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

Editor's note: This is the second part of short story. The rest will be published in weeks to come.

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Then I realized I had a green gumball in my pocket, and it was just about the right size.

I pulled the imitation marble out of my pocket, and still playing the part of the gentleman, offered to let her shoot first. Her first shot landed several feet away.

I shot toward her marble and landed about two feet away. Then she shot at my marble, missed and it was my turn again.

The weeds and rocks on the playground made it impossible to make a direct shot. It was, therefore, necessary to hold the marble above the ground several inches to shoot. This increased the difficulty of making an accurate shot, and my frustration began to show with each missed shot.

The humiliation of being beaten by a girl was almost the equivalent of getting beaten up by a third-grader. But that was nothing compared to what happened next.

A guy would, after winning, pick up the marbles and drop them into his bag, deliberately not bothering to examine them. After all, it was a foregone conclusion that he was going to win.

Girls, on the other hand, want to gloat, to rub it in.

Ann stood there holding my marble with a triumphant look on her face. As I turned to walk away, she shouted, "Hey! Wait a minute!"

I stopped and turned with an innocent look on my face.

"Look at this marble. It's cracked," she said.

"The rough treatment the gumball received in the game had, indeed, cracked the thin shell. She picked at it with her fingernail and more of the shell came off.

"This ain't a marble. It's a gumball," she said.

I was caught. Desperately, I sought some avenue of escape. "Are you sure," I queried. "It seemed OK to me."

I continued to feign ignorance, as well as concern. It was only after I offered to replace it that she began to relax. As I mentioned earlier, I did not have a marble to match hers, and it took three marbles to buy back that battle-worn gumball.

As she walked away, I threw the imitation marble down and angrily ground it into the dirt with my foot.

"Girls!" I thought. "Why can't they stick to jacks and jump rope and leave the boys' games alone?"

I had watched some of the better players at school. They had pinched the marble against their thumbnail with their index finger and were able to snap it out with surprising speed. I was determined to learn how to shoot marbles properly.

I grabbed my marble bag and emptied the contents on the floor. It was a pretty sorrowful sight. I did not have a lot of marbles. Most of them were lost during the summer when I discovered they worked better than rocks in my slingshot.

I probably would have lost them all if an errant shot hadn't ricocheted off a tree limb and broken a car window. Seeing the window crack, I quickly shoved my slingshot in my pants, and taking a route across backyards, I hurried home and hid the slingshot in the basement.

I began sorting through the remaining marbles. There were three clay marbles that I had found in the backyard. Dad said he used to play with marbles like them. There were also a boulder, two peewees and a steely. The steely was actually a ball bearing and although it was the same size as a marble it was generally felt to be illegal to play with.

The boulder was three times the size of a marble and a peewee was about half-size. Nobody I knew ever played with them but almost everybody had a few of them.

I separated the marbles, and then after spreading the remainder on the rug, I began in earnest to learn how to shoot.

I did not use the bulls-eye to practice. I wanted to save it for later.

I took one of the others, and gripping it the way I had seen, tried to shoot. It was awkward and uncomfortable trying to hold the marble that way. There was no punch and the marble seemed to go everywhere but where I wanted it to go.

Then to my surprise, the marble snapped out of my fingers and flew across the carpet. I wasn't sure how I did it, and it took me several more tries before I was able to repeat the feat.

I have no idea how long I had been practicing, but when my mother opened the door and told me to go to bed, I realized I had to call it quits for the day.

That night as I lay in bed, I began to think about school and all the marbles I was going to win. I can never remember a time when I was so happy and so confident about what I was sure was going to happen.

Except for Christmas, I don't believe I was ever more anxious to get out of bed than I was that morning. I quickly dressed, and after gulping down a bowl of Cheerios, I grabbed my marble bag and headed for the door, dodging questions from my mother.

It was so uncharacteristic of me to be so eager to get to school. Usually, she had to almost drag me out of bed and then push me to get me to eat breakfast and leave for school. I wasn't trying to be mysterious. I just didn't know how to tell my mother that I was anxious to play marbles.

To be continued ...