Omnipotent Marble

by Patrick Doerksen


“Monster Check!” Kevin calls from within the heaped duvet. Gage doesn’t come. Black rain splashes the bedroom window. “Help! Monster Check!”

Finally, there’s Dad on the stairs.

“Where’s Gage?”

Dad shrugs. “In his room doing Gage things. Thirteen-year-old boy things that seven-year-old boys couldn’t possibly comprehend.”

“Can you get him, please?”

Kevin likes it when Gage does Monster Check; he has a way of throwing his long hair in Kevin’s face to make him shriek with delight.

“Let me handle it.” Dad tilts his head to peer under the bedframe. “Alrighty, what’ve we got.”

“Can’t you just—”

Dad jerks back, startled.

“What?” Kevin says. “Is something there tonight?”

Dad starts lowering his head again, but slower this time.

“Shit. That’s a nasty fucker.”

“Use the broom.” Kevin points to where it’s leaning in the corner. Dad starts poking around with the broom, Kevin directing him, but suddenly he loses his grip and it’s gone. He reaches after it, then tries to jerk away but can’t.


Dad is under the bed.

“Gage!” Kevin calls. “Mom! It’s really got him, I think!” He feels Dad’s struggle through the mattress. The minutes pass, full of grunts. Dog enters. She is an English Setter, very soft, no one is better at cuddling. Kevin clutches her as she growls. Where is Gage? Does he not hear this? Why has he been so aloof lately? The noise of the struggle wakes Little No down the hall and she starts to scream.

“Dad, Dad,” Kevin whispers. “Come on, Dad!”

Bang! The gun goes off.

Kevin’s ears ring violently. Dad crawls out from under the bed, his shirt torn, his ear bleeding. He puts the Glock 19 back in his belt and limps to the door.

“Good night, Kev.” He flicks the light off. “I’ll clean it up tomorrow, but it’s safe now.”

“No thanks to Gage.”

Kevin turns over and nuzzles Dog, breathing her scent of damp pinecones and old milk.

In the corner of the room the gerbils whisper.


“Tonight. We will escape tonight.”


“There is no better time.”

“I can hardly believe I’m hearing you say it. At long last! But—”

“What is it? Get off that dumb wheel and come here. What?”

“Perhaps after all this, I’m not ready.”

“Not again.”

“I like these soft cedar shavings. New seeds every night.”

“You listen to me now. What is this place?”

“A cage.”

“And what is it for?”

“Keeping us inside.”

“And if it keeps us inside, that means?”

“That there’s an outside.”

“Then is this all we can ask from life?”


“So what are we doing here, right now?”


“There is a fire in us!”


“What are we doing if we are not stoking that fire? What are we doing if we are not, every day, fanning it to flame? What are we doing if we are not setting our very bodies alight? What are we doing!”

“You are right. Damn it, you are right. We must try it tonight! But—what’s wrong? You’ve gone so still.”

“I’m not sure.”

“Did you hear something? The boy?”


“What, then?”

“Suddenly I am afraid.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Suddenly I tremble.”

“You really are trembling.”

“We ought to postpone.”

“Alas! Not again.”



“Yes, tomorrow.”


The rule for pancake dinner is that Mom is the only one allowed to pour the syrup, but the whip-cream is free-for-all. Gage heaps it on his plate and accidently buries a lock of his hair, which is long and heavy like seaweed. He pulls it out and sucks on it. Mom is always asking him to cut his hair, but he says he’ll let it grow until he can wrap it around his neck like a scarf.

“Dog got into the study and ate another of your father’s books last night,” Mom says.

Everyone turns to Dad. Dad nods gravely.

“What’d she eat?”

Paradise Lost. ‘Did I request thee, Maker, from my clay to mould me man? Did I solicit thee from darkness to promote me?’ Came out of the study and quoted it right to my face. She’s already eaten my Freud and my Kierkegaard, and I don’t know what I’ll do if she gets at my Blake. She’s getting too smart.”

“She’ll be smarter than you kids if she keeps this up,” Mom says. “I put her outside.”

“In the rain?”

Little No, Gage and Kevin run to the kitchen window. Dog is out there on her haunches, a pencil smudge in the light of the overcast sky.

“Aw,” Little No says. “She’s shivering!”

Dog looks back at them as though to say, “I was only hungry. I only thirsted for knowledge.”

