The old man looked down at his grandson playing with the marbles. He stooped awkwardly and lifted one from the floor before it rolled away under the skirting board. He let his hand feel the perfect smooth roundness, then held the ball up to the light, peering into it.
'That's a cat's eye, Poppy',' the boy told him.
He nodded, accepting the child's comment, then continued peering into the marble. At first he saw himself, reflected and upside-down. His old face, wrinkled, stared back at him. The crows feet and laugh-lines on his features were distinct, perhaps a map of his life, if
there were such a thing. Then he looked harder.
'What are you looking at Poppy?' The child had come closer and was looking up at the marble that the older man held between his thumb and fore-finger.
'Look into the marble, Kurt.'
The boy did as he was told.
'What do you see?'
Kurt peered, but all he could see was himself, upside-down, maybe back to front, like in a mirror. He told his grandfather just that. The old man sighed, then coughed loudly. Kurt's eyes asked; are you okay?
'Your Poppy is fine, Kurt. Don't worry. Just remembering the past.'
Kurt sat down in front of his grandfather and waited. He was always in for a story when his Poppy said that. The man shifted in his chair, then lit a cigarette. Kurt wrinkled his nose, but stayed in the room.
'When I was your age, the marbles meant more to me than a simple toy.' Yellowed fingers brought the cigarette to the now quiet lips. Kurt wriggled. Why did his grandfather always have to pause so much when he was telling a story? Then the voice continued,
'When I looked into the marbles, I could see other worlds. The green ones, they were rich lands of forests and birds. All kinds of creatures. The cat's eyes, they were like other planets.' The old man looked at Kurt, 'You've seen pictures of the Moon and Mars?'
Kurt nodded his head eagerly.
'The cat's eyes were something even more distant, something that was unique.' Kurt's grandfather took another drag on his cigarette, then let the smoke out of his nostrils in a long steady stream. 'The yellow ones, they were deserts, with a sparkling oasis hidden somewhere. And if I was lucky I might see a cloud. But my favourite world would have to have been the blue ones. The blue marbles were sea worlds. There were sharks and whales, dolphins and tropical fish. Wrecked ships to explore-'
The old man coughed. 'And now, I can't see any of that. I guess they were right.'
Kurt waited a few minutes, then asked, 'Who were right, Poppy?'
But the old man had fallen asleep, the last of his cigarette burning into a dusty cylinder. Kurt found the ashtray and carefully took the butt from his grandfather's fingers and stubbed it out as he'd seen done so many times before. He then took up a marble. It was a cat's eye.
Kurt peered into it. Nothing but the funny flash of colour in the middle of the black. Then he began to see something moving. It wasn't really obvious at first, but as Kurt's eyes adjusted to look at the thing in the marble, more started to show itself. The cat's eye was almost like the night sky. He'd seen pictures of the solar system and other things. What was that funny named one? The Horsehead Nebula. Or something like that. And there were the photos from the Hubble telescope. But this marble, the world in this marble, was a living, moving solar system. Comets flashed by, and in the centre a planet spun slowly. It looked a little like Jupiter, but more yellow.
Suddenly, a large shadow drifted in the void. Kurt peered harder, and a starship cruised through space before his very eyes! It looked like one of the huge Imperial Destroyers out of Star Wars. Kurt pulled the marble from his eye. Searching the floor, he found a green marble and picked it up. His hand was trembling very slightly. His grandfather remained motionless in the chair, his breathing heavy and regular. Kurt took the green marble slowly up to his eye. At first, nothing again. Then he began to hear things. A bird, a parrot. Kurt thought it was just coming from outside, then he heard other birds squawking and a bright speck flashed across the marbles surface. He focused in on the little dot and a beautiful blue parrot materialised. The marble held a tiny rainforest inside its glass shell.
Then Kurt began to wonder if there was a way to get to the worlds inside the marbles. He wasn't content with simply looking, he wanted to be involved. He stared at the rainforest for a little while longer, listening to the birds. He saw little frogs, snakes and even a leopard. Then he put the green marble in his pocket and searched the floor for the one his grandfather had loved so much. The blue marble. Kurt searched and searched, but only came up with a yellow marble and a various assortment of cat's eyes. He wondered where the blue one was. Kurt forgot the blue marble as he saw the desert sands shifting ever so
slightly in a breeze at his feet. The yellow marble rolled towards him and knocked against his knee. His hand clasped around its warmth and he searched for the exotic oasis his grandfather had described.
The next day Kurt confronted his grandfather about the lost world.
'Where's the blue marble, Poppy?' Kurt was nice, but demanding. His grandfather sighed again.
'You'll have trouble finding that. I lost it in a game a long time ago. I doubt it will resurface.'
Kurt couldn't believe it. Surely you wouldn't play the blue marble! Then he wondered, why would you play the blue marble? Kurt asked his grandfather.
'Ah, for something even better. For something better.'
Kurt couldn't contain himself. 'What? Poppy, what?!'
