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What Gets Inside You

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She's in town for the week, visiting a cousin in Queens. Lucky for her, the Dodgers are also in town. She knows exactly where she wants to meet Doris when she calls her to say she's in town. And Doris agrees immediately, saying she'll get her sister-in-law to watch the kid and that the food's on her.

So Mae goes down to Ebbets Field and stares up, the entrance as grand as she recalls. She swallows the lump that forms in her throat and asks for two seats on the first base side. She's surprised to see how far down they are, almost on the dugout. But it is a weekday, June or not.

She takes up a place to wait for Doris.

Mae stares down at her feet, irrationally angry at the patent leather and the tasteful heel. She looks at her legs, encased in mid-priced hose; behind her knees, sweat gathers and runs down, not a lot but enough to itch like the devil. Never in her life had she hated her shoes or itched in her hose.

Until baseball.

She blinks, hard, hoping the mascara she applied - mascara, seriously, at a ballpark on a summer day! - doesn't run.

She stands staring down McKeever and looking for the one face she admitted to missing in the days after the league shut down. She hasn't seen Doris in two years. Too expensive to travel back east much, and Doris was busy, couldn't get away from her own life. Raising a kid, keeping a home.

Mae lights a cigarette, ignoring the looks she is starting to get from the men in line for tickets. A dame like you in a place like this....

Screw 'em. Broad daylight, her dress goes past her knees, and she is wearing hose. In the summer. Screw every one of 'em.

Time was, Mae would have gotten a little closer, batted her eyelashes, unbuttoned her blouse a bit lower. And time was, Doris would have stood next to her and laughed until it wasn't funny anymore, until someone's hands went too far. Mae was the dancer, Doris the bouncer.

It's broad daylight, and this is a ballpark, not a club, and Mae stands in her itchy hose and tries not to think about what everyone else might be thinking about.

Mae forgot to wear a watch, but the line thins as people get their tickets and go on to find their seats. A trickle of fear that Doris forgot, that she isn't coming, actually begins to form, and it is right then, of course it is, that Doris' voice cuts through the crowd and Mae's face lights up like Christmas.

"Mae Mordabito! I can't believe that's you, Mae, are you sure you ain't a goddamn apparition?" She sweeps Mae up in a bear hug, the kind only Doris could ever get away with giving, and Mae breathes in Doris' smell and smiles. New York fades and all there is now is every good thing that ever came out of knowing this woman.

"Now, how 'bout we watch some baseball, huh?" Doris' grin is crooked and the sun is bright.

Nothing and nobody can bother Mae now.

-

The Cubs are playing the Dodgers, though it almost doesn't matter who's on the field, because it is summer and baseball is still all Mae knows or cares about when the days get long. A summer spent anywhere other than a ballpark feels wasted to Mae.  Doris feels the same, or, if she doesn't, she would never say. She left before Mae; almost everyone left before Mae, who played all the way through '54, the last original Peach. Just barely, Mae would say if asked, because Alice had been traded back from Racine at the beginning of the season and only left because she blew out her knee in July. Doris, though, was married and a mother in '54, hadn't been a ballplayer since her husband's job took them back east after the World Series in '51.

Doris left, it was true. Now, though, next to Mae, as they stand to sing The Star-Spangled Banner, her heart swells. It never fails to, when she hears those notes while she can breathe in the smell of worn leather and fresh-cut grass, hot dogs and sweat and hard work.  And now she has Mae by her side, where she belongs, and everything about this moment is achingly familiar and dear.

Mae sneaks a look up at Doris' face, and she will never tell her friend that she sees the tears in her eyes when the ump shouts "Play ball!"

-

Doris' voice rises above the surrounding crowd to cheer Campanella's double to right. Snider and Hodges score and the modest crowd is ecstatic.

"Stott shoulda pitched inside," Mae says, taking a handful of peanuts from Doris' bag.

"Yeah, but who cares? Dodgers on the board!"

Mae grins. Doris is tenaciously loyal.

