Jill Hankey slept over, when Justine was seven. Jill, who would later call her a lesbian and suck off most of the boys in ninth grade, brought Tiger Beat and Seventeen magazines. Justine’s mother made French bread pizzas in the toaster oven.
“Simon LeBon or John Taylor?” Jill made what Justine thought were false equivalencies; shouldn’t Nick Rhodes be factored into the equation, or Liam from Kajagoogoo? “Ricky Shroeder or Justin Bateman?”
“Whatever happened to John or Paul?” Justine’s mother stabbed at the tray of French bread pizzas with an oven-mitted hand. The toaster butted up against a stack of Baltimore Sun newspapers and People magazines, their incongruent sizes stacked together as one, creating a leaning tower of media that jutted and receded like MC Escher stairs. The edge of the Metro section, resting against the toaster, curled and turned black before the heat raced in a brown V across the top of the page.
The smoke detector screamed. Jill Hankey screamed. Justine’s mother hit the newspapers, whap, whap, whap, with her oven-mitted hand
like Bruce Lee in Enter the Dragon, and little embers floated around the kitchen like fairies.
“Make a wish,” her mother said, pulling out the pizza, beautifully bubbled mozzarella brown on the edges. The last perfect thing Justine remembers.
Jen Michalski lives in Baltimore, Maryland. She was voted one of the best authors in Maryland by CBS News, one of “50 Women to Watch” by The Baltimore Sun, and “Best Writer” by Baltimore magazine (Best of Baltimore issue, 2013).
Her novel The Tide King was published by Black Lawrence Press (2013; winner of the Big Moose Prize). She is the author of two collections of fiction, Close Encounters (So New, 2007) and From Here (Aqueous Books, 2013) and a collection of novellas, Could You Be With Her Now (Dzanc Books, 2013). She also edited the anthology City Sages: Baltimore , which Baltimore magazine called “Best of Baltimore” in 2010. She is the founding editor of the literary quarterly jmww, host of the monthly reading series The 510 Readings in Baltimore, and interviews writers at The Nervous Breakdown.