Jane went to St Statias because the thing she’s best at is sitting still. Sitting still is all people do in St Statias; everyone gets a third floor window and a snowy field, and what they do is, they sit at the window and look at the field. At night they lie underneath the window and dream about the field, and if they have work, which no one ever does, they walk across the field at four in the morning to get there.
If we tried to build a city like that here it’d be useless. There’s only one street, because nobody’s window can be across from anyone else’s, and the first and second floors of buildings are all empty. It’s an awful waste of space, and anyway if you tried to put thousands of fields in a city it’d stop being a city and become a field. But in St Statias they can do funny things with space so it all fits, and if you’re a tourist you don’t even notice.
If you’re a tourist you think that the streets are winding and secretive, that the lights in the shops are colorful and welcoming. “I love it,” you say, “But I couldn’t live here. It’s too close-knit.”
Back in high school it was me and Jane and Mallory Briggs, and all we ever did was sit under this one kind of sad-looking tree and talk about whoever Mallory Briggs was in love with. Probably we talked about a lot more than that, but that’s all I remember. From two years away, all our conversations look like one conversation, and this is how it goes:
“Do you guys know Caroline?” Mallory Briggs asks. Jane knows Caroline, because Jane knows everyone. I know no one. “Who’s Caroline?” I say.
“That angry girl,” says Jane. “She looks like a kitten?”
Mallory Briggs manages to look reproving and long-suffering at once. “Do you think she’d go out with me?” she says.
I can’t come to a conclusion without data, so I start asking things like “Does she know you exist?” and “Does she like The Library?” and “Well why are you trying to ask her out then?” while Jane stares at her nails and fidgets.
It takes almost an hour of my prying before Jane lets herself get drawn in, but when she does she has a brilliant plan that should solve all Mallory Briggs’s problems in one fell swoop. Mallory’s so excited she can’t talk to us for a week. We stock up on tissues and plot out a consolation strategy in case Caroline turns out to be dating a boy on the swim team.
I sort of thought it would always be me and Jane and Mallory Briggs. It’d have to be, because we weren’t really real people yet. I thought if I were on my own I’d be, like, a third of a person, and a third of a person isn’t good for much.
I visited Jane in St Statias once. The whole time I was there it was super windy, and everyone in the city was wearing orange. Whenever we went outside our hair flipped over and smacked us in the face, and whenever we went indoors we realized our heads looked like weird fluffy birds. It looked kind of cool on her; on me, not so much.
One time Caroline didn’t turn out to be dating a boy on the swim team, except her name was Dee and she probably didn’t know anyone on the swim team because she was a nerd, like us. She didn’t watch The Library, but she did have some conspiracy theory about Star Wars, which she told Mallory Briggs about under an arbor at the Botanical Garden, having miraculously freed her of her uptight rule sticklerage and convinced her to ditch school.
Mallory fell in love and didn’t talk to us for a month except by email. When she eventually came back she brought Dee with her, which I was fine with because Dee turned out to be incredibly cool. Jane was not fine with it. I wanted to ask her why, if the trio-ness of our trio was so important to preserve, she’d spent the last month with cool people instead of with me, but I didn’t because I am basically a wimp.
It didn’t occur to me for two days that maybe Jane wished Mallory was kissing her under arbors instead.
For three months before she left I couldn’t listen to anything Jane said, because I was listening to how she sounded instead. She’d been playing around with her accent, trying to sound a little more like she could be from St Statias, like she didn’t want anyone there asking where she was from. I thought that was an awful idea, but she was doing it in such small ways that I couldn’t figure out how to tell her so.
It was hardly anything: she started adding inflection to the ends of some words a little more or a little less than she had been, and sometimes she rounded her vowels. I don’t think anyone noticed except Mallory Briggs and I, and Mallory just thought it was funny. It sounded kind of cool, but also totally stupid; it definitely didn’t sound St Statian. She stopped, after a while, when she realized it wasn’t going to mean anything if it didn’t happen accidentally, but I kept listening for it, which meant I was always losing the thread of the conversation, Mallory Briggs poking me in the ribs to pull me back to reality.