The stadium is small, the aisles narrow and the seats uncomfortable. It feels homey to Mae, of course, who remembers far worse in minor league stadiums borrowed for the league in the last go, and besides, Ebbets was her first, the place where she learned what it meant to love.

Koufax is on the mound and the innings go quickly; the Dodgers still have it, whatever it is, that magic that propels a team to a win when the odds really should be against them. Mae and Doris know it well, and they eat up each pitch and whiff and taunt, they devour the sights and smells and sounds. They talk a little, between plays. They write, of course, and each knows every detail that the other doesn't speak aloud.

Mae is working, coaching a girls' basketball team at a school not far from Rockford. There is no girls' baseball, hardly even softball. What Doris knows that Mae doesn't say, is that she is still hurt by the League's demise, the way it just died and no one talks about it anymore. Only three years, and it's like it never happened. She is livid that she can't coach baseball.

Doris is married, has a kid, and wants another...maybe. What Mae knows that Doris doesn't say? Doris spends more time here at Ebbets than is healthy, using pin money for tickets in the middle of the day, taking her daughter and whispering baseball secrets in her ear, and she lies to her husband about it, though he'd never truly disapprove.

They talk about the last season they played together. The Peaches were almost always playoff contenders, and that year, oh, it was glorious. Mae had twelve home runs, Doris nine, and between them more RBIs than the White Sox' Zernial, who just happened to lead the majors that year. The team just couldn't lose a game, and the World Series was theirs so clearly and obviously, it was almost as if they didn't need to play. They took it in four, and it was a brilliant run. It was hard to believe, even now, how such a year could happen.

Snider hits a home run, and the crowd is on its feet again, and Doris is screaming her approval. Mae closes her eyes, and there is Kit Keller on the mound, and Doris cheering her on.

The Dodgers are dominating the game, going into the fourth up 6-0, and Mae has to pee. Doris walks with her, always a little too protective of her slight and beautiful friend. They stop for beers on the way back, because why the hell not, and the disapproving looks don't bother them one bit.

"So are ya gonna move east without a fuss, or do I need to drag your ass back here?" Doris is bold, because there is no other way to be with Mae.

Mae isn't surprised by the question. New York is home, Brooklyn is home. It occurred to her so many times in the last few years to come back. She turns her head, opens her mouth....

She crashes right into a big guy in a suit. Her beer goes down her dress, because of course it does. He's hardly wet but she apologizes, and he kind of laughs and tells her not to worry, asks if she's okay. She squints up at him, the sun in her eyes, and she can't tell if he's looking at her tits. She assumes so, because they all do, so she pushes past with another apology and a summons to Doris, who is right on her heels.

Doris tries to tell Mae, he was good looking, you shoulda got his number or given him yours, and Mae shuts her down with a look. The fifth inning is underway and Koufax kept the Cubs from getting on the board. They sit down and Gil Hodges hits a homer and the crowd is incoherent.

Mae sips off Doris' beer and they are quiet for a while, just watching the game and each trying her damnedest not to wish herself on that field, in that uniform. Duke Snider stretches his legs, and he's lean and good-looking out on that field; another woman would swoon because of it. Mae is untouched, only fascinated by Snider because she can feel every move he makes. He reaches up for a ball, and her arm feels the strain, her fingers and palm the satisfaction that his feels when a ball smacks his glove.

Mae's hose itch again. She scratches behind her right knee and thinks if she presses down just so, she can feel the scar from that game against the Chicago Colleens in '49. Eunice Anderson had blocked the plate and Mae'd tumbled into her, and the scuffle left them both banged up. Mae rode the bench for a week, at Jimmy's insistence. She'd needed a dozen stitches.

Her gaze wanders back to center field and she has to blink, hard. The beer is making her light-headed. She shakes her hands, fingers splayed, and focuses elsewhere in the game. On anything and anyone who isn't Duke Snider in center field.

Doris groans loudly, and Mae is shaken back to what's happening as the Cubs score two on Speake's homerun. She's somehow blanked on more than a half inning. Doris looks over and raises an eyebrow.

"You okay?"

Mae nods and steals more peanuts.

