The casual vacancy, p.59
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       The Casual Vacancy, p.59

           J. K. Rowling
Part Seven Chapter 2


  'No problem,' he muttered. He was glad. He could not imagine what they had left to talk about. This way he could sit with Gaia.

  A little way down Church Row, Samantha Mollison was standing at her sitting-room window, holding a coffee and watching mourners pass her house on their way to St Michael and All Saints. When she saw Tessa Wall, and what she thought was Fats, she let out a little gasp.

  'Oh my God, he's going,' she said out loud, to nobody.

  Then she recognized Andrew, turned red, and backed hastily away from the glass.

  Samantha was supposed to be working from home. Her laptop lay open behind her on the sofa, but that morning she had put on an old black dress, half wondering whether she would attend Krystal and Robbie Weedon's funeral. She supposed that she had only a few more minutes in which to make up her mind.

  She had never spoken a kind word about Krystal Weedon, so surely it would be hypocritical to attend her funeral, purely because she had wept over the account of her death in the Yarvil and District Gazette, and because Krystal's chubby face grinned out of every one of the class photographs that Lexie had brought home from St Thomas's?

  Samantha set down her coffee, hurried to the telephone and rang Miles at work.

  'Hello, babe,' he said.

  (She had held him while he sobbed with relief beside the hospital bed, where Howard lay connected to machines, but alive. )

  'Hi,' she said. 'How are you?'

  'Not bad. Busy morning. Lovely to hear from you,' he said. 'Are you all right?'

  (They had made love the previous night, and she had not pretended that he was anybody else. )

  'The funeral's about to start,' said Samantha. 'People going by . . . '

  She had suppressed what she wanted to say for nearly three weeks, because of Howard, and the hospital, and not wanting to remind Miles of their awful row, but she could not hold it back any longer.

  '. . . Miles, I saw that boy. Robbie Weedon. I saw him, Miles. ' She was panicky, pleading. 'He was in the St Thomas's playing field when I walked across it that morning. '

  'In the playing field?'

  In the last three weeks, a desire to be absorbed in something bigger than herself had grown in Samantha. Day by day she had waited for the strange new need to subside (this is how people go religious, she thought, trying to laugh herself out of it) but it had, if anything, intensified.

  'Miles,' she said, 'you know the council . . . with your dad - and Parminder Jawanda resigning too - you'll want to co-opt a couple of people, won't you?' She knew all the terminology; she had listened to it for years. 'I mean, you won't want another election, after all this?'

  'Bloody hell, no. '

  'So Colin Wall could fill one seat,' she rushed on, 'and I was thinking, I've got time - now the business is all online - I could do the other one. '

  'You?' said Miles, astonished.

  'I'd like to get involved,' said Samantha.

  Krystal Weedon, dead at sixteen, barricaded inside the squalid little house on Foley Road . . . Samantha had not drunk a glass of wine in two weeks. She thought that she might like to hear the arguments for Bellchapel Addiction Clinic.

  The telephone was ringing in number ten Hope Street. Kay and Gaia were already late leaving for Krystal's funeral. When Gaia asked who was speaking, her lovely face hardened: she seemed much older.

  'It's Gavin,' she told her mother.

  'I didn't call him!' whispered Kay, like a nervous schoolgirl as she took the phone.

  'Hi,' said Gavin. 'How are you?'

  'On my way out to a funeral,' said Kay, with her eyes locked on her daughter's. 'The Weedon children's. So, not fabulous. '

  'Oh,' said Gavin. 'Christ, yeah. Sorry. I didn't realize. '

  He had spotted the familiar surname in a Yarvil and District Gazette headline, and, vaguely interested at last, bought a copy. It had occurred to him that he might have walked close by the place where the teenagers and the boy had been, but he had no actual memory of seeing Robbie Weedon.

  Gavin had had an odd couple of weeks. He was missing Barry badly. He did not understand himself: when he should have been mired in misery that Mary had turned him down, all he wanted was a beer with the man whose wife he had hoped to take as his own . . .

  (Muttering aloud as he had walked away from her house, he had said to himself, 'That's what you get for trying to steal your best friend's life,' and failed to notice the slip of the tongue. )

  'Listen,' he said, 'I was wondering whether you fancied a drink later?'

  Kay almost laughed.

  'Turn you down, did she?'

  She handed Gaia the phone to hang up. They hurried out of the house and half jogged to the end of the street and up through the Square. For ten strides, as they passed the Black Canon, Gaia held her mother's hand.

  They arrived as the hearses appeared at the top of the road, and hurried into the graveyard while the pall-bearers were shuffling out onto the pavement.

  ('Get away from the window,' Colin Wall commanded his son.

  But Fats, who had to live henceforth with the knowledge of his own cowardice, moved forward, trying to prove that he could, at least, take this . . .

