Eight year old Kate toyed with her favorite cat-eye marble as she watched Papa throwing balls at the Summer Carnival, trying to win her a hula doll. All of a sudden the marble popped out of her hand and rolled under a Side Show tent. Papa was busy winding up his pitching arm, so Kate scrambled under the flap and crawled on the dirt floor, reaching for it. Two small, dark feet shoved themselves under her nose. They looked like human feet but they were covered in fur.
A boy said, “You gotta pay to get in here.”
“I’m just looking for a marble I dropped.” When Kate looked up she almost screamed. The boy staring down at her was covered in animal fur. He resembled a brown bear, except that his nose was small and his ears were planted symmetrically on the side of his head.
The boy seemed to recognize the fear and repulsion in her eyes. His voice turned hard as granite. “You owe me twenty-five cents.”
“Twenty-five cents!” Indignation replaced the little girl’s fright. She put her hands on her hips. “For what?”
The boy met her eyes. “To look at me. I’m the wolf boy. That’s the rules.”
Kate’s curiosity got the better of her. “What rules?”
“The Side Show rules. You gotta pay to get in here.”
“Oh, all right.” Kate dug in her pocket. “All I’ve got is ten cents and marbles.”
The boy frowned. “Well, I guess you can look at me, but nobody else.”
“I don’t want to look at anybody. I just want to find my marble.” Kate handed him the money then dropped to her knees again. The hem of her new plaid dress drug in the dirt, but she didn’t care. The sooner she found her marble and got away from this unpleasant, fur-coated creature, the better.
The boy knelt beside her. “What are you looking for?”
“Don’t you know what a marble is?” When he shook his head. Kate picked a smaller cat-eye out of the collection in her pocket and held it up. “It’s like this, only bigger.”
“Can I see that?” The boy held out his hand. She was astonished that his palm looked exactly like hers.
“What do you do with marbles?” the wolf boy asked as he rolled the cat-eye between his fingers.
Kate stared at him in disbelief. “You mean you never played marbles?”
He shook his head. “I don’t have time to play. I work so I can send money home to my family.”
“Oh. I’m sorry.”
The boy shrugged. “Why? My father and grandfather work in Side Shows too.”
Now Kate felt sorry for this little wolf boy who never got a chance to play. “Shooting marbles is easy. Let me show you.” She dropped to her knees and drew a circle in the dirt. Then she divided up her marbles. After demonstrating how to pop the marble with her thumb, she let the wolf boy try.
“What’s your name?” he asked.
“It’s Katherine. Everyone calls me Kate.”
“I’m Jorge.” He offered her his hand. It felt soft and velvety.
As they shot a game of marbles, Kate forgot that her father might be looking for her until his frantic voice echoed outside the tent, asking if anyone had seen a little girl in a red plaid dress.
Kate gulped. “I better go.”
“Thanks for the game.” Jorge handed her the marbles.
She pressed them into his soft hand. “You keep them. Maybe you can find someone else to play with.”
Jorge grinned, displaying immaculate white teeth. On an impulse, she kissed him. Her spine tingled as her lips brushed across his furry cheek. The sensation lingered long after she crawled out from underneath the tent flap and returned home with her father.
Published in Stories