Непредвиденная вакансия - Часть первая - Вторник II
Social worker Kay Bawden and her daughter Gaia had moved from London only four weeks previously, and were Pagford’s very newest inhabitants. Kay was unfamiliar with the contentious history of the Fields; it was simply the estate where many of her clients lived. All she knew about Barry Fairbrother was that his death had precipitated the miserable scene in her kitchen, when her lover Gavin had fled from her and her scrambled eggs, and so dashed all the hopes his love-making had roused in her.
Kay spent Tuesday lunchtime in a layby between Pagford and Yarvil, eating a sandwich in her car, and reading a large stack of notes. One of her colleagues had been signed off work due to stress, with the immediate result that Kay had been lumbered with a third of her cases. Shortly before one o’clock, she set off for the Fields.
She had already visited the estate several times, but she was not yet familiar with the warren-like streets. At last she found Foley Road, and identified from a distance the house that she thought must belong to the Weedons. The file had made it clear what she was likely to meet, and her first glimpse of the house met her expectations.
A pile of refuse was heaped against the front wall: carrier bags bulging with filth, jumbled together with old clothes and unbagged, soiled nappies. Bits of the rubbish had tumbled or been scattered over the scrubby patch of lawn, but the bulk of it remained piled beneath one of the two downstairs windows. A bald old tyre sat in the middle of the lawn; it had been shifted some time recently, because a foot away there was a flattened yellowish-brown circle of dead grass. After ringing the doorbell, Kay noticed a used condom glistening in the grass beside her feet, like the gossamer cocoon of some huge grub.
She was experiencing that slight apprehension that she had never quite overcome, although it was nothing compared to the nerves with which she had faced unknown doors in the early days. Then, in spite of all her training, in spite of the fact that a colleague usually accompanied her, she had, on occasion, been truly afraid. Dangerous dogs; men brandishing knives; children with grotesque injuries; she had found them all, and worse, in her years of entering strangers’ houses.
Nobody came in answer to the bell, but she could hear a small child grizzling through the ground-floor window on her left, which was ajar. She tried rapping on the door instead and a tiny flake of peeling cream paint fell off and landed on the toe of her shoe. It reminded her of the state of her own new home. It would have been nice if Gavin had offered to help with some of her redecorating, but he had said not a word. Sometimes Kay counted over the things that he had not said or done, like a miser looking through IOUs, and felt bitter and angry, and determined to extract repayment.
She knocked again, sooner than she would have done if she had not wanted to distract herself from her own thoughts, and this time, a distant voice said, ‘I’m fuckin’ comin’.’
The door swung open to reveal a woman who appeared simultaneously child-like and ancient, dressed in a dirty pale-blue T-shirt and a pair of men’s pyjama bottoms. She was the same height as Kay, but shrunken; the bones of her face and sternum showed sharply through the thin white skin. Her hair, which was home-dyed, coarse and very red, looked like a wig on top of a skull, her pupils were minuscule and her chest virtually breastless.
‘Hello, are you Terri? I’m Kay Bawden, from Social Services. I’m covering for Mattie Knox.’
There were silvery pockmarks all over the woman’s fragile grey-white arms, and an angry red, open sore on the inside of one forearm. A wide area of scar tissue on her right arm and lower neck gave the skin a shiny plastic appearance. Kay had known an addict in London who had accidentally set fire to her house, and realized too late what was happening.
‘Yeah, righ’,’ said Terri, after an overlong pause. When she spoke, she seemed much older; several of her teeth were missing. She turned her back on Kay and took a few unsteady steps down the dark hallway. Kay followed. The house smelt of stale food, of sweat, of unshifted filth. Terri led Kay through the first door on the left, into a tiny sitting room.
There were no books, no pictures, no photographs, no television; nothing except a pair of filthy old armchairs and a broken set of shelves. Debris littered the floor. A pile of brand-new cardboard boxes piled against the wall struck an incongruous note.
A bare-legged little boy was standing in the middle of the floor, dressed in a T-shirt and a bulging pull-up nappy. Kay knew from the file that he was three and a half. His whining seemed unconscious and unmotivated, a sort of engine noise to signal that he was there. He was clutching a miniature cereal packet.
‘So this must be Robbie?’ said Kay.
The boy looked at her when she said his name, but kept grizzling.
Terri shoved aside a scratched old biscuit tin, which had been sitting on one of the dirty frayed armchairs, and curled herself into the seat, watching Kay from beneath drooping eyelids. Kay took the other chair, on the arm of which was perched an overflowing ashtray. Cigarette ends had fallen into the seat of Kay’s chair; she could feel them beneath her thighs.
‘Hello, Robbie,’ said Kay, opening Terri’s file.
The little boy continued to whine, shaking the cereal packet; something inside it rattled.