  The coffins glided past in the big black-windowed cars: the first was bright pink, and the sight robbed him of breath, and the second was tiny and shiny white . . .

  Colin placed himself in front of Fats too late to protect him, but he drew the curtains anyway. In the gloomy, familiar sitting room, where Fats had confessed to his parents that he had exposed his father's illness to the world; where he had confessed to as much as he could think of, in the hope that they would conclude him to be mad and ill; where he had tried to heap upon himself so much blame that they would beat him or stab him or do to him all those things that he knew he deserved, Colin put a hand gently on his son's back and steered him away, towards the sunlit kitchen. )

  Outside St Michael and All Saints, the pall-bearers were readying themselves to take the coffins up the church path. Dane Tully was among them, with his earring and a self-inked tattoo of a spider's web on his neck, in a heavy black overcoat.

  The Jawandas waited with the Bawdens in the shade of the yew tree. Andrew Price hovered near them, and Tessa Wall stood at some distance, pale and stony-faced. The other mourners formed a separate phalanx around the church doors. Some had a pinched and defiant air; others looked resigned and defeated; a few wore cheap black clothes, but most were in jeans or tracksuits, and one girl was sporting a cut-off T-shirt and a belly-ring that caught the sun when she moved. The coffins moved up the path, gleaming in the bright light.

  It was Sukhvinder Jawanda who had chosen the bright pink coffin for Krystal, as she was sure she would have wanted. It was Sukhvinder who had done nearly everything; organizing, choosing and persuading. Parminder kept looking sideways at her daughter, and finding excuses to touch her: brushing her hair out of her eyes, smoothing her collar.

  Just as Robbie had come out of the river purified and regretted by Pagford, so Sukhvinder Jawanda, who had risked her life to try and save the boy, had emerged a heroine. From the article about her in the Yarvil and District Gazette to Maureen Lowe's loud proclamations that she was recommending the girl for a special police award to the speech her headmistress made about her from the lectern in assembly, Sukhvinder knew, for the first time, what it was to eclipse her brother and sister.

  She had hated every minute of it. At night, she felt again the dead boy's weight in her arms, dragging her towards the deep; she remembered the temptation to let go and save herself, and asked herself how long she would have resisted it. The deep scar on her leg itched and ached, whether moving or stationary. The news of Krystal Weedon's death had had such an alarming effect on her that her parents had arranged a counsellor, but she had not cut herself once since being pulled from the river; her near drowning seemed to have purged her of the need.

nbsp; Then, on her first day back at school, with Fats Wall still absent, and admiring stares following her down the corridors, she had heard the rumour that Terri Weedon had no money to bury her children; that there would be no stone marker, and the cheapest coffins.

  'That's very sad, Jolly,' her mother had said that evening, as the family sat eating dinner together under the wall of family photographs. Her tone was as gentle as the policewoman's had been; there was no snap in Parminder's voice any more when she spoke to her daughter.

  'I want to try and get people to give money,' said Sukhvinder.

  Parminder and Vikram glanced at each other across the kitchen table. Both were instinctively opposed to the idea of asking people in Pagford to donate to such a cause, but neither of them said so. They were a little afraid, now that they had seen her forearms, of upsetting Sukhvinder, and the shadow of the as-yet-unknown counsellor seemed to be hovering over all their interactions.

  'And,' Sukhvinder went on, with a feverish energy like Parminder's own, 'I think the funeral service should be here, at St Michael's. Like Mr Fairbrother's. Krys used to go to all the services here when we were at St Thomas's. I bet she was never in another church in her life. '

  The light of God shines from every soul, thought Parminder, and to Vikram's surprise she said abruptly, 'Yes, all right. We'll have to see what we can do. '

  The bulk of the expense had been met by the Jawandas and the Walls, but Kay Bawden, Samantha Mollison and a couple of the mothers of girls on the rowing team had donated money too. Sukhvinder then insisted on going into the Fields in person, to explain to Terri what they had done, and why; all about the rowing team, and why Krystal and Robbie should have a service at St Michael's.

  Parminder had been exceptionally worried about Sukhvinder going into the Fields, let alone that filthy house, by herself, but Sukhvinder had known that it would be all right. The Weedons and the Tullys knew that she had tried to save Robbie's life. Dane Tully had stopped grunting at her in English, and had stopped his mates from doing it too.

  Terri agreed to everything that Sukhvinder suggested. She was emaciated, dirty, monosyllabic and entirely passive. Sukhvinder had been frightened of her, with her pockmarked arms and her missing teeth; it was like talking to a corpse.

  Inside the church, the mourners divided cleanly, with the people from the Fields taking the left-hand pews, and those from Pagford, the right. Shane and Cheryl Tully marched Terri along between them to the front row; Terri, in a coat two sizes too large, seemed scarcely aware of where she was.