Непредвиденная вакансия - Часть первая - Вторник V
As guidance teacher, Tessa’s hours varied more than her husband’s. She usually waited until the end of the school day to take their son home in her Nissan, leaving Colin (whom Tessa – although she knew what the rest of the world called him, including nearly all the parents who had caught the habit from their children – never addressed as Cubby) to follow them, an hour or two later, in his Toyota. Today, though, Colin met Tessa in the car park at twenty-past four, while the schoolchildren were still swarming out of the front gates into parental cars, or onto their free buses.
The sky was a cold iron-grey, like the underside of a shield. A sharp breeze lifted the hems of skirts and rattled the leaves on the immature trees; a spiteful, chill wind that sought out your weakest places, the nape of your neck and your knees, and which denied you the comfort of dreaming, of retreating a little from reality. Even after she had closed the car door on it, Tessa felt ruffled and put out, as she would have been by somebody crashing into her without apology.
Beside her in the passenger seat, his knees absurdly high in the cramped confines of her car, Colin told Tessa what the computing teacher had come to his office to tell him, twenty minutes previously.
‘… not there. Didn’t turn up for the whole double period. Said he thought he’d better come straight and tell me. So that’ll be all over the staff room, tomorrow. Exactly what he wants,’ said Colin furiously, and Tessa knew that they were not talking about the computing teacher any more. ‘He’s just sticking two fingers up at me, as usual.’
Her husband was pale with exhaustion, with shadows beneath his reddened eyes, and his hands were twitching slightly on the handle of his briefcase. Fine hands, with big knuckles and long slender fingers, they were not altogether dissimilar from their son’s. Tessa had pointed this out to her husband and son recently; neither had evinced the smallest pleasure at the thought that there was some faint physical resemblance between them.
‘I don’t think he’s—’ began Tessa, but Colin was talking again.
‘—So, he’ll get detention like everyone else and I’ll damn well punish him at home too. We’ll see how he likes that, shall we? We’ll see whether that’s a laughing matter. We can start by grounding him for a week, we’ll see how funny that is.’
Biting back her response, Tessa scanned the sea of black-clad students, walking with heads down, shivering, drawing their thin coats close, their hair blown into their mouths. A chubby-cheeked and slightly bewildered-looking first year was looking all around for a lift that had not arrived. The crowd parted and there was Fats, loping along with Arf Price as usual, the wind blowing his hair off his gaunt face. Sometimes, at certain angles, in certain lights, it was easy to see what Fats would look like as an old man. For an instant, from the depths of her tiredness, he seemed a complete stranger, and Tessa thought how extraordinary it was that he was turning away to walk towards her car, and that she would have to go back out into that horrible hyper-real breeze to let him in. But when he reached them, and gave her his small grimace of a smile, he reconstituted himself immediately into the boy she loved in spite of it all, and she got out again, and stood stoically in the knife-sharp wind while he folded himself into the car with his father, who had not offered to move.
They pulled out of the car park, ahead of the free buses, and set off through Yarvil, past the ugly, broken-down houses of the Fields, towards the bypass that would speed them back to Pagford. Tessa watched Fats in the rear-view mirror. He was slumped in the back, gazing out of the window, as though his parents were two people who had picked him up hitchhiking, connected to him merely by chance and proximity.
Colin waited until they reached the bypass; then he asked, ‘Where were you when you should have been in computing this afternoon?’
Tessa glanced irresistibly into the mirror again. She saw her son yawn. Sometimes, even though she denied it endlessly to Colin, Tessa wondered whether Fats really was waging a dirty, personal war on his father with the whole school as audience. She knew things about her son she would not have known if she had not worked in guidance; students told her things, sometimes innocently, sometimes slyly.
Miss, do you mind Fats smoking? D’you let him do it at home?
She locked away this small repository of illicit booty, obtained unintentionally, and brought it to neither her husband’s nor her son’s attention, even though it dragged at her, weighed on her.
‘Went for a walk,’ Fats said calmly. ‘Thought I’d stretch the old legs.’
