By Emma Raymond
During the summer, when I was eleven, we played marbles on the school field at lunchtimes. My technique was good, better than most anyway. You had to gauge how much force to use according to the length of the grass between you and your target. That was what I understood and my opponents didn’t.
Once, on a day that was too hot for football or cartwheels, a crowd gathered around my adversary and me. I chose my weapon: clear with orange spaghetti swirls. There was a hush as my smooth, gleaming orb hurtled towards that of Chris Winch. The satisfying clink of glass on glass. I stepped forward, swinging my bag as though careless, to claim my prize, a sphere of iridescent green.
A slug’s trail of sweat glistened along Chris’s forehead as he took his turn. His cloudy blue agate rolled towards my chipped translucent red, stopping just short. Fists clenched tight, he kicked the turf.
Chris’s collection depleted steadily in number after that. The crowd dispersed, but a few boys—friends of his—remained, sniggering behind their hands each time he missed, a custom reserved for instances of deepest humiliation. One of his most miserable specimens rolled to a standstill inches from mine.
I pulled my pride and joy out of my drawstring bag: the first marble I’d ever won, black and glossy like an oil slick. The other boys were laughing at something and Chris tried to join in. But his face wouldn’t move in the right way. His chapped lips quivered into a fragile smile that made my stomach ache.
It occurred to me that I could make it better, at least a little, so I sent reliable Old Black off at almost a right angle. She missed his marble by a mile.
It was worth my sacrifice to see the relief on Chris’s face. In fact, there was a thrill in it.
*It doesn’t matter, this one small loss*, I told myself. And just then it truly didn’t.
Chris’s confidence regained, he didn’t hesitate. I watched, impassive, as his yellow collided head-on with my black. By the time the bell rang to signal the end of lunch, my favourite marble and three others belonged to him. He sped off running towards the school, surrounded by his friends, before we could even discuss who’d won.
Left alone, I bent down to pick up my last remaining marble, noticing for the first time the grass stains running along the hem of my gingham dress. On my outstretched arm I saw the rosy bloom of sunburn and, a second later, felt its stinging heat.
I slipped the marble back into my bag and let my hand rest inside. My fingers moved among the cold hard spheres, feeling them rattle and roll over one another in the empty space. As I crossed the field, squinting, I thought blithely that I might win the others back from Chris the next day. Or at some point, anyway, when no one was watching.
But, as it turned out, Chris never played against me after that.