Brooklyn, Bewitched

A Short Story

All Brooklyn is under a spell.

Radios blare from every apartment—the game sounds as if it's being broadcast from one distorted loudspeaker—and the moment the last out is called, the bleating begins. Babe O'Leary hears the cacophony from every direction: every driver in Brooklyn must be leaning on his horn.

By the time she gets herself down the stairs and out into the street, the borough's gone mad. Even sleepy Eleventh Street is jammed. A cabby pulls his hack over and jumps out to kiss the cheeks of housewives who look like they're auditioning for a burlesque routine. Up the street two young mamas who've brought out pots and spoons to join the racket dance around like trained monkeys, their toddlers pirouetting at their feet.

Babe says, “Whoopdeedoo,” but she doesn't need to lower her voice to assure her safety in this mob. No one hears her. The Brooklyn Dodgers are the National League champs and no one is paying the least attention to Babe O'Leary, Yankee Fan. Her neighbor Nosey Bruscelli perches up against a fire hydrant, shaking her fist like a demented demon. When's the last time Babe saw Nosey outside the building? Has she ever, in fact, seen Nosey outside the building? She approaches warily.

“I thought you were a Joe DiMaggio fan.” In the crisp fall light, every steel hair on Nosey's quavering chin stands out in stark relief, and Babe feels a wave of panic about her own mustache, which she cannot see to tweeze out properly, not with her failing vision and the apartment's dim light. Babe doesn't ordinarily feel panic. It's all of a piece with this Dodger madness.

“Everybody loves Joe,” Nosey warbles. “And everybody loves the Bums.”

“Oh, for pete's sake.”

“Pete Reiser!” Nosey cries—this is the closest Babe has ever heard her come to wit—and a passing trio of schoolboy hooligans picks up her cry:

“Reiser! Reiser! Reiser!” In the distance they chant: “Reese! Reese! Reese!”

The Yankees clinched their own pennant three weeks ago, the earliest ever, and did you see the Bronx losing itself this way? Did you see schoolboys marching down the streets drumming out “Rizzuto! Rizzuto! Rizzuto!” No, you most certainly did not. This is pathetic, this carrying on, this childish racket. And the jammed traffic means, furthermore, that everything will be backed up—subways, trolleys, sidewalks—and everyone in the family will be late for dinner, today of all days. Babe's starving. Listening to the game (she doesn't often tune in to the Other League) has enlarged her appetite.

“Don't bother going up the avenue,” Bruscelli says helpfully. “Not nothing open.” Babe ignores her—she should never have given the time of day to Nosey Bruscelli, who hasn't even troubled to learn the language properly. Does she think Italians will ever be accepted if they can't at the very least show fidelity to their own? They don't deserve Joe D. for their hero: let the Irish of the Bronx and Manhattan claim him. Let Babe O'Leary claim him.

She ignores the bewitched crowd too, and proceeds up the block. On Seventh Avenue, a simian young man (Italian too, no doubt) greets her as if they're old pals: “How 'bout those bums, hunh? How 'bout our boys?”

She refuses to smile.

“Aw, c'mon. Live a little.”

She relents and offers a cagey half-smile, playing along with this cheery-schmeary business so that no Dodger fan can take pleasure in her displeasure. Won't she have the last laugh, when the Yankees ride roughshod over Durocher and his clowns.

Bruscelli was right about the butcher—he hasn't locked up, exactly, but he's abandoned his post—and, to punish him, Babe drags herself the extra block to buy cod, though everyone will think she's gone mad along with the rest of Brooklyn, buying fish on Thursday when they must eat it Friday as well. Her hip is worse than usual (has to be the aggravation) and a headache pushes oddly, lumpily, up against the top of her head.

Babe doesn't get headaches, and she won't abide this one. A World Series looms, and she hasn't long to campaign for seats. Yankees vs. Dodgers: one team respected by the quick and the intelligent, one team adored by the blind and dimwitted. A subway series. The first two battles will be in the Bronx, the next three in Brooklyn—if indeed three more are required. Babe wouldn't be a bit surprised if the Yanks swept it in four, which means that she can't afford to wait. She, who has sacrificed everything she holds dear to live in Brooklyn, deserves to be at Yankee Stadium for the opener.

