It was easy to disconnect from life up here, which was the reason Janice had loved this place. So far away, she’d said, like you were a bird hovering above everyone else. Janice was like that, looking for a silver lining. Me, I just saw the stairs that you’d need to take if the elevator broke down.
I stood by the window and stared down at the traffic that ebbed and flowed on the street below. The apartment felt empty. It wasn’t. It was stuffed full of bits and pieces that Janice had collected, a random assortment of eclectic objects that cluttered together with no rhyme or reason. Janice would pick up a nick-knack here and a bit-or-bob there, stuffing these collectables into her over crowded living space. Now it was just junk, and I had to decide what was to be done with it. I’d start with the bedroom.
On her bedside table was a frame, a tacky plastic frame with sunflowers printed around the edge. I remembered when she bought that frame. It was during one of our last visits home. Our old primary school was hosting a fete and we went along for shits and giggles. Mr Harper was there, megaphone in hand cajoling people to part with their cash for baked goods, coin tosses and second hand junk at the white elephant stall. He’d done it every year when we were kids, and I was amazed to see him still at his post. He must have been a hundred years old, if he was a day. We’d been admiring all the junk on the trestle tables, giggling over the odds and ends that ended up there year after year, each one hoping to find a new home.
“Well if it isn’t Janice Jones and Marnie Shaw. Fancy seeing you ladies back here.” Mr Harper didn’t need the megaphone pressed to his lips to be heard. His many years as the PE teacher had honed his lungs to a powerful weapon, but he took great pleasure in aiming the speaker toward our heads anyway, ensuring that everyone in the vicinity could hear him. “Welcome back girls. Why don’t you take a look at some of these great bargains? All proceeds going to a good cause you know.”
Janice grabbed that frame at random from the table and waved it as if she were waving a flag of surrender.
“I think I need this frame. Been looking for it my whole life,” she said to Mr Harper with a cheeky grin. Of course, the frame was hideous, and I just stared open-mouthed. Janice laughed, paid the five dollars to Mrs Lewis, then pulled her phone from her pocket, lining us both up for a selfie with the obnoxious sunflower frame.
My eyes welled up as I looked beyond the tacky plastic frame to the photo it held. There we were, her laughing madly, clutching the frame with one hand as she hugged my shoulders, me with the stunned look on my face as if I was unsure of what had just happened. Our life was frequently like that. She was a mad whirlwind of energy, while I was often dragged along for the ride. I placed the frame in a box marked with my name. I would keep that hideously garish frame, so I packed it away among the memories.
Next, I opened the top draw. I figured that the clothing could go to Goodwill. None of it would fit me. Janice was a stick, no boob or butt. Me, I was all boob and butt, and belly and hips and thigh and, well, let’s just say I’m curvaceous. I lifted some yoga pants from the drawer. She always looked good in them. Bright purple. You couldn’t miss her when she wore them. We would meet up every Monday before work to go to the gym and do yoga. Well, I wanted to do yoga. It was something my doctor suggested to help me with my anxiety. Janice went to perve. She thought the eye candy lifting weights in the next room was the main attraction, and she always set our mats up at the back, where we had an unobstructed view. I was just grateful to be at the back where no one had to see me struggle with a downward dog or child pose. Janice could tree pose and triangle pose and likely stand on her head while juggling if she so chose to, all without breaking focus on the toned and terrific men with their bulging biceps and rippling abs.
It was hard being Janice’s friend, but we’d been ‘besties’ since before I could remember. I loved her like no other, and I hated her like no other. It never mattered what I thought. We rode the Janice wave through life. It was a good thing, though. Without her, I would probably still be at home. She was the reason we were here. Once we had our degrees, she convinced me to move to the city, get better paying jobs, strike out on our own. For the first year we shared an apartment, but I quickly realised that we were better friends if we didn’t live together. Nothing stayed the same with Janice. She moved things around, changed up the furniture, brought home strange and obscure objects that had no purpose or aesthetic value. I liked my space orderly and structured. After eight months of saving, I moved into my own place and Janice signed the lease for this tiny apartment on the top floor.
