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The Casual Vacancy, Page 56

J. K. Rowling

Part Six Chapter III



  Andrew had refused a lift back to Hilltop House, so it was only Tessa and Fats in the car together, and Fats said, 'I don't want to go home. '

  'All right,' Tessa replied, and she drove, while talking to Colin on the telephone. 'I've got him . . . Andy found him. We'll be back in a bit . . . Yes . . . Yes, I will . . . '

  Tears were spattering down Fats' face; his body was betraying him; it was exactly like the time when hot urine had spilt down his leg into his sock, when Simon Price had made him piss himself. The hot saltiness leaked over his chin and onto his chest, pattering like drops of rain.

  He kept imagining the funeral. A tiny little coffin.

  He had not wanted to do it with the boy so near.

  Would the weight of the dead child ever lift from him?

  'So you ran away,' said Tessa coldly, over his tears.

  She had prayed that she would find him alive, but her strongest emotion was disgust. His tears did not soften her. She was used to men's tears. Part of her was ashamed that he had not, after all, thrown himself into the river.

  'Krystal told the police that you and she were in the bushes. You just left him to his own devices, did you?'

  Fats was speechless. He could not believe her cruelty. Did she not understand the desolation roaring inside him, the horror, the sense of contagion?

  'Well, I hope you have got her pregnant,' said Tessa. 'It'll give her something to live for. '

  Every time they turned a corner, he thought that she was taking him home. He had feared Cubby most, but now there was nothing to choose between his parents. He wanted to get out of the car, but she had locked all the doors.

  Without warning, she swerved and braked. Fats, clutching the sides of his seat, saw that they were in a lay-by on the Yarvil bypass. Frightened that she would order him out of the car, he turned his swollen face to her.

  'Your birth mother,' she said, looking at him as she had never done before, without pity or kindness, 'was fourteen years old. We had the impression, from what we were told, that she was middle class, quite a bright girl. She absolutely refused to say who your father was. Nobody knew whether she was trying to protect an under-age boyfriend or something worse. We were told all of this, in case you had any mental or physical difficulties. In case,' she said clearly, like a teacher trying to emphasize a point sure to come up in a test, 'you had been the result of incest. '

  He cowered away from her. He would have preferred to be shot.

  'I was desperate to adopt you,' she said. 'Desperate. But Dad was very ill. He said to me, "I can't do it. I'm scared I'll hurt a baby. I need to get better before we do this, and I can't do that and cope with a new baby as well. "

  'But I was so determined to have you,' said Tessa, 'that I pressured him into lying, and telling the social workers that he was fine, and pretending to be happy and normal. We brought you home, and you were tiny and premature, and on the fifth night we had you, Dad slipped out of bed and went to the garage, put a hosepipe on the exhaust of the car and tried to kill himself, because he was convinced he'd smothered you. And he almost died.

  'So you can blame me,' said Tessa, 'for your and Dad's bad start, and maybe you can blame me for everything that's come since. But I'll tell you this, Stuart. Your father's spent his life facing up to things he never did. I don't expect you to understand his kind of courage. But,' her voice broke at last, and he heard the mother he knew, 'he loves you, Stuart. '

  She added the lie because she could not help herself. Tonight, for the first time, Tessa was convinced that it was a lie, and also that everything she had done in her life, telling herself that it was for the best, had been no more than blind selfishness, generating confusion and mess all around. But who could bear to know which stars were already dead, she thought, blinking up at the night sky; could anybody stand to know that they all were?

  She turned the key in the ignition, crashed the gears and they pulled out again onto the bypass.

  'I don't want to go to the Fields,' said Fats in terror.

  'We're not going to the Fields,' she said. 'I'm taking you home. '