Thirteen years ago, when she moved from Spuyten Duyvil, a mere fifteen minutes from the stadium, she told her son Mickey that she would stay in Brooklyn till his motherless girls were grown and not a minute longer—but somehow the girls are still not grown. For all these thirteen unlucky years she has despised Brooklyn in general and Park Slope in particular: the hordes of sheeplike Dodger fans, the prim houses of the Gold Coast, the lace-curtain Wall Street Irish at the top of the Slope looking down their pert noses at the bottom. Looking down their noses at her. Thirteen years ago, to compensate her for suffering Brooklyn, Mickey agreed to pay for a weekly trip to the Bronx during baseball season. She was willing to sit in the bleachers, as she always had, but she told Mickey that the money must come out of the household budget. It was not an indulgence. It was a necessity.

Mickey—poor dear mushface Mickey—agreed to her terms perfectly pleasantly, as if pleasantness were appropriate when his histrionic wife had just hanged herself, as if he knew even then that Babe's hips were already giving out and that the weekly trip to Yankee Stadium would become a monthly pilgrimage. Now she'll have to renegotiate. Now, tonight, she'll have to make Mickey see that the one thing he must do for her is get her to Yankee Stadium for the first game of the most momentous World Series ever played.

The six O'Learys crowd around a wobbly card table in one corner of the kitchen for their unexpected fish dinner. Mickey looks spent as usual from the efforts of his day (Babe found him his job, insurance investigator, the way she finds the girls scholarships and hand-me-downs). Mame and Rose Marie, the two older girls, are file clerks downtown, with the kind of limited ambition that drives Babe to distraction, and it will be a miracle if Loretta makes it through the tenth grade. But Agnes, who is seventeen, will go to college as her father once did—before a pregnant girl from Brooklyn duped him into marrying her. Before he too was bewitched.

Ordinarily their dinner hour would start with the appalling News of the Day from Agnes, who reads the papers (impending war, starving ghettos in Poland), but tonight Mickey tells his daughters that hundreds of men have built a bonfire down on Fifth Avenue. “The Dodgers started out down there,” he instructs them. “In Washington Park. They were spawned in this neighborhood.”

Nosey Bruscelli's infidelity is one thing, but Mickey's is quite another. After the lifetime of Yankees Babe has given him, after all their mother-son outings to Hilltop Park and the Polo Grounds when he was just a tyke. After they went together to opening day at the spanking new Yankee Stadium. “Enough of the Dodgers,” she says acidly. “I have to calculate how I'm going to get a bleacher seat for the first game. The Stadium throws the gate at 10 a.m. If I'm there by three o'clock, I should think, I'll be near the head of the line.”

“Three o'clock,” Mickey whistles. “We can't put you on the subway in the middle of the night.”

Babe sniffs at his ignorance, but not too obnoxiously. She needs him. “No, Mickey, not three o'clock in the morning. It's the Series. I'd have to be waiting outside the afternoon before, don't you see.”

“Good God, Ma.”

“Don't be spineless. I'll be part of a crowd, well patrolled I can assure you. It will be perfectly safe.”

“But outside the Stadium all night? Where would you sleep? On the sidewalk?”

Mame and Rose Marie titter.

“Very droll, Mickey. I wouldn't sleep at all. I'd have to stand all night to secure my place.”

“Gee, Ma, on those hips? We'd be visiting you in some godforsaken Bronx hospital before the dawn cracked.” Never mind that Mickey was born in the godforsaken Bronx. Of course she doesn't mean she'll actually spend the night on the sidewalk—a woman her age, and in her condition, couldn't possibly consider such a thing. She's asking him to spend the night on the sidewalk. Do you suppose he'll be the only man in Brooklyn or the Bronx playing hooky from work? It's not the sort of errand you can outright ask your grown son to do, but you'd think he could meet her halfway.

She's not at all ready, though, for the halfway route he proposes. “Tell you what,” Mickey says. “I'll see what I can do about seats at Ebbets Field.”

