fiction

The marble-workers

On the bench they sat in a single row, working their marbles. The bench stretched in either direction for miles–perhaps an infinity–and to each inhabitant was allotted a single marble, a clear sphere speckled with dots and striated with lines that the individual rolled over in their palm, trying to wipe clean.

Over time, this process yielded an increasingly smooth, pure surface, such that the marble came more and more to resemble an orb, even attaining invisibility. The participants’ gaze upon their marbles was uniformly intent, but simultaneously loving, detached.

Before the bench and in an open space that, similarly, extended infinitely in any direction, further participants played, throwing their marbles at one another, stomping upon one another’s marbles, trudging away from the crowd in consternation. Unlike those on the bench, this group of participants did not seem aware that they possessed marbles; to them, the marbles were vehicles for causing chaos or achieving oneupmanship, and the noise emanating from this group served as the exact antipode of the bench’s and the marble-workers’ silence.

Some on the bench had worn their marbles down to near-purity, and as they gradually achieved this aim they slid farther along the bench, to the point at the end of the space where a single participant teetered on the bench’s edge. In this participant, the gaze was maximally attentive, loving, and spacious; his hands over the marble maximally tender and thorough; the marble itself so free of debris as to exhibit a glow.

When the players in the central space threw their marbles at one another, those marbles would imprint upon the recipient the marble’s unique texture and color, such that the recipient came away almost with a tattoo of the marble. Then, working their own marble in their hands, they would deposit the same imprint, such that the imprint passed from he who threw the marble to, ultimately, the marble and therefore the idiosyncratic code of he who had been pelted. In this way, messages were shared without words having been spoken, and still those in the hullabaloo remained unaware that they possessed marbles to begin with.

Every so often, an explosion of consciousness could be witnessed amidst this melee, and the affected person would pluck up their marble, walk over to the bench, and begin silently working the marble in the manner of the others. This newcomer would seat themselves at the absolute limit of the bench, at the very beginning of this purification process if the person at the opposite side constituted the end.

Among the marble-workers on the bench, in addition to those who sat transfixed with their marbles, there were those who seemingly forgot of the marbles’ existence for a time, or who seemed to be thinking especially hard before doing something as simple as running their fingers over their designated marble once more, smoothing out a groove. Occasionally, a worker would stare into the distance for what seemed eons in this state of inactivity, idle in the motion which was itself, in a sense, meaningless.

At the necessary extreme of the bench, that place where the marble-worker had nearly set his marble aglow, that marble was released of its final imperfection and, in a moment, the marble-worker himself disappeared, his body dematerializing and floating into the air as shreds and then wisps and then particles. As this disintegration occurred, the marble-worker’s face lifted into an expression that could only be deemed tranquility, but equally compassion and bliss. Beside this now-vacant seat, every other marble-worker slid down, and now a subsequent, still-imperfect marble occupied the final spot, and with it a novel worker.

But the marble of he who had dematerialized was not lost; instead, it fell to the floor from the position where he had last held it, and in this collision with the floor’s surface the marble cracked, was newly damaged, rendered unique. In this affixing of peculiarity to what had previously been nondescript, the marble became attractive to one of the children in the mob, and this child strolled over to and picked up the marble, newly fascinated by it, soon to either throw it at another child and pass on that imprint or begin working the marble himself, his thumbs glossing the ravaged surface.

And the hush surrounding the activity was constant.

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