Непредвиденная вакансия - Часть первая - Суббота I
Every parking space in Church Row was taken by nine o’clock in the morning. Darkly clothed mourners moved, singly, in pairs and in groups, up and down the street, converging, like a stream of iron filings drawn to a magnet, on St Michael and All Saints. The path leading to the church doors became crowded, then overflowed; those who were displaced fanned out among the graves, seeking safe spots to stand between the headstones, fearful of trampling on the dead, yet unwilling to move too far from the church entrance. It was clear to everyone that there would not be enough pews for all the people who had come to say goodbye to Barry Fairbrother.
His co-workers from the bank, who were grouped around the most extravagant of the Sweetlove tombs, wished that the august representative from head office would move on and take his inane small-talk and his clumsy jokes with him. Lauren, Holly and Jennifer from the rowing team had separated from their parents to huddle together in the shade of a mossy-fingered yew. Parish councillors, a motley bunch, talked solemnly in the middle of the path: a clutch of balding heads and thick-lensed glasses; a smattering of black straw hats and cultured pearls. Men from the squash and golf clubs hailed each other in subdued fashion; old friends from university recognized each other from afar and edged together; and in between milled what seemed to be most of Pagford, in their smartest and most sombre-hued clothes. The air droned with quiet conversations; faces flickered, watching and waiting.
Tessa Wall’s best coat, which was of grey wool, was cut so tightly around the armholes that she could not raise her arms above chest height. Standing beside her son on one side of the church path, she was exchanging sad little smiles and waves with acquaintances, while continuing to argue with Fats through lips she was trying not to move too obviously.
‘For God’s sake, Stu. He was your father’s best friend. Just this once, show some consideration.’
‘No one told me it was going to go on this bloody long. You told me it’d be over by half-past eleven.’
‘Don’t swear. I said we’d leave St Michael’s at about half-past eleven—’
‘—so I thought it’d be over, didn’t I? So I arranged to meet Arf.’
‘But you’ve got to come to the burial, your father’s a pall-bearer! Ring Arf and tell him it’ll have to be tomorrow instead.’
‘He can’t do tomorrow. Anyway, I haven’t got my mobile on me. Cubby told me not to bring it to church.’
‘Don’t call your father Cubby! You can ring Arf on mine,’ said Tessa, burrowing in her pocket.
‘I don’t know his number by heart,’ lied Fats coldly.
She and Colin had eaten dinner without Fats the previous evening, because he had cycled up to Andrew’s place, where they were working on their English project together. That, at any rate, was the story Fats had given his mother, and Tessa had pretended to believe it. It suited her too well to have Fats out of the way, incapable of upsetting Colin.
At least he was wearing the new suit that Tessa had bought for him in Yarvil. She had lost her temper at him in the third shop, because he had looked like a scarecrow in everything he had tried on, gawky and graceless, and she had thought angrily that he was doing it on purpose; that he could have inflated the suit with a sense of fitness if he chose.
‘Shh!’ said Tessa pre-emptively. Fats was not speaking, but Colin was approaching them, leading the Jawandas; he seemed, in his overwrought state, to be confusing the role of pall-bearer with that of usher; hovering by the gates, welcoming people. Parminder looked grim and gaunt in her sari, with her children trailing behind her; Vikram, in his dark suit, looked like a film star.
A few yards from the church doors, Samantha Mollison was waiting beside her husband, looking up at the bright off-white sky and musing on all the wasted sunshine beating down on top of the high ceiling of cloud. She was refusing to be dislodged from the hard-surfaced path, no matter how many old ladies had to cool their ankles in the grass; her patent-leather high heels might sink into the soft earth, and become dirty and clogged.
When acquaintances hailed them, Miles and Samantha responded pleasantly, but they were not speaking to each other. They had had a row the previous evening. A few people had asked after Lexie and Libby, who usually came home at weekends, but both girls were staying over at friends’ houses. Samantha knew that Miles regretted their absence; he loved playing paterfamilias in public. Perhaps, she thought, with a most pleasurable leap of fury, he would ask her and the girls to pose with him for a picture on his election leaflets. She would enjoy telling him what she thought of that idea.
