Kristina Milnius had perfect hair.
She sat directly in front of Bobby in Sister Mary Bernard’s third-grade class at St. Casimir’s Primary School in Oak Lawn, Chicago. Her silky blonde hair flowed down her back, reaching past her waist like a princess in a fairy tale. It was the cause of endless fascination for young Bobby Kroupa, bored as he always was, by the nun’s endless droning.
On and on Sister Bernard lectured, her colorless voice lulling him into a doze as he focused on Kristina’s polished tresses. They were arranged into two amazingly long braids. He couldn’t decide if one was just slightly longer than the other or if boredom was causing his mind to drift. Bobby wanted to touch them more than anything else in the world, feel the heft and weight of them.
It wasn’t that he particularly liked Kristina Milnius. All girls were strange creatures and better left alone. They didn’t like mud pies or stickball, kick the can or catching frogs down by the creek. They smelled funny and giggled a lot. No, Bobby’s interest was purely academic.
He longed to know how her hair looked out of the braids. How long it took her mother to arrange them each morning or what it felt like to have that much hair. Bobby’s father shaved him every month or so, “high and tight” he would always say, so Bobby really had no idea what it was like. If he reached out and picked up a braid would Kristina even notice?
Sister Bernard rapped her ruler hard on Bobby’s desk causing him to jump. She’d corrected him more than once about daydreaming, his mother had given him a good whack about it just last week. He shot to attention, folding his hands on the desk and nearly knocking over his inkpot. Bobby had gotten in trouble many times for spilling ink and was relieved to see it wobble, then settle back into the upright position. Ink was not cheap and waste was a sin. Bobby rubbed his knuckles in fear, terrified of the nun’s swift, punishing ruler.
Satisfied that she had reclaimed his attention, Sister Bernard passed him by without missing a single word in her lesson. Bobby felt his heart hammering in his chest as the recess bell mercifully rang.
The previous night had been a rough one. Bobby’s mother was so mad that she’d yelled at him in Lithuanian, reverting back to the language of the old country. Sister Bernard wouldn’t hesitate to phone her again–Bobby had to be on his guard. He sat up ramrod straight in his chair, hands clean and demurely folded as Kristina sat down. She was a vision in powder blue with two tiny matching bows in her golden-white hair.
All self-control abandoned him as a single shimmering braid flopped onto Bobby’s desk. A quick glance around the classroom found Sister Bernard facing the blackboard, his classmates all obediently copying away. There would never be a more perfect time.
Bobby reached down to claim his prize. He knew he was committing a grave sin, but felt powerless to resist. Pillowy and soft, he squeezed it lightly between his fingers, making sure not to alert Kristina. Such was the length of it that she couldn’t feel his intrusion as he picked it up, fascinated by its silken texture. Before he knew what he was doing, Bobby pulled it slowly across the desk and plunged the tip of it into his open inkpot.
Mesmerized, Bobby watched the ink move its way up Kristina’s braid, an enormous sucking fountain pen. Frantically he looked around, stunned that he seemed to be the only witness to this miraculous event. When the blackness had consumed over half of the hair, Bobby gently pulled it out, taking a quick moment to refill his ink. It seemed a real shame that the other braid should not be included in such an exciting experiment so Bobby decided to try his luck again. He pulled the other braid onto his desk and dipped it in.
The ink moved faster this time, beating its twin as it climbed higher and higher, past Kristina’s shoulders before Sister Bernard finally turned around. Bobby kept his eyes on the braid, completely entranced as the nun screamed in alarm. Bobby knew that he would be in very, very big trouble, but he also knew in his nine-year old-mind that it was completely worth it.
Bobby Kroupa had a hard time sitting for the next few days. Kristina Milnius’ mother joined his own in berating him in a fiery mixture of Lithuanian and English, such was the enormity of his transgression. He stood in the corner all the next day followed by three weeks of cleaning erasers. His mother banned him from the radio, there was to be no “Lone Ranger” for two months. Even his father got in on Bobby’s punishment, making him rake up all the leaves. He did allow Bobby to burn them, so it wasn’t a complete wash.
The hardest part had been apologizing to Kristina herself. He thought her new short hairstyle was quite becoming and told her so, earning a slap on the back of his head for his trouble. His parents knew Kristina’s mother and she was still on the warpath. Bobby’s mother was not amused, although he did notice a slight twinkle in his father’s eye whenever the subject of Bobby’s “Original Sin” was mentioned.
From his new seat across the classroom, Bobby looked for Kristina. Sister Bernard had seated him behind Joey Zulanis, knowing that Bobby wouldn’t touch his hair without getting a knuckle sandwich in return. He saw that Kristina’s short hair was pulled back with a pink headband, silky tendrils escaping in curls around her face and Bobby began to think that maybe girls weren’t so bad after all. As he settled into daydreaming, he thought that his first impression was still correct.
Kristina Milnius had perfect hair.
A.E. Herting is a writer and mother of three living in colorful Colorado. She has had short stories featured in over 40 publications, both online and in print. She has also completed a novel Wet Birds Don’t Fly at Night. You can contact her on Facebook here and her website is here.