Babe counsels herself to remain calm. If Mickey, after all those years, does not understand what it would mean for her to watch a World Series game in Brooklyn, she will just have to explain it to him. “It's out of the question. I cannot sit myself down among the—well, they've named themselves, haven't they? The bums.”

“Come on Ma, we'll take the trolley.”

He means to go with her? She's indulged in solitary baseball for so long that she cannot allow herself even the fantasy of an escort. “Who knows what riffraff they let into the bleachers at Ebbets?”

“Aw, don't worry, Ma, they'll let you in if I buy the tickets.”

At this all four granddaughters laugh outright. Babe would like to fling her fury in Aggie's direction—a month ago, Agnes, formerly her favorite, had the nerve to call her an anti-Semite—but when she stares her down Agnes gazes back with unnerving gray eyes, a half-smile still playing on her lips. Very well. She gazes calmly herself at the four girls, at skittish Loretta, the youngest, who tonight looks eerily like her mother, with her black hair springing back kinked from her high temple. What Mickey needed was a good Irish girl with a sense of humor, a firm grasp of grammar, and a head for bookkeeping, and instead he picked himself a tragic, keening Italian with holy pictures every six inches on the wall, a woman whose idea of a good time was the 7 a.m. Mass at St. Francis Xavier. Gloria was a religious nut who shouldn't have borne one child, much less four—but what really galled Babe was that she herself had managed to raise Mickey all by her lonesome. Did you hear her moaning and groaning? You most certainly did not.

Well, she has a day or two more to persuade her son of the right thing to do, and maybe she can even coax Loretta into giving him the hint he requires. She does not intend to miss this World Series. She does not intend to miss Joe DiMaggio, who before they know it will be off fighting another misbegotten war.

But by the very next morning her ticket campaign is stopped dead before it has started. Mickey calls from outside the subway to say he has great good news to give her: his old friend Matt McClary has offered them two tickets, to game five. He pauses for dramatic effect: box seats.

Babe is rendered very nearly speechless. There may not even be a game five. She may miss the World Series entirely, and if by chance the Dodgers manage to eke out a win that buys them a game five, she will have to endure it in Brooklyn. Her son has completely thwarted her. He must have known all along what she was asking, and now he knows that she can't possibly beg him to make the trek to Yankee Stadium and then escort her to Ebbets besides. She's trapped. She doesn't even make the effort to think how grand it will be, sitting in box seats—she's been sitting in the bleachers for thirty years and has long since stopped wanting better.

“How did Matt McClary get hold of these tickets?” she demands, because a light company man like McClary, a slick smiling mick, could only have come by something so valuable through nefarious means.

“Dunno,” Mickey says, tuning out as usual the accusation. “Ours is not to question why.”

“I'm questioning why. I'm questioning why, if he has two tickets, he's giving them to you.”

“He has four tickets,” Mickey says in triumph. “And he wants to go with his old pal to the ballpark.”

“I doubt he wants to go with his old pal's mother.”

“He wants to go with any dame of my choosing.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“Oh, don't take yourself so seriously, Ma. The Dodgers are in the World Series.”

And with that he hangs up the phone. Extraordinary. He is truly under a spell: the Dodgers are in the Series, with no mention of their team, their men, the substitute fathers she so painstakingly introduced to him when he was a boy. Nothing, nothing she wouldn't do for Mickey. Her paycheck from B. Altman might have been puny but Mickey got an education and she was the best-dressed woman in Spuyten Duyvil, even when she became portly. From the matrons of Park Avenue she learned which hat draws the eye up. If a woman is going to get fat, she might as well do it in style.

And Mickey was proud of her, she knew he was, even when she was scrubbing the priests' toilets, her Mondays off, to pay his tuition. She coaxed the Jesuits to find a baseball scholarship so their star pitcher could play college ball. He played, she sensed even then, to affirm all those mother-son outings, to affirm her. And then Gloria Calabrese of Brooklyn announced she was pregnant, and that was the end of college for Mickey, and that was the end of baseball too.

Who knew that it was she, not he, who would stay faithful to the game? Who knew that it was she, not he, who would become the Yankees' Most Important Fan?