-

They stand for the seventh inning stretch and sing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" with more enthusiasm than is strictly necessary. Mae's voice is strong and clear, Doris' warbly and accented. They sound beautiful together.

There is a break for few moments while the grounds crew combs the dirt, the players reorient themselves. There is a satisfied buzz throughout the sparse crowd; why wouldn't there be? Early summer, the Dodgers are winning, and all is right with the world. That's how Doris and Mae see it, and if anyone there disagrees with the sentiment, one look at the pair would change their minds.

The feeling is palpable, enough to the women have to acknowledge it.

"Was it like this, do you think, when people came to see us play?" Doris sounds wistful.

"Nah, it was better," replied Mae. "After all, we wore skirts."

They laugh long and loud, and play resumes on the field. Campanella actually looks back at them as he runs out, and Mae winks at him.

-

Koufax is gone in the eighth, after the Cubs score three on an Ernie Banks homer. Doris, at this point, has gotten tense and loud, and the people in front of her have turned around several times to glare. Mae scowls at them and nudges Doris, who doesn't keep quiet but at least moderates her tone.

"Like old times, huh?" says Mae, a grin on her face. Doris never handled tight games well, especially these comeback games where the opposition dropped a run here and there instead of running it up all at once. It was torture for her, really.

Doris is, of course, untouched by Mae's attempt at sentiment, and yells her approval as Labine finishes the inning without more damage.

They stay through to the end, as the Cubs try to rally and the Dodgers scramble a bit to keep them to five, and the bums finally put the lid on it in the ninth. Doris sighs and looks up, an obvious prayer to the big guy on her lips, which makes Mae laugh, it is so familiar and so right.

They climb up the narrow aisle, and around them here and there fans bemoan the stadium's condition. Overheard at the exit is a Cubs fan in town on business, extolling the virtues of Wrigley, which no one around him disputes.

"Papers say team's gonna leave Brooklyn," says Doris to Mae, as they stand where they met, looking down McKeever.

Mae shakes her head. "Ain't nothin' sacred anymore, Doris. Nothin'." She lights a cigarette. "Wanna get a drink?"

Doris doesn't bother noting the early hour. "Nah. Come back to the house. I'm makin' meatloaf. It's Tuesday."

Mae sighs, but she agrees, because Doris-the-cook is a novelty she won't pass up. She's not expected back for hours, and she doesn't want the day to end. She wants to look in Doris' eyes and see the longing, see that it wasn't all a dream. She wants to do it over a cocktail, but she'll take the meatloaf.

The day is waning fast. Mae is feeling lost, and she can't put her finger on it.

"Don't it feel wrong? Leavin' the ballpark?" Mae's accent is thick now. She whispers the next part. "Didn't it feel wrong back then?

Doris looks at Mae, surprised. "Yes." She's brief, because it hurts, and she doesn't really want Mae to know how much. That spring after she came back to Brooklyn, she'd spent half Tommy's salary on tickets, and Tommy hadn't stopped her. He ate peanut butter and said nothing, and when the season ended he held her and told her he'd let her go if he had to, he'd let her go back. She thought she'd gotten pregnant that same night, and by the time spring came again, any thought of going back was out of the question.

"Yes," she repeats as they walk. "Wrong then, wrong now."

They walk slowly, deliberately, and Doris changes the mood a little by retelling the story of how Ernie Capadino had recruited them both. They pass by the courtyard where their softball team had played; it's grown over a bit, not kept up by the neighborhood, and Doris tells Mae about the hoodlum kids who use it for making out and illicit smoking. Mae just grins, and ignores the familiar pang.

"God, we were young. I was what, 22 when Ernie showed up?"

"We both were. Though I think I lied about it when he asked."

"Yeah, because anyone would believe you were 19, with those tits."

"Shut up, Doris."

-

They are fifteen blocks from Doris' house, and reaching it, Doris' attitude and demeanor shift slightly. She's all grown-up, Mae thinks, watching as Doris thanks Vivian for watching little Judy Mae. Vivian swears she wants more time with her niece, not less, and refuses to be thanked.

