Rated: 13+ · Short Story · Other · #1588145
A boy with family problems takes solace in his marble collection.
Craig stared at the ground as he walked on the city sidewalk after school. He was alone, but he usually was. That’s how he liked it, or that’s what he told himself.
He collected marbles and glass beads. If he had friends he would have to share. This was a private. He was a collector. The thing about collecting is, there is no method to obtaining what you prize. Craig could find a marble in the gutter of the sewer, left by two best friends after hearing the ice cream man’s song or he could find another at the bottom of his grandfather’s chest that held World War II memorabilia. He found his gem marble at the baseball field in Carondelet Park two years ago.
He was sitting in a dugout watching some of his classmates playing Indian ball with a broom and an old tennis ball, a dog had obviously used as a toy previous to the current game. Interspersed beams of sunlight shone through the holes in the corrugated tin roof. The sun shone brighter for him though, magnified through his dark black, thick-rimmed glasses. He looked down to shade his eyes. There, next to his maroon Velcro Kangaroos, was a marble in between the size of a quarter and a small plum. He picked up the sphere and nestled it between his thumb and forefinger, making an A-OK sign. Craig held up the marble to one of the lights, and the sun came through it like a stain glassed window, painting light of blue green, orange, red, and purple on the boy’s face. The colors swirled, like a small galaxy with tiny air bubbles scattered throughout the mass. He pocketed it quick, fearful someone may try to claim his prize, and ran straight home. He hid the marble at the end of his pillowcase, and he only viewed it before he went to sleep with a small pen flashlight he kept in the same place.
After school one afternoon, he visited his father at the County Line, a bar whose name told of its location. He walked into the bar at around three in the afternoon, his mother told him to ask his father for funding if he wanted to the handbook that explained the rules of marbles, as approved by the United States Marble Playing Championship League. He walked through a cloud of smoke, accidentally knocking a barstools golden foot rest and interrupting a barfly’s drunken stupor. The County Line reeked of menthol cigarettes and urine. He was drinking a vodka grapefruit juice at the far end of the bar. His father alternated between this and beer with tomato juice; he liked his alcohol with a healthy alternative.
“Craig!” His father’s word’s startled the man shooting pool beneath the green lights. They made their way through the fog. “Come back to my apartment.” His father lived in the back of the bar, up five steps. He was always happy to see Craig, even though he never made the attempt to leave bar except to work. Craig’s dad’s apartment was nothing more than a room with a sink, the mold and rust trailed from the faucet to the drain. A cot with yellow-brown sheets and a trash bag with clothes rested opposite of the sink in a corner under a small window, the light trying to enter through the dirt and spider webs. He paid forty dollars a week to stay in the room, made by sharpening knives in the park on weekends. He stood next to his cart, similar to a hot dog vendor’s, amongst the people walking dogs and riding bikes. Mothers from around the neighborhood sent the clinky-clanky cart their knives, taking pity on the man they once knew as respectable. He could sharpen a knife, if anything is true.
“Have a seat Craig. What can I do ya for?” He patted his sheet covered cot as he sat down, and Craig sat next to him. The mattress creaked. It was either that or the floor.
“Oh, Claire. How is she doing? Still pretty as a picture? Does that house still smell like baby powder and Clorox bleach. An image of purity, that’s what your mother is, and that house too.”
Craig didn’t want to think his father and mother were once together. “She asked me to come to you for some money. See, I really want this book.”
“It’s this book on collecting and playing marbles. The Junior Handbook to the U.S. Marble Playing Championship.”
“Oh yeah, JHUSMPC.” His father said it like it was spelled, his attempt at a sense of humor. He always had that. “Well, I don’t have the money, but I have something better.”
His dad pulled out a small glass bead. It was red with a green mushroom in the middle, no bigger than the nail on Craig’s pinkie finger. Craig’s dad found it three weeks earlier when a lady wearing a long white dress, carrying a spool of hemp and a tackle box of beads asked the patrons of the bar if they would like to buy some hand-made jewelry. There were not takers, but she did leave her business card.
Craig looked up from the sidewalk. The park looked appealing today, but he remembered what happened last time he was late coming home from school.
His mom sat at the kitchen table, a full dinner spread before her. Beef stroganoff sat in the middle of the table in a blue dish, shredded pieces swimming in brown gravy, while the noodles lay buttered in a separate bowl. Brussel sprouts sat in a pool of hardened butter, once melted, near the main course.
“Where have you been?”
“In the park,” Craig replied.
“I’ve been sting her for an hour. School ended over two and a half hours ago. Dinner has been waiting and its all cold now.”
Her face shook as she spoke. It was covered in dark powder that contrasted with her dark hair. She wore her cooking apron until she went to bed. Craig always pictured his mother in white: her face, her apron, her nurses uniform.
“Just like your father. No concept of responsibility. Empty your pockets.”
Regretfully, he took a handful of marbles from his jeans, four standard clear with a blue green swirl, and a tiny red one with a green mushroom. His mother quickly snatched them out of Craig’s hand.
“You will not make me sit alone and eat! I work too hard to be alone! Do you now how many children get a home-cooked meal every night?” She stood up and walked toward the sink. “I love you so much, and you go to the park and play your games with your friends. You don’t know what its like to sit and wait, wait for someone who doesn’t care. Someone who doesn’t care if he eats a frozen dinner or beef stroganoff.”
She dropped the handful of marbles down the sink and turned on the garbage disposal. His heart wrenched, and he ran into his room, locked the door, and slid under his covers. He pulled out his gem marble and made a tent under his covers. He looked at the marble in the dark with his pen light, and cried.
He stopped and sat next to an old black man feeding pigeons with entire pieces of bread. The man had on a brown tweed suit with a light blue shirt under his jacket. He wore a brown fedora, wrapped with a dark blue hat band with alligators sewn along the bottom edge. Craig’s shoulders slumped over and he put his face in his hands. The old man spoke.
“What’s wrong young fellow?” An anchor tattooed on freckled skin slid out from under his wrist. His ankles were also visible, his pants riding up his legs. He had a dark black mole under his left eye that met his nose at the bridge.
“I need one of my parents to sign this permission slip for this field trip tomorrow,” his words came out so quickly. He didn’t even realize this is what he had been thinking about on his walk home.
“Why don’t ya ask ‘em then?”
“I don’t know. I don’t want to.”
“Lemme see it.”
Craig unfolded the white sheet from his pocket and handed the old man the form. The man pulled out a dark black pen, trimmed in gold from his inside coat pocket.
“Turn around boy.”
Craig turned his back to the man, and he put the paper on his back and signed the slip.
“There ya go. Now don’t ever say no one ever did nothin’ for ya.”
“Thank you, but you’re not my Mom or Dad.”
“Who says that? Don’t ever let anyone tell ya who ya are. Ya come from yaself.”
Craig got up and started to walk away from the bench.
“Wait up kid, you dropped this.” The old man handed Craig a grey marble that looked like it was liquid inside. It looked as if someone trapped a storm cloud in a glass ball.
“That’s not mine.”
“Well, I don’t want it. I think you might be able to get more from it than an old man like me.”
Craig and the old man smiled. He made sure to increase his pace on his way home. He passed the County Line. He passed the baseball fields. He stood in front of his white house. He walked up to the red door with the gold knocker. He walked in.