If Maxie throws one of his fits, I’m fast enough to catch him and big enough to hold him down. Maxie gestures strangely, grunts, and screeches. Maxie of course doesn’t hear himself—he’s deaf.
But smart too. He watches me mark a circle, drop in the marbles, shoot once, and immediately, he understands the game. When he chooses a shooter, he takes the bigger one so I have to take the smaller steely. Soon, I’m winning, but I’ve played the game before.
I wonder what it’s like to play marbles and not hear them click, to not hear the cars pass on Southwest Street, not hear the breeze in the leaves, not hear a dog bark? Maxie’s been deaf since he was one and caught a disease. I bet he wishes he could hear again.
He bends over his agate, thumbs it hard into the circle, knocks a marble out, and snorts. I motion for him to go again. He gets to shoot until he doesn’t knock a marble out of the ring.
As he bends over his shooter, a neighborhood girl, Margo, pedals up on her red bike, and for the first time, she’s riding without training wheels. She lays the bike down on the ground behind Maxie, who doesn’t know she’s there.
As Maxie shoots, she acts kind of sullen because we haven’t said anything to her. Then she takes off her dress and stands there in nothing but white panties.
“Put your dress back on,” I say.
Maxie sees me talking, turns, jumps up, and starts making odd noises. The girl giggles and pulls her panties off so she’s naked except for white sandals. Her body is pudgy but rounded and solid. I don’t know what Maxie thinks, but he goes wild, leaping around her, making louder, shriller sounds.
The girl laughs and spins in place. Maxie’s and the girl’s reactions get into my blood. I can’t stop myself from standing too, yelling, laughing, and circling around her. Suddenly her mother runs out of their house and crosses her lawn into mine. “Stop it!” she yells, giving me and Maxie a nasty look.
I say, “She just took her clothes off. I don’t know why.”
Complaining she’s told Margo before about keeping her clothes on, the woman quickly covers the girl, then takes the bicycle in one hand and the girl’s upper arm in the other. When I look at our house, Mom is staring out the screen door. I quickly tap Maxie on a shoulder, point to our marbles, and mime putting them in the cloth bag. The idea seems to settle Maxie down. We pick up the marbles quietly. Later, Mom makes me describe the entire incident.
“You should’ve gotten the girl’s parents or me. Not stare and laugh. She doesn’t know any better. Imagine getting Maxie all riled up.”
“It wasn’t his fault.”
“That’s right. You should’ve stopped it, but you didn’t. Now you have to go to confession.”
That evening’s confession works out pretty well for all involved. I confess the incident to Father Klenke. He’s from Cincinnati and is hearing confessions and saying masses at St. Francis de Sales because our Father Krusling is on vacation. Father Klenke tells me to say three Hail Marys then asks about Maxie, whom he calls “that deaf boy.” I tell him the Humphreys moved into the neighborhood a year ago, but Maxie doesn’t go to school because he throws fits. The Lebanon schools won’t let him in.
Outside the confessional, I’m kneeling in the closest pew when, up ahead, I see Father Klenke approach my mother. They talk in whispers, and I worry they’re talking about me. Is what I did so bad? As soon as we leave, I ask Mom, “What’d he say?”
Turns out that Father Klenke sets Maxie up with a partial scholarship to attend St. Rita’s School for the Deaf. A few months later when my mother and I accompany Maxie’s mother on the fifteen-mile ride to visit Maxie, he’s changed. He proudly shows Mom and me around the school, and he seems happier too.
Me? I worry I’ll see a naked girl and act crazy again.
~ ~ ~
Bill Vernon served in the United States Marine Corps, studied English literature, and then taught it. Writing is his therapy, along with exercising outdoors and doing international folk dances. His poems, stories, and nonfiction have appeared in a variety of magazines and anthologies, and Five Star Mysteries published his novel,Old Town, in 2005.