The house is clean, if not opulent by any means, and Doris clearly fits in and rules the place. She's asking Vivian to stay for supper, there's plenty, and Judy Mae squeals with delight. Immediately, there is a rhythm going that throws Mae, as Doris heads for the kitchen and starts mixing ground beef and ketchup and who knows what else. Her hands are sticky with it and she's laughing as Judy Mae makes a gagging sound.

Mae steps out for a cigarette. She feels at home, surrounded by Doris' things and Doris herself. But she's a stranger, too, here. She realizes quickly, she won't get a chance to look in Doris' eyes tonight, and even if she did, the longing wouldn't be there anymore.

She takes a deep breath and lets it out slowly. The sun is sinking behind the buildings. The day is going to end, whether Mae is ready for it or not.

Tommy walks up then, home from his day. Doris always thought she'd be married to a factory man, if she married at all, because that was what her father did and his father. Tommy's an accountant, though, in an office above a factory. His days are measured and his hands clean, and Doris is proud of that.

Mae has no idea what to say to him.

But Tommy knows, Mae is special. He smiles and offers his hand. "Long time, no see," he says, casual. And Mae nods, returning his easy smile.

"You girls went to a game, I heard? Any good?"

"They won, so, yeah. Good."

He smiles again. "Any day at a ballpark is a good day. Win or lose."

Mae is startled. He's not making fun of her.

"You comin' in?"

She waves her hand. "I'll be right there."

Tommy nods and opens the door, and beyond him Judy Mae can be heard calling out her excitement that Daddy's home. There's a welcome home kiss from Doris, a shout hello from Vivian. The noise inside is magnetic.

Mae finishes her cigarette and goes in.

-

Tommy's putting Judy Mae to bed, having told Doris to go on, talk to Mae. Vivian's gone home.

So Doris and Mae are in the kitchen, at the table, sipping on gin and tonics. Mae's got her chance now, if she wants, to squeeze more nostalgia out of this day, and she does want it.

Doris is obliging, reminiscing about that first World Series, swearing on every religious document in print that Dottie caught that ball and dropped it, reliving the controversy as if it'd been that afternoon. Mae defends Dottie, and they continue in that vein for awhile, exhausting it all over again.

"Do you hear from her? From Dottie?" Doris asks. She was never good at keeping in touch with anyone other than Mae.

"Occasionally. She sent a Christmas card. She's like you, home and kids and husband."

"Kit? Evelyn?"

"Evelyn's husband died last year, you knew that. Drink. Kit's in Chicago."

Doris nods, tips back her drink. "I saw Betty Spaghetti last winter. At the market. She didn't recognize me." She pauses. "No. She did recognize me. She wanted to avoid me, though. I said hello, and she walked away. Her face...she was all pale."

Mae shrugs. She knows the look. There'd been others, over the years, women who'd come and gone in the league, who never wished to speak of it once it was over. She always thought Dottie was one of them, frankly, except for the Christmas card.

"She didn't have very good memories with us, though, did she?"

"Oh, Mae, of course she did. Of course she did! We all did, even when it was hell. How could she not? Baseball...."

It's what gets inside you. They knew what Jimmy Dugan would say. "Yes. Baseball," says Mae.

Doris looks up. "I wanted to come back," she said, her tone soft. "I wanted to, for awhile. And then...."

Mae knows what's coming, and she isn't sure she wants to hear it.

"Life happened, Mae. It was a great time, it was. It made me who I am, I never woulda gotten here if I hadn't been that girl first. But life happened."

Mae really wants to stand up and go. She settles for standing up and making another drink.

"It didn't happen for me, Doris." She's going to be honest. "The game...it ended. I wasn't ready."

She feels her eyes well up and she squeezes them shut, willing it not to happen.

"I wasn't ready."

"I know."

Doris stands up to hug her friend, and Mae stands there, arms at her side. She's sobbing now, and Doris is shushing her.

"Why did you leave?" Mae hiccups, and Doris hands her her drink off the table.

"I had to. It was time."