She could tell that he was surprised by the turnout. No doubt he was regretting that he did not have a starring role in the forthcoming service; it would have been an ideal opportunity to begin a surreptitious campaign for Barry’s seat on the council with this big audience of captive voters. Samantha made a mental note to drop a sarcastic allusion to the missed opportunity when a suitable occasion arose.
‘Gavin!’ called Miles, at the sight of a familiar, fair and narrow head.
‘Oh, hi, Miles. Hi, Sam.’
Gavin’s new black tie shone against his white shirt. There were violet bags under his light eyes. Samantha leaned in on tiptoes, so that he could not decently avoid kissing her on the cheek and inhaling her musky perfume.
‘Big turnout, isn’t it?’ Gavin said, gazing around.
‘Gavin’s a pall-bearer,’ Miles told his wife, in precisely the way that he would have announced that a small and unpromising child had been awarded a book token for effort. In truth, he had been a little surprised when Gavin had told him he had been accorded this honour. Miles had vaguely imagined that he and Samantha would be privileged guests, surrounded by a certain aura of mystery and importance, having been at the deathbed. It might have been a nice gesture if Mary, or somebody close to Mary, had asked him, Miles, to read a lesson, or say a few words to acknowledge the important part he had played in Barry’s final moments.
Samantha was deliberately unsurprised that Gavin had been singled out.
‘You and Barry were quite close, weren’t you, Gav?’
Gavin nodded. He felt jittery and a little sick. He had had a very bad night’s sleep, waking in the early hours from horrible dreams in which, first, he had dropped the coffin, so that Barry’s body spilt out onto the church floor; and, secondly, he had overslept, missed the funeral, and arrived at St Michael and All Saints to find Mary alone in the graveyard, white-faced and furious, screaming at him that he had ruined the whole thing.
‘I’m not sure where I ought to be,’ he said, looking around. ‘I’ve never done this before.’
‘Nothing to it, mate,’ said Miles. ‘There’s only one requirement, really. Don’t drop anything, hehehe.’
Miles’ girlish laugh contrasted oddly with his deep speaking voice. Neither Gavin nor Samantha smiled.
Colin Wall loomed out of the mass of bodies. Big and awkward-looking, with his high, knobbly forehead, he always made Samantha think of Frankenstein’s monster.
‘Gavin,’ he said. ‘There you are. I think we should probably stand out on the pavement, they’ll be here in a few minutes.’
‘Right-ho,’ said Gavin, relieved to be ordered around.
‘Colin,’ said Miles, with a nod.
‘Yes, hello,’ said Colin, flustered, before turning away and forcing his way back through the mass of mourners.
Then came another small flurry of movement, and Samantha heard Howard’s loud voice: ‘Excuse me … so sorry … trying to join our family …’ The crowd parted to avoid his belly, and Howard was revealed, immense in a velvet-faced overcoat. Shirley and Maureen bobbed in his wake, Shirley neat and composed in navy blue, Maureen scrawny as a carrion bird, in a hat with a small black veil.
‘Hello, hello,’ said Howard, kissing Samantha firmly on both cheeks. ‘And how’s Sammy?’
Her answer was swallowed up in a widespread, awkward shuffling, as everybody began retreating backwards off the path: there was a certain discreet jockeying for position; nobody wanted to relinquish their claim to a place near the church entrance. With this cleaving in two of the crowd, familiar individuals were revealed like separate pips along the break. Samantha spotted the Jawandas: coffee-brown faces among all the whey; Vikram, absurdly handsome in his dark suit; Parminder dressed in a sari (why did she do it? Didn’t she know she was playing right into the likes of Howard and Shirley’s hands?) and beside her, dumpy little Tessa Wall in a grey coat, which was straining at the buttons.