Everyone in my family suffers from depression, which has made for some less-than-enviable family Moments. Everyone in Mallory Briggs’s family thinks people who suffer from depression should try being happier, which once made me punch Mallory Briggs in the face. Jane suffers from neither depression nor stupidity; as far as I can tell, Jane suffers from nothing at all.
So when I imagine her spending hours at her window in St Statias, with a shadow over her eyes and her hair sad and wilty, tracing the patterns that icicles and street lamps are making on the glass, and staring at her hand but not really seeing it – well, that probably doesn’t happen. I’m just making shit up.
Back in high school I didn’t understand why, given the alarming number of girls Mallory Briggs was capable of being in love with simultaneously, she never was in love with Jane. I never noticed anyone being in love with Jane at all. I’m not really the type to notice the emotional states of the people around me, but Jane is, and I thought if someone were in love with her she’d have told me.
“Jane is Jane,” said Mallory Briggs, when I asked her about it. She was balancing weights on a scale for some Physics thing – I wasn’t in her Physics class, but I liked it better than the class I had that period – and was speaking in her I-so-have-no-time-for-you voice.
“That means basically nothing,” I said.
“Look,” she said, “I’m not in love with you either. Does that bother you?”
“No, but Jane’s like, perfect for being in love with. She’s all secretly evil and stuff.”
Mallory dropped a weight on her foot, and swore at it. I thought the conversation was over, but a few seconds later she said, “Why do you always talk about ‘in love with,’ it sounds so weird. You’re seventeen, you can seriously can just say ‘crush’ or ‘likes,’ and – hey. You’re in love with Jane.”
“Uh,” I said.
“No, listen, you totally are.”
“No I’m not,” I said, because I didn’t want to admit that I didn’t know how to tell.
“I bet you you are,” said Mallory Briggs, but then she dropped the weight on her other foot and had to pay attention to that instead.
After I first met Jane I began writing stories where the protagonist was short, or stocky, or had shiny black hair, or light brown eyes. They’re common traits, and I didn’t use them all at once, so there was no reason for anyone to think they were significant. And anyway, none of my characters acted like Jane.
But even if no one else noticed, I knew, and it made me feel like I needed to grow the fuck up already.
When Jane left for St Statias I wanted to follow her, even though I knew I’d hate it there. That part wasn’t so bad, because I’d expected to want to follow her. I just didn’t expect the feeling to last.
All through autumn I wanted to follow her, and all through winter, and spring, and summer when she came back and was mean to Mallory Briggs and Dee for no reason, and autumn again when I realized the second year wasn’t going to be any more fun than the first.
Then it was winter, and something changed. I didn’t want to follow her anymore; I just wanted to follow. Anything that was out there, I wanted to follow. Anything between here and St Statias, which is the edge of the world.
Last spring I sent Jane an email about how I went to the renaissance fair in her honor, since she couldn’t be there to hate it herself.
Jane hates the renaissance fair because she worked at a smoothie booth there two springs before she left (“Because people in the Renaissance were all about their smoothies,” she said) and part of the deal with this particular smoothie booth was, someone was supposed to stand next to it holding cantaloupes in front of their boobs, with strawberries stuck on with toothpicks as nipples. Jane refused to be that person, which meant that the other girl was on constant cantaloupe duty, and on the last day she rebelled and smashed one of the cantaloupes with someone’s fake battle axe.
They could have left it at that – cantaloupes weren’t in their job description, and no one would actually have complained if they hadn’t done it – but Jane was in a mood for martyrdom, so she got a new cantaloupe and stood by the booth like a statue for the entire afternoon. When she told this story later she pretended like it was funny, and we pretended so too, but I was there, so I know better.
The thing about Jane and the renaissance fair is, you think she’d fit right in. A crowd of geeky people in colorful clothes, eating bad food and laughing seems comforting in the abstract, but when you get there it’s a lot of noise and hay, and nothing makes any sense, and everyone is wearing push-up bras but you. Jane usually blends into crowds, but that afternoon everyone who walked by seemed to need to pause their revelry to stare at her stupid cantaloupes. She looked anachronistic, despite her costume: something about the way she stood made everything around seem stupid and tawdry.
“There was no cantaloupe girl this year,” I typed. “You were the end of an era. I was disappointed by the lack of commemorative plaque.”