"It wasn't. It wasn't over."

"It was for me. Mae, you...I never would have gone if you hadn't been there. I never woulda stayed."

"You," Mae sighs, because this is what she never wanted to say out loud, what she never wanted to admit, and she isn't even drunk. "You left me there."

It's out in the open now. The room is silent except for a clock ticking.

Doris shakes her head. "I never...."

"You did," says Mae, her voice as quiet as she can make it, because otherwise, she'd shout it. She'd scream it, and damn whoever had a problem with it.

But she also sighs, and she sits down. Doris remains standing until she feels foolish, and sits across from Mae.

"I don't mean it," says Mae.

"Then why say it?"

"Because!" And now her voice is a little louder, now she is annoyed, at herself, at Doris. At the situation. It had been a lovely day! The Dodgers won! She'd winked at Roy Campanella!

But her hose itched, and she spilled a beer down herself, and Duke Snider was playing center field and she had to watch, she couldn't play. She was a spectator now. A fan.

"Because, Doris," says Mae, "Because it's over, and I was alone in the end. It came crashing down around me, I didn't choose to leave, it ended and I never consented to that. Never. I did not choose it."

"And I did," says Doris. "I came back to Brooklyn and moved on."

"Yes."

And there it is. Mae Mordabito was the last Peach standing. The day the news came that the league was shutting down, no one was really surprised. They were down to a handful of teams, the fans had more or less given up. There were only a dozen or so of the original players left in the entire league, and none of the original managers or anyone with any sense of grandeur. Somewhere, Walter Harvey was innovating in another direction, and Ira Lowenstein had moved on, too. Baseball for women was a nice experiment, one baseball writer in Chicago had written, but it was not necessary, the war long over and the need gone.

Mae'd felt the loss personally, took it as an affront, but there was no one to really commiserate with, and she took the job in Kenosha because she couldn't face New York, couldn't stand the idea that she'd go back and find New York the same as ever, and herself in it. Swinging her hips for cash and her tits for drink, taxi dancing and the whole caboodle. Even now, cleaned up, coaching, Mae is afraid she will wake up and none of it ever happened.

Doris knows all of this, but the one time she'd seen Mae in the intervening years, it hadn't come up. They'd laughed over old times, sure. Joked, drank, enjoyed one another.

But Mae looks haunted, and sad. "Is it wrong that I want it all back? I just want it back, Doris."

Doris puts her hand over Mae's. "Yeah. Me too."

-

Mae spends the night, after a call to her cousin to reassure her she's not dead in an alleyway (or, honestly, too drunk to move from an alleyway).

Morning brings sunshine and a brighter outlook, or at least a more resigned one. Doris promises a night out before Mae leaves town, and makes breakfast, pancakes with chocolate chips (mostly for little Judy Mae, but Mae loves them, too).

Their goodbye isn't painful or sad or stiff. Mae hugs her friend and they make plans that they will keep.

Mae decides to hail a taxi further up, and walks the fourteen blocks back to Ebbets Field.

The Dodgers have another game against the Cubs, and Mae is tempted, so tempted, to buy a ticket and watch. She actually stands at the ticket booth for a minute or two, thinking it over.

A couple of fans are standing in line, and they are talking about the rumors that O'Malley's gonna move the team west.

"If the Dodgers leave Brooklyn, I'm giving up on baseball."

"If the Dodgers leave Brooklyn, I'll slit my wrists," his friend replies.

"Well now, there's still the Giants and the..."

"Don't you say the stinkin' Yanks, don't you do it."

"Yeah, you're right, the Dodgers are baseball. That's all there is."

"Uh-huh."

And they buy their tickets and move on inside, and Mae's going to follow them, she is, but she's tired.

She hails a cab and gives her cousin's address in Queens.

"You ain't a baseball fan, sweetheart?" says the cabbie.

She shrugs. "Not a fan, no." And she hums the All-American League song, which the cabbie doesn't know, and she closes her eyes to imagine herself back on that field in Rockford.

With Doris Murphy, and all the girls, right back at her side.