Mary Fairbrother and the children were walking slowly up the path to the church. Mary was terribly pale, and appeared pounds thinner. Could she have lost so much weight in six days? She was holding one of the twins’ hands, with her other arm around the shoulders of her younger son, and the eldest, Fergus, marching behind. She walked with her eyes fixed straight ahead, her soft mouth pursed tight. Other family members followed Mary and the children; the procession moved over the threshold and was swallowed up in the dingy interior of the church.
Everyone else moved towards the doors at once, which resulted in an undignified jam. The Mollisons found themselves shunted together with the Jawandas.
‘After you, Mr Jawanda, sir, after you …’ boomed Howard, holding out an arm to let the surgeon walk in first. But Howard made sure to use his bulk to prevent anybody else taking precedence over him, and followed Vikram immediately through the entrance, leaving their families to follow on.
A royal-blue carpet ran the length of the aisle of St Michael and All Saints. Golden stars glimmered on the vaulted ceiling; brass plaques reflected the glow of the hanging lamps. The stained-glass windows were elaborate and gorgeously hued. Halfway down the nave, on the epistle side, St Michael himself stared down from the largest window, clad in silver armour. Sky-blue wings curved out of his shoulders; in one hand he held aloft a sword, in the other, a pair of golden scales. A sandalled foot rested on the back of a writhing bat-winged Satan, who was dark grey in colour and attempting to raise himself. The saint’s expression was serene.
Howard stopped level with St Michael and indicated that his party should file into the pew on the left; Vikram turned right into the opposite one. While the remaining Mollisons, and Maureen, filed past him into the pew, Howard remained planted on the royal-blue carpet, and addressed Parminder as she passed him.
‘Dreadful, this. Barry. Awful shock.’
‘Yes,’ she said, loathing him.
‘I always think those frocks look comfy; are they?’ he added, nodding at her sari.
She did not answer, but took her place beside Jaswant. Howard sat down too, making of himself a prodigious plug at the end of the pew that would seal it off to newcomers.
Shirley’s eyes were fixed respectfully on her knees, and her hands were clasped, apparently in prayer, but she was really mulling over Howard and Parminder’s little exchange about the sari. Shirley belonged to a section of Pagford that quietly lamented the fact that the Old Vicarage, which had been built long ago to house a High Church vicar with mutton-chop whiskers and a starched-aproned staff, was now home to a family of Hindus (Shirley had never quite grasped what religion the Jawandas were). She thought that if she and Howard went to the temple, or the mosque, or wherever it was the Jawandas worshipped, they would doubtless be required to cover their heads and remove their shoes and who knew what else, otherwise there would be outcry. Yet it was acceptable for Parminder to flaunt her sari in church. It was not as though Parminder did not have normal clothes, for she wore them to work every day. The double standard of it all was what rankled; not a thought for the disrespect it showed to their religion, and, by extension, to Barry Fairbrother himself, of whom she was supposed to have been so fond.
Shirley unclasped her hands, raised her head, and gave her attention over to the outfits of people who were passing, and of the size and number of Barry’s floral tributes. Some of these had been heaped up against the communion rail. Shirley spotted the offering from the council, for which she and Howard had organized the collection. It was a large, round traditional wreath of white and blue flowers, which were the colours of Pagford’s arms. Their flowers and all the other wreaths were overshadowed by the life-sized oar, made of bronze chrysanthemums, which the girls’ rowing team had given.
Sukhvinder turned in her pew to look for Lauren, whose florist mother had made the oar; she wanted to mime that she had seen it and liked it, but the crowd was dense and she could not spot Lauren anywhere. Sukhvinder was mournfully proud that they had done it, especially when she saw that people were pointing it out to each other as they settled themselves in their seats. Five of the eight girls on the team had stumped up money for the oar. Lauren had told Sukhvinder how she had tracked down Krystal Weedon at lunchtime, and exposed herself to the piss-taking of Krystal’s friends, who were sitting smoking on a low wall by the newsagent’s. Lauren had asked Krystal if she wanted to chip in. ‘Yeah, I will, all righ’,’ Krystal had said; but she had not, so her name was not on the card. Nor, as far as Sukhvinder could see, had Krystal come to the funeral.
