ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE FUTURE
by Galen Hardesty
Left the town of Highland this morning with no regrets, looking forward to Lawndale with excitement and anticipation. Then I remembered my family was coming too…
…Quinn had filled the car trunk and half the backseat with wardrobe overflow, so I had to ride in the moving van. The movers were pretty cool. They let me be the lookout when they stopped to run a quick errand in the warehouse district…
…By the time we pulled up,Quinn had already claimed the so-called "normal" room. I was left to inhabit the room that had belonged to the former owner’s schizophrenic mother. It’s extremely creepy, with padded walls and sawed-off bars on the windows…. As usual, my sister has played right into my hands...*
First day of school. …Quinn is already telling other students she’s an only child. If anyone asks her about the ‘weird girl’, she tells them I’m the scullery maid’s adopted niece…
At Brittany’s party, Quinn asked me if I didn’t feel out of place there… and every place else on earth. When she first found out I was invited, she ran whining to Mom that I was ruining her life. Again. She treats me like an acne outbreak, rather than a person, much less her sister…
Daria looked up from her book. "Mommy, is this the Daria I was named after?"
Her mother said, "Yes, dear, that’s her. She was a great woman. Our world is a better place because of her."
"But wasn’t she one of the radicals? The "cat food" faction? The ones who wanted to kill all the people with low IQs?"
"No, honey. She’s often lumped in with that group, but Daria personally advocated compulsory sterilization for those with IQs below 80, and supervised reproduction up to 110."
If she didn’t really want to kill ‘em, why is it always her name that gets mentioned?
"Probably because she could be really entertaining when she was lowrating stupid people. Daria Morgendorffer was one of the most respected and persuasive voices of the radical viewpoint, one of the so-called "Firebrands", whose writings had so much influence on the people who formed the Council of the New Order. She and a few others were credited with forcing the compromise that led to mandatory supervision for the learning challenged, and then to the Enlightenment. Some believe that this compromise was what Daria really wanted all along."
"But, Mom, it seems like it would have been better for us to have just taken over gradually. With our greater intelligence, we’d’ve wound up running things anyway, wouldn’t we?"
"People have been thinking that ever since they first noticed that some people are smarter than others, but it just wasn’t happening. Daria Morgendorffer saw that. You see, there’s a certain personality type that tends to rise to the top in business and government, and these people know how to use people smarter than they are to put themselves in power and keep themselves there. The Enlightenment resulted in those with greater intelligence having greater influence over public affairs, rather than the most manipulative."
"Hmm. I never thought of that. You know, it’s strange. When we studied Daria Morgendorffer in history class, she seemed like kind of a mean woman, but these entries from her diary I just read make her sound like a sad young girl who just wanted to get along, but everybody picked on her."
"Well, Daria honey, both of those are sort of true. Nobody is born mean. Daria Morgendorffer started out as a very smart little girl. Most accounts say that she was shy, but nice, and she stayed that way till high school or even college. But she was constantly picked on for being smart, especially by that sister of hers, and it gradually changed her view of her fellow human beings for the worse."
"Yeah, that awful Quinn! What was her dementia, anyway? I hate her!"
"Welcome to the club. Quinn Morgendorffer is probably one of the most unpopular figures in history. She’s the reason the name Quinn is an insult, and the reason that no woman alive today is named Quinn."
"Well, good. It’s an ugly name. Whatever happened to her?"
"After she flunked out of college, she worked as a beautician for a while. Then, after Daria’s writings became well known, she became so unpopular she had to work in a mortuary. Eventually, she couldn’t find work at all. Then came the Enlightenment, and she spent the rest of her days cleaning toilets in Governor Morgendorffer’s mansion, and died of some nasty occupational disease."
"Eeeeww! Well, I guess it served her right. Why was she so ugly to Daria, anyway?"
"Psychologists are still debating that, but Daria herself said in several of her diary entries that Quinn felt she had to do it to stay popular. You see, hard as it is to believe now, all through her childhood and early adulthood, Quinn Morgendorffer was actually quite popular."
