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When age steals away wishes (this is the moment replayed)

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At seven, Sissy loiters near the lot, waiting for her chance to come. She knows she won’t get picked first round, because they’re never going to pick a girl, but she waits. Sooner or later someone will get called home, someone will get in a fight, someone will have to leave for their afternoon paper route and then it’ll be her turn. She can wait all day if she has to because she knows they won’t pick a girl (not even if they’re good, and she is) but they’ll play with a girl if the alternative is not playing at all.

So she’s ready when they point at her finally and yell, “You there! Second base!” She runs to her spot before they change their minds, slaps some dirt on her hands and fixes her stance. She doesn’t have a mitt, but then most of the boys don’t either, and when the ball comes her way she reaches up with both hands, plucks it right from the air (oh how it smarts as it smacks against her bare palms!), and tosses it quick to the boy at first base.

“Out!” the cry goes up, and the failed runner kicks at the dirt for his whole walk off the field. Sissy doesn’t gloat, just claps her tingling hands together once, twice, and eyes the next batter up, determined to do her best for as long as they’ll have her.

They have her for seven more years, until she’s married, until the baby’s nearly there.

::

It’s strange being back home again, like a child but not. Sissy has hoped for joy over and over again, looked into far too many small beautiful faces, and found only death. This one thing any woman is supposed to be able to do, and she can’t. This love she’s so full of, and no one to give it to. Not in the way she wants.

She’s come home changed in other ways too. Sissy can’t stop her father, but she can get in the way. She can slow him down and distract him. She can protect her mother like she always wanted to do when she was small.

Sissy finishes work every day at the rubber factory coated in a light dusting of grey that never entirely comes off. She tries, though, scrubbing herself pink as possible at the basin, then gathering her basket to start in on mending. John’s taking her out tomorrow night, and he likes her in a pretty dress. He likes her out of it too, hands warm on her hips.

Sissy knows what the other women on the block say about her, and it’s not so much that she doesn’t care as that she knows it’s not about her. It’s about them and the smallness of their lives. It’s about how they followed all these made-up rules about how to live, but they still aren’t happy, so when they see her breaking the rules, when they see her being happy, they blame her and not the rules. Not the world they live in, not the choices they've made.

She lets it go for years and years, until it comes home in the hardest way, when Evy and Katie ban her from their homes. Sissy’s got holes in her from everyone she’s ever loved and lost, from losing Eliza to the convent to losing all of her babies, and she fills the spaces up with loving her remaining sisters, with loving their children and feeling their love come back to her.

Sissy’s seen love hurt like that change and grow twisted and hard, but she won’t let that happen to her. Her sisters’ children are a magnet pulling at her, an irresistible call to their streets, to lurk, to try to see them, and when she understands what’s happened to Francie, that love roars back to protect her. It holds her warm for a little while, until loss comes back to her, and when Katie’s message arrives through the insurance man it’s like the sun rising. She knows what it cost her sister to send it. It’s not easy asking for forgiveness, and it isn’t easy to give it either.

::

They can’t go often, but when they manage to scrape the pennies together, Sissy loves to go to the movies with Katie. They trade off picks, because if Katie had her way, though she’d never admit it to anyone else, they’d always see a love story. Sissy doesn’t mind a love story, but she comes to the theater for the whole spectacle, especially the organ player working their magic to make things funny or sad, and she loves seeing the world outside of Brooklyn, outside of New York, and maybe even beyond. It makes her feel tiny and important all at the same time.

Sometimes Katie whispers to her what the title cards say, but mostly they just watch and dream. Sissy glances sideways at Katie and watches the ghost of worry slip off her face until she’s a young woman again, the young woman she almost never has time to be. She can see Francie in her, two young women too much alike.

::

Sometimes, Sissy knows, when someone wants a thing too badly for too long, it can be a disappointment when it finally comes. But now she’s here, in her small, warm kitchen. John is giving the baby her bottle, her mother is drowsy in her rocking chair, and supper is bubbling away on the stove. Sissy thinks back to herself at seven, fourteen, full of wanting, twenty-one and further, full of joy layered over pain.

There are still problems, still fears. You can’t be human and love and not be afraid for someone. But Sissy’s calm in her bones, and that’s what she thinks happiness is now.

::

Little Sissy is seven, and her eyes go bright with want every time they pass the lot where the boys play ball. “Just watch and wait,” her mother tells her. “Tell ‘em it’s a free country, and sooner or later they’ll need you to play.”

Little Sissy waits with her mother’s sheer determination and the patience of all the Rommely women who came before them. She watches game after game and she learns the boys’ names, who is sneaky-good and who is all show.

She waits and watches until the call finally comes: “You there! Second base!”

She runs.