Short Story Of the Day, No Keepsies by Bill Chance

“The tongue may hide the truth but the eyes—never!”
Mikhail Bulgakov, The Master and Margarita

The Dallas Eye,
Dallas, Texas

I have been feeling in a deep hopeless rut lately, and I’m sure a lot of you have too. After writing another Sunday Snippet I decided to set an ambitious goal for myself. I’ll write a short piece of fiction every day and put it up here. Obviously, quality will vary – you get what you get. Length too – I’ll have to write something short on busy days. They will be raw first drafts and full of errors.

I’m not sure how long I can keep it up… I do write quickly, but coming up with an idea every day will be a difficult challenge. So far so good. Maybe a hundred in a row might be a good, achievable, and tough goal.

Here’s another one for today (#26). What do you think? Any comments, criticism, insults, ideas, prompts, abuse … anything is welcome. Feel free to comment or contact me.

Thanks for reading.

Does everyone know what “keepsies” is?  When I was  a kid, (and I know my father did in the 1940’s) children played marbles. You had a circle, everyone’s marbles went in and you took turns with a “shooter” – a big marble you would flick in there. You won all the marbles you knocked out of the circle. Some kids only did it for fun… but if you kept the marbles you won…  you played keepsies. The school administration was always trying to get the kids to not play keepsies. This story assumes kids still play marbles.

No Keepsies

Evelyn Bronson breezily tore into the manila envelope from her son’s school. She unfolded the single sheet letter and pulled off the thick brochure paperclipped to it. She started to read.

“Donald!” Mrs. Bronson yelled. “Donald! Come down here right now!”

There was no answer. Mrs. Bronson clutched the letter and stormed up the stairs. She grabbed the knob and stepped in. Donald was stretched out on his bed, eyes closed, head bobbing back and forth, with a huge pair of headphones covering his ears. Even so, she could hear a pounding beat leaking out.

“Donald! Turn those down. That’s going to damage your hearing.”

Mrs. Bronson stepped forward and yanked the phones off her son’s head.

“Hey! What the hell! I’m listening here.”

Turning blue with apoplexy she thrust the letter from the school at him.

He read for a minute then started a low, guttural chuckle. This began to rise until he was laughing out loud when he reached the end. He crumpled the paper and threw it onto a pile of dirty clothes and empty fast-food containers against the foot of his bed.

“Oh, mom, give me a break, it’s just a form letter.”

“Donald, be serious,” she said as she dug around for the letter, uncrumpling it and trying to smooth it on her knee, “This is serious. Have you been playing marbles… playing keepsies?”

“Playing keepsies? Ha! Oh, God, mom, what planet are you from? Give me a break.”

Mrs. Bronson didn’t know what to do so she left the room and returned to the kitchen and sat down. She hoped this would be the end of it, but she was mistaken.

Two days later, while she was in the kitchen finishing up a tray of deviled eggs for her Bible Study group, she asked her son if he was still playing for “keepsies.”

“As a matter of fact mom, take a look at this.”

Mrs. Bronson looked across the kitchen table at her son. Slowly she saw him reach into his pocket and pluck something out. He set his knuckles next to his plate and used his thumb to flick it out onto the table.

“I won this playing marbles, mom. It’s the coolest thing ever.”

The object kept rolling, between a bowl of boiled eggs and a pile of peeled shells, until it came to a rest with a clink up against the tray of finished deviled eggs. With a swirling mix of trepidation and curiosity she reached out and picked the thing up.

It was a large, heavy marble, white in color. She began to move it in her fingers until the back side came around and she saw the black center circle and the brown and green striated ring around it. She jumped in her seat when she realized what it was.

“Mom, I won Johnny Truman’s glass eye. Playing keepsies. Isn’t it the coolest?”

A wave of horror washed over Mrs. Bronson. She looked at her hand and almost heaved the glass eye away in revulsion, but she was worried it might shatter. She quickly picked up a cloth napkin and wrapped the eye, protecting it from breakage and her from its blinkless stare.