Sukhvinder’s insides were like lead, but the ache of her left forearm coupled with the sharp twinges of pain when she moved it was a counter-irritant, and at least Fats Wall, glowering in his black suit, was nowhere near her. He had not made eye contact with her when their two families had met, briefly, in the churchyard; he was restrained by the presence of their parents, as he was sometimes restrained by the presence of Andrew Price.
Late the previous evening, her anonymous cyber-torturer had sent her a black and white picture of a naked Victorian child, covered in soft dark hair. She had seen it and deleted it while dressing for the funeral.
When had she last been happy? She knew that in a different life, long before anyone had grunted at her, she had sat in this church, and been quite content for years; she had sung hymns with gusto at Christmas, Easter and Harvest Festival. She had always liked St Michael, with his pretty, feminine, Pre-Raphaelite face, his curly golden hair … but this morning, for the first time, she saw him differently, with his foot resting almost casually on that writhing dark devil; she found his untroubled expression sinister and arrogant.
The pews were packed. Muffled clunks, echoing footsteps and quiet rustlings animated the dusty air as the unlucky ones continued to file in at the back of the church and took up standing room along the left-hand wall. Some hopeful souls tiptoed down the aisle in case of an overlooked place in the crammed pews. Howard remained immovable and firm, until Shirley tapped his shoulder and whispered, ‘Aubrey and Julia!’
At which Howard turned massively, and waved the service sheet to attract the Fawleys’ attention. They came briskly down the carpeted aisle: Aubrey, tall, thin and balding in his dark suit, Julia with her light-red hair pulled back into a chignon. They smiled their thanks as Howard moved along, shunting the others up, making sure that the Fawleys had plenty of room.
Samantha was jammed so tightly between Miles and Maureen that she could feel Maureen’s sharp hip joint pressing into her flesh on one side and the keys in Miles’ pocket on the other. Furious, she attempted to secure herself a centimetre or so more room, but neither Miles nor Maureen had anywhere else to go, so she stared straight ahead, and turned her thoughts vengefully to Vikram, who had lost none of his appeal in the month or so since she had last seen him. He was so conspicuously, irrefutably good-looking, it was silly; it made you want to laugh. With his long legs and his broad shoulders, and the flatness of his belly where his shirt tucked into his trousers, and those dark eyes with the thick black lashes, he looked like a god compared to other Pagford men, who were so slack and pallid and porky. As Miles leaned forward to exchange whispered pleasantries with Julia Fawley, his keys ground painfully into Samantha’s upper thigh, and she imagined Vikram ripping open the navy wrap dress she was wearing, and in her fantasy she had omitted to put on the matching camisole that concealed her deep canyon of cleavage …
The organ stops creaked and silence fell, except for a soft persistent rustle. Heads turned: the coffin was coming up the aisle.
The pall-bearers were almost comically mismatched: Barry’s brothers were both five foot six, and Colin Wall, at the rear, six foot two, so that the back end of the coffin was considerably higher than the front. The coffin itself was not made of polished mahogany, but of wickerwork.
It’s a bloody picnic basket! thought Howard, outraged.
Looks of surprise flitted across many faces as the willow box passed them, but some had known all about the coffin in advance. Mary had told Tessa (who had told Parminder) how the choice of material had been made by Fergus, Barry’s eldest son, who wanted willow because it was a sustainable, quick-growing material and therefore environmentally friendly. Fergus was a passionate enthusiast for all things green and ecologically sound.
Parminder liked the willow coffin better, much better, than the stout wooden box in which most English disposed of their dead. Her grandmother had always had a superstitious fear of the soul being trapped inside something heavy and solid, deploring the way that British undertakers nailed down the lids. The pall-bearers lowered the coffin onto the brocade-draped bier and retreated: Barry’s son, brothers and brother-in-law edged into the front pews, and Colin walked jerkily back to join his family.
