Playing for love, for glory and for all of the marbles [Part III]

Editor's note: This is the third part of a short story that has been appearing and will appear in the Golden Valley Gazette over the coming weeks.

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I met Kenny at the corner and we began walking to school. He was a much better marble player than I ever hoped to be. He had learned his skills from his dad, and at the time I felt that he would need a wagon to carry all of the marbles he must own.

Kenny and I were the same age, but because his birthday fell after school started, he was only in the fifth grade. He was fun to be with, but had an annoying habit of being better than I was at most of the games we played. He was an only child, and his dad had taught him how to do everything: baseball, checkers and marbles were just a few. Maybe this is why I had avoided telling him about my marble.

The truth was that I wasn't filled with confidence in my newly acquired ability. Kenny may well have been the oldest one in the fifth grade, but I was the youngest in the sixth. It seemed everybody was better, faster and smarter than I was. All to often, I has seen my dreams of success come crashing down when they came into contact with cold, harsh reality. I had learned long ago to keep things to myself. It saved me a lot of embarrassment.

As we reached school, we could see several boys playing marbles. Others were just standing around; they weren't players. They had fancy, new marble bags that their parents had bought for them, and they were afraid of losing any of them.

There was one group that had just finished marking a circle. As we approached, one of the boys asked if we wanted to play. Kenny accepted for both of us, and we began to lag marbles to see who would shoot first. As it turned out, Kenny would shoot first and I was last.

We each placed three marbles in the center and the first player shot but failed to knock a marble out of the circle. The other players took their turns with little or no success. I had been standing back watching and had almost forgotten I was a player, until I realized they were all staring at me, wondering if I was going to shoot.

No one was more surprised with that first shot than I was. It took several moments before I was able to move and pick up my marble for the second shot. It seemed almost like a dream that wasn't really happening to me, and I knew that at any moment, I would do something stupid to screw it up.

As I knelt down for my second shot, I closed my eyes, waiting for the roof to fall in. I almost had to force my hand to make that shot. But again, the marble leaped out of my hand, almost like it had a force of its own, and knocked another marble out of the ring.

The third shot was also successful. I continued to shoot. I felt as though I was being pulled along, that I was a spectator more than a player. I did not care, though. I was playing and more important, I was winning.

Then, as the last marble was knocked out of the circle, I felt a tremendous letdown. I wanted to keep playing, but the school bell rang, calling us all into school.

As I collected my winnings, the other players gathered around, wanting to see my bulls-eye flint. Proudly, I held my hand out to let them see the marble. There was a chorus of "ooh"s and "aah"s as they stared down at the marble.

The bulls-eye, nestled in the palm of my hand, seemed to glare at them defiantly. When one boy tried to touch it, I quickly pulled my hand away. I was afraid he might try to take it from me. Such things had happened before and I wasn't about to take any chances.

We started walking toward our classrooms. There were several boys walking with me and I began to feel embarrassed as I listened to their comments about the game. Being the center of attention was a brand-new experience for me.

As I found my desk and sat down, I would hear some of the students tell the rest of the class about the game. I listened attentively to their somewhat exaggerated descriptions of the game and I wondered if perhaps they had been in a different schoolyard.

To be continued ...