The St. Petersburg Poster Girls


They were chosen for their bodies. Taut skin, broad shoulders, supple breasts, unwrinkled cheeks. The only way anyone could tell them apart was the color of their bathing suits. I want to bend the green one over, said the men. I wish I were as pretty as the red one, said the ladies.

They were tanned, no blemishes, rouge cheeks, tight curls. They walked with encyclopedias on their heads behind the Poster Girls bus, snuck cigarettes in the back seat, crouching under the windows. They ate ham sandwiches and drank milkshakes at drugstore counters from Tallahassee to Tucson. They traveled from city to city selling Florida sunshine and the clothing line of Webb’s Department Store in St. Petersburg. They traveled from city to city selling smiles and youth and sunshine.

They traveled from city to city with scars. They traveled from city to city with miscarriages and broken hearts. They traveled from city to city with bruised ribs and cheeks covered with concealer. They traveled with colds and periods and gas. They traveled from homes they’d never had to places they could never stay. They lived in skin they wanted to rip off like the Dior and Pierre Cardin Webb’s knockoffs they modeled in the department stores and main streets. At night when the bus parked at the motor inn, when Mrs. Esmeralda May, the chaperone, was asleep in front of the Lawrence Welk show, doors opened. They left their rooms, two by two, like Jack and Jill through the forest. They passed a switchblade around the moonlit swimming pool. They flashed grins, laughing, jabbing the air, daring each other to make the first cut.

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About Author


Jen Michalski is the author of the novels The Summer She Was Under Water and The Tide King (both Black Lawrence Press); a couplet of novellas, Could You Be With Her Now (Dzanc Books); and two collections of fiction, From Here and Close Encounters. Her work has appeared in more than 100 publications, including Poets & Writers. In 2013, she was named as “One of 50 Women to Watch” by The Baltimore Sun and “Best Writer” by Baltimore Magazine. She is the host of a fiction reading series in Baltimore, called Starts Here! and editor in chief of the weekly lit journal jmww.

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