Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font  

The Casual Vacancy

J. K. Rowling

Part Three Chapter I



  7. 25 A resolution should not deal with more than one subject . . . Disregard of this rule usually leads to confused discussion and may lead to confused action . . .

  Charles Arnold-Baker

  Local Council Administration,

  Seventh Edition


  '. . . ran out of here, screaming blue murder, calling her a Paki bitch - and now the paper's called for a comment, because she's . . . '

  Parminder heard the receptionist's voice, barely louder than a whisper, as she passed the door of the staff meeting room, which was ajar. One swift light step, and Parminder had pulled it open to reveal one of the receptionists and the practice nurse in close proximity. Both jumped and spun round.

  'Doct' Jawan - '

  'You understand the confidentiality agreement you signed when you took this job, don't you, Karen?'

  The receptionist looked aghast.

  'Yeah, I - I wasn't - Laura already - I was coming to give you this note. The Yarvil and District Gazette's rang. Mrs Weedon's died and one of her granddaughters is saying - '

  'And are those for me?' asked Parminder coldly, pointing at the patient records in Karen's hand.

  'Oh - yeah,' said Karen, flustered. 'He wanted to see Dr Crawford, but - '

  'You'd better get back to the front desk. '

  Parminder took the patient records and strode back out to reception, fuming. Once there, and facing the patients, she realized that she did not know whom to call, and glanced down at the folder in her hand.

  'Mr - Mr Mollison. '

  Howard heaved himself up, smiling, and walked towards her with his familiar rocking gait. Dislike rose like bile in Parminder's throat. She turned and walked back to her surgery, Howard following her.

  'All well with Parminder?' he asked, as he closed her door and settled himself, without invitation, on the patient's chair.

  It was his habitual greeting, but today it felt like a taunt.

  'What's the problem?' she asked brusquely.

  'Bit of an irritation,' he said. 'Just here. Need a cream, or something. '

  He tugged his shirt out of his trousers and lifted it a few inches. Parminder saw an angry red patch of skin at the edge of the fold where his stomach spilt out over his upper legs.

  'You'll need to take your shirt off,' she said.

  'It's only here that's itching. '

  'I need to see the whole area. '

  He sighed and got to his feet. As he unbuttoned his shirt he said, 'Did you get the agenda I sent through this morning?'

  'No, I haven't checked emails today. '

  This was a lie. Parminder had read his agenda and was furious about it, but this was not the moment to tell him so. She resented his trying to bring council business into her surgery, his way of reminding her that there was a place where she was his subordinate, even if here, in this room, she could order him to strip.

  'Could you, please - I need to look under . . . '

  He hoisted the great apron of flesh upwards; the upper legs of his trousers were revealed, and finally the waistband. With his arms full of his own fat he smiled down at her. She drew her chair nearer, her head level with his belt.

  An ugly scaly rash had spread in the hidden crease of Howard's belly: a bright scalded red, it stretched from one side to the other of his torso like a huge, smeared smile. A whiff of rotting meat reached her nostrils.

  'Intertrigo,' she said, 'and lichen simplex there, where you've scratched. All right, you can put your shirt back on. '

  He dropped his belly and reached for his shirt, unfazed.

  'You'll see I've put the Bellchapel building on the agenda. It's generating a bit of press interest at the moment. '

  She was tapping something into the computer, and did not reply.

  'Yarvil and District Gazette,' Howard said. 'I'm doing them an article. Both sides,' he said, buttoning up his shirt, 'of the question. '

  She was trying not to listen to him, but the sound of the newspaper's name caused the knot in her stomach to tighten.

  'When did you last have your blood pressure done, Howard? I'm not seeing a test in the last six months. '

  'It'll be fine. I'm on medication for it. '

  'We should check, though. As you're here. '

  He sighed again, and laboriously rolled up his sleeve.

  'They'll be printing Barry's article before mine,' he said. 'You know he sent them an article? About the Fields?'

  'Yes,' she said, against her own better judgement.

  'Haven't got a copy, have you? So I don't duplicate anything he's said?'

  Her fingers trembled a little on the cuff. It would not meet around Howard's arm. She unfastened it and got up to fetch a bigger one.

  'No,' she said, her back to him. 'I never saw it. '

  He watched her work the pump, and observed the pressure dial with the indulgent smile of a man observing some pagan ritual.

  'Too high,' she told him, as the needle registered one hundred and seventy over a hundred.

  'I'm on pills for it,' he said, scratching where the cuff had been, and letting down his sleeve. 'Dr Crawford seems happy. '

  She scanned the list of his medications onscreen.

  'You're on amlodipine and bendroflumethiazide for your blood pressure, yes? And simvastatin for your heart . . . no beta-blocker . . . '

  'Because of my asthma,' said Howard, tweaking his sleeve straight.

  '. . . right . . . and aspirin. ' She turned to face him. 'Howard, your weight is the single biggest factor in all of your health problems. Have you ever been referred to the nutritionist?'

  'I've run a deli for thirty-five years,' he said, still smiling. 'I don't need teaching about food. '

  'A few lifestyle changes could make a big difference. If you were able to lose . . . '

  With the ghost of a wink, he said comfortably, 'Keep it simple. All I need is cream for the itch. '

  Venting her temper on the keyboard, Parminder banged out prescriptions for anti-fungal and steroid creams, and when they were printed, handed them to Howard without another word.

  'Thank you kindly,' he said, as he heaved himself out of the chair, 'and a very good day to you. '