THE DAY I LOST MY MARBLES
I can remember that day very well. The day I lost my marbles to Susan Mc Dougal, after school. She was a new student, and seemed very uneducated in the game of marbles. When she approached me and a few of my friends as we played the day before and stared in amazement of my talent, I couldn't help but smirk.
Then the next day came, and there was Susan with her long red hair tied into pig tails, each flowing behind her back, her pretty blue dress flowing down just below her knees. In her right hand she held an ice cream cone that she had just bought. In the other, she held the largest bag of marbles I'd ever seen.
"Can I play?" she asked, her voice oozing with a deep, Southern accent. She
smiled and blinked two chocolate brown eyes at us. My best friend, Henry Taylor
shook his head and scowled.
"We don't play with girls," he growled. Henry was the typical American boy of the late thirties. Short, blonde hair, that almost always ended up being messed up before he went home. Dark blue jeans, with one pocket inside out, and a slingshot sticking in the other one. He was a perfect clone of the comic strip character, Dennis the Menace.
"I didn't think you knew how to play," I said, gazing at her cute, angelic face. She giggled and I felt myself blush. She told me the marbles were her father's, and that he'd let her borrow them for the day.
"We play for keeps," Charlie Hanson said, with sneer.
"I'll give you a kiss if you beat me," she said, twisting her body back and forth in a half circle motion. She blinked her eyes and pretended to cry as we all glared at her. "Please, I
promise to give you a kiss," she sobbed.
That was all it took for me to give in. I nodded slowly and the game began anew as she squealed with delight and took her place beside me. My friends put their marbles down into the circle, and Susan set down hers. I went to explain the rules to her, but she shook her head and smiled at me.
"That's okay. I'll figure it out as we go along," she said. She ignored the other guys teasing her and praised me as one, by one; I quickly eliminated all my friends from the field. And then there were two. At first I felt bad about knocking her first five marbles from the ring, and almost decided to let her have them back when I saw her disappointed eyes begin to swell up. Then it all changed.
I was only three marbles from victory, I swear I was. Then Susan placed her shooter at a different angle and knocked the three remaining marbles out of the circle so fast Ibarely had time to blink. I congratulated her and smiled at her exuberance at the small victory. I put a few more marbles down and challenged her again. I probably shouldn't have, but the three marbles she had knocked out of the ring were mine, and some of the rarer of the marbles in my collection.
Susan smiled at me again, but this time it seemed more like the smile of a predator glaring at her prey than that of an innocent, cute little thing. She reached her hand into her back and pulled out a huge handful of the coolest marbles I'd ever seen and put them into the ring. Once again, I pulled in the lead the first few minutes, but she soon caught up, and then over took me. Now I wasn't having as much fun.
Minutes turned to an hour, and then two hours. Soon I had lost all my marbles, most of which had been my father's when he was a child. Susan gave me a quick wink as she dropped the last of the precious orbs into her bag and skipped home. My friends turned to me and howled with laughter, that a girl had beaten the school marble champion of three years, in just less than three hours. My shoulders slumped, as the setting sun made my golden-brown hair look almost bronze.
I slipped home through the back door, and crept up the living room stairs, gazing one way and the other, hoping not to run into my father. One by one I climbed the old French staircase. With each step, the squeak under each stair shrieked like an old screech owl. I bit my lips and held my breath, my heart pounding faster than the seconds that ticked from the ancient clock that rested in the family room hearth.
Finally I rushed into my room, shut the door, and turned around to see my mother sitting on my bed, her small, oval hands resting in her hands. I frowned and took a step back from her as I watched her shoulders shake. Tears as transparent as glass poured down her normally rosy cheeks. I'd only seen her cry two times in my life; once at my grandfather's funeral, and the second time when she had found out a friend of hers was divorcing her husband.
I tentatively walked towards her, arching my head to one side as I knelt down next to her. "Mother, what's happened?"