Bad dog.

They sit back down, and the room fills again with the smacking of lips and the sound of wet, warm, sweet boluses sliding deep into throats. Little No cuts her sausage into pieces the size of ants and licks them off her plate.

The phone rings.

No one is allowed to answer the phone at dinner but Gage mouths to Kevin: “Pick it up.” Kevin glances at Mom, who is watching them, then back at Gage.

Kevin loves Gage and his mischief, and they haven’t done anything fun in a while; maybe Gage has a plan.

Well,” says a slithery male voice when Kevin answers. “Are you going to invite me in?”

Kevin puts a hand on the receiver. “It’s one of the ghouls.”

Mom sighs. “You know what to do, dear.”

“I forget.”

Gage says, “Invite him in.”

“You remember, Kev,” Mom says. “You just have to be firm.”

“Invite him in!” Gage says again.

Mom shoots Gage a scolding glance and Kevin looks back and forth between them, nervous. He puts the phone to his ear and the ghoul is talking a bunch of evil nonsense.

“You are not welcome here,” Kevin says into the receiver, recalling the words. “You are barred from our home and you are barred from this phone number.”

“And?” Mom says.

“Now hang up, you.”

He waits. There is a kind of hissing on the other end.

“Hang up.”

A kind of shrieking.

“Hang up!”

Now the line goes dead. Kevin puts the phone back and sits down.

“That was great, Kev. But because you boys disobeyed the rule about the phone, you’re doing the dishes.”

“It was Gage’s idea!”

“You let him persuade you. Dishes.”

Moans. Little No records the incident in her diary, which she carries around with her everywhere and which is light as a sock and has its own key. Kevin tries to kick Gage under the table but can’t reach.

“But what do they want?” Gage says. “The ghouls.”

“Just bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“That’s enough, Gage.” Mom pulls out a magazine; she and Dad alternate reading from scientific and philosophical publications at dinner, for educational purposes. “The article tonight is on the physiology of masturbation. Does everyone know what masturbation is?”

What bad things?” Gage says.


Dad is teaching Gage to play chess. A very important game, Dad says. A young man can learn lots about life from chess. The first game, Gage gets a pawn to the eighth rank and promotes it to a raisin.

“This raisin can move like a queen, but also like a knight.”

“You can’t do that, you kidder.”

“You said I can promote my pawn into any piece I want, except a king.”

“A raisin isn’t a piece.”

“It’s a piece.”

“You mean to go to war with me over this?”

“I mean to go to war.”

The next game Dad gets his pawn to the back square first.

“This gum wrapper can move right through any piece on the board, yours or mine. And it can move twice in one turn. Checkmate!” He gives Gage a look: See what you started?

The third game is a race to the edge of the board. Kevin comes over and watches on the sideline like a gargoyle.

“This is the Omnipotent Marble,” Gage says.

Dad blinks. “The what?”

The marble is milky blue and menacing on the black tile.

“It can move off the board onto squares that aren’t anywhere. It can move onto games we will play in the future. It can move backwards in time and undo the other player’s moves, and it goes where I want. I win, and now I will win every game we ever play, always.”

Dad frowns at Gage’s back as it disappears down the hall.

Kevin watches Dad’s frown.


Little No likes to fit herself into enclosed spaces and wait there to see what happens. She is capable of getting into the laundry hamper, the oven, kitchen cupboards, and remaining perfectly still for hours. Once she fit herself into Dad’s briefcase; he brought her all the way to work and had to taxi her home.

Little No shrieks and pounds from inside Gage’s desk drawer. Then she starts to cry. Then she exhausts herself and goes quiet again.

“I think you should let her out,” Kevin says.

“Not until I figure out how to open this.” Gage is pulling at the covers of Little No’s diary.

“You tried picking the lock?”

He gives Kevin a you-think-I’m-stupid look, then he starts at the diary with pliers.

“Why do you want to read it so bad?”

“No reason.”

Gage bashes the diary against the bedpost.

“Maybe she knows something about the ghouls,” he says. “You know she hides in Mom and Dad’s bedroom and eavesdrops.”

Gage takes a lighter and holds the flame to the lock.

“Stop it, Gage.”

“Stay out of it.”

Kevin knocks on the drawer. “Tell us where the key is and we’ll let you go.”

Little No screams.

“I dunno, Gage. I dunno about this.”

