Kayleigh Was Not Sad
Kayleigh was not sad. She walked along the secluded country lane, the rhythmic clicks of her heels masked by the roar of the summer rain crashing down around her. Black tarmac yielded to the slick reflection of an overcast sky, becoming as grey as her mood. But she was not sad. The trees that had shaded her in the harsh sun of the heatwave two weeks prior now offered little protection. Water ran as easily through the leaves as through a shower head and with just as much force. The rain stung her cheeks, and nose and ears, painting them red, contrasting the pale ice of the skin she hid under several layers of sodden clothes. It flowed from her crown, using her hair the same way she used the hard surface of the road on which she walked, avoiding the forehead, turning off at the cheekbone and skirting underneath her eyes - as red as they were blue. Mascara and eye liner joined the thoroughfare down her cheeks before leaping from her chin to the cold, unforgiving ground below. She appeared as though she had been crying, but she had not, for Kayleigh was not sad. There were no tears left to shed, so few, in fact, that the caress of rain brought relief to her tired, parched eyes. Kayleigh could not remember the last time she had been able to cry. She felt like she should cry, she could feel something welling up behind those sore, too-old eyes, but if they were tears they did not come. She tilted her head skyward, hoping the water could wash away the fog that been clogging her eyes, her head and her heart. It didn't. The endless expanse of dark grey above spread through her thoughts, compacting the cotton wool in her veins, clogging every last hidden corner of light with thick, heavy cloud. She did not want her legs to move, but she did not want to stop them either. She walked on, legs pulling her towards an inevitable meeting. Kayleigh was not sad. She was not happy either.
- - -
Toby was not happy. He was having a bad day working on the tills in his local supermarket. He had been late to work because his cheap, going on two decades old, car was refusing to start on the first, or even third try. There was no milk at home for his morning cereal or, even worse, his coffee, which had put him in a bad mood from the start anyway. When he got to work, he had to endure a fifteen minute lecture from his line manager about the virtues of punctuality. Toby was keen to tell his manager that if he hadn't spent fifteen whole minutes of his life telling Toby off, Toby would have started work fifteen minutes ago, and would have been ten minutes late not twenty five. He was keen to tell his manager that, but he didn't. He needed the job, and holding onto that frustration didn't help his already dire mood.
It seemed to Toby that every single customer that unloaded their shopping onto the rubbery black conveyor was out to piss him off further. They scowled, they gossiped on the phone and ignored him, they threw change all over the counter, or merely packed excruciatingly slowly and refused to let him help. Some smelt awful, and it was a smell that lingered long after the unfortunate producer of the scent was long gone. One old lady yelled at Toby when one of her litre bottles of value vodka toppled off her basket as she was dumping it in front of him, smashing to smithereens and sending glass careening in every direction. At least someone else had to clean it up, but even that annoyed Toby. They didn't do a very good job and he had to deal with sticky patches for the rest of the day. His break didn't come soon enough and when it did, it went far too quickly and he was back at his till again smelling of alcohol and sweat and dissatisfaction. Not one customer said please or thank you for the next four hours. Most barely said one word to Toby, but even more annoyingly, some didn't know when to shut up and leave him to seethe in peace. Worse still were his co-workers who insisted on making banal chit-chat about nothing at all, their vapid expressions the only thing he had to look at in the brief moments before another whining member of the public arrived to disturb him further. Screaming kids running amok and screaming mothers failing to stop them passed through, followed by under age drinkers who 'forgot' their I.D.s and lads coming in to buy pisswater and titty magazines. Toby held such disdain for them all. Toby was not happy. He had no smiles for the people who came to pay that day. He said no thank yous, or sorrys or have-a-nice-days. He was having a bad day, and everyone else was going to as well.
He picked up some milk for cereal and coffee on his way out when the day finally had the decency to end. The first four-pint he grabbed squirted vaguely refrigerated liquid down his shirt. He stood there for a moment, watching it pool around his feet and fought the urge to squeeze every last drop from the damaged bottle, as if wringing the neck of his manager or any of the day's customers. He put it back for someone else to deal with and found a sealed carton before heading out of the shop and into the car park. As soon as his body left the cover of the building's overhanging roof, the heavens opened and the rain came down upon him. Fucking typical, Toby thought as he ran towards his beaten up old Vauxhall. An umbrella perched uselessly on the passenger seat as he fumbled to unlock the car door. Steam emanated from his warm body, but the heat of his anger did not cool. Toby was not happy. Then again, he was not sad either.
- - -
Kayleigh was not happy. Nor sad. Nor angry. Kayleigh was Nothing. Her friends didn't understand, they thought she was sad. They thought she was always sad. That made them annoyed and then angry and then not her friends anymore. Kayleigh, stood by and let them alienate her one by one, for it would be easier that way. Without friends, they would stop inviting her to go out and socialise. It was getting too hard for Kayleigh to pretend that she was enjoying herself, or interested in who Becky was dating now, or whether Greg would finally propose to his girlfriend of six years, or whether Sandra should go for that new job in the city. She didn't hate her friends, she loved them, but she'd had enough of her grim outlook bringing down the group. She was dead weight. Cement shoes. And to her mind, they had told her as much, if not explicitly. Kayleigh knew in her clogged up heart that her friends didn't want her around, so she stopped replying to them. She ignored their calls and texts and she didn't 'like' their instagram posts or open their snapchats. Work had stopped calling after her fourth unexplained absence and she interacted with her family as little as possible, despite still living with her parents. She hid in her room and slept the days through and was sure her mother thought her only child was simply being a teenager, it was mood swings and hormones, and she would be back to her normal chipper self in no time. Kayleigh couldn't see that happening, she didn't know what chipper was anymore, for she was not sad, she was grey. Where happy had been there was now Nothing. She was full to the brim of Nothing and still Nothing was expanding inside her. Her legs continued to move her through the rain towards more Nothing. Towards the bridge.
