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**CURRENT PRINT: 318: Installment 25 features "318," by Birmingham's Nadria Tucker, the story of a stripper's daughter in prep for a beauty pageant and so much more. Also: "Big Doug Rides Torch," a short from Chicago's Jonathan Messinger's new Hiding Out collection.
CONDOTOWN Robert Duffer
SLIP Charles Blackstone

Amber Drea

THE2NDHAND's Mixtape series ("Stories About Songs," goes the standard descriptor, though "about" can also mean "inspired by" in the most abstract sense), though this one breaks the 3-page length rule, which we would encourage, would like to encourage your submissions. Visit this page for details. This gem comes by way of Amber Drea, based on Pat Benatar's song of the same title.

Janine wasn't the angel that her grandma, her third grade teacher Ms. Hinkley and her best friend Lisa's mom thought she was. Even though she got mostly O's for Outstanding on her report card with the occasional S for Satisfactory -- only because she sometimes talked too much in class -- and excelled in every subject, even art and music, Janine was always in trouble at home. She got yelled at for spilling apple butter on the living room carpet, for forgetting to clean her hamster's cage, for inviting friends over after school when her mom and stepfather were still at work and for not bringing her mother the right color nail polish.

Her punishment was usually a week without TV or going outside. But since Janine was home alone for three hours a day after school, it was easy to cheat. She'd watch the Disney Channel right up until 5:58 p.m., until one day her mom caught on and felt the TV to see if it was warm. Janine's heart percolated like a Mexican jumping bean. "Mother always knows," her mom laughed. "And now you're grounded another week."

DecomP Magazine

With her TV-watching schemes foiled, Janine decided to break the other rule and went to Lisa's house right after school. Technically, she was staying inside, Janine rationalized. Lisa's room was all pink and frilly with a canopy bed and she had every toy Janine ever wanted. That's really the only reason Lisa was her best friend. Lisa was sweet and blond and quiet, aka boring. If people thought Janine was an angel, they must have thought Lisa was the Holy Mary.

Janine and Lisa listened to sing-a-long records with songs like "She's Been Comin' Round the Mountain" and "Someone's in the Kitchen With Dinah" while playing My Little Ponies. The girls mostly just brushed their manes and tails and put little bows in.

"Do you ever get grounded?" Janine asked Lisa.

"What's that?" Lisa said, blond ringlets coming loose from her headband.

"Never mind," Janine said.

"Tell me." Lisa looked up from the plastic horses at Janine.

"It's when you do something you're not supposed to and your mom or dad say you can't go outside or watch TV," Janine explained.

Lisa continued brushing the tail of the pink one with green hair. "Well, sometimes they send me to my room if I don't finish my meat," she said. "I always eat my veggies and potatoes, but I hate meat."

"That's weird," Janine said. "I love meat, but I hate potatoes."

Lisa giggled. "How can you hate potatoes?"

Lisa's mom called down the hall. "Dinner's ready!"

"You can stay here and play until I'm finished eating," Lisa suggested.

"Okay," Janine said. Lisa ran out the door to the dining room, and Janine stayed on the floor with the My Little Ponies. But she was bored. She looked around at the piles of toys for something better to do and found a pen that wrote in six different colors. There was some Hello Kitty stationery in Lisa's dresser drawer, and Janine wrote her name in each color: purple, red, orange, yellow, green, blue. The ink smelled like the chemically created grape scent of a scratch-and-sniff sticker, after you've scratched-and-sniffed it 100 times. Janine wanted the pen, but didn't know where to get one for herself. She put the pen in her pocket, thinking Lisa wouldn't notice. But the pen was way too big, so she tied her windbreaker around her waist to cover it up.

"I have to go home!" Janine yelled as she passed Lisa's family in the dining room and headed straight for the door. "Thanks, Lisa!"

When she got back to her apartment, her mom was already there, and she was livid. The nostrils of her tiny nose flared out, and her golden eyes smoldered. "Why do you disobey me every chance you get?" Janine's mom said through clenched teeth.

