back from the last meeting of the Parish Council.
‘You’ve got a cow-faced house,’ she had told him.
‘Cow-faced? What does that mean?’
She couldn’t settle. Through the hall, then back into the kitchen, where she seized the telephone and called Tessa Wall, who did not pick up. She must be at work. Parminder returned, trembling, to the kitchen chair.
Her grief was so big and wild it terrified her, like an evil beast that had erupted from under the floorboards. Barry, little, bearded Barry, her friend, her ally.
It was exactly the way her father had died. She had been fifteen, and they had come back from town to find him lying face-down on the lawn with the mower beside him, the sun hot on the back of his head. Parminder hated sudden death. The long wasting away that so many people feared was a comforting prospect to her; time to arrange and organize, time to say goodbye …
Her hands were still pressed tightly over her mouth. She stared at the grave, sweet visage of Guru Nanak pinned to the cork board.
(Vikram did not like the picture.
‘What’s that doing there?’
‘I like it,’ she had said defiantly.)
Barry, dead.
She tamped down the awful urge to cry with a fierceness that her mother had always deplored, especially in the wake of her father’s death, when her other daughters, and the aunts and cousins, were all wailing and beating their breasts. ‘And you were his favourite too!’ But Parminder kept her unwept tears locked tightly inside where they seemed to undergo an alchemical transformation, returning to the outer world as lava slides of rage, disgorged periodically at her children and the receptionists at work.
She could still see Howard and Maureen behind the counter, the one immense, the other scrawny, and in her mind’s eye they were looking down at her from a height as they told her that her friend was dead. With an almost welcome gush of fury and hatred she thought, They’re glad. They think they’ll win now.
She jumped up again, strode back into the sitting room and took down, from the top shelf, one volume of the Sainchis, her brand-new holy book. Opening it at random, she read, with no surprise, but rather a sense of looking at her own devastated face in a mirror:
O mind, the world is a deep, dark pit. On every side, Death casts forward his net.

The Casual Vacancy • Непредвиденная вакансия
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