[“Tossed” won the Lake Superior Writers’ 2019 Contest for short-short fiction. It was also selected by WritersRead 2020 and performed at Northland College in Ashland, Wisconsin. It aired on Wisconsin Public Radio on February 11, 2020. The reading of “Tossed” can be found at 1:14:45 on the program. “Tossed” was published in the anthology Many Waters: St. Croix Writers Stories and Poems in 2020.]
Ruby had started at the new school right after Labor Day. The new army base was a slightly different version of the old one. She had known from the first week of school, she would be on the perimeter again. The last one chosen for a team in gym. The partner no one wanted for a group project in class.
The bag of marbles was her only triumph.
At recess, she played marbles. Most girls didn’t. The boys had been excited to play her. “Easy pickins,” they whispered among themselves. “Do you play for keeps or funzies?” a boy asked. “Keeps,” she said. But Ruby didn’t lose. Every day, her bag swelled with marbles. She stashed her spoils in coffee cans at the back of her closet.
By the end of September, the boys stopped playing her for keeps. Playing for funzies bored Ruby. Holding her bag of marbles, she sat on a concrete bench. She watched the girls jumping rope and thought, I could jump rope. I just need to jettison my marbles and focus on my new mission.
Next to her, jutting toward the sky was a round piece of playground equipment. Inside a red metal ladder led to the top. Outside four shiny poles were anchored to the ground with rusted chains. Ruby clutched her bag and climbed. Instead of sliding down a pole, she hoisted herself above the top. She looked like a soldier protruding from a tank.
She slipped her hand into the bag, pulled out a marble, and dropped it. A small mushroom of dust rose as it hit the ground. For a moment it lay undisturbed before being snatched up. A legion of boys gathered under her tower. Ruby dropped one marble at a time, waiting until a boy seized it before dropping another.
“Ruby, here,” a boy yelled. They pushed and shoved like the pigs she slopped one summer when she lived with her grandparents. The snorting boys gave her pleasure. She fed them cat’s eyes, crystals, solids, aggies, bumblebees, rainbows, and steelies.
Each day with military precision, she timed her marbles to run out as recess ended. “You bringing more marbles tomorrow?” Arnold, a pink-faced, chubby boy asked.
“Maybe.” She turned on her heel, head high, chest out, ramrod straight.
Each evening she reloaded her bag. Friday, as she dropped her last marble, a teacher appeared at the bottom of her tower. “You, get down here,” she ordered and marched Ruby to the principal’s office.
First came the command, “You cannot toss marbles from playground equipment. Someone could get hurt. Understood?”
Ruby conceded. She had no marbles left, no plans to replenish her supply. She was done with marbles.
Next came the query, “Why were you dropping marbles?”
Ruby looked at her folded hands resting on her faded calico dress. She thought about the boys rooting for her marbles, squealing her name. She had been intoxicated by her power over them.
Ruby looked at the principal and said, “I just wanted to share.”
On Monday, she would be bringing her jump rope to school.