Driving Miss Daria
©2004 The Angst Guy (email@example.com)
Daria and associated characters are ©2004 MTV Networks
Feedback (good, bad, indifferent, just want to bother me, whatever) is appreciated. Please write to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Synopsis: A shipper-fic with a surprise. With two failed relationships and three miserable years of college behind her, Daria sits down to write a difficult term paper. Then comes a knock at her apartment door. . . .
Author's Notes: In July 2004, Mahna Mahna challenged me on PPMB to write a shipper story involving Daria and one person who won’t be named here (see the story), but it had to be a comedy and use the saying, “If we can put a man on the moon, then—” (fill in the blank). And here that story is.
Acknowledgments: With gleeful thanks to Mahna Mahna for the challenge, and to Nemo Blank for his comment about seeing the . . . well, you’ll see
The words on the computer monitor blurred into gray lines before her tired eyes. Daria lowered her head, checked the time on the screen (6:47 p.m., Friday evening, July 23rd), and surrendered to the truth. No matter how loudly or how often she claimed otherwise, sitting in her Boston efficiency apartment alone on a weekend in the summer with nothing to do but write a term paper and study for two exams the following week was not “fine.” It sucked right from the bottom of the Big Barrel of Suckiness.
She pushed her glasses up on her nose and pulled back her long, brown hair, which had taken on a bird’s nest quality since she’d showered yesterday morning. Summoning the last of her energy reserves, she stared hard at the computer monitor on her kitchen table and willed herself to continue typing her term paper—but once again her gaze drifted toward the screen’s lower right corner to see what time it was. It was still 6:47 p.m. It had been 6:47 for what seemed like an hour now. She shook her head, made a face, and squinted to focus on the words on the glowing monitor.
ENG 399-01 – Independent Study
July 23, 2004
Raft University, Boston MA
On the Desirability of Social Isolation as Depicted in Literature and Movies of the Late Twentieth Century, 1976-2000
She had to write something to follow that, a first line that was clever and witty and intelligent and led directly into her paper’s theme. Her right hand hovered over the keyboard, uncertain, then her index finger slowly descended. Tap. Tap. Tap. She peered at the screen at what she had added.
Nothing else came to mind. The paper had seemed like a great idea several weeks ago when she’d turned in the topic to have it approved. Solitude was grossly underrated, she had written to her dubious professor. Movies like Cast Away showed solitude in a bad light, with a woeful-looking Tom Hanks risking his life to return to civilization, only to find out his fiancé had left him and he was truly alone. He should have simply enjoyed his island paradise and not worried about anyone else. Certainly, no one else had worried about him. (The teacher argued to the contrary, but to no avail.) A person removed from human company, Daria continued, ought to be able to appreciate the gifts of peace and self-sufficiency. What ever happened to the days of Henry David Thoreau? “I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude,” he wrote long ago in Walden, a dog-eared paperback copy of which sat by Daria’s elbow.
Those words rang hollow now. She peeked again at the time. It was still 6:47. What the hell was wrong with the damn computer? Was it frozen? Did it have another virus? Frowning, she peered over the monitor at the digital clock on the bookcase. It said it was 6:48. She looked down at the monitor again, and as if by magic the time there was also 6:48. An hour of subjective time had been compressed into an objective minute—and the digits would not change until another hour of subjective time had passed.
“Crappy computer crap!” she said aloud. Her gaze drifted back across the words on the monitor. She stared at them for a long moment, letting her eyes unfocus. It was not the computer’s fault. “It’s me that’s stuck,” she murmured, then she shook her head to get rid of the thought. “I’m not stuck,” she said in a louder voice. “I’m . . . I’m . . . hungry.”
She stood up from her chair and walked over to the apartment’s small refrigerator, opening the door to peer inside in case something new had appeared therein. Facing her were a half-empty carton of milk, a slice of week-old pizza in plastic wrap, two cans of Ultra-Cola for emergency energy, a dried-up carrot, two rolls of unused film, and her last small bag of milk chocolate M&Ms. She liked eating M&Ms cold. Though she had been hording the bag for late-night snacks, she took it, shut the frig, and went back to her chair at the dining table. She smoothed down her baggy maroon T-shirt as she sat down, ignoring the banana-peel stain on the front and enjoying the sensation of not wearing a bra with straps that dug into her shoulders and made the middle of her back itch where she couldn’t reach it. The comfy shirt also hid the pale-white tummy poking over the top of her blue jeans. Though she had gained a few pounds since entering college, her weight had stabilized even with no exercise and a bad diet—a good thing, since she was barely over five feet tall. Stress and depression made her eat, and life now was nothing but.