That headache pushes again on the dome of her head, where her fontanel was when she herself was a baby: a babe. It was Mickey who gave her the name, the same year he baptized Mame. At the christening he introduced her to his new Brooklyn pals as my ma, who loves Babe Ruth. My ma, the Babe-lover. Before the afternoon was out, he'd lopped off the “lover.” The girls have never known her by any other name.

The aging Babe pushes back against her headache. Sometimes she actually thinks Mickey resents her for coming to take his wife's place, though he is the one who asked her to give up an apartment so convenient to Yankee Stadium.

They don't take the streetcar after all. Matt McClary drives them to Ebbets Field in his big black Packard. His date is another boyo from the neighborhood, name of Slippery Quinn. The name fits. He resembles an eel, long and skinny with slicked-back black hair. Babe resists the temptation to tell him so.

As they inch round Grand Army Plaza, Mickey sits on the edge of the back seat, the better to talk to his middle-aged buddies up front. The traffic is stop-and-go—all Brooklyn's headed to Ebbets Field—and it's hot, hot, hot. The thermometer's supposed to hit ninety today, a freak October occurrence befitting this hellish outing. Heat like this is nothing less than a sign from God (who also had the good sense to rain out game three when the Series moved to Brooklyn). It's pretty clear whom the Almighty favors. The choking air rushes in the back window, threatening her hat, every time they pick up speed.

“Can you believe it?” Mickey says to the front seat. “The bottom of the ninth?”

“Strike three? Three outs in the bag?” McClary twitters.

Babe is, despite herself, fascinated by the way the three men speak to each other. They sound like small boys, stating the obvious to make sure they've got it right, replaying the game that's been replayed over the sound waves ad infinitum. Brooklyn was leading yesterday, leading all the way into the ninth inning. With two men out, Tommy Henrich swung for strike three, and the Dodgers won the game—only then they decided to throw it away.

Behind home plate, Owen the butterfingered catcher dropped the ball and the clever Henrich ran for first, like the dickens according to eyewitnesses. DiMag, naturally, followed up with heroics: a good strong single and then, on Keller's double, a demon run of the bases. A stylish impossible slide into home. When they finished their half of the ninth the Yankees were ahead seven to four, and the Dodgers didn't have the heart or the guts to take it back. They lost a ball game they'd already won, a ball game that would have tied the series at two-all.

“They say the fans just sat there when it was all over. Glued to their seats. I'da sat there too,” Slippery Quinn says.

The other two men make sympathetic clucking noises: they'da sat there with him. Babe should be getting accustomed to Mickey's infidelity, but it shocks her anew, shocks her almost as much as this boyish flirting the three men do with one another.

As if to defend his manliness, Quinn twists himself around to address her. “The boys tell me you're quite the fan, Mrs. O'Leary.”

“I am,” she replies crisply.

“But maybe not on our side.”

“I know which team will win today.”

“Care to place a friendly bet?” This Quinn, this middle-aged chum of her son's, is toying with her as if she's some adorable old lady. Friendly bet indeed.

“Is your own mother living?” she inquires sweetly.

“She is, actually. But she don't care for baseball.”

“I'll bet her life on it, then.”

“Ma!”

Quinn laughs uproariously. “S'allright, Mickey. Your ma's a card.”

A card indeed. They have no idea what powers she possesses, no idea that she has a special gift that soothes a ball player and allows him to go about his business. She's never been a clinging, autograph-hounding kind of fan. She'd die before she'd wave a lace hankie at them the way other women do. No, she makes a brain-wave connection. She shows up at the Stadium and the Yankees win, and today, she'll show up at Ebbets Field and the Yankees will win just so.

Quinn finally stops his false hooting. Babe doesn't trust him any more than she trusts Matt McClary, who's brought Quinn to the ballpark because he has no wife to take. She's willing to wager there's no Mrs. Quinn, either. Not likely any of this trio will attract a bride at this stage of the game, not in their lifetimes. Certainly not in hers.

