SHORT STORY: MARBLES
I’ve started posting some old short stories once a week or so on wattpad. The latest one is a romantic fairytale(!) called ‘Marbles’, written a long time ago… You can read it below or at https://www.wattpad.com/408094531-selected-short-stories-marbles
Once upon a time there lived an old Glassblower who had a special hobby of making marbles.
Each day after he had finished his work creating different kinds of glassware to sell in his shop or to fit the orders placed by his customers, he would devote a small amount of time to his marble making. It was his particular way of relaxing after a busy day and he used up all the bits of leftover glass from his glassblowing to make them.
He made marbles of all different kinds and colours; some pale and translucent so you could see through them easily, others bold and opaque so they were difficult to see through. He made bright marbles with dark twists, black marbles with bits of white dotted in them to look like stars, fire marbles that looked like they might burn you if you picked them up, ice marbles that looked like they’d freeze you, rainbow marbles into which he packed in as many different colours as he could manage, and many others besides. He made storm marbles with lightning streaks, turtle shell marbles of green and yellow, pearl marbles that were white all the way through, onion marbles with different layers, bumblebee marbles with black and yellow stripes, mystery marbles with glazed outsides but invisible patterns hidden inside—you name it, he made it.
And what do you think the Glassblower did with all these wonderful marbles that he made? Do you think he sold them for a special price next to all the other glass in his shop? No, he gave them away for free! He gave them to his family and friends as presents, and sometimes even to complete strangers on the street, usually children.
One such boy who received a marble from the Glassblower was Ivan. One day Ivan was just walking along the street to his friend’s house and the old Glassblower marched straight up to him and offered him the marble. It was easy to see why he had singled the boy out, for he was himself carrying his own netted bag of marbles. He was on his way to his friend’s to play with them.
“Hello,” said the Glassbower. “Would you like this marble?”
“No thank you,” said Ivan. “My parents told me never to take things from strangers.”
“Oh,” said the Glassblower, “well in that case, I’ll just leave it over here on the pavement and you can pick it up if you want to, when I go…”
Ivan thought for a moment. “Why are you giving it to me?”
“I’m a Glassblower. I make them for a hobby, and I enjoy giving them to people for free. I saw that you were carrying a bag of marbles, and I thought to myself, ‘Ah, that young man would probably like to receive one of my special marbles as a gift.’ So here I am.”
“Alright then,” said Ivan. He could see no reason to refuse and the old Glassblower didn’t look very dangerous. “Thank you.”
He put out his hand and the Glassblower placed the marble ceremoniously in it. “Take care of that one,” he said, withdrawing his empty hand. “It’s very special indeed.”
Before he could turn to leave Ivan said “Special? Why is it special?”
The Glassblower smiled. “Well, of course, every marble is special. But that one is particularly special, for you.”
“It contains the light of the eyes of someone who is also…particularly special.”
“What do you mean?” asked Ivan.
“Well, you see, everyone’s eyes have their own kind of light. The eyes are the light of the body, and everyone’s eyes are unique. They all have their own special colours and patterns, just like marbles. And no two pairs of eyes are the same. But, it just so happens that sometimes, by sheer luck, or it could be fate, I make a marble that perfectly matches the colours and patterns of somebody’s eyes. And this is just one such marble!”
“Whose eyes does it match?”
“Oh, I have no idea! But they must be very special indeed to have eyes like that. Well, nice to meet you. I had best be off.” And with that the Glassblower turned and left Ivan, who was very confused, standing in the street holding his new marble. He held it up to his eyes and looked at it. Inside it was a sort of pale but bright blue colour, mixed with what looked like crystals, little flecks of snow that seemed to be woven like thread in and out of the blue, which got darker towards the edges of the marble, ending in a deep blue ring. It was beautiful. Ivan wondered who the person who had eyes like that was and what they were like. He vowed there and then that one day he would find them, slipped the marble into his bag, and went on his way.
When his friend Fyodor asked him why all of a sudden he was insisting on picking up every one of his marbles and examining them very closely, and why when they greeted each other he spent a longer time than was comfortable looking him in the eyes, Ivan told him about his strange encounter with the Glassblower.
