“Hey, Carmen, are you ready yet?”
That’s my brother calling. Even though he’s two years older than I am, I’m taller by a ponytail. I can see him through the window, sitting on our apartment steps, squirting marbles out of his pouch. Mom sewed it especially for him, with his initials in gold thread.
Peewee may be the smallest player in the neighborhood, but he has the biggest marble collection for blocks around. He even has names for his favorite marbles, like Thunderbird and Crusher. Then there’s Rocket and Eyeball (yuck!) and the striped one, Bonkers.
I used to think that Peewee was bonkers the way that he talked to those marbles. He ignored everyone around him, including me; he said that his marbles were better listeners. But that was before Laser-Beam and the Blueberries and everything . …
It all started right before the National Marbles Tournament last year. Back then Peewee wouldn’t play a game without his prize marble, Laser-Beam. He was counting on it to pull him through the championships.
With the tournament so close, Peewee decided to get in some last-minute practice around the neighborhood. “Carmen,” he groused, “do you have to tag along?”
He always said that. But I wasn’t going to miss any of the action. Only nobody was around for him to play with. “How about you and me playing a game?” I figured that he’d say no.
“Go ahead,” he said, tugging my ponytail, “ante up.”
“You mean it?”
“Yeah, you shoot OK … for a girl.”
“What do you mean?” I could feel my face getting hot. “I can shoot as good as any guy.” I gripped my shooter, a glittery one that I called Twinkle. Knuckles down, ready, and …
Somebody was blocking my light. I stared up into eyes as steely blue as ball-bearing shooters. I’d never seen this kid before. He was big! He had red freckles sprayed all over his face, and he had a mop of hair to match. He squinted over at Peewee.
“Monroe’s the name—marbles my game.”
Uh-oh, I thought.
“Word is that you’re the top player around here, but that without your shooter, Laser-what’s-its-name, you’re nothing.”
This Monroe sounded like trouble to me, but Peewee was talking to Thunderbird and ignoring him. Finally Monroe left, and I was ready to win some marbles with my famous backspin. A quick flick, and Twinkle zoomed across the concrete, missed, and landed in the weeds.
The next day the weather was perfect for a championship—right on the beach too. Peewee was looking pretty official in his shorts and kneepads, but I knew that it was only my brother under that sun visor. Mom and Dad were sitting in their second-row seats, while I hung around the ring. I wanted to watch the referees line up the target marbles, little frosty blue ones that I called Blueberries.
Peewee was breezing through the preliminaries. One more shot, and he’d win his best of three matches. A snap of his thumbnail, and craaaack! There went the Blueberry. But something was wrong with Laser-Beam!
Peewee was holding it like it was sick. Mom and Dad stood up, and the referee hurried over. “Laser,” Peewee was mumbling, “you split wide open.”
Peewee’s good-luck charm was broken. The ref declared that Peewee had to substitute a new shooter or be disqualified. What could be worse?
“Worse” was standing across the ring, a big smile plastered across his freckles—Peewee’s next opponent, Monroe!
“You didn’t bring your other shooters with you, Peewee?” I asked. “Not even Eyeball?” He’d be out of the tournament for sure now. “Wait a minute!” I dug down in my jeans pocket and pulled out Twinkle.
Peewee turned kind of pale. “I—I don’t think I can do it without Laser-Beam.”
“Come on, Peewee. You have to try.”
There was no time to argue. Monroe won the first shot and scattered the Blueberries. Five marbles later, he finally missed.
“Don’t let him down, Twinkle,” I whispered as Peewee crouched to shoot.
Whump! The shot was a little wobbly, but one Blueberry was knocked out of the circle. That set up an easy shot at another blueberry, one on the edge of the ring. “Oh, no!” I groaned as Peewee missed it wide.
Monroe sauntered back up. He looked confident now that Laser-Beam was out of the picture—maybe too confident. He put so much pressure on his shooter that it jumped clean over the Blueberries. What a break! But without Laser-Beam, could Peewee do it?
I can still see Peewee circling the ring, looking for his best shot and talking—but not to any marble. This time he was talking to himself. He seemed to stand a little taller. Then he hunkered down and took aim.
Sparks seemed to fly as Twinkle bounced off the edger—knocking it out—and sailed into a pile of Blueberries, smacking out two of them. “Wow!” I murmured appreciatively. “Three marbles out with one shot!” Peewee didn’t need his “good-luck” shooter anymore. It was as though he believed that he could win, no matter what shooter he used. Monroe was certainly believing, because Peewee was shooting out the rest of the Berries right under his nose.
Everyone was applauding. Mom and Dad were sure proud of Peewee, and I had to admit that he played a terrific tournament. He finally lost a close game to a kid from Baltimore, but there would always be next year.
Through the crowd I noticed Monroe edging toward Peewee. He seemed to be explaining some surefire remedy to prevent splitting, something about soaking marbles in grease.
Monroe didn’t strike me as being a great listener, but it looked as though Peewee was starting to talk to someone instead of just to marbles:
“Some kind of shooting.”
“Yeah, you too.”
“If it wasn’t for my kid sister …”
Then Peewee signaled for me to join them. I couldn’t believe it! They both offered to help me practice for the girls’ tournament next year. I could feel Twinkle, warm in my pocket, as I shuffled along beside them. In fact, I remember that I felt kind of warm all over.
Now here it is next year, and Peewee’s calling me again from the apartment steps out front: “Carmen, are you coming?”
I guess that I’d better grab my marbles and get going. We’re meeting Monroe for a practice session. This year’s championships are almost here, and I need a little work on my famous backspin.