A GAME OF MARBLES
Traci Maxson had forgotten about the marbles until the afternoon that she found them in a box that had been pushed to the far corner of the closet. Sitting Indian-style on the carpeted floor, she’d dragged the open, cardboard container out by one loose flap and began rummaging through items from her childhood: naked Barbies, some of which had received crooked haircuts; girlie card games; pieces to various board games; loose change; dice; small, stuffed animals. The marbles had been buried. She lifted the drawstring-closed, netted bag, the heavy contents clinking together like the sound of a heavy glass tapping against teeth. A chill scraped down her spine and a small sound of displeasure escaped her.
“What did you find?” her husband, Tim, asked. He sat on the edge of the bed with a shoebox on his lap, picking up baseball cards and setting them aside in fanning piles.
“Some marbles I had when I was a kid.”
“Oh,” Tim said, uninterested.
An unexpected car repair had spurred Tim and Traci to search through their belongings in hopes of turning up some gems to sell on the internet. So far, they’d had no luck. The Barbie dolls might have brought in a few dollars; they would have generated more if not for their played-with condition and lack of clothing.
“I thought I’d gotten rid of these,” Traci said, twirling the bag and making the marbles rattle.
“You might as well have,” Tim said, laying a Cal Ripken Jr. card down on his valuables stack. “They’re not worth anything.”
“These are,” Traci said.
“What? A dollar?”
“They came from India.”
“About everything does anymore, doesn’t it?”
“No. I mean, when we were kids, this girl who lived down the street was from India. We used to play together. She gave them to me.”
Tim turned to give her a bemused smile. “You played marbles when you were a kid?”
“Not marbles exactly,” Traci said. “Something… different.”
Tim’s smile widened. “Do I want to know?”
She stared at him grimly.
“I mean, was it some kind of girlie game? What did you do: cast spells on boys with them or something?”
“No,” Traci said, walking over to the bed. She sat, facing him, on the floor, her back against the wall, her legs stretched out in front of her. She placed the bag in her lap.
“We thought they were magical marbles,” Traci said. “That’s what Persephone told us, anyway.”
“The girl from India?”
“Yeah. She’d come over after school and play with me and my sister. We’d play card games, dolls, board games, but we liked the marbles the best. Well, until what happened, anyway.”
“What was that?” Tim asked through a smirk.
“The way we played was we went into the bathroom because it had no windows, shut the door, and turned out the lights. It was pitch-black in there. The three of us would sit in a circle on the cold floor and Persephone would dump the marbles out in the middle. The first marble that rolled to you __you had to pick it up, close it in your palms, and shut your eyes. Whatever color that flashed across your vision was what you had to yell out. After everyone did, Persephone would get up, turn on the light, and everyone opened their hands to see if they had guessed the color of the marble correctly. Nine times out of ten, we did.”
“That’s really weird,” Tim said. “Sounds almost like Wicca or something.”
“It was just a kid’s game,” Traci said. “It was just coincidence.”
“So, what was supposed to happen if you guessed the color right?”
“Well, each color represented something different. Green of course meant you would come into money__“
“Oh yeah?” Tim said, eying the bag. “I’ll take that one, then.”
Traci shook her head. “It doesn’t work that way. You can’t see it ahead of time. Cheater.
“Where was I? Oh, yeah. Pink meant love would come…”
Tim snickered. Traci ignored it and touched the mesh bag.
“Blue meant something good would happen. White meant you’d make a new friend. Black meant you’d have a fight with someone.”
“Did it ever come true?”
Traci hesitated. “It seemed like it. That was why we quit playing it.”
“Why __ did you get the black one too much and have too many fights?”
“No,” Traci said, her face growing pale. “That wouldn’t have been so bad. It was after Kim drew the red one. That was enough to make us stop.” Kim was Traci’s sister.
Tim put the shoebox aside and leaned forward. “What happened?”
“The red represents disaster. If you draw that one, something really bad happens. Kim drew it and later that night, dad got into a car accident. He didn’t get hurt, luckily, but the car was totaled. Some guy rear-ended him pretty hard.”
“Man! So you put the marbles away after that?”
“No. We should have. But too many good things were happening. We’d find money on the ground while walking to school or the candy machine would drop an extra bar. Persephone got a boyfriend__“
“A boyfriend? How old were you guys?”
“Twelve or thirteen. Old enough. Anyway, the game was fun and … and dangerous. We liked that. It gave us power. But we did take the red marble out. The bad thing was, the game stopped working. We’d guess the colors wrong. Even when we got them right, nothing happened as a result. It was like you had to have all the marbles in or it wouldn’t work. We just stopped playing it. I guess we outgrew it, anyway. It was like one day we were talking about it and the next it was like we’d never played it. I’d thought I’d thrown it out long ago. I must have thought about it, but didn’t because it had been a gift from Persephone.”
“I don’t know if I believe it really has any power,” Tim said. “They just look like ordinary marbles to me.”
Traci shrugged. “Maybe they are. But it sure seemed like the game worked when we were kids. But I guess you get tricked by a lot of stuff when you’re a kid.”
“Why don’t we play it?” Tim suggested.
Traci tensed briefly. “Nah. I vote for throwing it out.”
“Oh, come on. We sure could use that green marble.”
Traci grabbed the bag of marbles and stood. “Uh, how about …no?”
“Come on, Traci!”
“No,” she repeated and went out into the hall.
“Where are you going?”
“To throw these away,” she said, without stopping.
“You’re being ridiculous!”
Traci didn’t respond. She went into the kitchen, stepped on the pedal on the trash can that lifted the lid, and threw in the bag of marbles. They rattled as they struck an empty can of soup.
