Keith was adamant at her. Every morning Andrea awoke in her aged bedroom, a little more resolved than the previous night, then she would endure breakfast with Keith, and those resolutions melted back into the pot under his concentrated gaze.
Nothing came. Andrea hadn’t been so blind within her mind for a long time. Keith may have kept asserting that it was the winter sapping her spirits, but Andrea knew better. She wasn’t going to try him with words about the rival he thought he had evaded.
Maybe it was lying? No, it wasn’t lying. Andrea’s omissions came from a warm heart left in the cold. If Keith expected a thaw by smiling at her, he had been lazing in the sunlight for too long.
Andrea didn’t linger in her surprises, though. From day one of her relocation, he had supposed she had come back for him.
Andrea had felt nothing when her lips had touched his. It was like kissing a brother. Andrea grimaced. She’d never had a brother; still, she imagined incest.
Keith worked each weekday. At least that left her with some days to herself. More now Alexia understood the situation. No psychologist could look at others when she herself had a broken heart. There would be no helping.
Well, they hadn’t broken up before Christmas. That was the one positive happening.
No matter to what Andrea tried applying herself, inspiration escaped her, as if it was exactly the breeze. She alternated between sitting, sinking her hands into the rough coat of the sofa, to staring at the windows, her eyes moved beyond tears. The more Andrea tried avoiding thoughts of the school that had haunted her, more reminders appeared, brandishing their notices in vibrant colours imitating of Lucas' jumpers as they emerged from the very woodwork of her life she had failed to notice before.
And the days fell into weeks, and the weeks dragged themselves across the pavement. Without Lucas, the skies all bore patterns of grey, bored.
It was during one such catatonic slump – and Andrea knew she was slumping so, but she found very little to do about forcing away the agony of an empty soul – that Andrea found herself watching the weather as it sailed past. She hadn’t been thinking that way, but it was too drear at all now, too clouded in the sky.
If only winter would be soon over. Though, Andrea had a feeling that wouldn’t change her hurt at all. The weather moaned along with her; black chiffons of air gathered together, the pall matching Andrea's less physical one.
She was transfixed by the gloom exactly because it knew how she felt.
And, in that mist, she wondered if Lucas, far away in his happy land, knew about these clouds, too. Again, he haunted the corridors of her mind.
The newspaper was under her hands. It came to be there often nowadays; scrawling unimportant words into squashed boxes presented Andrea with an activity she could deal with alone. Whilst the paper grew from her hands at times, she was glad it came to be there. Maybe she was going mad. Maybe that was for the best. At least madness had a cure where the grey of her life did not.
Andrea blinked in her slow mind-fog. She begged the ticking of her mind to dim, to die out and leave her with something else in its place. Her head hurt from each cell-power she was using even in the absence of doing any little thing. If only the thinking would stop – then the silence would be more productive.
It didn’t work that way. The telephone’s shrill monotonic burned through the air and into her eardrums. With a gasp, Andrea jumped up and reached for the receiver. Anything to drown out the intrusion.
The number was one she faintly recognised. Andrea stared down at it. She rubbed a thumb over eyelashes that were dry from an absence of makeup. As Andrea pressed the ‘answer call’ button, she glanced down at her clothes. Good: she had dressed this morning, even if she didn’t remember doing so.
She muttered, “Hello?”
“It’s Alexia. I thought this number would still work.”
“You kept Keith’s home number? That’s presumptuous,” cried Andrea.
Alexia said, “Look, I’m sorry. I didn’t –” She sighed. “Have I upset you?”
“Not more than I am already upset.”
Another sigh rattled through the telephone line. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean –”
“What do you want, Alexia?”
“I was looking through the patient files – I’ve got a…depressive coming in later – and I realised that I’m missing a file, a biological case report. You reviewed her last month, I think, and then didn’t type up the report. Mrs. Acre.”
Andrea doodled on the newspaper corner. She had left one crossword half complete, and, having begun another, each clue stumped her. “Ah. Name rings a bell. I knew I’d forgotten something. I can’t concentrate at all.”
“Yeah, that’s what I thought. You know I wouldn’t ask, Andry, unless it was important. Mrs. Acre’s file needs to be on my desktop before I can do any more analysis. She’s an amber case, so I want to make sure your scans didn't turn up anything else I need to know about her condition. And, um, Darren agrees.”
Andrea swore and raked a hand through her hair. She glanced up at the room. From where she sat, patterns of miniature mess evolved from the floor. Andrea stared at them; in the midst of the cluttered circles, her laptop bubbled up, regurgitated by emotion. It solidified and Andrea was about to leap away and scoop it into her arms when Alexia’s voice revived her.
“Yeah. I’m getting my laptop. It’s Gladys Acre, right?”
“Yes. Will you send the file soon?”
Andrea rubbed a hand across her forehead. Half out of the chair, pain creaked through her joints. “As soon as I can!”
The silence tipped from Alexia’s end not utterly blank. She sounded like she was chewing a nail. When a good moment had passed, Alexia said her goodbye in a rigid tone, and she hung up. Andrea said nothing.
She stared at the wall. Although the paint was fine, a smudge of dust hung on the kick-line. In a different corner (Andrea scoured the entire wall, up and down again), the painted had chipped and a grey dash revealed the age of the house, yet another mark on the perfection of life. Andrea tried to kick her mind into gear. It just kept coming back to the incomplete picture, the messiness caused by everything in her life, some twisted reaction of the earthly kind to reflect those sharp emotions inside.
After a while, her mind must have been listening, for she lifted herself from the chair, barely thinking. Each footstep steered her towards the laptop, shining in the light that always poured from the same window. Light a sickly grey, but light nonetheless.
When she had the device within her hands, Andrea felt no better. Back to work – perhaps, she supposed, she could distract herself into being away from life itself, as if living in a parallel land of her fantasies.
Andrea shook her head and opened up the laptop. It had been left on and a few Word documents blinked and glowered in the fresh light. Mrs. Acre’s file remained one of the few bobbing in a line at the base of the base of the screen. Andrea sighed in her half-hearted relief. At least she'd made a start.
She scanned the page and the four paragraphs of black text. The white emptiness hurt her eyes, just as the whitening sky had. Some paragraphs had sentences half finished when Andrea had discarded the taste of text. She remembered. She hadn’t been in the mood for sentences to be finished. Now, it wasn’t too unwritten. Maybe an hour or two more would finish the report. It was already half eleven.