By Stuart Lishan
When Sherri Luna rammed Jerry Kruger’s crew cut head into the handball
court wall at Kester Avenue Elementary School on February 15, 1964,
I knew she loved him, a swirling, butch, embarrassed sort of love that
denied itself even as it was expressed. She loved him the way a 9-year-old,
beefy-ankled, white-socked, scuffed-up saddle-shoed, Valley girl chicana
loves a drawly, red-necked, red-haired, red-freckled, cracker son of
a Pentecostal preacher from Oklahoma who wouldn’t let his kid slow dance
in Miss Arlington’s A4 class, not because Miss Arlington was a wafer-thin
woman with a 2-foot-high beehive hairdo that made her look like an alien
from some planet of white-porcelain doll people with blood-red lips
and fingernails long and sharp as steak knives, but because Jerry’s
preacher pa didn’t believe 9-year-olds, much less anybody, should be
cradling one another’s bodies in their arms and breathing softly on
their necks as they swayed to music. Nosiree, Sherri Luna didn’t love
Jerry that way, the slow dance, fandango way, where holding someone
close is as sweet and natural as lying on your back in the back yard
watching the clouds and letting the sunlight kiss your cheek, but she
loved him just the same. I knew it when I first saw her rub her body
up against Jerry’s blue jeans as she slugged him in the arm by the water
fountain the first day he came to class that winter. Plus, she didn’t
want to slow dance, not because she didn’t believe in it, but because
she was constitutionally against any request that curled out of Miss
Arlington’s pouty lips.
“Just do it, honey.”
“No, I said!”
So, “Ka-Chunk,” went Jerry’s head, cradled in Sherri’s gentle headlock
when Miss Arlington was putting a scratchy waltz on the mono record
player that Ricky LaConte had lugged out onto the playground after lunch.
Ricky, a fat kid who liked to have us punch his stomach in the boys’
room until his bubbly flesh was filled with blotches like lesions, liked
to do such favors, his arm shooting up like a rocket ship out of its
socket every time Miss Arlington asked with those pouty lips just who
would like to do this or that for her. And that’s a sort of love, too,
don’t get me wrong, only it wasn’t Sherri Luna’s sort of love. She needed
to touch the someone she loved, even if she didn’t understand what the
yearning in her heart was asking her 9-year-old body to do.
I was breathing my face into Melinda Coates’ blond ringlets, getting
hairs twisted in my glasses’ hinges and imagining myself in heaven and
then feeling embarrassed for even thinking such a slack-brained thing
as that when I heard it.
“Ka-Chunk,” echoing into the mauve plastic handball court wall that
rose out of the blacktop playground surrounded by bungalows, chain-link
fence, and honeysuckle rustling in the winter breeze like our breaths
on one another’s necks as we danced.
“That was fun,” Jerry laughed. “Do it again,” with again drawled out
so long, so slow, that it slobbered and dribbled out of his mouth into
a dopey-grinned, three-syllabled, shrieky a-gaaa-in.
“Do it a-gaaa-in.”
Poor Ricky. He was right next to me, swaying sort of sad-like, out of
time and out of step with Louise Dolan. He wanted to be in that headlock,
too, I guess. Maybe he thought that the bumps on his forehead would
go with the blotches on his stomach. I don’t know, but I know this.
Sheri would have none of him. Ricky wasn’t Jerry in any way, shape,
or form, and Sherri Luna loved Jerry. That was that, end of the story.
We were dancing that Strauss waltz you hear in 2001 when the ship docks
with the space station, and I swear I saw her gently bend over as pretty
as you please and nibble out a tongue-licked hickey on that sun-burnt,
freckly red neck of his when she thought no one was looking. We stared
and stared. Not even the creamy touch of Melinda Coates could keep me
from it. No one in Miss Arlington’s A4 class in 1964 had ever seen such
And then she counted to three. And then she did it again.
And then she did it again. And I swear she didn’t miss a beat, not a
one, not a single one.
work has appeared in Kenyon Review, Arts & Letters, Bellingham
Review, Antioch Review, New England Review, In Posse Review, Chicago Review,
The Journal and other literary magazines. Body Tapestries,
a chapbook of poetry, appeared in the electronic journal Mudlark
in 2001. He is currently finishing up a novel, Lightseed, and
working on a work of creative nonfiction entitled Winter Counts.
He is an associate professor of English at The Ohio State University.