Непредвиденная вакансия - Часть первая - Понедельник IX
The room set aside for the guidance department at Winterdown Comprehensive opened off the school library. It had no windows and was lit by a single strip light.
Tessa Wall, head of guidance and wife of the deputy headmaster, entered the room at half-past ten, numb with fatigue and carrying a cup of strong instant coffee that she had brought up from the staff room. She was a short stout woman with a plain wide face, who cut her own greying hair – the blunt fringe was often a little lop-sided – wore clothes of a homespun, crafty variety, and liked jewellery of beads and wood. Today’s long skirt might have been made of hessian, and she had teamed it with a thick lumpy cardigan in pea-green. Tessa hardly ever looked at herself in full-length mirrors, and boycotted shops where this was unavoidable.
She had attempted to soften the guidance room’s resemblance to a cell by pinning up a Nepalese hanging she had owned since her student days: a rainbow sheet with a bright yellow sun and moon that emitted stylised, wavy rays. The rest of the bare painted surfaces were covered with a variety of posters that either gave helpful tips on boosting self-esteem or telephone numbers to call for anonymous help on a variety of health and emotional issues. The headmistress had made a slightly sarcastic remark about these the last time she had visited the guidance room.
‘And if all else fails, they call ChildLine, I see,’ she had said, pointing to the most prominent poster.
Tessa sank into her chair with a low groan, took off her wristwatch, which pinched, and placed it on the desk beside various printed sheets and notes. She doubted that progress along the prearranged lines would be possible today; she doubted even whether Krystal Weedon would turn up. Krystal frequently walked out of school when upset, angry or bored. She was sometimes apprehended before she reached the gates and frog-marched back inside, swearing and shouting; at other times, she successfully evaded capture and escaped into days of truancy. Ten forty arrived, the bell sounded, and Tessa waited.
Krystal burst in through the door at ten fifty-one and slammed it behind her. She slumped down in front of Tessa with her arms folded across her ample bosom, her cheap earrings swinging.
‘You can tell your ’usband,’ she said, her voice trembling, ‘that I never fuckin’ laughed, all right?’
‘Don’t swear at me, please, Krystal,’ said Tessa.
‘I never laughed – all right?’ screamed Krystal.
A group of sixth-formers carrying folders had arrived in the library. They glanced through the glass pane in the door; one of them grinned at the sight of the back of Krystal’s head. Tessa got up and let down the roller-blind over the window, then returned to her seat in front of the moon and sun.
‘All right, Krystal. Why don’t you tell me what happened?’
‘Your ’usband said sumthin’ abou’ Mister Fairbrother, right, an’ I couldn’t hear what he was saying, right, so Nikki tole me, and I couldn’t fucking—’
‘—couldn’t believe it, right, an’ I shouted but I never laughed! I never fuck—’
‘I never laughed, all right?’ shouted Krystal, arms tight across her chest, legs twisted together.
‘All right, Krystal.’
Tessa was used to the anger of students she saw most often in guidance. Many of them were devoid of workaday morals; they lied, misbehaved and cheated routinely, and yet their fury when wrongly accused was limitless and genuine. Tessa thought she recognized this as authentic outrage, as opposed to the synthetic kind that Krystal was adept at producing. In any case, the squawk Tessa had heard during assembly had struck her at the time as one of shock and dismay rather than amusement; Tessa had been filled with dread when Colin had publicly identified it as laughter.
‘I seen Cubby—’
‘I tole your fuckin’ ’usband—’
‘Krystal, for the last time, please do not swear at me—’
‘I told ’im I never laughed, I told ’im! An’ he’s still gave me fucking detention!’
Tears of fury gleamed in the girl’s heavily pencilled eyes. Blood had flowed into her face; peony pink, she glared at Tessa, poised to run, to swear, to give Tessa the finger too. Nearly two years of gossamer-fine trust, laboriously spun between them, was stretching, on the point of tearing.
‘I believe you, Krystal. I believe you didn’t laugh, but please do not swear at me.’
Suddenly, stubby fingers were rubbing the smeary eyes. Tessa pulled a wad of tissues from out of her desk drawer and handed them across to Krystal, who grabbed them without thanks, pressed them to each eye and blew her nose. Krystal’s hands were the most touching part of her: the fingernails were short and broad, untidily painted, and all her hand movements were as naive and direct as a small child’s.
Tessa waited until Krystal’s snorting breaths had slowed down. Then she said, ‘I can tell you’re upset that Mr Fairbrother has died—’
‘Yer, I am,’ said Krystal, with considerable aggression. ‘So?’
