Mary Bennet Starts High School

A modern-day Pride and Prejudice character sketch.

For Mary Bennet, high school is a different experience than it is for her older sisters.

Jane, the eldest, is homecoming queen. She’s a cheerleader who’s genuinely kind and sincerely loved, even by people who hate cheerleaders. When she isn’t organizing fun runs for children with cleft palates, she’s volunteering at the pediatric ward of a local hospital and at an animal shelter.

Elizabeth is on the debate team, the soccer team, and the staff of the school newspaper as a photographer. She’s made 99th percentile on her SATs and is running an extracurricular chemistry research project on a local polluted lake. She isn’t as well-liked as Jane, but she’s pretty and witty and fairly good-natured, which means that other people are more apt to accept her unabashed intelligence and occasional lapses in temper.

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Chapters in the Life of a House Frog: A Story

I

Before getting trapped in the swimming pool filter, the frog had not been aware of time and death. He had never reflected on the course of his life or thought about what he was and what would become of him. He had kept his eyes on the small stirring things in the world: a fly darting, a gnat drifting, the crickets quivering in the grass.

The swimming pool had been peppered with bugs. They had dashed across the surface or bobbed around near death. The frog had plopped in and felt a sting of chemicals. For a long time, he had swum around, until he had become exhausted. The filter had drawn him in then, gently into its mouth.

Once he crossed into the filter, he changed. He knew he was going to die. Normal frogs don’t think about death, not consciously. But in the filter, amid cast-off leaves and motionless bugs, he considered his fate. He was trapped, with nothing to eat and nowhere to go; he would die, his body embalmed in chlorinated water.

In this state the young girl found him. She hoisted the sodden filter basket and smiled down at him. Her face was thin, and her skin was pale and almost as translucent as an egg sac. When her hand closed over the frog’s cool flesh, he was too tired to struggle against it. Whether or not she’d kill him remained to be seen. For now, he was alive, with the sun starting to stir his cold blood. He twitched, and her grip tightened. She took him into her house.
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Sigrid’s Fairy Christmas Tree

I visit Sigrid’s apartment with a plate of sugar cookies, store bought because I haven’t yet learned how to bake. She opens the door in a cloud of gold hair and vanilla-scented perfume. In a day or two she’s taking down her fairy Christmas tree, and invited me to see it.

It’s decorated with fairy figurines she made herself.

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Kilter Street Profiles: Mika

Mika, who is nine, lives with her parents, Mario and Michiko, and her brother, Max, in Apartment 2d.

My first impression of her: small, watchful, darting. Her straight dark hair falls to her shoulders, and flies out as she bolts up the stairs or around corners in the narrow hallways.

She loves art of all kinds – painting, crafts, making theater props. Outside of her family, the person she’s most connected to at Kilter Street Manor Apartments is Sigrid.

Kilter Street Profiles: Max

Max is 13 and lives with his parents, Mario and Michiko, and his sister, Mika, in Apartment 2d.

He’s quiet, thin, dark-haired, and often ducks his head, at least in front of people he doesn’t know well. He plays viola and has a lovely, rare smile.

When I see him around the Kilter Street Manor Apartments, he’s usually watching over his sister, or hanging out with a friend or two whose names I don’t know.

Kilter Street Profiles: Mario

Mario lives with his wife, Michiko, and his kids, Max and Mika, in Apartment 2d. He’s the building’s maintenance man, and doesn’t mind the recurring jokes about how he’s a guy named Mario and owns plumbing tools.

He’s cheerful, robust, easygoing, and even-tempered. He isn’t curious about much, but seems to just take things as they come and live with contentment. One of his chief enjoyments is social media. His Instagram site is an ongoing documentation of disasters in Kilter Street Manor Apartments: flaking ceilings, burst pipes, the elevator that only works well for one resident, John.

Both sides of his family came to the U.S. from Italy. Sometimes he likes to play up his Italian heritage by speaking with an exaggerated accent and singing pseudo-arias, because it makes his kids groan.

Kilter Street Profiles: Lewis

The main impression I get from Lewis is that he isn’t happy.

He’s a young man, maybe early 20s. Stringy, with a lean face and matted light brown hair. He’s pale and has some freckles under his eyes and on the bridge of his nose. He doesn’t smile much. When he does, his eyes stay hard. He’s angry, maybe, but about what? I don’t know yet.

He lives with his dad, Eben, and works in his dad’s ice cream store.

Kilter Street Profiles: Michiko

Michiko, who lives in Apartment 2d with her family, is a high school history teacher. She’s a slender, dark-haired woman who seems often preoccupied in thought. She wears round glasses and carries herself with a slightly defensive hunch. Her voice is firm, her enunciation precise. She knows Latin and reads avidly.

Family

Her maternal grandparents moved to the US from Japan, and her mother was born in the US. Her father was born in Japan and emigrated to the US as a young adult, where he met her mother. She has a few older brothers and is the only girl and the youngest in her birth family.

She’s married to Mario, the Kilter Street Apartments maintenance worker. They have two kids: Max and Mika. Michiko is sometimes bewildered by her marriage. She feels like she fell into it, without much planning, and that amazingly it’s mostly good. She’s glad she met her husband, who’s a decent man and like a steady, warm furnace that doesn’t swelter or go cold. She sometimes can’t believe that this is her life. And that she’s a mother. Even though she isn’t always a demonstrative person, she can honestly say that her kids take her breath away – in a good way.

Kilter Street Profiles: Eben

Eben owns an ice cream shop. That’s what he’s known for around Kilter Street Manor Apartments.

He’s in his 50s. Two things stand out about him at a first glance: he’s broad-shouldered, and his hair is completely white.

He’s a veteran, and from a family that’s served in the military for generations. He can also trace his lineage to some of the earliest colonists who came from England to the US.

His son, Lewis, lives with him and works for him at the shop.

Kilter Street Profiles: Hubby

Elana Elisa’s husband is known around these parts as “Hubby.” I’ve never heard him referred to by a name. She calls him Hubby; other people usually call him “Elana’s husband” or “The Hubs.” When they speak to him face-to-face, I don’t know what they say. “Hey, you?” Never heard a name.

He doesn’t talk a lot or show up much in any of the building’s common areas. Not that he seems unfriendly. He has a gentle, polite air, a small but genuine smile. He’s middle-aged and balding. His bald spot is pink-white. It reminds me in a weird way of an atmospheric storm on a planet, like the Great Red Spot of Jupiter.

He likes to wear socks with sandals, and knee-length shorts and untucked button-down shirts. He has a brown and gray chevron mustache. I don’t know what he does for a living, or if he’s retired or unemployed.