It was awkward those first few years. Martina had been Nathan’s best friend and Ella’s role model. Without her, their lives felt empty. Neither one of them seemed to be able to fill the chasm that was left in the wake of Martina’s disappearance. After a while they stopped trying, and from there they found their connection.
Nathan wondered about their April ritual as he trudged around another corner of the stairwell, cast in a dull yellow by a series of sconces on the walls. He knew why they spent time with each other the rest of the year, but he was never sure what Ella marked with these visits. He was marking his hope – hope held out that one day Martina might join them for dinner. It would definitely fit her dramatic sense of occasion to show up to celebrate the anniversary of her own death.
Five years is a pretty dramatic interval, Nathan mused as he reached the top of the stairs. Maybe this is her year.
Krisis, Book 1
Issue #1: Girl Disappearing
Chapter One: April Tenth (pt. 2)
Ahead of him, Ella pushed open the chipped wooden door of her apartment and walked directly to her bright green couch. Nathan suspected she chose it just for the contrast with her hair. He followed her through the door into a bright single room with weathered wooden floorboards. It was half living space and half efficiency kitchen. The two sides were divided by a long, low table to the right of the door, which bore Ella’s computer and piles of textbooks. A wall on their left framed the bathroom, weirdly shoehorned into the middle of what would otherwise be a studio apartment, likely due to the placement of old water pipes directly below it. On the other side of it was an alcove barely big enough for a bed.
Nathan swung the door closed behind him while Ella situated herself in the middle of the couch. Across its cushions she had strewn several textbooks, a sheath of sheet music, one large knitting needle with accompanying yarn, and Martina’s old guitar. The battered end table beside the couch held another pile of text books, plus a small stand of candles. He smelled familiar, savory scent waft across the room from the kitchen.
“I ordered pizza from that place you like and always ask me if I order from,” she said, as if it was Nathan’s offense for ever suggesting such a thing to begin with. “Then I got it in my head to make those potatoes. You know, bake them first and then mash them, and then bake them again?”
Nathan smiled in anticipation. “Like Martina’s from Thanksgiving? I love those.”
Ella’s face turned stony and he knew immediately had had erred by mentioning her name so early in the event. Their April ritual had evolved a set of rules to observe. Priorities. Awkward small talk, food, less-awkward catching up, then talk about Martina. No acknowledgment of the occasion at any time prior to the plates being cleared.
It’s Ella fault for making the potatoes, Nathan thought. They practically scream Martina’s name. Ella drew the first blood. Still, it was his job to steer them clear of these little entanglements.
“Anyway, potatoes don’t especially go with pizza, Ella, do they?”
She shrugged and let her stoic face slip, but he knew she was still silently accusing him of breaking their pact. She picked up the guitar, and began to idly sketch scales up and down its neck. She made no motion to clear any of her other debris from the couch cushions, so Nathan settled in the middle of the floor, legs crossed Indian style, his messenger bag beside him.
“The books are for school?”
“Mmm hmm,” she studied her fingers carefully as they walked up the neck of the guitar.
“Not terribly, no,” she said, not pausing from her E flat diminished seventh scale.
Clearly he would have to try a different tack.
“I was on the news. Playing a show. I emailed you about it, but I know you only read my emails if I call you and ask you to – which sort of defeats the point of email, yes? And I didn’t call, so you probably haven’t seen it yet.”
“Nope.” Ella put a heavy plosive on her “p” so it echoed out against the bare wooden floors of her apartment. She was now playing in the key of F.
“Well, I brought my laptop so you could see. Or, more accurately, so I could compel you to watch.”
Ella studiously ignored his proposition, in favor of her scales.
Nathan sometimes wondered if he was the only person who asked her questions anymore. Not the sort of perfunctory questions she’d hear from a cashier or a bus driver (not unreasonably, she refused to acquire a driver’s license), but the questions of a friend.
Ella had kept to herself ever since Martina’s accident. The friends she had at high school lost a war of attrition against her, and as far as he could tell she hadn’t found any new ones at college. It was like her social existence withered away from that day forward.
Another anniversary to celebrate on April tenth, he mused.
Nathan remembered that night and the days that followed with terrible clarity – Ella’s mother’s call to his phone the next day when Martina never showed up for their family dinner. Had he heard from her since the show? Did he have any idea of where she’d be other than her apartment?
He wound up riding shotgun with Lilly, their mother, first to Martina’s apartment, then tracing their way back to the club. He remembered all too clearly the broken side rail on the bridge, the police tape and the boat below. They hadn’t pulled up the car yet, so had no way of knowing its owner. Yet, Lilly had a deadly certainty about her from the moment she stopped her car along the side of the bridge.
Ella had nothing but silence for him (and everyone else) in the following days of police reports and interviews and the terrible waiting for divers to find a body.
No body was there to be found. Just one car window, wound down, and Martina’s purse, entangled in the gear shift. Martina wasn’t officially dead, but she was decidedly missing without a trace.
It was a year later that Lilly proclaimed they had waited long enough, and preemptively scheduled a funeral. Or, whatever that was without a body or an official death or any kind of religion to steer the proceedings. That was Lilly’s way. If she was done hoping and ready to begin grieving, everyone else would simply have to follow suit as efficiently as possible.
The whole thing felt eerily like a graduation ceremony free of any graduates. Certainly not the raucous rock and roll wake Martina would sometimes describe to Nathan on long car treks to far-flung gigs. No, this was Lilly’s version of Martina’s funeral, and Lilly had always been private about the family. It had been years before she even acknowledged Nathan as one of Martina’s friends, let alone her best. The brief service was just Lilly and her husband, Edward, some of Lilly’s friends from work, Nathan, and Ella. None of Martina’s friends from high school or college. No other family – as far as Nathan ever knew, Martina had none.
True to form, Ella remained sullen and wordless through the event, a brief, joyless affair held around a wreath of flowers (lilies, of course) framing a smiling photo of Martina. Afterward Lilly asked if Nathan would drive Ella home while she said goodbye to her coworkers.
Alone together in his car, Ella finally spoke. It was the first time he had heard her say a word since Martina disappeared, other than curt replies to her parents.
“You were the last person to see her.”
It was not a question.
“I suppose I was,” he admitted, though they both already knew it to be true.
“What did she say?” [Read more…] about Krisis, Issue #1, Chapter One: April Tenth (pt. 2)