Of course, there had been other stresses in her world, but those were one year past and Daria did not let herself think about her husband Trent anymore, at least not until she staring up at darkness from her bed at two a.m., or stuck in midmorning traffic trying to get to classes, or sitting in front of a computer monitor with a bad case of writer’s block. At those times, she wondered how she had gotten herself into this mess, how she had let her life drift so far off course with one bad decision, where the man she had married had gone and why wasn’t he here and who was he with now and what had ever possessed her to think that a bum like him would ever—
A soft knock on the apartment door brought Daria back to the here and now. Relieved that she didn’t have to struggle with her paper for a few moments longer, she put aside the unopened M&Ms and got up to see who was there. She hoped it was Jane, though it had not been Jane’s usual knock.
A rustling of paper distracted her. Looking down as she walked up, she saw a sheet of white paper being pushed under the door. She stopped in her tracks until the paper stopped moving, halfway into the room. Boards creaked as someone on the other side of the door stepped back. Daria bent down to see the penciled words on the page, which read:
CRAZY WORLD, ISN’T IT?
Daria’s spirits drooped. It was a joker from one of the other low-rent apartments. The whole complex was filled with idiot college students, most of them drunken sophomores who liked picking on the crabby, diminutive senior in their midst. She reached down and snatched the paper from under the door, crumpling it to throw it into the trash. As she did, she noticed something was taped to the part of the paper that had been hidden behind the door. She lifted the wrinkled page to her eyes.
The taped-down item was a stick of gum.
In the midst of wondering if the gum was laced with PCP, acid, cyanide, or Ecstasy, the pieces of the puzzle fell into place.
You’re crazy! the new kid had said to her when they were tenth graders together, the new kid who had stirred the first glow of romance inside her. You’re crazy! I think that’s kind of why I like you.
Brilliant, goofy, sweet, and so naïve—that was Ted DeWitt-Clinton. She’d given him a stick of chewing gum on impulse, her first gift to a potential boyfriend. When was that? Five years ago? Six?
She put down the paper, then undid the deadbolt and the doorknob lock but left the two chains on when she opened the door a hairline crack. She let only her head show, keeping the rest of her body hidden safely behind the door. Wish I’d left my bra on after all, she thought.
A tall young man with light brown hair, a Hawaiian shirt, beige slacks, and hiking boots looked back. “Daria?” he said, flashing a bright smile.
She pulled the door open as wide as the chains allowed. “Maybe,” she said, squinting upward. “Ted?” Even as she spoke, she realized it was Ted, whom she had last seen at her high-school graduation three years ago. He seemed even taller than he had been in high school, lean and tan.
“That’s me!” he said with boundless cheer. “Wow, you look great! How have you been? Long time no see, huh?”
I look great? Can he even see me? She blinked. “Didn’t you used have glasses?” she asked.
“Oh! I have contacts, the soft kind. I love ‘em! I heard you tried them once, back in school, but your eyes were too sensitive. You look nice with glasses, though. Hey, are you busy right now?”
Daria hesitated. She knew she looked awful. “Um,” she finally said, “it’s good to see you and everything, but I’m kind of in the middle of writing a term paper that’s due on Monday, and—”
“Oh, summer classes! Racking up the credits. That figures. You were always the straight arrow. I bet you’re a senior already. If you have a second, though, I wondered if you wanted to see my elephant.”
Of course, she stared at him. “Your elephant,” she repeated.
She shook her head. “Is this a joke because the Democratic National Convention is coming here in a week?”
“A joke?” Ted looked confused. “What do Democrats have to do with this? I just want to show you my elephant.”
Crap. “Ted, I’m sorry, that’s the worst pick-up line I’ve heard in—”
“Oh! No, I mean a real elephant! It’s right outside in the parking lot. Jane and the veterinarian are watching it. You remember Jane from high school, right?”
Daria stared at him a little harder. “Did you start doing drugs recently?”
“Drugs? Oh, sarcasm! No, the elephant’s real. Come on out and see it. It’s tame. As far as I can tell, anyway.”
“I don’t believe this. You came by just to show me an elephant?”
“No, actually, I came by just to see you. The elephant happened to be with me.”
