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The Friends You Had Before You Had Friends by Jeanine Skowronski


They were heart-shaped lollipops stuck to your jumper, black raindrops splattered up your calves and across the hem of your Sunday best skirt; a neat line of locked elbows, sticky fingers, scratched palms; nanny nanny boo boo barbs traded through chain-link fences — your momma’s so fat she calls you home for dinner at five, you dad’s so stupid, he works nights — weak truces brokered over bloody noses, hands shook around fists full of hair.


They were the two Mandys to the rescue, high ponies, sharp nails, red lips stuck to pointed teeth. They leant you their bodysuits and brass bangles; ironed kinks into your stick-straight hair; dangled a third half of their gold-plated hearts behind a list of triple-dog-dares: stolen nail polish, sloppy kisses, grain alcohol mixed with your father’s prized bottle of Bailey’s Irish Cream; ding-dong-ditch with a brown bag of dog shit — and, yeah, they ran off laughing when you stumbled, sharpened their French tips once they heard you told your mother who you had been with; calls unreturned, notes that stayed folded, bad news delivered with downturned lips, but upturned brows: One, two, three, we’re not your friends.


They were gremlins, multiplying, the Mandys joined by a Jennifer, a Stacy, a Val, and a Kim, turned backs and glued hips, a fence made of popsicle sticks and, over and over, they lobbed whispers — her lips are so loose, she’d sink the Titanic, she’s so stupid, she trips over her own feet — bared fangs when you wandered too close to their end of the hallway, a backpack of textbooks slung over your sloped shoulders, shouldered until the whispers lost air, until the hisses stopped, finally; until they became yearbook signatures, 2 cruel 2 B forgotten, hidden between glossy paper and dull leather, still written in ink.


 


Jeanine Skowronski is a writer based in N.J. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in X-R-A-Y Lit, Lost Balloon, Five on the Fifth, (mac)ro(mic), Complete Sentence, Crow & Cross Keys, and Tiny Molecules. She placed 2nd in Reflex Fiction’s 2021 Winter Flash Fiction competition.

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