“Donald! That’s the most terrible thing I… Ever!”

“Aww, it’s no big deal. He don’t need it, he has a patch. ‘Sides, it doesn’t work anyway. It’s only for looks.”

Mrs. Bronson was shaking, speechless with horror. Suddenly, she let out a little squeal as the doorbell rang – once, twice, insistent.

Like a robot, Mrs. Bronson went to the door. She opened it and there, standing on the stoop, was a young man wearing an eyepatch.

“Mrs. Bronson? I’m Johnny Truman. I’m here to see if I can get my glass eye back. May I come in?”

Johnny pushed past her into the living room.

“Please, ma’am, can I have my eye back?”

“No way,” Donald said, “I won it fair and square.”

“I have twenty dollars,” Johnny said calmly, “I’ll give him twenty dollars.”

“Twenty dollars, forget it! It’s worth way more than that. Have to do better than that. Mom, tell him he’ll have to do better.”

Evelyn Bronson began to sway as the world began to spin. She tried to think but had no idea what to say. She walked over to the table and picked up the napkin, holding it and the eye away from her body as she returned to the living room.

“Aww mom, don’t give that to him.”

She looked at Johnny Ransom. Something had changed, something small, while she had walked to the kitchen table for the eye.

“Johnny,” she said, “Wasn’t your patch on the left side when you were at the door?”

“Mrs. Bronson, have you been tested for dyslexia?” Johnny asked her.

At that point, Donald fell onto the floor laughing hysterically. He rolled towards Johnny who gave him a good kick and then started laughing himself. Donald grabbed Johnny’s leg and the two tumbled into a hysterical pile of teen aged legs and arms, punching and grabbing.

She jumped in horrific anticipation as Donald plucked Johnny’s patch off of his eye and hurled it at her. But there was no gaping hole, just another ordinary eye.

“Oh, Jeez mom, you really fell for it!” Donald said as the two of them kept wrestling across the floor. “That was the damn funniest thing I’ve ever seen.”

“You’ve been punked ma’am,” Johnny said.

“Where did you get this horrible thing from?,” Mrs. Bronson asked.

“Ebay!” both boys shouted in unison.

The two boys let out a long double peal of evil laughter and then, spent, stood up and shook themselves.

“We’ll be upstairs, Mom,” Donald said as if nothing had happened and the two boys ran up the stairs.

Mrs. Bronson still was clutching the napkin with the glass eye as she walked into the kitchen. On the counter was the tray of deviled eggs she had made for the Tuesday night Bible Study. The plastic tray had lines of little indentations to hold the eggs. They all were filled. She stared at the rows of white ovals each holding its little pool of yellow congealed yolk, spattering of paprika dust and crowned with large cocktail olives.

Absentmindedly, she reached out and plucked an olive off of a random deviled egg and popped it between her lips. She rolled the sour sphere around in her mouth, sucked the sweet pimento out and felt the gap it left with her tongue. Looking back at the plate, she realized that she had left a space where the olive had been. It made the whole presentation look uneven.

“That won’t do,” she said to herself, and unfolded the napkin in her hand. She plucked up the glass eye and carefully placed it into the concave depression where the olive had been. She had to rotate the glass sphere a bit until the brown and green flecked iris was pointing directly upwards. She then switched the glass eye egg with another in the exact center of the tray. She smiled at the symmetry this gave the whole presentation.

“That’ll give those Bible Study women something to scream about,“ she said out loud as she fitted the frosted plastic cover over the tray, hiding the glass eye among the rows of identical eggs. She pulled her keys out of her purse, hooked it around her shoulder, and carefully lifted the deviled egg tray with both hands. Walking out the door she yelled out, “Boys! I’m going to Bible Study. Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.”

There was no response from upstairs but Evelyn didn’t care. She strode out to the car, kicking the front door shut behind her.