Tessa had a sudden mental image of Barry listening in to this conversation. She could see his rueful smile; she heard him, quite clearly, saying ‘bless her heart’. Tessa closed her stinging eyes, unable to speak. She heard Krystal fidget, counted slowly to ten, and opened her eyes again. Krystal was staring at her, arms still folded, flushed and defiant-looking.
‘I’m very sorry about Mr Fairbrother too,’ said Tessa. ‘He was an old friend of ours, actually. That’s the reason Mr Wall is a bit—’
‘I told ’im I never—’
‘Krystal, please let me finish. Mr Wall is very upset today, and that’s probably why he … why he misinterpreted what you did. I’ll speak to him.’
‘He won’t change his fuck—’
‘Well, he won’.’
Krystal banged the leg of Tessa’s desk with her foot, beating out a rapid rhythm. Tessa removed her elbows from the desk, so as not to feel the vibration, and said, ‘I’ll speak to Mr Wall.’
She adopted what she believed was a neutral expression and waited patiently for Krystal to come to her. Krystal sat in truculent silence, kicking the table leg, swallowing regularly.
‘What was wrong with Mr Fairbrother?’ she said at last.
‘They think an artery burst in his brain,’ said Tessa.
‘Why did it?’
‘He was born with a weakness he didn’t know about,’ said Tessa.
Tessa knew that Krystal’s familiarity with sudden death was greater than her own. People in Krystal’s mother’s circle died prematurely with such frequency that they might have been involved in some secret war of which the rest of the world knew nothing. Krystal had told Tessa how, when she was six years old, she had found the corpse of an unknown young man in her mother’s bathroom. It had been the catalyst for one of her many removals into the care of her Nana Cath. Nana Cath loomed large in many of Krystal’s stories about her childhood; a strange mixture of saviour and scourge.
‘Our crew’ll be fucked now,’ said Krystal.
‘No, it won’t,’ said Tessa. ‘And don’t swear, Krystal, please.’
‘It will,’ said Krystal.
Tessa wanted to contradict her, but the impulse was squashed by exhaustion. Krystal was right, anyway, said a disconnected, rational part of Tessa’s brain. The rowing eight would be finished. Nobody except Barry could have brought Krystal Weedon into any group and kept her there. She would leave, Tessa knew it; probably Krystal knew it herself. They sat for a while without speaking, and Tessa was too tired to find words that might have changed the atmosphere between them. She felt shivery, exposed, skinned to the bone. She had been awake for over twenty-four hours.
(Samantha Mollison had telephoned from the hospital at ten o’clock, just as Tessa was emerging from a long soak in the bath to watch the BBC news. She had scrambled back into her clothes while Colin made inarticulate noises and blundered into the furniture. They had called upstairs to tell their son where they were going, then run out to the car. Colin had driven far too fast into Yarvil, as though he might bring Barry back if he could do the journey in record time; outstrip reality and trick it into rearranging itself.)
‘If you ain’ gonna talk to me, I’ll go,’ said Krystal.
‘Don’t be rude, please, Krystal,’ said Tessa. ‘I’m very tired this morning. Mr Wall and I were at the hospital last night with Mr Fairbrother’s wife. They’re good friends of ours.’
(Mary had unravelled completely when she had seen Tessa, flinging her arms around her, burying her face in Tessa’s neck with a dreadful wailing shriek. Even as Tessa’s own tears began to splatter down Mary’s narrow back, she thought quite distinctly that the noise Mary was making was called keening. The body that Tessa had so often envied, slim and petite, had quaked in her arms, barely able to contain the grief it was being asked to bear.
Tessa could not remember Miles and Samantha leaving. She did not know them very well. She supposed that they had been glad to go.)
‘I seen ’is wife,’ said Krystal. ‘Blonde woman, she come to see us race.’
‘Yes,’ said Tessa.
Krystal was chewing on the tips of her fingers.
‘He were gonna get me talkin’ to the paper,’ she said abruptly.
‘What’s that?’ asked Tessa, confused.
‘Mr Fairbrother wuz. He wuz gonna get me interviewed. On me own.’
There had once been a piece in the local paper about the Winterdown rowing eight coming first in the regional finals. Krystal, whose reading was poor, had brought a copy of the paper in to show Tessa, and Tessa had read the article aloud, inserting exclamations of delight and admiration. It had been the happiest guidance session she had ever known.
‘Were they going to interview you because of rowing?’ asked Tessa. ‘The crew again?’
‘No,’ said Krystal. ‘Other stuff.’ Then, ‘When’s his funeral?’
‘We don’t know yet,’ said Tessa.
Krystal gnawed at her nails, and Tessa could not summon the energy to break the silence that solidified around them.

The Casual Vacancy • Непредвиденная вакансия
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