“What an odd man,” said Fyodor. But he hadn’t really been interested in the story and was more eager to get going with their game of marbles. “Now, come on, let’s play!” He didn’t even ask to see the marble the old man had given to Ivan. So they carried on with their game, now with Ivan paying proper attention.
But the meeting had affected Ivan. He took special care of his crystal-blue marble, and made sure that he never lost it in a game. And this was easy, because he discovered that when he played with it, he always won! It seemed that whenever he used his special marble, he was more accurate and even played more tactically, and his friends started to get annoyed that he was winning all of their marbles from them. He became so fond of his blue and white marble that he even gave it a name, christening it Snowdrop. Ivan was a clever boy, so he made sure he that he didn’t use Snowdrop in every game of marbles he played, so that he would lose some of them. He only used Snowdrop when he really wanted to win a match or if there was another marble that he particularly liked and wanted to win from someone. Luckily, none of his friends cottoned on to his secret weapon.
Another interesting habit that Ivan developed after his meeting with the Glassblower was that when he met someone for the first time he stared them straight in the eyes for just long enough to make out their colours properly, which made for some unsettling first impressions. He also did this at least once with all of the people he already knew, including his family, his friends and his schoolteachers. Some began to think he was himself a bit odd for this, but he didn’t let that bother him.
Can you guess what he was looking for? That’s right, he was looking for the person whose eyes matched his Snowdrop marble. But no matter where he looked, no matter how intently he gazed, he never found them. Nobody’s eyes quite matched that combination of blues with hidden snow crystal threads. After a while he started to wonder if the Glassblower had been telling the truth.
One day he gave up looking altogether, and started looking instead for another item that might prove the Glassblower’s words to be true—a marble that matched the colour of his own eyes, which were green with a red-brown star exploding out of the centre. If the Glassblower had been telling the truth, then somewhere out there was a marble that contained exactly the same colours as his own eyes. But again, though he came close once or twice, no marble that he could find or win amongst all his friends and all the children at school matched the colour of his own eyes, and Ivan decided that the Glassblower must have been misleading him. No marble he could find held the light of his own eyes, and nobody he met had in their eyes the light of Snowdrop.
Eventually, Ivan grew up, and though he lost his habit of searching for marbles, he retained his habit of looking into people’s eyes. He stopped playing marbles as well. Until one day.
One evening in February, he was at a dinner party at a friend’s house. In fact it was being thrown by the grown-up Fyodor. There were a good deal of guests seated around a long, wooden table in the illustrious dining room, and one of them had gotten his attention. This was a woman by the name of Katerina, who was sitting diagonally across for him. She had long blonde hair and was very beautiful, her skin the pale colour of ivory, and with a tall, dignified neck. Ivan found that she fascinated him, for not only was she very beautiful but she spoke with eloquent dignity, and furrowed her brow in between conversation, betraying a wealth of thoughts going on behind it. For most of the meal, Ivan did not talk directly to her, but rather to the group around them, trying to be as entertaining and funny, not to mention as clever and handsome, as he could manage. But towards the end of the meal he plucked up his courage and tried talking directly to Katerina. To his surprise, she was quite open with him, and talked enthusiastically. Somehow in the course of their discussion they got onto the subject of their childhoods and Katerina mentioned how she had loved playing with marbles.
At this Ivan felt his heart miss a beat. “Marbles?” he said. Then something moved him to add “We should have a game!”
“Oh, that would be such fun!” encouraged Katerina.
“Well, let’s do it then!”
Ivan motioned and got Fyodor’s attention, and asked him if he had any marbles anywhere in his house.
“Marbles? Probably, somewhere. But whatever do you want them for, Ivan?”
“Why, to play, of course.”
Fyodor looked a bit suspicious, but excused himself and went to look for his marbles nonetheless. He found them, and handed them to Ivan.
When the meal had finished, Ivan explained what he was doing and went into the drawing room to set up the game of marbles with Katerina. The rest of the guests followed them, amused to watch what was going on.