She sighed, fed up with everything. “Okay, Crocodile Hunter, that does it. It’s been fun, but please just go. I have to finish my paper so I can get credit for my independent study, and if I don’t get to work right now, I’ll—”
“Why are you hiding behind the door? Did I get you out of the shower?”
“I’m calling the police, Ted.”
“The police? Oh, they know about the elephant. It’s cool with them. Well, I didn’t tell them I was coming by here, of course, but—”
A door down the hallway opened. “Hey, Daria!” shouted Jane Lane, her best friend and currently her sister-in-law as well. “Get your ass out here right now before the elephant eats up the flower beds!”
Wide-eyed, Daria looked down the hall, then back at Ted. She then closed the door, took off the two chains, opened the door again, and walked out in her sock feet, pausing long enough to lock the deadbolt with a spare apartment key. If Jane said there was an elephant, there might be an elephant. Maybe. In any event, she decided she didn’t care if Ted saw her in a T-shirt and jeans with her hair a mess, as long as the shirt stayed down. It wasn’t like he’d ever see her again. “I’ll go look,” she grumbled, “but only for a minute. I have a lot to do tonight.”
“Sure! It’s right outside. It needed a walk. She needed a walk, I mean. I didn’t see anyone else around except Jane, so it seemed safe.”
“What was Jane doing here?”
“Oh . . . uh, I think she came over to see you. I saw her in the parking lot. This is a pretty small complex. I think everyone else in the area is out partying or gone for the weekend. Amazing how many beer cans there are around the dumpster, though. Lot of college students live here?”
“Billions, all of them brain damaged.” Including me, she thought. Though she knew Ted was trustworthy (or had been in high school), long exposure to hundreds of less trustworthy sorts had instilled a general paranoia inside her. She was aware of how close Ted was as they walked to the exit at the end of the hall, and she was half afraid he’d put an arm around her. He knew martial arts, she recalled. Well, if he tried anything, she could always scream. And later, she could claim a stress-related illness at the Student Health Center so she wouldn’t have to finish her term paper by Monday, either.
Ted, however, made no suspicious moves. He opened the door at the end of the hall for her and gestured outside with a smile. “Daria,” he said, “meet Daria.”
“Meet Daria?” she sneered, walking outside. “You named an elephant after m—AAAAAAH!!!”
“Don’t scream,” said Ted mildly. “Her ears are very sensitive.” He looked reproachfully at Jane Lane and a balding, bearded man in khaki clothing, who grinned on either side of the young adult Indian elephant filling the doorway. “You shouldn’t have brought her right up to the steps like that.”
“She was following you, so we followed her,” said Jane, gently rubbing the elephant’s flank. “Hey, Daria, come back! Did Big Daria scare you when she poked you with her trunk?” She turned her face to the elephant’s high ear and spoke in cheery baby talk. “Bad Big Daria! Naughty, naughty!”
Ted went back inside the apartment hall and emerged after a few moments with the cringing human Daria, herding her before him with his arms spread wide to prevent another escape. “She’s quite good natured,” he said. “Don’t step on her trunk, though.”
Daria gaped at the elephant, her brown eyes filling her glasses frames. She stopped several feet short of the elephant’s forehead, arms crossed over her chest as if they offered protection from the sight before her. The elephant’s trunk raised again and sniffed her up and down—then grasped her maroon T-shirt at the bottom and pulled it up, exposing her braless front to the world in an instant. Daria gasped and struggled to drag the shirt down again, but it was impossible. “Let go!” she cried. “Stop it! Make it let go!”
“Oh, sorry about that,” said Ted, unperturbed. “Let go, Daria! Let go, girl! I bet you were eating bananas today. We have a game in which I hide bananas under my shirt for her to find. Elephants have fantastic senses of smell, you know.”
“Damn it, let go!” Daria shouted. Red-faced, she jerked the shirt free of the trunk, backed up almost into Ted, and forced herself to calm down. She noticed with a glare that Jane was trying to control a bout of hysterical laughter. She will die for this later. “Where in the hell did you get this?” she growled, keeping her distance now.
“She works with me at the lab,” said Ted. “Oh, right, you don’t know about the lab. I keep forgetting. You know the Bronx Zoo? A couple years ago they started a special program there to do noninvasive research with elephant communication. I’ll probably do my graduate thesis on it. Daria here is our best student.”
“Did you really have to name her after me, of all people?” Daria said.
“Well, she is our smartest elephant.”