Perhaps I should have tried harder. Maybe Janice would still be alive if we were still living together. Maybe I would have prevented it.
A clatter broke the silence, and I turned to see the baseball bat roll along the floor. It must have fallen. Maybe there was a window open somewhere, as the apartment was very chilly. Janice used to call her baseball bat ‘protective planning’ and she usually kept it behind the sofa so she could access it in an emergency. I’m not sure how behind the sofa was easy access, but I knew better than to argue with Janice. She always had a plan, and that plan made sense to her, even if it didn’t make sense to anyone else.
I returned to the task at hand, dumped all the clothing into the box destined for Goodwill. But I kept the purple yoga pants. Who in their right mind would want them, anyway? I couldn’t see some destitute person being grateful for the hideous purple leggings, so I slipped them into the other box along with the sunflower frame.
Once the donation box was full, I carried it to the door for collection. As I passed through the hallway, my stomach revolted suddenly and a chill streaked down my spine. Perhaps I hadn’t had breakfast? I couldn’t remember this morning. All the days had blurred into one big, jumbled mess of before and after. As I staggered to the door, I felt my phone ring as my Apple Watch buzzed on my wrist, but I just couldn’t bring myself to take the call. It would be Mum, or worse, Janice’s mum, ringing to check up on me, telling me about the arrangements, asking if I would be home for the Wake, begging me to bring the ashes back so they could be buried in the family plot. I just couldn’t deal with it. The funeral was bad enough. My eyes blurred and my throat seized up, as my chest seemed too tight to hold my heart.
I looked around the room. There she was, everywhere. Little pieces of Janice, things that she loved, things she’d forgotten she owned, things that just collected in corners. And here was I, the one who had to decide what was worthy and what was not. Which parts of her to keep, which parts to discard? What was important and what was just crap? How was I to judge? I never understood why she had so much stuff, but it was hers. Each little thing was a piece of her. The memories haunted me. Some memories were good, others were not. There was so much guilt in words left unsaid, so much remorse for thoughts and actions that could no longer be atoned for, except by expunging my best friend’s existence from this tiny apartment.
I went to work again, methodically processing these last earthly possessions that somehow were the sum total of Janice’s effects. Sad to think that twenty-eight years of life were crammed into these four walls, and all of it meant nothing to anyone else. I looked around. It would still be here tomorrow and I decided that it was enough for now. There was just too much to do in one session, too many memories, too much pain. My phone rang again, and I sighed as I looked at the caller ID.
I resigned myself to answering. “Hey Mum.”
“Marnie, honey, are you OK? You sound tired. Are you sleeping?”
No, I’m not OK. “I’m fine, Mum.” I had become very experienced at lying to my parents.
“Susan and Peter were asking after you. They want to know when you’re coming back.”
If Susan and Peter knew how much of a bad friend I had been to their daughter, they wouldn’t be asking. My stomach dropped.
“Look Mum, I’m in the middle of sorting out Janice’s stuff. Now is not a good time. Can I call you later?”
“You said that yesterday and the day before. I’m still waiting for your call.”
“I promise I’ll call. I just don’t have the time right now.” It was true, I didn’t have the time. I didn’t think I would ever have enough time to rid myself of this horrible feeling of self loathing. I couldn’t understand how someone like Janice, so alive and vital, was gone, just like that. No explanation, no reason, no warning. Perhaps if I’d been around more, I would have seen the signs. Perhaps I could have prevented it. “I have to go, Mum.”
I hung up and sighed as I look around the apartment. There was nothing more I could do right now. Janice was still here and I was too close, so I picked up my box in one hand, and gathered my bag and keys in the other, then walked out of the apartment. Once more, I left the ghost of Janice behind. I would try to make peace again tomorrow.