For two quaking seconds Gavin hesitated. Parminder could tell that he was unsure of where to go, his only option to walk back down the aisle under the eyes of three hundred people. But Mary must have made a sign to him, because he ducked, blushing furiously, into the front pew beside Barry’s mother. Parminder had only ever spoken to Gavin when she had tested and treated him for chlamydia. He had never met her gaze again.
‘I am the resurrection and the life, saith the Lord; he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die …’
The vicar did not sound as if he were thinking about the sense of the words issuing from his mouth, but only about his own delivery, which was sing-song and rhythmic. Parminder was familiar with his style; she had attended carol services for years with all the other St Thomas’s parents. Long acquaintance had not reconciled her to the white-faced warrior saint staring down at her, nor all the dark wood, the hard pews, the alien altar with its jewelled golden cross, nor the dirgey hymns, which she found chilly and unsettling.
So she withdrew her attention from the self-conscious drone of the vicar and thought again of her father. She had seen him out of the kitchen window, flat on his face, while her radio continued to blare from on top of the rabbit hutch. He had been lying there for two hours while she, her mother and her sisters had been browsing in Topshop. She could still feel her father’s shoulder beneath his hot shirt as she had shaken it. ‘Dadiii. Dadiiiii.’
They had scattered Darshan’s ashes in the sad little River Rea in Birmingham. Parminder could remember the dull clay look of its surface, on an overcast day in June, and the stream of tiny white and grey flakes floating away from her.
The organ clunked and wheezed into life, and she got to her feet with everybody else. She caught a glimpse of the backs of Niamh and Siobhan’s red-gold heads; they were exactly the age she had been when Darshan had been taken from them. Parminder experienced a rush of tenderness, and an awful ache, and a confused desire to hold them and to tell them that she knew, she knew, she understood …
Morning has broken, like the first morning …
Gavin could hear a shrill treble from along the row: Barry’s younger son’s voice had not yet broken. He knew that Declan had chosen the hymn. That was another of the ghastly details of the service that Mary had chosen to share with him.
He was finding the funeral an even worse ordeal than he had expected. He thought it might have been better with a wooden coffin; he had had an awful, visceral awareness of Barry’s body inside that light wickerwork case; the physical weight of him was shocking. All those complacently staring people, as he walked up the aisle; did they not understand what he was actually carrying?
Then had come the ghastly moment when he had realized that nobody had saved him a place, and that he would have to walk all the way back again while everybody stared, and hide among the standees at the back … but instead he had been forced to sit in the first pew, horribly exposed. It was like being in the front seat of a rollercoaster, bearing the brunt of every awful twist and lurch.
Sitting there, mere feet from Siobhan’s sunflower, its head as big as a saucepan lid, in the middle of a big burst of yellow freesias and daylilies, he actually wished that Kay had come with him; he could not believe it, but there it was. He would have been consoled by the presence of somebody who was on his side; somebody simply to keep him a seat. He had not considered what a sad bastard he might look, turning up alone.
The hymn ended. Barry’s older brother walked to the front to speak. Gavin did not know how he could bear to do it, with Barry’s corpse lying right in front of him beneath the sunflower (grown from seed, over months); nor how Mary could sit so quietly, with her head bowed, apparently looking at the hands clasped in her lap. Gavin tried, actively, to provide his own interior interference, so as to dilute the impact of the eulogy.
He’s going to tell the story about Barry meeting Mary, once he’s got past this kid stuff … happy childhood, high jinks, yeah, yeah … Come on, move it along …
They would have to put Barry back in the car, and drive all the way to Yarvil to bury him in the cemetery there, because the tiny graveyard of St Michael and All Saints had been declared full twenty years previously. Gavin imagined lowering the wickerwork coffin into the grave under the eyes of this crowd. Carrying it in and out of the church would be nothing compared to that …
One of the twins was crying. Out of the corner of his eye, Gavin saw Mary reach out a hand to hold her daughter’s.
Let’s get on with it, for fuck’s sake. Please.