‘What have you got in there?’ Kay asked.
He did not answer, but shook the packet more vigorously. A small plastic figure flew out of it, soared in an arc and fell down behind the cardboard boxes. Robbie began to wail. Kay watched Terri, who was staring at her son, blank-faced. Eventually, Terri murmured, ‘S’up, Robbie?’
‘Shall we see if we can get it out?’ said Kay, quite glad of a reason to stand up and brush down the back of her legs. ‘Let’s have a look.’
She put her head close to the wall to look into the gap behind the boxes. The little figure was wedged near the top. She forced her hand into the gap. The boxes were heavy and difficult to move. Kay managed to grasp the model, which, once she had it in her hand, she saw to be a squat, fat Buddha-like man, bright purple all over.
‘Here you are,’ she said.
Robbie’s wailing ceased; he took the figure and put it back inside the cereal packet, which he started to shake again.
Kay glanced around. Two small toy cars lay upside down under the broken shelves.
‘Do you like cars?’ Kay asked Robbie, pointing at them.
He did not follow the direction of her finger, but squinted at her with a mixture of calculation and curiosity. Then he trotted off and picked up a car and held it up for her to see.
‘Broom,’ he said. ‘Ca.’
‘That’s right,’ said Kay. ‘Very good. Car. Broom broom.’
She sat back down and took her notepad out of her bag.
‘So, Terri. How have things been going?’
There was a pause before Terri said, ‘All righ’.’
‘Just to explain: Mattie has been signed off sick, so I’m covering for her. I’ll need to go over some of the information she’s left me, to check that nothing’s changed since she saw you last week, all right?
‘So, let’s see: Robbie is in nursery now, isn’t he? Four mornings a week and two afternoons?’
Kay’s voice seemed to reach Terri only distantly. It was like talking to somebody sitting at the bottom of a well.
‘Yeah,’ she said, after a pause.
‘How’s that going? Is he enjoying it?’
Robbie crammed the matchbox car into the cereal box. He picked up one of the cigarette butts that had fallen off Kay’s trousers, and squashed it on top of the car and the purple Buddha.
‘Yeah,’ said Terri drowsily.
But Kay was poring over the last of the untidy notes Mattie had left before she had been signed off.
‘Shouldn’t he be there today, Terri? Isn’t Tuesday one of the days he goes?’
Terri seemed to be fighting a desire to sleep. Once or twice her head rocked a little on her shoulders. Finally she said, ‘Krystal was s’posed to drop him and she never.’
‘Krystal is your daughter, isn’t she? How old is she?’
‘Fourteen,’ said Terri dreamily, ‘’n’a half.’
Kay could see from her notes that Krystal was sixteen. There was a long pause.
Two chipped mugs stood at the foot of Terri’s armchair. The dirty liquid in one of them had a bloody look. Terri’s arms were folded across her flat breast.
‘I had him dressed,’ said Terri, dragging the words from deep in her consciousness.
‘Sorry, Terri, but I’ve got to ask,’ said Kay. ‘Have you used this morning?’
Terri passed a bird’s claw hand over her mouth.
‘Wantashit,’ said Robbie, and he scurried towards the door.
‘Does he need help?’ Kay asked, as Robbie vanished from sight, and they heard him scampering upstairs.
‘Nah, ’e can doot alone,’ slurred Terri. She propped her drooping head on her fist, her elbow on the armchair. Robbie let out a shout from the landing.
‘Door! Door!’
They heard him thumping wood. Terri did not move.
‘Shall I help him?’ Kay suggested.
‘Yeah,’ said Terri.
Kay climbed the stairs and operated the stiff handle on the door for Robbie. The room smelled rank. The bath was grey, with successive brown tidemarks around it, and the toilet had not been flushed. Kay did this before allowing Robbie to scramble onto the seat. He screwed up his face and strained loudly, indifferent to her presence. There was a loud splash, and a noisome new note was added to the already putrid air. He got down and pulled up his bulging nappy without wiping; Kay made him come back, and tried to persuade him to do it for himself, but the action seemed quite foreign to him. In the end she did it for him. His bottom was sore: crusty, red and irritated. The nappy stank of ammonia. She tried to remove it, but he yelped, lashed out at her, then pulled away, scampering back down to the sitting room with his nappy sagging. Kay wanted to wash her hands, but there was no soap. Trying not to inhale, she closed the bathroom door behind her.
She glanced into the bedrooms before returning downstairs. The contents of all three spilt out onto the cluttered landing. They were all sleeping on mattresses. Robbie seemed to be sharing a room with his mother. A couple of toys lay among the dirty clothes strewn all over the floor: cheap, plastic and too young for him. To Kay’s surprise, the duvet and pillows both had covers on them.