Colin twisted in his seat to look at Fats, straining against his seat belt as he shouted, his gestures further restricted and hampered by his overcoat and briefcase. When he lost control, Colin’s voice rose higher and higher, so that he was shouting almost in falsetto. Through it all, Fats sat in silence, an insolent half-smile curving his thin mouth, until his father was screaming insults at him, insults that were blunted by Colin’s innate dislike of swearing, his self-consciousness when he did it.
‘You cocky, self-centred little … little shit,’ he screamed, and Tessa, whose eyes were so full of tears that she could barely see the road, was sure that Fats would be duplicating Colin’s timid, falsetto swearing for the benefit of Andrew Price tomorrow morning.
Fats does a great imitation of Cubby’s walk, miss, have you seen it?
‘How dare you talk to me like that? How dare you skip classes?’
Colin screamed and raged, and Tessa had to blink the tears out of her eyes as she took the turning to Pagford and drove through the Square, past Mollison and Lowe, the war memorial and the Black Canon; she turned left at St Michael and All Saints into Church Row, and, at last, into the driveway of their house, by which time Colin had shouted himself into squeaky hoarseness and Tessa’s cheeks were glazed and salty. When they all got out, Fats, whose expression had not altered a whit during his father’s long diatribe, let himself in through the front door with his own key, and proceeded upstairs at a leisurely pace without looking back.
Colin threw his briefcase down in the dark hall and rounded on Tessa. The only illumination came from the stained-glass panel over the front door, which cast strange colours over his agitated, domed and balding head, half bloody, half ghostly blue.
‘D’you see?’ he cried, waving his long arms, ‘D’you see what I’m dealing with?’
‘Yes,’ she said, taking a handful of tissues from the box on the hall table and mopping her face, blowing her nose. ‘Yes, I do.’
‘Not a thought in his head for what we’re going through!’ said Colin, and he started to sob, big whooping dry sobs, like a child with croup. Tessa hurried forward and put her arms around Colin’s chest, a little above his waist, for, short and stout as she was, that was the highest bit she could reach. He stooped, clinging to her; she could feel his trembling, and the heaving of his rib cage under his coat.
After a few minutes, she gently disengaged herself, led him into the kitchen and made him a pot of tea.
‘I’m going to take a casserole up to Mary’s,’ said Tessa, after she had sat for a while, stroking his hand. ‘She’s got half the family there. We’ll get an early night, once I’m back.’
He nodded and sniffed, and she kissed him on the side of his head before heading out to the freezer. When she came back, carrying the heavy, icy dish, he was sitting at the table, cradling his mug in his big hands, his eyes closed.
Tessa set down the casserole, wrapped in a polythene bag, on the tiles beside the front door. She pulled on the lumpy green cardigan she often wore instead of a jacket, but did not put on her shoes. Instead, she tiptoed upstairs to the landing and then, taking less trouble to be quiet, up the second flight to the loft conversion.
A swift burst of rat-like activity greeted her approach to the door. She knocked, giving Fats time to hide whatever it was he had been looking at online, or, perhaps, the cigarettes he did not know she knew about.
‘Yeah?’
She pushed open the door. Her son was crouching stagily over his school bag.
‘Did you have to play truant today, of all days?’
Fats straightened up, long and stringy; he towered over his mother.
‘I was there. I came in late. Bennett didn’t notice. He’s useless.’
‘Stuart, please. Please.’
She wanted to shout at the kids at work, sometimes, too. She wanted to scream, You must accept the reality of other people. You think that reality is up for negotiation, that we think it’s whatever you say it is. You must accept that we are as real as you are; you must accept that you are not God.
‘Your father’s very upset, Stu. Because of Barry. Can’t you understand that?’
‘Yes,’ said Fats.
‘I mean, it’s like Arf dying would be to you.’
He did not respond, nor did his expression alter much, yet she sensed his disdain, his amusement.
‘I know you think you and Arf are very different orders of being to the likes of your father and Barry—’
‘No,’ said Fats, but only, she knew, in the hope of ending the conversation.
‘I’m going to take some food over to Mary’s house. I am begging you, Stuart, not to do anything else to upset your father while I’m gone. Please, Stu.’
‘Fine,’ he said, with half a laugh, half a shrug. She felt his attention swooping, swallow-like, back to his own concerns, even before she had closed the door.
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