While Daria is out of town, Jane has been having a difficult day at "Sick, Sad World."
For some time, I had had an idea for a sequel to Part 1 (originally titled "A Sick Sad Interview"); but it might never have been written if it had not been for a Christmas vacation, without work or the internet to consume my time, but with a pad and a pen... Not my preferred way of writing, but time is the most important requirement.
This sequel (Part 2) turned out to be sufficiently closely intertwined with the original ficlet that I could only consider them to be two parts of the same story.
As before, this story now seems complete, but I can't completely rule out further chapters.
Disclaimer: MTV and Glenn Eichler own Daria, Jane, and Sick, Sad World, I don't; no money changes hands, etc. etc. etc.
Part 2: Jane
It was shaping up to be a really bad day, Jane realized, as she stared at the unappetizing meal spread across her lunch tray. The cafeteria two floors below her cubicle was usually a source of fairly good — and occasionally excellent — food, but it had failed her today.
Maybe the usual cook's off sick, Jane thought. Or maybe... 'Next on Sick, Sad World: crazed assistant cooks who serve up their boss for lunch.' She inspected the mystery meat again. If so, that assistant cook is as incompetent as he is crazy. And the lunch was just one more blow from fate, which seemed to have it in for her today.
Jane's job at Sick, Sad World had not proved to be as interesting as she had hoped, when she had first urged Daria to join her in applying for the two positions that had been simultaneously advertised there. Still, even though some of her work was mechanical enough that she could have done it in her sleep, and some merely consisted of running errands, there was usually enough room for her creativity to express itself in some way. But not this morning. The entire morning, and in fact most of the preceding day, had been spent in work technically exacting enough to require her full attention, but so repetitive and boring that she almost welcomed her growing headache as a distraction. "May the person in Production who thought up this abomination be forced to wade through it a hundred times in a row," Jane muttered under her breath.
Her cubicle-mates were not unpleasant, as a rule. In fact, one of them, Miranda, had become something of a friend. She was not in any way comparable to Daria, of course, but she had enough of a sense of the absurd that Jane's trademark repartee — and even Daria's — was not met with blank incomprehension. Unfortunately, Miranda's contract had expired a few days ago, and she had left to take up a job on the other side of the country. And her replacement, who had shown up for the first time that morning, was a definite step downwards. No, more than a step, Jane thought. A tumble, a fall from a precipice. The new guy — what was his name? Richard? Robert? Something with an "R," anyway — was both sleazy and pushy. He had interrupted her several times that morning with stale banter and lame pick-up lines, distracting her enough from her work that she had had to redo several parts — and it had been boring enough the first time she did it. So far, her sharpest put-downs had worked only temporarily on him; each time, he had been back within the hour to try again.
Normally, even such a morning could have been lightened by a few of Daria's dry remarks over lunch. But Daria was off interviewing a cowboy in some far-away mid-western town. And Miranda, who might have made an acceptable substitute as a lunch companion, was of course no longer at Sick, Sad World. Most of Jane's other cubicle-mates were sitting together, still gossiping about the latest pop band which two of them had seen live in concert the previous night.
Jane's co-workers were better than most of the teenagers she had known — and avoided — in high school. She might usually have been able to tolerate, if not truly enjoy, their pop-band effusions; but after the morning she had just had — no. The only thing that could be worse would be — Oh, fuck! Jane thought. I just jinxed myself: the "sleazy R" really is coming to try to join me for lunch...
The afternoon brought no relief. Jane finished the last mind-numbing section of her project, and prepared to move on to something more interesting... only to have her supervisor tell her that Production had changed their minds about what they wanted, and the entire project would have to be redone to their new — but equally boring — specifications. Well, there goes the afternoon, and most of tomorrow as well, Jane thought, as her headache redoubled its attack. Just in case I ever encounter the Fate who has scripted this day for me, I'll have to put some thought into just how to pay her back. Didn't Daria once describe to me the best way to disembowel someone? Or was it eviscerate? And there was the "sleazy R," waiting to intercept her as she made her way back to her cubicle. Another candidate for evisceration: after all, practice makes perfect...
Finally the work-day dragged its way to an end. Jane evaded the "sleazy R" for one last time, and set out for home in the car she co-owned with Daria. Daria's absence from her usual shot-gun seat weighed a bit on Jane's mood, but at least the fresh air from her open window relieved her headache. And soon she would be home, with no supervisor to reign in her artistic inspiration. Daria would be arriving on a late-evening flight: Jane would not be leaving to pick her up until nearly midnight. There would be plenty of time to rescue her day from the workplace blahs with something creative and fun.