Obscene phrases filled her head. “I would debate that,” she said darkly. “All right, whatever. So, are you dropping her off at a circus, or what?”
“No, no, I just wanted to come by and say hi. I haven’t seen you in a while and I was wondering how you were.” He pointed across the parking lot. “She’s got the best in elephant transport right there. Air conditioning, lots of hay and water, a little music to soothe her nerves, the works. She’s been acclimated to travel since she was a couple months old. I should get her back on board now, before any drunk college kids come by.” He looked down at her. “Give her a little pat. She knows you don’t have any bananas.”
“Just a couple of melons,” said Jane. “Oops! Did I really say that?”
“No one will ever find your body,” Daria said, sotto voce. She turned her attention to Big Daria and hesitantly stepped forward. She reached out with a trembling hand and touched the elephant’s rough—but soft—skin, over its head just above the trunk. The elephant’s large dark eyes rolled in her direction, taking her in. “Where are you taking her?” Daria asked.
“We’re driving to a veterinary clinic near here for a checkup. They have some specialized equipment we don’t have at the zoo. Hey, I was going to ask, why don’t you come along?”
“What?” His words sunk in. Ride in a truck with an elephant? Looking like this? “No! No, I have to get this paper—”
“Daria, c’mon!” Jane called, pressing her head to the elephant’s side. “It’s just a little trip! You can ride in the cab with Ted! I’ll ride in the pickup with the veterinarian.” She paused, a look of wonder on her face. “I can hear her heart beating! Daria, you have to come with us!”
Daria glared daggers at her annoying best friend. She opened her mouth to fire off a trademark sarcastic response, meaning to head back into the apartment immediately afterward to work on that paper even if it killed her.
A warm male hand settled on her shoulder. The words died in her mouth. After a moment, the hand pulled away. “It’ll be fun,” said Ted in a gentle voice. “I haven’t seen you in ages. It’s just a short drive, and then I’ll bring you back. We’re just going to drop our girl off. I have to head back to New York tonight, anyway. It’ll be a quick trip, I promise.”
Daria wavered. She knew something was going on. Jane had it written all over her face. Why would Ted show up at her apartment now, after all this time, and why Jane was here, too, and—
Oh. She got it. It was a date trap. This little meeting had been planned out in advance, perhaps even with the elephant. It was a lot to swallow, but what was the hardest to believe was that her own sister-in-law was probably the one who set it up.
Which meant Jane somehow knew that Trent was never coming back.
Which was the worst news of all.
“Daria,” said Jane, the side of her face still pressed to the elephant. Her blue eyes did not blink. “Come with us. I want you to go out with me tonight. You need a break.”
Daria could not argue against that. Plus, if she went back to the apartment to stay, she would have to work on the paper again. She did need the grade, but—
“Please,” said Ted.
Resistance was futile. “I need shoes,” said Daria in a low voice. I’m just taking a mental health vacation for a couple hours. This is not a date. I’m still married, even if it means nothing to my partner anymore. Even if he’s not coming back. Even if— “And I should shower and put on different clothes, and—”
“I’ve got an extra pair of boots in the truck,” said Ted. “And you look great as you are.” He sounded sincere. He probably was. Men.
“Ted,” Daria sighed, “you really need a new prescription for your contacts. And I absolutely don’t want Dumbo here to flash me to the world again. Once was bad enough.” Daria thought she should be angrier about the incident, but for some reason she felt she could take it in stride. After all, there was an elephant present, and no one was going to remember anything else. And it was just Jane and Ted and some old elephant veterinarian. So they saw her boobs, maybe, big deal. There hadn’t been much to see.
“She can’t reach inside the cab,” said Ted. “You can talk to her through the speakers, though.”
“She won’t want to hear what I have to say.” Daria realized she had been stroking Big Daria’s trunk for several minutes now. The elephant smelled . . . like an elephant. It wasn’t bad. “Are you really trying to communicate with her?”
“Yeah. We’ve even had some success. In fact, we’re going to try the Washoe trick. You remember that chimpanzee mother that they taught to use sign language, and they tried to see if she’d teach it to other chimps? We’ve been teaching Big Daria a little language, too. It’s not very complicated, but we think she might show other elephants and get something going. That would be a first.”
“She’d be a hit on talk shows,” said Jane, still stroking the elephant’s side. She raised up on tiptoe, facing the beast’s ear. “Wouldn’t you, sweetie?”
