Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood
Marbles, Lost

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Dewang Gupta

Photo by Dewang Gupta
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Nora's boy never wore anything that didn't have pockets, the contents of which always elicited a mixed effusion of wonder and annoyance from his mother. Alone at her station in the basement laundry room, she would marvel at the items he had stashed. Sticks. Shiny rocks. Not-shiny rocks. Feathers. Crushed bits of birds' eggs—white with specks of brown or robin's blue—still with bits of yellow yolky goop. Bottle caps. Rubber bands. Foil gum wrappers with used gum inside. A broken off piece of a Rubik's Cube. Marbles. 

These last were the most frustrating because Nora couldn't bring herself to toss them into the trash. She would clap them down onto the old metal Kenmore where they would roll to the raised lip at the edge of the machine. She would forget them there alongside a smattering of pennies and nickels. As the machine bucked and clattered alone in the darkness—Nora having gone up by then to see to some other matter—the marbles would slip over the edge of the machine, bouncing once, twice, perhaps three times, on the concrete floor before rolling to a dark and dusty home under the machine. Here they joined other marbles – aggies and cat's eyes, all swirls of yellows and oranges and blues and washed-out green. Here they remained, not so much lost as forgotten, as the boy grew.

The treasures of his early years gave way to other trinkets. Dice with twelve or twenty sides. Crumpled math quizzes. Earbuds. But even these items came less and less often as his interests turned to things that couldn't be captured, couldn't be held in a pocket. Girls. A sense of belonging. Nora would surprise herself by missing the days when her son's pockets were filled with things. When his body, when his life, felt knowable to her. 

She tried to understand him, would ask him over dinner what he was doing all those hours in his room. He gave terse answers out of the side of his mouth in between bites of meatloaf or green beans. YouTube. Reddit. Chatrooms. Nora pictured a big square room with soft couches and dim lighting, although she knew it wasn't a real room. She warned her boy to be careful. He rolled his eyes.


Some time later, the old Kenmore would finally die. A young delivery guy, wearing a short-sleeved button-down shirt, navy pants, and work boots, would strap it to a dolly and angle it out of the laundry room and up the basement stairs. Nora would look with longing at his smooth face, his bright blue eyes. He would call her ma'am. A courteous boy. Maybe her son's age.

While he went to his truck to swap the old machine out for its replacement, Nora would grab a broom and some rags, intending to wipe the dust-covered square of floor before allowing the new machine to be wheeled in. She would stop short at the sight of the marbles. She would bend and pick them up one by one, dropping them into the palm of her opposite hand. Through the dust she would see the colored swirls suspended in the glass. Yellow, red, blue, light green. Each new marble would land on the pile with a flat click. She would move her hand up and down to assess their weight. 

Hearing the boy, the delivery man, begin making his way back down the stairs, she would rise. She would forget the dusty floor. She would tuck the marbles into her pocket and wipe her hands on her hips. She would step out of the little laundry room to make space for the new machine.

Briana Maley received Lilith Magazine’s 2019 fiction prize for her short story ‘What Forgiveness Might Look Like.’ Her fiction has also been published or is forthcoming in Cagibi, Chaleur, Fiction Southeast, and The Passed Note. She lives in Takoma Park, Maryland.

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