‘I think it’s fair to say that Barry always knew his own mind,’ Barry’s brother was saying hoarsely. He had got a few laughs with tales of Barry’s scrapes in childhood. The strain in his voice was palpable. ‘He was twenty-four when we went off on my stag weekend to Liverpool. First night there, we leave the campsite and go off to the pub, and there behind the bar is the landlord’s student daughter, a beautiful blonde, helping out on a Saturday night. Barry spent the whole night propping up the bar, chatting her up, getting her into trouble with her dad and pretending he didn’t know who the rowdy lot in the corner were.’
A weak laugh. Mary’s head was drooping; both hands were clutching those of the child on either side.
‘He told me that night, back in the tent, that he was going to marry her. I thought, Hang on, I’m the one who’s supposed to be drunk.’ Another little titter. ‘Baz made us go back to the same pub the next night. When we got home, the first thing he did was buy her a postcard and send it to her, telling her he’d be back next weekend. They were married a year to the day after they met, and I think everyone who knew them would agree that Barry knew a good thing when he saw it. They went on to have four beautiful children, Fergus, Niamh, Siobhan and Declan …’
Gavin breathed carefully in and out, in and out, trying not to listen, and wondering what on earth his own brother would find to say about him under the same circumstances. He had not had Barry’s luck; his romantic life did not make a pretty story. He had never walked into a pub and found the perfect wife standing there, blonde, smiling and ready to serve him a pint. No, he had had Lisa, who had never seemed to think him up to scratch; seven years of escalating warfare had culminated in a dose of the clap; and then, with barely a break, there had been Kay, clinging to him like an aggressive and threatening barnacle …
But, all the same, he would ring her later, because he didn’t think he would be able to stand going back to his empty cottage after this. He would be honest, and tell her how horrible and stressful the funeral had been, and that he wished she had come with him. That would surely deflect any lingering umbrage about their row. He did not want to be alone tonight.
Two pews back, Colin Wall was sobbing, with small but audible gasps, into a large, wet handkerchief. Tessa’s hand rested on his thigh, exerting gentle pressure. She was thinking about Barry; about how she had relied upon him to help her with Colin; of the consolation of shared laughter; of Barry’s boundless generosity of spirit. She could see him clearly, short and ruddy, jiving with Parminder at their last party; imitating Howard Mollison’s strictures on the Fields; advising Colin tactfully, as only he could have done, to accept Fats’ behaviour as adolescent, rather than sociopathic.
Tessa was scared of what the loss of Barry Fairbrother would mean to the man beside her; scared of how they would manage to accommodate this huge ragged absence; scared that Colin had made a vow to the dead that he could not keep, and that he did not realize how little Mary, to whom he kept wanting to talk, liked him. And through all Tessa’s anxiety and sorrow was threaded the usual worry, like an itchy little worm: Fats, and how she was going to avert an explosion, how she would make him come with them to the burial, or how she might hide from Colin that he had not come – which might, after all, be easier.
‘We are going to finish today’s service with a song chosen by Barry’s daughters, Niamh and Siobhan, which meant a lot to them and their father,’ said the vicar. He managed, by his tone, to disassociate himself personally from what was about to happen.
The beat of the drum rang so loudly through hidden speakers that the congregation jumped. A loud American voice was saying ‘uh huh, uh huh’ and Jay-Z rapped:
Good girl gone bad –
Take three –
No clouds in my storms …
Let it rain, I hydroplane into fame
Comin’ down with the Dow Jones …
Some people thought that it was a mistake: Howard and Shirley threw outraged glances at each other, but nobody pressed stop, or ran up the aisle apologizing. Then a powerful, sexy female voice started to sing:
You had my heart
And we’ll never be worlds apart
Maybe in magazines
But you’ll still be my star …
The pall-bearers were carrying the wicker coffin back down the aisle, and Mary and the children were following.
… Now that it’s raining more than ever
Know that we’ll still have each other
You can stand under my umbuh-rella
You can stand under my umbuh-rella
The congregation filed slowly out of the church, trying not to walk in time to the beat of the song.
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