Jane sent back:
“i’m not supposed to tell you this BUT. jordan bustle went to the elizabethan renaissance, as in the actual elizabethan renaissance. i said, so did you go see shakespeare, and he said, no i went to a pub.
“wish i could go there with you, we could stalk john donne.”
I bit my lip and wondered who Jordan Bustle was, so I wouldn’t have to wonder if she was serious. Jane has no discernable sense of humor, and anyway, I knew what St Statias was like. I don’t know why I didn’t want to believe her, unless it was maybe that I’d thought visits to the Elizabethan Renaissance would be considered weird enough for capital letters.
Mallory Briggs and Dee are going to transfer to Connecticut College next year. I heard that from Dee, not from Mallory, who doesn’t talk to me much anymore.
They decided on Connecticut College because their car broke down near the campus last summer when they were on the way from Dee’s great aunt’s house in Stafford to somewhere touristy. They left the car at the rental place and went for breakfast at a hipstery café near some of the college dorms, and Mallory, who’d been envious of the blithe randomness with which Jane decided to move to halfway across the world, said, “This is so nice, why are we still in community college when we could be here?”
They stayed there two days and never made it to the someplace touristy. On the ride back while Mallory was napping in the passenger seat, Dee thought about Connecticut and St Statias. She thought moving to Connecticut wasn’t going to feel like moving, with a point of comparison like that. Nothing strange happened in Connecticut.
Something about the car was making her uneasy, she told me later, unless it was something about the road, or something about the shadows on the road. She stared at the dividing line, trying not to look; eventually she stared so hard she fell asleep. She woke up two hours later as the car was pulling into her great aunt’s driveway, and decided she couldn’t’ve really been asleep at all, but for the whole rest of the week she was jittery and too-awake, and she wanted to stand up and run out the door and never stop.
A river runs through the middle of St Statias. Eventually it turns into the Thames, then the Nile, then the Amazon, but the bit of it that’s in St Statias is narrow and doesn’t look like anything special. Sometimes people think that means it isn’t dangerous, so they get on a boat and hope they’ll see the world, only to end up in a desert five hundred years ago, or in a forest that only exists in stories. I know that’ll never happen to Jane, at least, because we both hate boats.
There’s a river here, too, but it basically sucks. It smells, and all you’ll get from it is ticks. Every year there’s a little less water and a little more cracked mud, but for about two weeks in winter it floods, and in those two weeks it’s nice, if you can find a vantage point that’s both far enough away not to get the smell stuck in your hair and not an overpass.
I went to stare at it for a while the other day, and I thought, if the St Statias river can turn into the Thames and the Nile and the Amazon, maybe someday it’ll turn into this river too. Maybe they’ll invent a train that goes on rivers, so I wouldn’t have to take a boat. I like trains; I could take a train anywhere. It’d be nice if it ended up at St Statias with Jane, but it certainly doesn’t have to.
Anyway, if there was a train that went anywhere, Jane would take it too. We could meet up in the middle, and spend a couple of days playing tourist somewhere crazy, and then go on again. Sometimes we’d see each other every day, and sometimes we wouldn’t see each other for months, but it wouldn’t matter because we’d be seeing so much else.
Then a panhandler walked up to me and tried to convince me his pregnant girlfriend was carrying a zombie kid which would eat her from inside if she didn’t stay well fed, so I gave him some money and turned back toward home.
It’s snowing where Jane is, and it gets dark at three in the afternoon. Jane doesn’t tell me what she does when it’s snowing and it’s evening during the day, when she’s finished her essays and her reading and has gotten bored of puttering around on the internet.
I could imagine her watching the river, daydreaming about trains and adventures, but it’s probably too cold for that. I could imagine her chatting with friends, but I don’t want to. I want imaginary-Jane all to myself.
That means I have to imagine she’s in her room or in the library. No teacup in her hands, because if she’s in her room she’d have to go down the hall for the kettle, and if she’s in the library she’d have to go out to a shop or sneak into some department’s break room, and that’s too much moving around for a day like this. Drawing wouldn’t be too much moving around, but I don’t know what she’d draw. I know even less what she’d think.
Her hair’s in her face, so no one can tell if her eyes are moving or if they’re still. But they must be one or the other, they must be either moving or still. They must be shining.