Arriving home, Jane ignored her stomach's vote for a filling and at least nominally edible meal, in favor of setting up her easel. She hurried through the preparation of her paints, and...
...And yet more nothing.
Not a line, not a splotch, not a splatter could she bring herself to summon onto the pristine canvas. Its empty whiteness seemed to mock her as she stood, frustrated, before it.
No smidgeon of relief was brought by an hour of alternately pacing about the room, and staring staring blankly at the canvas... which stared blankly back at her, as free of paint as when she had started. A second hour was faring no better... till at last Jane threw her brush down in disgust and turned her back on the canvas's accusing glare.
With the widening of her focus, her stomach's demands, more urgent than before, finally reached her attention. Still largely preoccupied with her art — or rather, her distressing lack thereof — she distractedly opened a can of stew and began to spoon it up cold from the can. A vagrant thought crossed her mind: It's a good thing Daria is around, or there probably wouldn't have been a bite of food in the place. A moment of gratitude for Daria's existence was soon pushed from her mind, as Jane's missing muse again took up the forefront of her thoughts.
Eventually, Jane decided she would just have to follow the advice she had given Daria in a similar situation, when a recalcitrant essay had been refusing to progress beyond its first sentence. "It's just a question of who's going to be the master, you or the words," Jane had said, adapting the exhortation of Alice's Humpty Dumpty. Ignoring the fact that Daria had found this advice to be less than helpful, Jane determinedly faced her canvas again, brush in hand.
Alas, the blank canvas's glare proved more daunting than Jane's, and the paint masterfully avoided Jane's brush. But Jane was adamant: she would not submit to intimidation from mere matter, even such matter as might be molded into the form of art. For nearly another hour she sustained her waning determination... and then it was time to leave to pick up Daria. The alarm that Daria had programmed was a positive relief, rather than the intrusion Jane would usually have considered it.
When programming the alarm, Daria had considered Jane's reluctance to abandon her art. (In fact, there had been an entire series of programmed alarms, to ensure that Jane did not return to her painting or sculpting for "a few minutes" that might stretch into a few hours. Jane was much more reliable than Trent, but she did get caught up in her artistic projects upon occasion.) However, Jane's encounter with artist's block had not encouraged her to tarry, and she actually arrived early at the airport... to find that Daria's plane was delayed. Still, eventually Daria appeared, her weary pace quickening as she in turn caught sight of Jane waiting for her. A quick hug turned into a prolonged one, and Jane's spirits rose considerably.
When Jane and Daria had first met in high school, Daria had been an uncompromisingly non-tactile person, preferring to avoid being touched or (as she sometimes put it) "mauled" by even such a close friend as Jane had quickly become. But after Jane had left home to attend college in Boston, she had found that she missed the frequent hugs from her brother Trent much more than she had anticipated. So she had set out to "train" Daria to accept — and even enjoy, little though she would usually admit it — a hug at the end of the day, when they returned from their separate colleges to meet at their shared apartment. Jane had never been more glad of this than she was now, with Daria's warm presence bringing the promise of light and color into the end of a day that hitherto had been limned in a dull and miserable shade of gray.
"So how did the interview with the cowboy go?" Jane asked as she accelerated out of the airport's short-term parking. "Did he yield any interesting Sick, Sad absurdities?"
"He did indeed," Daria said. "But I'm not repeating any of it to you until we're back home. You seem tired and stressed enough that we might end up in a ditch if my tale distracted you."
"Hey!" Jane objected. "I'm perfectly capable of driving and talking — or listening — at the same time!"
"I suppose that's why you just turned right instead of left," Daria said dryly. "Home's almost directly behind us now, you know."
Jane's subsequent protests as she made an illegal U-turn may have been somewhat lacking in conviction. At any rate, they arrived back at their apartment with Daria's story still untold.
As Daria had anticipated, her tale proved rather more than merely distracting. Jane managed to gasp out, "A cowboy riding a k-k-kangaroo?!" as she attempted to rise from the bed onto which her fit of laughter had dropped her. Then, as her laughter trailed off, an intent look suddenly came over her. In turn, a small but affectionate smile flitted over Daria's face: she knew what was going to happen next. Daria's story had sparked Jane's muse, and Jane would be immersing herself in her art for a while. And indeed, Jane headed straight for her easel, ignoring all else.
This time, Jane smiled eagerly as she faced her canvas. It no longer stared blankly back at her, but instead seemed almost to quiver in anticipation of a myriad of artistic possibilities.
Daria was back. Jane's muse was back. All was right with the world.
Jane picked up her brush and began to paint.