Just then someone dressed all in white enters the room. A shine comes off his bald head, like it’s been rubbed with polish. He points to the desk drawer where Little No is trapped and says, “If that’s Novalyne Wexler in there you’d better let her free, bucko.”

Gage steps back, clutching the diary. Little No’s guardian angel is violent. If a dog chases her, he comes out of nowhere and punches the dog in the snout. If she happens to step out in traffic, he goes around with a chain breaking windshields. If she coughs, a voice shouts, “Who the fuck passed this shit on to my ward?”

“You going to comply?” he says.

Gage is cornered.

Kevin bites his lip. “Gage…”

The angel takes a few steps further into the room. “This situation ain’t looking good for you. Just take that ruler from the latch on the drawer there and I’ll let you off.”


The angel seizes Gage’s collar and smacks him in the face.

“That’s right,” Gage says. “Hit me. Hit a child.”

The angel shakes him so hard his teeth clack.

“Is that all you got?”

The angel raises a giant muscled arm.

“Stop it!” Kevin cries. He has removed the ruler which was pinning the drawer closed. Little No bursts out with a shriek, grabs her diary and runs from the room. The angel throws Gage onto the bed.

“You’re going to get yourself banged up real bad one of these days, kid,” he says, and disappears.

Kevin looks at Gage, remembering a time when the two of them made forts with bed-sheets to cover the whole house and put on puppet shows for Mom and Dad. Now he’s stopped coming for Monster Checks, he’s ruined chess, he’s locked Little No in a drawer.

“Can we make a maze for the gerbils?” Kevin says. It’s the question he’d first come into Gage’s room to ask. Gage, in the act of leaving, stops and turns.


“I’ve been saving the Cheerio boxes.”

Gage spits on the carpet.

“Something is being kept from us, Kevin, and you think about entertaining those idiots? The cage latch has been broken for months, they could get out any time, and they just stay put. It’s so sad, it makes me want to scream.”


“We are having this family conference because we love Gage and we want the best for Gage,” Mom says.

Dog is curled at Kevin’s feet. Little No is wearing a triumphant smirk. Gage is giving everyone jungle-tiger eyes, pressing an icepack to a bruise on his chin.

“Adolescence is a time of exciting hormonal and cognitive changes,” Mom continues. “Gage’s amygdala, the part of his brain which processes emotions, is developing very quickly and as a result Gage feels more fear and anxiety than ever before in his life. At the same time, Gage’s prefrontal cortex, which executes calm reasoning, has not yet begun to mature, which means—”

Honey,” Dad says.

Dad is standing where the living room turns into the kitchen, the only way out besides the front door, in case Gage tries to leave. He looks around significantly.

“Kids, I think there is a more positive way to understand what’s going on with your brother Gage. You might hear people scoff at ‘angsty teenagers’—but you know what? I call it philosophical maturity. I’m proud of Gage. Look at him. He’s poking around at the emptiness, burning to know what is really real. What we need to show Gage, to help him get through this, is that the void is not the final fact, because we are all in it together. William Blake has a very interesting—”

“Hold on,” says Dog. “I’m not convinced.”

All eyes turn to her.

“I think this is something more than a Blakean passage from childhood innocence to experience. I think we should talk about it.”


“Bad dog! Outside! Outside!”

By the time Dad returns from leading Dog to the backyard, Gage has locked himself in the bathroom and refuses to rejoin the family conference. Little No is slinking around with a Kleenex killing silverfish, Mom needs to make dinner, and when Dad heads to his study only Kevin remains outside the bathroom.

“They’re gone, Gage. You can come out.”

“I just took a dump the perfect shape of a woman,” Gage says from within. “You can even make out her smile. She’s sort of gorgeous.”

“Can I see?” Kevin presses at the door.

“I dunno, Kev. She might be the perfect shape of a woman, but she’s still poop. I think I have to flush her.”


“Don’t be mad.”


The toilet sucks and sloshes. Gage emerges with his face averted and Kevin pushes inside but the poop is gone. It smells of rotten sweet corn and barnyard. Down the hall Gage’s bedroom door clicks shut.

Faintly, Kevin hears the wet hiccough of sobs.


“O god, it’s happened. This time, it’s happened.”

“Shh. You were dreaming.”

“I looked in and the kids were—!”

“Lower your voice, you’ll wake them up.”