- - -
Toby sped through towards home, driving himself around bend after bend, in his head, and along the river of the road. His wipers swished back and forth, angrily slicing through the water like a scythe through wheat. The news on the radio did not make Toby happy. More war and politics, enough to make the most placid of individuals scream in outrage. Toby was not placid, Toby was livid. Drivers driving under the speed limit were too slow for Toby. As were drivers driving the speed limit. Or indeed, over the speed limit. All drivers fuelled Toby's unhappiness. Each one, another pinprick under his boiling skin. He swerved around an old man going thirty miles an hour along a straight road and narrowly skidded back in time to avoid someone else going sixty in the opposite direction. Then, a tractor pulled out in front of him and Toby was forced to slow down for a matter of moments before accelerating off into the distance again. He just wanted to get home, for this day to end. Toby was not sad and he was not Nothing. Toby was a ball of raging fire that was almost home, once he had crossed the bridge it was only a mile or so before the turn off to his one bedroom flat.
- - -
To someone else's eyes, the bridge would have been beautiful even in the rain, looking out as it did onto a wide wooded valley, but to Kayleigh it was obscured by mist, as grey as everything else. A faint memory of enjoying the view attempted to push through the fog, but she stamped it out into the mud beneath her feet. The stream below the ancient stone bridge had become a torrent, rushing between rocks that normally lay meters from the water's edge. As she neared, cars flew passed her faster than they ought to, muddy spray spitting across her. She barely noticed. The cars and their occupants were miles away. Distant noise. She ignored them and they ignored her as she plodded her last few footsteps. She hadn't made a decision, she no longer had agency over her legs, over her body or over her mind. It did. The all consuming fog that swallowed her up and stole her away until she was Nothing. It was going to kill her and she couldn't try to stop it.
Her legs finally ceased their pull towards the edge. She turned and looked out over the valley below. Kayleigh did not notice the car slowing behind her.
- - -
Toby was furious with the world. Why was life so unfair? Why did so many bad things happen to him? He was musing his sorry place in the world as he began to cross the bridge. Out of the corner of his eye he saw something through the cloud of spray thrown up by the cascading rain. Someone was walking along the road in this weather, with no coat and no umbrella. A young woman, or perhaps, a teenager. Toby thought this person was stupid. He wondered how anyone could be so unfortunate to be in that situation. It made him laugh. He almost sped straight passed them, but something inside Toby clicked just in time. Seeing this poor soul soaked to the bone, his heart began to sink ever so slowly, matching the reducing speed of his car.
- - -
Kayleigh stood in her void on that bridge for an eternity before something nagged at her in the furthest reaches of her ears. Behind the cotton wool, behind the roaring rain. She turned, with as much effort as a ship coming about in rough seas, and saw a car parked at the side of the road. It was battered, old, covered in dents and scratches. She couldn't see into the windscreen through the heavy rain and headlights, but could hear a man inside yelling something at her. If she were in any other condition, Kayleigh might have been frightened by a strange man yelling from his car, but she simply stood there and stared at him, unable to comprehend what was going on or why he had pulled over near her, of all people. Near Nothing. He rolled down the passenger window, letting water pour into the car.
- - -
Toby leaned towards the window and called out to the girl, voice battling with the weather to be heard. She looked as though she had been crying, the poor thing. It seemed she was going the opposite direction and he was sure she would reject him, but Toby offered the girl a lift.
She simply stood there, staring at him and said nothing.
Toby had expected as much, he probably looked like a creep to her. He'd never had much luck with women, or people in general, but he wanted to do something to help. He glanced down at the passenger seat and the umbrella that lay there unused. He picked it up and thrust it out of the window towards the girl. She stood there, unmoving, arms wrapped around herself in protection or for warmth, he couldn't tell.
“Take this. Please.” He said, shaking the umbrella at her. Her eyes grew wide, then very small. She looked like she'd been slapped in the face, snapped out of a daydream. Tentatively, she reached a shivering hand outwards and clasped the umbrella. For one brief moment Toby was linked to the girl by a rod of plastic and metal and waterproof fabric. Then, he let go.
As he drove off, Toby forgot about his anger, about his bad luck and frustration with people and, for the first time that day, he smiled.
- - -
Kayleigh clutched the umbrella tight to her chest as she shivered, beginning to feel the cold that had set itself into her every muscle. She held it tight, like a toddler holds a teddy, and to her it felt just as warm. Suddenly, salt water mixed with the fresh water that fell across her face as the well burst and the drought ended. She fell to her knees and wept, returning the borrowed rain to the earth.
After a time, she stood unsteadily, and headed back in the direction she had come, clutching the umbrella as if her life depended on it.
Kayleigh was not sad. She was not happy either. But despite the nothing, she existed.