Back in the sitting room, Robbie was whining again, banging his fist against the stack of cardboard boxes. Terri was watching from beneath half-closed eyelids. Kay brushed off the seat of her chair before sitting back down.
‘Terri, you’re on the methadone programme at the Bellchapel Clinic, isn’t that right?’
‘Mm,’ said Terri drowsily.
‘And how’s that going, Terri?’
Pen poised, Kay waited, pretending that the answer was not sitting in front of her.
‘Are you still going to the clinic, Terri?’
‘Las’ week. Friday, I goes.’
Robbie pounded the boxes with his fists.
‘Can you tell me how much methadone you’re on?’
‘Hundred and fifteen mils,’ said Terri.
It did not surprise Kay that Terri could remember this, but not the age of her daughter.
‘Mattie says here that your mother has been helping with Robbie and Krystal; is that still the case?’
Robbie flung his hard, compact little body against the pile of boxes, which swayed.
‘Be careful, Robbie,’ said Kay, and Terri said, ‘Leave ’em,’ with the closest thing to alertness Kay had heard in her dead voice.
Robbie returned to beating the boxes with his fists, for the pleasure, apparently, of listening to the hollow drumbeat.
‘Terri, is your mother still helping to look after Robbie?’
‘Not m’mother, gran.’
‘Robbie’s gran?’
‘My gran, innit. She dun … she ain’t well.’
Kay glanced over at Robbie again, her pen at the ready. He was not underweight; she knew that from the feel and look of him, half-naked, as she had wiped his backside. His T-shirt was dirty, but his hair, when she had bent over him, had smelled surprisingly of shampoo. There were no bruises on his milk-white arms and legs, but there was the sodden, bagging nappy; he was three and a half.
‘M’ungry,’ he shouted, giving the box a final, futile whack. ‘M’ungry.’
‘You c’n’ave a biscuit,’ slurred Terri, but not moving. Robbie’s yells turned to noisy sobs and screams. Terri made no attempt to leave her chair. It was impossible to talk over the din.
‘Shall I get him one?’ shouted Kay.
Robbie ran past Kay into the kitchen. It was almost as dirty as the bathroom. Other than the fridge, cooker and washing machine, there were no gadgets; the counters carried only dirty plates, another overflowing ashtray, carrier bags, mouldy bread. The lino was tacky and stuck to the soles of Kay’s shoes. Rubbish had overflowed the bin, on top of which sat a pizza box, precariously balanced.
‘’N there,’ said Robbie, jabbing a finger at the wall unit without looking at Kay. ‘’N there.’
More food than Kay had expected was stacked in the cupboard: tins, a packet of biscuits, a jar of instant coffee. She took two biscuits from the packet and handed them to him; he snatched them and ran away again, back to his mother.
‘So, do you like going to the nursery, Robbie?’ she asked him, as he sat scoffing the biscuits on the floor.
He did not answer.
‘Yeah, ’e likes it,’ said Terri, slightly more awake. ‘Don’ you, Robbie? ’E likes it.’
‘When was he last there, Terri?’
‘Las’ time. Yesterday.’
‘Yesterday was Monday, he couldn’t have been there then,’ said Kay, making notes. ‘That isn’t one of the days he goes.’
‘I’m asking about nursery. Robbie’s supposed to be there today. I need to know when he was last there.’
‘I told you, din’ I? Las’ time.’
Her eyes were more fully open than Kay had yet seen them. The timbre of her voice was still flat, but antagonism was struggling to the surface.
‘Are you a dyke?’ she asked.
‘No,’ said Kay, still writing.
‘You look like a dyke,’ said Terri.
Kay continued to write.
‘Juice,’ Robbie shouted, chocolate smeared over his chin.
This time Kay did not move. After another long pause, Terri lurched out of her chair and wove her way into the hall. Kay leaned forward and shifted the loose lid of the biscuit tin Terri had displaced when she sat down. Inside was a syringe, a bit of grubby cotton wool, a rusty-looking spoon and a dusty polythene bag. Kay snapped the lid back on firmly, while Robbie watched her. Terri returned, after some distant clattering, carrying a cup of juice, which she shoved at the little boy.
‘There,’ she said, more to Kay than to her son, and she sat back down again. She missed the seat and collided with the arm of the chair on her first attempt; Kay heard the bone collide with wood, but Terri seemed to feel no pain. She settled herself back into the sagging cushions and surveyed the social worker with bleary indifference.
Kay had read the file from cover to cover. She knew that nearly everything of value in Terri Weedon’s life had been sucked into the black hole of her addiction; that it had cost her two children; that she barely clung to two more; that she prostituted herself to pay for heroin; that she had been involved in every sort of petty crime; and that she was currently attempting rehab for the umpteenth time.
But not to feel, not to care … Right now, Kay thought, she’s happier than I am.
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