“Jen Michalski’s second novel is an intense emotional commitment, but a worthwhile one.” – Ploughshares
“Jen is an astonishingly sensitive writer.” – HTML Giant
“Jen Michalski excels in subtlety that is made possible by her nuanced understanding of voice.” – The Rumpus
“Jen is a writerly heavyweight.” – Nate Brown, American Short Fiction
“We’re lucky to have Michalski before the rest of the world discovers her. But they will.” – Baltimore City Paper
Story Archives: In Fetu
There were always two, even as they all thought we were only one, even as you listen incredulously and think, no, there is only one, one voice, one story. Although it is true that sometimes it is one voice or the other or one story or the other, please be clear: this is our story.
But perhaps it is easier to start at the beginning.
We were born as one, to our parents, and placed on the single trajectory that we would call our lives. It was innocent enough, the mistake of it all, the oneness, for there was no evidence of twoness: one egg, one heart, one mind, one name. Just as we have always known that there were two, it was thus only natural to us that there were two. It could be no other way, and all the complications that came with the inconceivability of two were, for us, merely the nominal struggles of life.
Yet when our mother heard us playing in our room, she would find it strange that we would argue over which clothes to put on the doll, whether to paint or whether to build blocks, or whether to eat the snack cookies now or save them for later, when we were really hungry.
"No need to struggle, Julia," she would comfort us, and we thought she understood also, understood the inherent struggle between us who were both Julia but were not one Julia. "You do whatever you'd like, okay? No need to beat yourself up over it, dear heart. Don't fuss so."
But she did not understand, nor did our father. Although they used the words conflicted, struggle, torn often enough in describing us to our grandparents, friends, pediatricians, it was as if they were eclipsing the tip of the iceberg. They talked in figurative, metaphorical terms when in reality the situation was much more literal than they could ever expect.
The cusp of the problem began to dawn on us when we learned to speak and comprehend others. We did not understand why they thought of us as one when there was so obviously two of us that communicated, albeit at different times. There was no rhyme or reason as to who spoke; rather, it was who could get their thoughts out the loudest, the fastest:
"Mother, I don't want to wear the green dress. I hate green dresses!"
"Mother, it's really all right; you know I think the green dress is lovely."
"Mother, I shall tear a hole in the dress if you put it over my head!"
(from the short story collection Close Encounters; read more at Unlikely Stories 2.0)