When she returned to the bedroom, Tim stood waiting.
“You didn’t have to throw them away,” he said.
“You’ll thank me later. Come on, let’s clean this junk up.”
“But I’m still looking!”
“Well, I’m not. We’d be better off just having a garage sale and selling it all that way. After shipping and all the other fees, you’d make about the same amount off this stuff. Nothing here is that special.”
Oh, but that felt like a lie. In her mind, she pictured the marbles in the trash beginning to glow.
They couldn’t, of course. It was impossible. But it did seem like when she’d had them in her hands with her eyes closed in the dark bathroom, the color would glow against her eyelids.
”Okay,” Tim said, walking over to the bed. He picked up the stack of cards that contained Cal Ripken Jr. “But I am listing these cards.”
* * *
Something awoke her that night. A sound somewhere in the house.
Traci sat up in bed, the darkness pulsating around her. The satin sheet tumbled onto her lap. Sweat had slicked her thin nightgown. The air conditioner had kicked off and silence spun out.
She turned to awaken her husband and saw that he wasn’t beside her. The noise that had awakened her came again. It sounded like marbles dropping on a linoleum floor.
Her eyes widened. She threw back the bed-sheet and jumped to her feet. Running into the hallway, she saw that the bathroom door was closed and no light spilled out of the cracks.
Traci switched on the hall light, which forced her eyes to slam shut. Opening them halfway, she pounded on the door.
“Stop it, Tim!” she yelled.
Marbles clunked onto the floor, and then came the sound of shuffling footsteps. He was probably trying to keep from tripping over them as he made his way to the light.
She had just touched the knob when the door yanked open. Tim stood there in his pajamas. At his side, he had one of his hands into a fist.
“What did you do?” Traci asked.
“I had to try it, Traci,” he said. “I couldn’t get it out of my mind. We need money, and, I thought, what the heck, you know?”
“Which color did you see?” Traci asked.
Tim swallowed and said nothing.
Traci’s voice rose: “Which color?”
“Red,” he said. “I saw red.”
Iciness spread up Traci’s back and neck.
“I told you it was dangerous!” she yelled, and smacked his fist. His arm barely budged. She had wanted the marble to fall out.
“Come on, Traci,” he said. “It’s just a silly game.”
“Then, why were you playing it?”
He jerked his head back and huffed. Traci grabbed his fist and tried to pry his fingers open. He kept it closed.
“Give it to me,” Traci said.
He finally let the cold marble fall into her palm.
“Thank you,” she said.
“You’re acting crazy.”
Traci pushed past him and switched on the bathroom light. She spotted the mesh bag on the floor, squatted, and picked it up. With her forefingers, she plucked each marble and, one at a time, dropped it in. She shouldered past Tim in the hallway, stormed into the kitchen, and threw the bag of marbles in the trash. Still in her other hand, she let the red marble fall in last.
“Don’t you get them out again!” Traci said.
“I wish you could hear how crazy you sound.”
She brushed past him and went back into the bedroom. Tim came in a few moments later and got into bed. He rubbed her back and told her how sorry he was, and that if he’d known it would have upset her so much, he wouldn’t have gotten the marbles out. She had her eyes shut and pretended not to hear.
His hands fell away from her and he sat bolt upright, the mattress shaking.
“Traci!” he screamed. “Traci!”
She sat up and looked over at him. He had his hands over his heart.
Dear Lord, no! she thought
“What’s wrong?” she screamed.
“My heart’s beating really fast,” he said, eyes bulging.
She jumped up and turned on the light. She went over to the dresser, yanked open the top drawer, and threw out a pair of her jeans and a top. She was going to have to take him to the hospital. No time to call 911.
“I’ll be okay,” Tim said, and began taking deep breaths and letting them out.
She had her jeans on. She fastened the button and let the nightgown drape over them.
“I’m going to be okay,” Tim said. “I don’t know what made my heart start racing, but it’s slowing now. I had a pop before getting the marbles out. Probably shouldn’t have. Caffeine this late isn’t good.”
“No, you need to go get checked out.”
“I’m fine. Really,” he said.
She sat down on the edge of the bed and looked at him, trying to find a lie in his eyes. Not seeing one, she slid her hand under his shirt and put her palm against his heart. The rate seemed a little fast, but, as she waited, it did begin to slow. She pulled her hand out.
“Don’t scare me like that,” she said.
She looked down. The air conditioner kicked on, droning in the bedroom.
“You think the marbles caused it, don’t you?” Tim asked.
She didn’t reply.
“You really do,” he marveled. “Traci, that’s crazy. It was just a coincidence.”
“Whether it was or not, it’s not something for Christians to be messing with. Maybe God was trying to scare you, so you don’t do it again.”
Tim said nothing to that.
Traci got up, stepped into her slippers, and went out into the hall.
“What are you doing now?” Tim asked.
He followed her into the kitchen. Traci raised the trash can lid and pulled out the plastic bag, the contents rustling and clanging as they shifted.
“What are you doing?”
“I’m getting them out of the house,” Traci said, tying the top of the bag into a knot. “I don’t want them in here.”
“You’ve gone plum crazy!”
She dragged the bag across the floor and turned the deadbolt on the back door.
“Traci, let me take it out!” Tim said.
“You don’t have any shoes on. Besides, I want to.”
She unlatched the screen door and pushed it open.
The night air was muggy. Crickets chirruped and other insects buzzed. Lightning bugs flashed across the starry sky.
Traci bounded down the porch steps and went around the corner of the house. She lifted the metal trash can lid and dropped the bag in. Before she capped the lid back on, she thought she heard the marbles rattle for one last time.