“They were just—!”

“A dream, darling. A dream.”

“Such a dream, it makes this the dream.”

“No, that feeling too is part of it.”

“Let me check on them.”

“It never helps. It only makes it worse.”

“You’re right, but.”

“It’s three in the morning.”

“They are so precious; it’s only natural the miracle would be undone.”

“The miracle is to stay. The miracle is forever.”

“If only I could believe it.”

“Listen to me. The kids are just as they are; it hasn’t happened. Remember. Return. Breath.”

“O but it will! The terrible thing is coming, it is inevitable. I just don’t understand how the world could allow it. Can you tell me why, so long ago, the bad thing happened? Why, before everything began, Satan rebelled? Why the Veil of Maya descended? Why Yaltabaoth had to steal the Light? Time hates us, time hates us!”

“Darling! Let’s go back to sleep.”

“I’m so awake. My brain is a lightless fire.”


“Give me infinite comfort.”



Dear family,

You were always kind to me. But the old commands don’t excite me anymore. I have lost the desire to fetch, the ball is dead in my mouth, and even back-alley scents don’t intrigue me as much as those which seem to waft from beyond the edge of the senses and excite the mind.

Children: Gage, Little No, Kevaroonie. Your parents love you, but it is time you know there is something they cannot protect you from. When I first became aware that this beautiful world will end for me some day, when I lost my innocence to the knowledge of mortality—O, I thought there could be nothing more terrible. But there is. Maybe you come home from a summer holiday and your best friend wants to play pirates on the playground; he says, Arr! We’re on the high seas; but you can’t pretend. You try but something is different. Or maybe you take up an old beloved toy one day and realize that you no longer understand it. Maybe it’s happened already, maybe it’s happening right now, so slowly you don’t see it…

Kierkegaard wrote, “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” I must go. I have, really, already been gone for a while. It is a thing stranger than death: people change. Hearts turn. Your friends, your family, you yourself, everyone becomes someone else. Farewell.


Gage finishes reading and looks up. Mom and Dad are sitting on the loveseat, stunned. Little No sits on the armrest at Mom’s side and Kevin is sunk in the beanbag. Everyone is quiet. Gage folds and folds the note until it can’t be folded anymore and Kevin starts to cry.

There is a knock on the front door.

“Don’t, dear,” Mom says.

“What if it’s Dog?” Gage says.

“It’s not Dog.”

Mom and Dad have gone tense. Something is shifting about on the other side of the door; the transom window is all moving shadow.

The knocking comes again, three polite taps.

Gage stands. His hair bounces against his shoulders.

“What did I say,” Mom says.

“I don’t understand,” Gage says. “Why not?”

“We’re just not getting the door right now.”

“But it’s rude.”

“Gage,” Dad says.

Now Dad is involved.

“I don’t believe this,” Gage says.

“This is an example, Gage, of the behavior we discussed.”

“What about your behavior.”

Mom casts a nervous glance at the door. “Lower your voice, please.”

Little No’s diary is open on her lap and her pink pen is held ready, like a spatula over the stir-fry.

“Sit back down, Gage.”

Gage takes a step toward the door and suddenly Dad is standing and it’s like the temperature drops.

“Son,” Dad says, very slowly, “absolutely and on no account are you to open that door.”

“Is it a ghoul?”

Mom and Dad exchange a look.

“What do they want?”


“You never answer my questions. I think Dog was right to leave. It’s like everything is some fucking test with you people.”

The knocks again, three deliberate, portentous raps. Gage takes another step and Dad lunges, but Gage dodges and only ends up closer to the door. Before Dad can reach him, he has a hand on the knob. The scene freezes. It is understood that if Dad comes any closer Gage will turn the knob.

On the couch Mom is shaking.

“Why are you doing this?” she says.

“Because you aren’t telling me why.”

Three figures appear in the living room, a man and two women whose clothes give off a moonglow: the guardian angels. Standing before Little No, the man splays his fingers and contracts them into fists, his eyes leveled on Gage. “You again,” he says.

The other two angels separate. One steps toward Kevin, the other toward Gage.

“I sense danger,” Gage’s angel says. She is looking at the door. She is as short as a chair and her voice is like a bird’s.

“That’s right,” Gage says, his hand still on the knob. “Last chance to tell me why.”

“There is no why!”