"And Governor Morgendorffer wasn’t taking revenge on Quinn. Daria took her sister in when no one else would hire her at all, and cleaning toilets turned out to be about all she could do that didn’t involve contact with the public. Oh, and don’t say ‘Eeeww!’ That was Quinn’s favorite expression."
"Ee- I mean, yuck! Well, what about Daria? Did she ever become a mommy?"
"Daria was, uh, changed by the scorn and hostility she suffered in her formative years. She never married, never had a family. She had seventeen children, all by surrogates, but didn’t raise any of them. She said she was afraid she couldn’t be a loving, caring mother. She grew old and died with many admirers, but few real friends. But twenty-two members of the current World Congress are descended from Daria Morgendorffer."
"There are two main lessons you should learn from the story of Daria and Quinn, honey. The first is, what goes around, comes around. The second, more important one is about the doctrine of Unintended Consequences. It’s hard to know when some action of yours may have some totally unintended result, sometimes a result that affects many many people, in a big way. Like Quinn never knew that, while she was treating her sister like dirt all those years, she was turning her into a radical anti-normal. who would one day be instrumental in bringing down the status quo and replacing it with a government of the most intelligent."
Quinn reached the end of the manuscript just as Helen entered the front door. "Oh, Mom, I’m so glad you’re home. I’ve just been reading this horrid... thing Daria wrote. I think she actually left it lying around for me to find, just to torment me! You’ve gotta read it to believe it! Then maybe you’ll believe me when I tell you that something needs to be done about her. She needs some professional help, or something."
Helen looked at the thin sheaf of papers Quinn was holding out to her, but made no move to take them. "Actually, Quinn, I think Daria left that for me to find. I found it and read it, and then I left it for you to find. Have you read it all?"
"I hate to admit it, but yeah, I did. It has sort of a horrid fascination to it."
And it’s true that you’ve been treating her like that? That you’ve been telling all your friends that she’s your cousin, or an orphan or something?
"Muh-O-om, I had to, ‘cause she’s such a geek! If the kids at school found out Daria is my sister, my popularity would be ruined! Surely you can see that!"
Helen sighed deeply. "Quinn, you don’t know how much I hoped you wouldn’t say that. That you weren’t really thinking that." She looked down and shook her head sadly. "You’re right. Something needs to be done." She pointed to a plastic bucket containing scrub brushes, cleansers, and rubber gloves. "Take that and clean the toilets, all three of them. When you think they’re clean, come and get me. When they’re really clean, we’ll have a talk. First just you and I, and then we’ll include Daria."
Quinn was aghast. "Mom, you can’t be serious! Just because Daria writes another one of her weird pain-and-anguish stories is no reason to ruin my whole day!"
The phone rang. Quinn called, "That’s for me!" but Helen picked it up. "HellO-o! Morgendorffer residence! Hello, Taylor. Yes, Quinn is here. but she can’t come to the phone. She’s cleaning toilets. You can try back in a couple of days." She hung up the phone, to Quinn’s horrified look.
"All right, Mom, all right! I’ll clean the freaking toilets! But would you please not say that on the phone? I have to get ready for a fashion club meeting, but I’ll do the toilets when I get back."
Helen’s expression hardened. "Call Sandi and tell her you won’t be attending that fashion club meeting, Quinn. I’ll have to take a close look at that little group. It may be that you need to find some different after-school activities. Then you get started on those toilets, and while you’re at it, be thinking about what Daria wrote, and how you’ve been treating her, and about unintended consequences."
As Helen headed out the door to run a few errands, she almost tripped over Daria, sitting on the step, reading, her school bag beside her. "Daria. How long have you been out here?" she asked, a bit surprised.
"Just a few minutes. I didn’t want to interrupt."
Helen smiled her small lopsided smile. "Come on. Ride with me to the store, and we can talk."
Daria replied with a small smile of her own, and followed her mother to her red SUV.
*Some diary entries at the beginning are from The Daria Diaries, by Anne D. Bernstein, copyright 1998 by MTV networks.