Outage – A Short Story

Inspired by a recent outage in the City of Possibility.

When Joan woke up from her nap, the light she had left on in the bathroom was out. Time to replace the bulb, was her first assumption. But when she shuffled to the kitchen for some water, she noticed that the digital time display on the oven was blank. Several steps across her studio apartment and she was at her desk, where the dead smartphone she had plugged in before her nap hadn’t recharged.

A power outage. Whether it was just in her apartment, the whole building, or many blocks beyond she didn’t yet know. She raised the window shade to find the sun setting on a summer evening and not a single light in any neighboring building. She heaved the window open, letting in hot, stale air. Nine floors up, she expected to hear people or cars, but the street was silent, and what she could see of it was empty.

With a gusty sigh, she yanked down the shade. She hoped this power outage, unlike the one a month ago, wouldn’t last a full day and spoil the contents of her fridge. She pulled off her striped pajamas, which were pasted with sweat to her body, and eased herself into jeans and a baggy brown t-shirt.

Her movements were stiff. Right after that last power outage, she had gotten into a car accident. Stiffness, tiredness, and headaches had slowed her down most days since. On top of these lingering problems, she continued to struggle with legal issues. Because she had zipped out of the building’s parking lot on her way to the supermarket for milk, eggs, meat, and everything else she had lost to her temporarily impotent fridge, she was being held at fault for the accident.

“As if you could call what happened a tragedy,” she muttered. Sliding her keys into her pocket, she opened the front door. Out in the corridor, only the emergency lighting was on. Every other ceiling lamp was dark, leaving most of the corridor in shadow, with deep pockets of darkness at each end. She listened for several moments but heard nothing.

She locked the door behind her and padded towards the stairs. The light in the stairwell was on, a strong yellow-white glow. She pushed at the exit door. The door shivered, but stayed shut. Repeated pushing only made her shoulder sore.

Joan stepped back from the door, panting, and peered up and down the corridor.

At one end, on the edge of the pocket of darkness, a woman stood, short and hunched.

Frowning, Joan made her way towards the woman, who remained still.

When Joan was several feet away, there really was no mistaking who it was. The pinched mouth, the piggish eyes, the hair a dull gray. “Helen,” she gasped.

Helen had been Joan’s neighbor. For decades, they had nurtured a mutual hatred that had made them notorious on the ninth floor.

They stared at each other, before Joan shoved her hand into the front pocket of her jeans. Her apartment keys were gone.

“Not a power outage,” Helen said. Though she had died a month earlier under Joan’s car, she stepped spryly now. Her hand closed around Joan’s wrist, and she drew her old neighbor into the darkness.

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.