'Something better.' The old man put his arthritic hands up to his face and wiped at his eyes. Kurt thought he saw tears, but his grandfather hid them behind his reading glasses.
'I lost the blue marble. Maybe you will find it.'
Kurt didn't let the blue marble enter his head any more. He figured if he was meant to find it, it would just turn up. His Poppy always said, 'a watched pot never boils.''. Kurt reckoned the same kind of idea worked for the blue marble. He still played marbles at school, but never brought out the special marbles. They were too valuable. Especially now that he could get inside the other worlds.
Kurt discovered he was able to get inside when he was staring into the green marble, hearing the birds and seeing the creatures and trees. Then he forgot about holding the glass bead in his hand and could suddenly feel the rainforest around him. There was the moisture in his
hair and on his skin. He could feel the ground beneath his feet and he started walking. Kurt thought he must have fallen in, and out there, in the real world, the marble had fallen to the floor and he had just disappeared. Shrunken to the size of an ant. But it could have worked the other way. The world could have come out of the marble and surrounded him.
He was in his room, just surrounded by a huge glass bubble that was a rainforest. He didn't think about it too much. It might go away. Kurt stayed in the rainforest world for what seemed like hours, then he began to think.
How do I get out?
I'm not trapped in here forever. He swallowed loudly. He felt sick in the stomach and somehow knew that it was panic.
How do I get out?!
Just then his room materialised about him, and the marble was in his hand. He looked about quickly, then glanced at his clock. He couldn't have been in the marble for more than a couple of minutes. He put the glass ball back in the small blue velvet bag he had found. He figured that the bag once held something valuable. After all it had come from his mother's top drawer. Maybe a gold necklace, or something. He didn't care. As long as it kept the special marbles safe. Kurt trotted into the kitchen to grab a snack from the fridge.
A few days later, school seemed the same as any other day to everyone else, but to Kurt it was different. It was close to lunchtime and he could feel something was going to happen. Something important. He held his marbles tightly. Not the special ones, just the ordinary gaming variety. As the bell sounded he stood up quickly and made his way out into the playground. A group of the older boys, Grade 5's and 6's had already begun a game of marbles. He watched them intently, then saw something flash wildly. One of the glass balls had caught the sun, actually hurting his eyes. Kurt looked again and a single marble winked at him, reflecting light as it lay in full view.
The blue marble!
The sea inside it swirled at him. Colours of coral and fish flickered. He caught sight of a whale, and a group of dolphins. He had to have that marble! Not just for himself, but for Poppy too. Kurt approached the boys.
'Can I play?'
The eldest there looked up at him, 'What have you got?'
Kurt produced three of his most highly prized cat's eyes. He had won one of them from a Grade 6 boy. The older boy grunted acceptance and Kurt took his place around the circle. Each boy took their turn. Kurt held his heart steady as it came to his turn. All that remained in the
circle was the blue marble and a cat's eye. The boy before him had missed his chance. Now Kurt was to shoot for the only remaining valuable item. There was a hushed silence.
The others had forgotten how much younger Kurt was. They respected each others concentration and let him line up his shot. He took his shooter in hand, thumb placed gently behind it. This shot means so much!
He put his hand to the ground. Felt the roughness of the asphalt playing surface and the heat of the sun. Kurt wiped sweat way from his forehead. He took one last look at the line of play, held his breath, and flicked the shooter on its path...
Kurt slung his bag onto his bedroom floor and ran down the hall. He kept his hand in his jacket pocket, holding tight the prize he had won at school. He launched himself into the lounge-room and found his mother on the sofa. She was crying softly. His father held her tightly.
'Kurt come up here.' His father patted the vacant side of the sofa. 'Where were you off to?'
Kurt sat next to his father and looked up at him.
'I was just going over to Poppy's. I found something I wanted to show him.' Kurt hid his excitement.
His father took his arms from around his wife and laid them across
'You know - ' His father stopped. He frowned, then continued. 'You won't be able to go around to Poppy's any more Kurt.'
Kurt looked closely at his father,
'I haven't done anything bad. Why not?'
Kurt's father put his hand tightly across his mouth. He took it away
and wiped the sweat along the fabric of the sofa.
'Your Poppy's no longer with us. He died this morning, Kurt.'
Kurt sat still for a moment, then grabbed his father's outstretched arms and sank into the tight hug. He let the tears and snot run down his face, but didn't let go of the glass sphere in his pocket.
I won the blue marble back, Poppy. I won it back.
The funeral was only a week after the marble had been found. Kurt took his mothers hand at the ceremony. She pulled his hand at the end, but Kurt shook his head.
'I want to stay for a bit.'
His mother simply nodded. She had not said much lately. Too sad I suppose. I'm going to miss you Poppy. But you'll never lose these again.
Kurt brought the cold glass balls from his pocket. He rattled them in his palm for a second, then dropped the coloured worlds one by one into the damp earth that was already being piled onto the stark wooden coffin. He whispered to himself,
'Blue marbles are my seas too, Poppy.'