"I don't know," Janine said, standing just inside the front door and staring at the back of the couch. She really didn't.

"I don't know what to do with you!" Her mom pulled the dishtowel between both hands. "You don't respect me, and I'm sick of it. I have to work, and I should be able to trust you to stay home and do what I tell you. Do you want me to get a babysitter or send you to back to daycare?"

"No." Janine went to daycare last year, during which she once got a bloody nose from trying to do knee-flips on the parallel bars and another time swallowed a seashell from a game of Mancala. And the year before that, this woman used to watch her, and Janine would always do bad things with the lady's son Patrick, like look at his father's porn stashes or steal a package of BBs from the grocery store even though they didn't have a BB gun. Apparently, having supervision wasn't any safer nor did it affect her behavior at all.

"We can't afford it anyway," her mom sighed, picking up her shopping bags. "Wanna see what Mommy got at Filene's?"

After Janine's mom showed her all the clothes she bought that day on her lunch break ("They were on sale"), Janine was sent to her room for the rest of the night, only coming out for dinner at 8 p.m. She, her mother and her stepfather usually watched whatever sitcom was on while they ate -- they could see the TV from the dining room -- and that night it was The Cosby Show, the one in which Theo and Rudy perform circus tricks while their parents aren't home and Rudy smacks her face against the wall and they lie about what happened so they don't get in trouble. The episode reminded Janine of the pen she stole. She wanted to go back to her room and draw with it. "May I be excused?"

"Finish your potatoes first," her mom said.

In her room, Janine got the pen out from where she hid it in her sweater drawer (they lived in California, so she rarely wore them) and sat at her desk. She turned on the radio and drew a picture of what she wanted to be when she grew up: a singer just like Pat Benatar.

As Janine was putting the finishing touches on her outfit -- an asymmetrical sequined shirt and a butterfly belt -- a song she'd never heard came on, but she could recognize that voice anywhere: It was Pat Benatar. The chorus went "Because hell! Hell is for children/And you know that their little lives can become such a mess/Hell! Hell is for children/And you shouldn't have to pay for your love with your bones and your flesh."

Janine didn't understand. Hell is for children? Was she saying that children go to hell? Maybe she was talking about bad kids like Janine. Maybe Janine was going to hell for stealing things and not obeying her mother. Janine wasn't even sure what hell was, but she knew it had something to do with where you go when you die. One time her mom let her watch the movie Hellraiser, and it was the scariest thing she'd ever seen. She'd had nightmares about that Pinhead guy floating outside her window in the middle of the night for weeks afterwards. Maybe all the horrible stuff he did to people in the movie were what they did to you in hell.

Janine went out to the living room where her stepfather and mother were watching TV. "Mommy?" Janine said.

"What are you doing out here?" her mom said. "It's time for bed."

"I don't want to go to hell," Janine said.

Her mom looked at her. "Hell isn't real. I told you that."

"But Pat Benatar said that hell is for children."

Her mom smiled, trying to hold back from laughing. "Come here, sweetie," she said, holding her arms out. She pulled Janine close and stroked her hair. "Even if there was a hell, it's not for children. It's for adults who do terrible things, like kill people."

"What about stealing?" Janine said.

"Stealing is pretty bad, too, but then they just go to jail."

Janine didn't want to go to jail either. "Could I go to jail?"

"Only when you're 18. Until then, you have to deal with me. Why? Did you steal something?"

"No," Janine said. Her mom didn't say anything about lying.

"OK, well, go brush your teeth." She put Janine down and patted her butt. "We've decided to put you back in daycare, but since it's going to take a few days for us to find one, I'm leaving work early for the rest of the week so I can be here when you get home from school. Remember, you're still grounded and restricted to your room, so I expect you home by 3:15. Actually, I'll pick you up at the school to keep you from getting into any trouble on your way home."

Great, Janine thought. Spending time with her mother was almost worse than hell.