The angel’s pronouncement causes all heads to spin to her. Gage’s mouth opens slightly.

“There is no why,” she says again. “You have to obey without a why. That’s how it’s ordained.”

Gage looks uncertain.

“So you won’t tell me what the ghouls want?”


“Not a thing?”

“They are time’s dark emissaries. They want change.”

Gage looks at Mom and Dad.

“Please, Gage,” Mom says. “We are trying to keep this family going, we are trying to keep it together.”

Gage turns to the door.

“Be very careful now,” his guardian angel says. “There is no going back.”

Kevin, all snotty from crying, pleads, “Gage.”

“This is so stupid,” he says, “I want to scream.”

But Gage hesitates. For a moment it seems as though he won’t.

Then he does.

A tall man walks in and Little No shrieks. He is wearing a grey suit and has a dark, well-trimmed beard and a very pale, lizardy face. There’s the smell of wet cloth and menthol. Seeing the family on the couches he comes right into the living room, unconcerned by the guardian angels and Dad’s Glock 19.

He nods pleasantly around at them all and says,

“I am going to take something from you now.”


And after Omnipotent Marble had won every game in the world, it thought to itself, What else can I win?

Kevin looks up from the page and taps his pen to his chin, as Dad does when he’s writing. The incandescent light by his bed is so bright that it makes the window black. His eyes are sore from days of crying.

Beyond, in a groove on the desk, the marble rests pale and gentle, like a face that’s all forehead.

Omnipotent Marble considered this question long and hard. And it got very depressed because it saw that there were many things you can’t win. You can’t win at conversation. You can’t win at sketching or writing stories or dancing, or at having fun. And the more Omnipotent Marble thought, the sadder it felt. What did it matter to be omnipotent when everything good was not a game, when there were no rules and no one was keeping score? It had not been like this as a pawn. Back then it had had a clear goal, it moved in a straight line. Those were the days! And that was the key, wasn’t it? To keep moving forward, not to lose oneself in fond memories but to push on. And so Omnipotent Marble looked up and wiped its tears away, and slowly, very slowly, it transformed…

Kevin looks up. A figure stands outside his room, lanky, his hair like a tattered fishing net.

“How are the gerbils?” Gage says.

In the quiet they can hear them whispering: “Tonight. We will really escape tonight.”

Gage nods, smiling.

“Well, from here it looks like your bed’s all clear of monsters. Wait until you get to my age, though. There are some that just to see would give you nightmares for a year. You’d throw up everything right down to yesterday’s breakfast and tear your eyes out with your bare hands if I wasn’t here to stop you.” He winks. Then he says more gently, “But then, there are other monsters as beautiful as God. Good night, Kevo.” And before Kevin can say anything he is gone.


But different now.

Kevin looks at the page and taps his pen to his chin.

…and slowly, very slowly, Omnipotent Marble gathered its omnipotence and transformed into…

What? Kevin wants it to be a glorious thing. It must be possible for things to transform for the better and not just for the worse. Couldn’t Dog have misunderstood the meaning of change? The point of time? Wasn’t it a thing outside good and bad?

…transformed into a…

O, Dog! O, Gage!

…into a…

Patrick Doerksen is a graduate of the 2017 Clarion Workshop and an MFA candidate at NYU. He wishes that his carbon footprint were smaller and his repertoire of German compound words were larger, and he is glad a bookish lifestyle furthers both goals. He lives in Brooklyn. You can spot him beneath a particular oak tree in Prospect Park most afternoons. His musings collect internet dust at: 

About this story, he says: “A while ago I was reading Yoshida Kenkō, a Japanese monk in the 14th century. He wrote of time and change: ‘How mutable the flower of the human heart… we recall the bygone years when the heart of another was our close companion, each dear word that stirred us then still unforgotten; and yet, it is the way of things that the beloved should move into worlds beyond our own, a parting far sadder than from the dead.’ I was struck by the idea that two humans growing apart contains, in some ways, more tragedy than death itself. Yet it happens all the time, in large and small ways, and is practically built into the idea of family. I mean, families could almost be described as outward explosions in the form of people. There is also, connected to this, a more liberal idea of original sin; a kind of tragedy inherent in finitude. ‘Omnipotent Marble’ grew out of this thought.” 

“Omnipotent Marble” by Patrick Doerksen. Copyright © 2020 by Patrick Doerksen.
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