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The Casual Vacancy, Page 48

J. K. Rowling

Part Five Chapter X



  Gavin was wearing sunglasses against the glare of the morning sun, but that was no disguise: Samantha Mollison was sure to recognize his car. When he caught sight of her, striding along the pavement alone with her hands in her pockets and her head down, Gavin made a sharp left turn, and instead of continuing along the road to Mary's, crossed the old stone bridge, and parked up a side lane on the other side of the river.

  He did not want Samantha to see him parking outside Mary's house. It did not matter on work days, when he wore a suit and carried a briefcase; it had not mattered before he had admitted to himself what he felt about Mary, but it mattered now. In any case, the morning was glorious and a walk bought him time.

  Still keeping my options open, he thought, as he crossed the bridge on foot. There was a small boy sitting by himself on a bench, eating sweets, below him. I don't have to say anything . . . I'll play it by ear . . .

  But his palms were wet. The thought of Gaia telling the Fairbrother twins that he was in love with their mother had haunted him all through a restless night.

  Mary seemed pleased to see him.

  'Where's your car?' she asked, peering over his shoulder.

  'Parked it down by the river,' he said. 'Lovely morning. I fancied a walk, and then it occurred to me that I could mow the lawn if you - '

  'Oh, Graham did it for me,' she said, 'but that's so sweet of you. Come in and have a coffee. '

  She chatted as she moved around the kitchen. She was wearing old cut-off jeans and a T-shirt; they showed how thin she was, but her hair was shiny again, the way he usually thought of it. He could see the twin girls, lying out on the freshly mown lawn on a blanket, both with headphones in, listening to their iPods.

  'How are you?' Mary asked, sitting down beside him.

  He could not think why she sounded so concerned; then he remembered that he had found time to tell her, yesterday, during his brief visit, that he and Kay had split up.

  'I'm OK,' he said. 'Probably for the best. '

  She smiled and patted his arm.

  'I heard last night,' he said, his mouth a little dry, 'that you might be moving. '

  'News travels fast in Pagford,' she said. 'It's just an idea. Theresa wants me to move back to Liverpool. '

  'And how do the kids feel about that?'

  'Well, I'd wait for the girls and Fergus to do their exams in June. Declan's not so much of a problem. I mean, none of us wants to leave . . . '

  She melted into tears in front of him, but he was so happy that he reached out to touch her delicate wrist.

  'Of course you don't . . . '

  '. . . Barry's grave. '

  'Ah,' said Gavin, his happiness snuffed out like a candle.

  Mary wiped her streaming eyes on the back of her hand. Gavin found her a little morbid. His family cremated their dead. Barry's burial had only been the second he had ever attended, and he had hated everything about it. Gavin saw a grave purely as a marker for the place where a corpse was decomposing; a nasty thought, yet people took it into their heads to visit and bring flowers, as though it might yet recover.

  She had got up to get tissues. Outside on the lawn, the twins had switched to sharing a set of headphones, their heads bobbing up and down in time to the same song.

  'So Miles got Barry's seat,' she said. 'I could hear the celebrations all the way up here last night. '

  'Well, it was Howard's . . . yeah, that's right,' said Gavin.

  'And Pagford's nearly rid of the Fields,' she said.

  'Yeah, looks like it. '

  'And now Miles is on the council, it'll be easier to close Bellchapel,' she said.

  Gavin always had to remind himself what Bellchapel was; he had no interest in these issues at all.

  'Yeah, I suppose so. '

  'So everything Barry wanted is finished,' she said.

  Her tears had dried up, and the patches of high angry colour had returned to her cheeks.

  'I know,' he said. 'It's really sad. '

  'I don't know,' she said, still flushed and angry. 'Why should Pagford pick up the bills for the Fields? Barry only ever saw one side of it. He thought everyone in the Fields was like him. He thought Krystal Weedon was like him, but she wasn't. It never occurred to him that people in the Fields might be happy where they are. '

  'Yeah,' said Gavin, overjoyed that she disagreed with Barry, and feeling as if the shadow of his grave had lifted from between them, 'I know what you mean. From all I've heard about Krystal Weedon - '

  'She got more of his time and his attention than his own daughters,' said Mary. 'And she never even gave a penny for his wreath. The girls told me. The whole rowing team chipped in, except Krystal. And she didn't come to his funeral, even, after all he'd done for her. '

  'Yeah, well, that shows - '

  'I'm sorry, but I can't stop thinking about it all,' she said frenetically. 'I can't stop thinking that he'd still want me to worry about bloody Krystal Weedon. I can't get past it. All the last day of his life, and he had a headache and he didn't do anything about it, writing that bloody article!'

  'I know,' said Gavin. 'I know. I think,' he said, with a sense of putting his foot tentatively on an old rope bridge, 'it's a bloke thing. Miles is the same. Samantha didn't want him to stand for the council, but he went ahead anyway. You know, some men really like a bit of power - '

  'Barry wasn't in it for power,' said Mary, and Gavin hastily retreated.

  'No, no, Barry wasn't. He was in it for - '

  'He couldn't help himself,' she said. 'He thought everyone was like him, that if you gave them a hand they'd start bettering themselves. '

  'Yeah,' said Gavin, 'but the point is, there are other people who could use a hand - people at home . . . '

  'Well, exactly!' said Mary, dissolving yet again into tears.

  'Mary,' said Gavin, leaving his chair, moving to her side (on the rope bridge now, with a sense of mingled panic and anticipation), 'look . . . it's really early . . . I mean, it's far too soon . . . but you'll meet someone else. '

  'At forty,' sobbed Mary, 'with four children . . . '

  'Plenty of men,' he began, but that was no good; he would rather she did not think she had too many options. 'The right man,' he corrected himself, 'won't care that you've got kids. Anyway, they're such nice kids . . . anyone would be glad to take them on. '

  'Oh, Gavin, you're so sweet,' she said, dabbing her eyes again.

  He put his arm around her, and she did not shrug it off. They stood without speaking while she blew her nose, and then he felt her tense to move away, and he said, 'Mary . . . '


  'I've got to - Mary, I think I'm in love with you. '

  He knew for a few seconds the glorious pride of the skydiver who pushes off firm floor into limitless space.

  Then she pulled away.

  'Gavin. I - '

  'I'm sorry,' he said, observing with alarm her repulsed expression. 'I wanted you to hear it from me. I told Kay that's why I wanted to split up, and I was scared you'd hear it from someone else. I wouldn't have said anything for months. Years,' he added, trying to bring back her smile and the mood in which she found him sweet.

  But Mary was shaking her head, arms folded over her thin chest.

  'Gavin, I never, ever - '

  'Forget I said anything,' he said foolishly. 'Let's just forget it. '

  'I thought you understood,' she said.

  He gathered that he should have known that she was encased in the invisible armour of grief, and that it ought to have protected her.

  'I do understand,' he lied. 'I wouldn't have told you, only - '

  'Barry always said you fancied me,' said Mary.

  'I didn't,' he said frantically.

  'Gavin, I think you're such a nice man,' she said breathlessly. 'But I don't - I mean, even if - '

  'No,' he said loudl
y, trying to drown her out. 'I understand. Listen, I'm going to go. '

  'There's no need . . . '

  But he almost hated her now. He had heard what she was trying to say: even if I weren't grieving for my husband, I wouldn't want you.

  His visit had been so brief that when Mary, slightly shaky, poured away his coffee it was still hot.