When Justine was five she had three imaginary friends. Surrounded by three tall-as-willows older sisters, she felt hidden and small most of the time. Her sisters fawned over her, patting her thick black hair, twisting it into two long braids with white ribbon intertwined. She was their doll. But eventually boys stole away their attention, and so Justine invented ethereal, invisible playmates that materialized when she summoned them. She never felt lonely.
The first was a sort of Doppelganger, on whom she could place blame for evil deeds she had performed (usually on one of the older willow-sisters). One summer afternoon, dripping with heavy Ohio humidity, her mother walked over to where she was playing in the grassy front yard and knelt down beside her.
“Justine. Did you put Hattie’s new black t-straps in the mud? If you tell me the truth now, I promise not to be mad.”
Justine bit her lower lip and sucked it inside of her mouth. She looked down at an anthill and watched as the tiny black ants entered and exited the little hole at the top. “No, mama. That was Audrey.”
Justine’s mother turned her head a little and looked at Justine’s pretty little face, trying to determine if her daughter was fibbing. “Oh? Is Audrey a friend of yours? Does she live in our neighborhood? Do I know her mother?”
“Oh no! Audrey doesn’t have a mother. She lives in the magnolia tree. You can’t see her because you’re growned up.” and she got up suddenly and ran towards the back yard, revealing a big patch of greyish brown, almost dry mud on the back of her blue and yellow calico dress (a dress that had been worn by each of her older sisters in turn, re-stitched and shortened so she could wear it, too). Justine’s mother sighed, and stared after her youngest daughter, who seemed to live in her head alone, and not in the world with the rest of the family. She got up, careful not to step on the little anthill Justine had been fascinated with, and walked back into the house.