"Shane, your brother, your grandmother," she gasped, trying to fight back the tears. She shook her dark brown hair and threw the newspaper at me. It nearly hit me in the ribs, but bounced off one of my bedposts and dropped onto the floor.
"I picked it up and quickly scanned the front page, feeling my pulse race. Germany had invaded Poland. Poland, the country my mother had come from when she moved to America to attend college. The country my brother had gone to visit my grandmother before, he too went to college. But the shrill terror of the invasion was masked by an even worse horror as I read that the town which my grandmother lived was attacked and destroyed by the Nazis. I sunk to my knees and cried with my mother.
. . . I left the room an hour later, leaving my mother to grieve in silence. I'll never understand why she choose my room to retreat into when she found out the horrid news, but after that it became a place of sanctuary for me when things grew hard, or sorrowful.
Anyway, as I walked into the kitchen I spied my father, sitting at the table, his eyes dark and stained as if he were one thousand miles away. I walked up to him and couldn't help but smile as he jerked as he glanced in my direction. He smiled sadly and ruffled my hair as he walked to the sink.
"So how was school?" He washed his plate and swung around, leaning against the sink as I tried to find the right words. I had completely forgotten about the marble game. He blinked and grinned. "I see that you didn't bring back the bag of marbles." Dad shook his head and groaned. "What a day huh?" For a second and lifted his eyes to stare straight into mine.
"Dad, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to lose them, really." I felt the house collapse around me as my shoulders drooped, and at the same time a taste of disgust that he would even think of bringing up something a frivolous as the marbles, considering what happened to grandmother and my brother. It would take me years to realize he was simply trying to lighten the shock of what had happened.
He sighed and chuckled, "I did warn you not to gamble with them, didn't I?" I
nodded sheepishly, I wanted to argue the point, but knew better. My father was the
greatest guy in the world, but you didn't want to make him angry. He laughed so
hard he was almost in tears. "It was the new girl who beat you, wasn't it?"
I felt my jaw drop as I backed away, I knew from Bible School that God as all-
knowing, but I hadn't been taught that the same rule applied to Earthly fathers. He grinned as if reading my head and walked up to me.
"Her father and I work at the same place. He told me on the phone just a few minutes ago that she came in their door and squealed about beating her school's marbles champion." Dad chuckled and blinked, "Didn't take long before I realized that was you."
"Sorry dad," I said, repeating my earlier apology. "I didn't know that she was so good."
"How do you think I lost my original marbles," he chuckled, winking at me. I looked at him with my big green eyes and shook my head. He nodded and laughed again. "Yes, I lost my marbles too. He looked toward the stairs and smiled sadly. "To her. Probably the same way the girl who beat you did. Blinked her eyes, pretended to know nothing of the game, and then proceeded to kick you butt up and down the curb until you had nothing left to gamble with."
He walked passed me and ruffled my hair. His hand dipped into my pocket and retreated as quickly as it had entered. I watched my father walked toward the stairs and climb them. That night I slept on the couch, or tried too anyway. I could hear my dad comfort my mother until the late hours of the night. When I woke up, I found fifty cents in the pocket my father had put his hand in, with a note, "Shane, try not to lose the next batch to a pair of pretty eyes, okay? Love, Dad."
It would be two weeks before I would buy any marbles, and another two years before I would challenge anyone to a match. Dad would go off to war when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, and three years later sent me a baker's dozen of fancy marbles from Paris. My grandmother and my brother escaped from prison two years after the invasion and made their way west. Although she was strong, grandmother died just shortly before the allies invaded France. Dad and my brother were reunited when a French Resistance movement under the leadership of Duncan came to the aide of my father's unit. When the war ended, Duncan and dad came home, and we restarted our lives.
And as for Susan Mc Dougal? Well, she conned me a second time into a marbles match. And once again, I felt the sting of defeat, with a different price to lose. Eleven years after our first match, the woman took me to the cleaners, and won the right to go from the status of my college sweetheart to my wife. For all of you, potential young school yard marble champions out there, I have one piece of advice. Never trust that cute redhead who asks you for a match.