Climb the Ladder
Jane answered her cell phone. "Yeah, I'll be there… I swear I'm on my way, Quinn, okay?" She put the phone down and rubbed her eyes. After a quick look around her room she found the pieces of an outfit and slipped them on.
Daria was startled awake. It was as though she had been in a deep dreamless sleep but someone threw a bucket of cold water in her face. She was standing in the middle of the apartment she and Jane shared in the City right after they graduated college. It was in one of the cheaper boroughs, and because of that they could afford more space. Almost everything was the way it was before, but she felt like she was half asleep. In the middle of the loft style room she saw a stepladder, one she had bought with Jane only a week or so before. She turned her head and it took a second for the image to register, like she had drunk too much. But she didn't feel hung over, just foggy.
Jane pressed the buzzer. "I'm here."
Quinn answered, "Okay. Come up."
There was an awful buzz coming from the speaker and a thunk came from the door. After a tired grunt, Jane turned the knob and went into the building.
Daria was still standing in the middle of the apartment. She tried to move but couldn't. It wasn't that her legs were heavy, and they weren't numb either, but she still couldn't move them. She could lean forward a bit, but her feet were still planted where they were.
Moving right past her was a blur. It was maybe an inch from her eyes. She instinctively moved back, and this time her feet finally responded. Daria turned her head and saw her sister Quinn going towards the door. She then saw her mom and dad sitting at a long wooden table about ten feet away. Something's different, she thought.
Jane was startled by how quickly the door opened.
"Come in," Quinn said in that annoyingly high voice that had stayed the same since high school.
"Hi," Jane said with a croak. She walked in and saw Jake and Helen Morgendorffer, Daria's parents, sitting at a dining room table she hadn't seen there before. "Hello?"
Helen answered, "Hello, Jane. How have you been?" Her voice was chipper, but it wasn't the same as it used to be.
Jake said, "Hello, Jane-o." He forced a smile on his face.
Daria saw Jane and her heart leapt in her chest. It was like it had been ages since she last saw her best friend. But she wondered why Jane didn't use her key to open the door. She looked closely at Jane and saw that her face was tired. Her clothes were wrinkled and the gleam in her eyes wasn't there.
She saw Jane sit at the table and pull out a sketchpad. Daria opened her mouth to speak but nothing came out. She tried again but still made no sound. It frustrated her, and she wanted to move closer. This time it took less effort and she walked towards the table.
Jane had her pen out and started sketching random shapes, rectangles, then putting those together into cubes. "So, what's for dinner?"
Quinn said, "I picked up some stuff at one of the better markets. Cold cuts, some fruit, a few croissants."
"Okay." Jane kept her eyes on her sketch.
Helen said, "How have you been? We haven't heard from you in…" Her voice trailed off.
"I'm okay. Still freelancing."
Jake said, "We've been worrying about you, Jane."
Daria was hearing everything, but it was like the sound was coming from the bottom of a well. She saw Jane sitting there, completely passive, not bothering to pretend that she was interested in anyone else.
Looking at her parents, she saw they looked older than the last time she saw them. They still dressed the same, but their wrinkles were more noticeable, and the few gray hairs her father had were now spreading across his head. She heard her father say that they were worried about Jane. Daria wondered why.
Jane got a plate and put some cold cuts, a couple cubes of cheese, and a few grapes on it. "Hmm. Thanks, I guess."
Quinn said, "I'm sorry but it's all I could arrange."
"Well, you had a year to plan this little anniversary."
Helen said, "Jane, that's not nice."
"Oh, I'm sorry I can't be as enthusiastic as the rest of you." She pushed the plate away and went back to her sketchbook.
Daria wondered why Jane was being so rude. Why was she so sarcastic to everyone? She moved closer to Jane, until she was standing just over her shoulder.
Jane looked over at the ladder. She looked over at Quinn and said, "And why do you have this thing out? Are you trying to be cruel?"
"I was going to hang some pictures up and I just forgot, okay?" She sounded like she was going to cry. "You're not the only one who's sad, alright?"
Jane sighed. "I don't even know why you want to live here."
Helen said, "Girls, I know it's been difficult but can we keep things peaceful? Daria would have wanted it that way."
Daria saw that Jane was sad, but didn't understand why she didn't like the ladder being in the middle of the room. She looked over at Quinn and saw that she was about to cry. These weren't the adolescent tears that came after a bad date or from putting on the wrong shade of eyeshadow, these were real tears.
Then she heard her mother say her name. Daria would have wanted it that way… What did that mean?
Jane looked at Helen and said, "I didn't even want to come here tonight but Quinn wouldn't stop calling."
Daria reached out to grab Jane's hand, but she had trouble getting a grip. Then it was like a spark shot through her. She remembered it all. She remembered climbing the ladder to change a light bulb while Jane was out, but the ladder they bought didn't quite reach all the way. Or maybe she was just a couple inches too short. But she tried standing on the tips of her toes and lost her balance.
Jane started moving her hand over the page again. "I'm just not ready. I don't know when I'll be able to say I'm over it."
Daria knew what she had to do. She had stayed too long, and she could see that Jane was unable to move on. Her best friend, the only one she would ever have, was in pain and it was Daria's fault. It was time for her to go.
She took one last look around the apartment, then at her parents, her sister, and her friend, like she was trying to hold on to the image as long as she could, like she was memorizing it. She let go of Jane's hand and walked slowly towards the ladder. It took a lot of effort, but she knew that this time the fall would set her free.
Jane stared into space. "I just can't get over finding her like that." She then looked down at the sketchpad and gasped. In someone else's handwriting she read:
love you all
Daria stood at the top of the ladder for a second then jumped. The fall took longer than she thought it would, and while she kept her gaze on Jane, she noticed that she felt lighter. Not just physically lighter like she had lost all concept of mass, but like she was becoming translucent, then transparent. Her last thought was how strange this had all been.
September 3, 2013