Big Daria’s trunk brushed against Daria’s jeans. Daria did not shy away. “Well, if we can put a man on the moon, then surely we can put an elephant on ‘Oprah.’” she said.
Ted frowned, thinking. “She’s not much for television, actually. I don’t know if they could handle her in a studio, either.”
“That was a joke, Ted.”
“Oh, right. I’ll get your boots. Then we’ll put her in the truck and take off.”
After Ted left, Daria gave Big Daria a final pat and walked back to view her from the side. Jane walked over to stand beside her. The veterinarian cooed in Big Daria’s ear and stroked her cheek.
“Okay,” said Daria, keeping her voice low, “how long have you been talking to Ted?”
Jane sighed. “Two years,” she said.
“Two years? Are you serious? How did this start?”
“Here goes. He called your mom the summer after your freshman year, right after you and Trent got married, but he told her and Quinn to—damn, I wasn’t supposed to say anything about Quinn, but he made them both promise not to tell you he’d called. He . . . he was thinking about you back then, but he didn’t want to say anything with you being married and all.”
“So he’s been keeping tabs on me all this time through my mom and my sister? And you, too?”
“Off and on. Not steadily.” Jane made a face but went on. “He called about six months ago, and your mom got him to call me. I, uh, told him about things with you and Trent, what little I knew—Trent wasn’t talking to me, so I didn’t know much—but Ted called last week and said he was coming by, would it be a problem if he dropped in, and maybe I could see his little surprise, too.”
“Why’d he want you here? Are you his backup date?”
“No. He wanted me to kind of, I don’t know, help out with things and make sure you went out with him.”
Daria stared at Jane in disbelief. “Isn’t he going out with anyone himself? After all this time?”
Jane smiled. “Ask him. Maybe he did, but he kept asking about you anyway.”
“Why what?” said Ted, walking up. He held a pair of dusty boots.
Daria turned to him. “Why would you want to go out with me?”
Ted slowed, but he continued moving toward her. “That’s the kind of thing you would always say,” he said. “You get right into it.” He knelt at her sock feet and tapped the back of her left foot. She raised it, and he slipped the boot on and tied it. “I’ve always liked you,” he said. “We got off to a bad start, I think, and I was shy about talking to you afterward. I can’t explain it.” He helped her on with the other boot. “I kept thinking about you, that’s all. I always thought . . . don’t be offended, but you were kind of crazy. Crazy in a really good way. You weren’t like everyone else.”
He stood up. Jane had already taken the opportunity to wander back to the elephant.
“You’re smart, and you don’t pretend otherwise,” Ted said. “You’re honest, and you’re direct, which I like, and you have integrity. I think I like that best about you. You are exactly who you say you are. There’s nothing fake in you, nothing put on or made up. When you were going out with that Tom guy, I thought he was the luckiest guy in the world. I was really sorry to see you go when school was out.”
Daria swallowed. She could not think of anything to say.
“I just wanted to take you out for a bit,” he said. “I was in the area, and I hadn’t seen you in so long, and I never . . . I never got to talk to you a lot, about yourself and what you like and what you’ve been reading, that kind of thing. And I’m not that far away, really, just down in New York.”
She bit her lip, but said it anyway. “I’m married, you know.”
He nodded, not looking at her eyes. “I know. Still wanted to take you out, just for fun. Something light. If you want to go.” He grinned and waved at Big Daria. “And I had to show you my elephant.”
“Yes, that is definitely an elephant. And I think she just made a mess in the parking lot.”
“Oh. Well, that stuff happens, right? I’ll come back and clean it up later.”
“No, maybe it’s better if you leave it and just let people wonder what the hell happened. That would be best.”
“Really? You think so?”
“In this neighborhood, yes. We’d better get her into the truck before anything else happens, though.”
“Right! Good idea. I’ll go get her.”
Daria stood back and watched as Ted, the veterinarian, and Jane quickly directed Big Daria off to the truck trailer. People would notice soon, and a quick getaway was essential.
A slight smile quirked its way across Daria’s face. She admitted to herself that she had been wrong about one thing for sure. Asking a girl to come look at your elephant was a pretty good pickup line after all.
She headed off after the group. It was best if she didn’t think about Trent tonight, though she would later. And the term paper could wait. She might even have to call the professor tomorrow and change the topic. It was time to have a little fun—and time to see what else life had in store for her.
Original: 07/25/04, modified 11/19/04