“Here you go, you should take half,” said Ivan, offering Fyodor’s bag of marbles to Katerina.
“Oh, no thank you,” she said, “I have my own.” She took a small netted bag of them out of a pocket in her dress, and blushed. “Do you think I’m silly?”
“Oh, not at all!” said Ivan, and he meant it. Without anyone seeing, he withdrew Snowdrop from his pocket and slipped her—for he had decided some time ago that Snowdrop was a ‘her’—into his own bag. “What game shall it be, then?”
“Bunny hole,” said Katerina, ever prepared. She took out a short piece of string and arranged it in a small circle in the middle of the drawing room floor. This was the ‘bunny hole’. The object of this game was to flick your marble into the circle, after which you could then fire it at your opponent’s marbles. If you hit an opponent’s marble twice, you then had one chance to ‘run away’ before you could attempt ‘the kill’—the final contact shot which meant you got to keep the other player’s marble. If, however, you hit the other player’s marble before you had been to ‘visit’ the bunny hole, or if you hit one of your own marbles, this was known as a ‘kiss’, and you had to withdraw that marble from play until your next turn.
Ivan and Katerina arranged their marbles around the bunny hole by firing them one at a time towards it. As Katerina fired her last marble, Ivan noticed something about it. It was green, with a red-brown star exploding out of the middle. Could this be the marble he had searched for years as a child, the marble that contained the light of his own eyes? There was only one way to find out. He needed to take a closer look at it. He determined that he must win that marble.
“We’re playing for keeps, right?” he said.
“Of course,” said Katerina.
“Then let’s begin.”
Katerina had the marble that had landed closest to the bunny hole, which just happened to be the very marble that Ivan had noticed, so she withdrew it and began her turn. She shot it with expert skill straight back into the bunny hole and then began her attack on Ivan’s marbles. To his dismay, she set about systematically assassinating most of his marbles with it. The onlookers clapped.
“I never lose with this marble,” said Katerina. “I call it Fireflower.”
Ivan was dumbfounded. Soon Katerina was down to one of his marbles. She was extremely talented. It looked like she was going to win the match in one turn—which in his schooldays would have been a great humiliation for Ivan. He did not feel much better now. Except that his last marble was none other than—who else? Snowdrop.
His face dropped when Katerina made her first contact hit on Snowdrop. He looked on in horror and awe as she contacted with the second. His whole body tensed. He did not know whether he could bear to part with Snowdrop. How could he be about to lose her? How had Katerina got so good at playing marbles?
Then, to his utmost relief, Katerina missed her ‘kill’ shot.
“Whoops,” she said as she knocked her marble much further across the room than she had meant to, underneath an armchair and over to where the guests were standing. They fanned out to accommodate it. “Oh well,” she said. “I thought I was going to do it all in one go. Never mind.” She smiled. “I’m miles away from you now, you’ll never be able to get me. It’s only a matter of time.”
Ivan made no reply. Instead, he knelt solemnly by Snowdrop. Katerina had won all of his marbles off of him, so now he was going to return the favour. The guests clapped in turn for him as he sent Snowdrop to the bunny hole again and again, winning all of Katerina’s marbles on the way, almost as fast as she had dealt with his. Eventually only Fireflower was left. But that was the only marble of hers that he really wanted.
“He’s too far away for you to hit him,” said Katerina, standing over her lone remaining marble. “You might as well give up now.”
“He?” said Ivan.
“Yes…” Katerina blushed. “I decided when I was a child that Fireflower was a ‘he’…”
Ivan aimed. Snowdrop ricocheted off a wall, then a chair leg, and came slowly to a rest…next to Fireflower. This got an especially loud clap.
“No…” murmured Katerina, open mouthed.
Ivan walked over to the two marbles, got down on one knee, then flicked Snowdrop gently into Fireflower once, twice more. He had made the kill, and without even a single kiss.
“Well done,” said Katerina, more than a little disappointed. She extended her hand.
Ivan picked up Snowdrop, stood up to shake her hand, and looked straight into the light of his favourite marble.