A car ride is a rare treat for her, or should be, but her knees throb and a shooting pain travels down her side, hip to toes. She curls her feet upward to stop the spasm. The ride across Flatbush is as slow as a funeral procession, but it's her companions who will be doing the weeping tonight.

The plan is to drop her off right at Ebbets, to spare her the walk from a parking place. Mickey will get out with her at the Rotunda. She's managed to keep her lah-dee-dahs to herself. She's aghast to think that her son's even been in Ebbets Field, but from the way the three men talk it's evident he's been there more than once. What a secret to keep from your mother.

They don't even get close to the designated intersection, McKeever and Sullivan, because cops wave them away from every turn they want to take. The line of cars slows, stops dead, inches forward. McClary finally pulls in at the first fireplug with an inch to spare for the Packard.

“Tell you what, Matt,” Mickey says. “I'll park the car and you go with my mother. I don't want you missing the first three innings on account of us.”

McClary demurs from the front seat, but Mickey—treacherous Mickey—presses the point. “They're your tickets.”

“We'da done better walking over through Prospect Park,” Quinn says.

“Perhaps it's not apparent to you that one of us would have had a difficult time walking through the park.” Babe's sour tone evidently seals the deal for McClary, because he hops out of the driver's seat and opens her car door with a flourish and a most unseemly grin. He crooks an elbow for her to grab—as if she would hang on to his flesh. She never got on with Matt McClary.

The Packard pulls away from the curb, speeding more quickly than it's moved through traffic all morning, and she stands there a moment, mouth open and arms akimbo. Then there's nothing to do but trudge along beside Matt McClary, surrounded by dark hordes. Dodger fans are notoriously Jewish, but she wouldn't say she could pick them out. They look normal enough. Suppose they think she's McClary's mother.

McClary, for his part, keeps his distance, too. When she stumbles on a crack, he smiles back cruelly. “Worried about your Yanks?”

“Not for two seconds.”

He smiles again. McClary doesn't darken their door anymore. In the beginning, after Gloria killed herself, he was there every night, dragging Mickey out to some speakeasy to drown his misplaced sorrow. But Babe laid down the law soon enough, and Mickey sobered up enough to realize it wasn't entirely safe to have his friend and his mother in the same room. McClary's smiles turned into sneers.

As, it seems to Babe, they're doing right now. McClary gets ahead again, looks back to locate her, smiles that unctuous grin that soon enough turns threatening, ominous even. Well, McClary's a dark character himself. He points ahead to Ebbets, and Babe spies the famous striped awning. She's already short of breath and sweating under the navy boater she's worn to honor the Yanks.

McClary leads her through the Rotunda without a word, but it's obvious his goal is to make her gape and gawk. He takes his time, sweeps them round the crowds and the gilded ticket windows. The center chandelier is enormous and gaudy, fashioned to look like a dozen bats balancing a dozen balls of light, but even its glare cannot match the bright day they've just departed. Going from outside to in has sent a spike crashing down through the top of her head. For one second she can't see, but quickly enough she regains her vision. The spike does a U-turn and re-ascends until only the tip of it pokes through her damp scalp.

She keeps her head down and her mouth shut. McClary, of course, has his head stuck up his royal Brooklyn arse. When she stops in her tracks he throws his palms up to the domed ceiling, as if to say I don't suppose the Yankees have anything like this. No, the Yankees don't have anything like this. They have River Avenue and the smell of hot dogs and good beer and honest strapping men with hair on their chest. She and McClary smile falsely, transparently, at each other, and soon enough they're climbing the ramp to find their seats.

The ramp is so dark that she must slow herself. She's almost surprised when McClary slows too, and again offers his elbow. In the crowd of bums surging forward, Babe almost allows herself to take the proffered arm, but waves him off instead and presses herself against the rail. She feels the walls closing in, a sensation she most certainly never experienced at Yankee Stadium.

“Mrs. O'Leary? You OK?”

The grating sound of his concern infuriates her and she's able to proceed. They've only climbed the lowest of hills. When they reach their gate and she can finally look out onto the field, she stands for a moment to slow her breathing. The view of the infield is astounding. She could reach out and touch her boys. When Joe DiMaggio takes his place in center field she will for once be able to look him in the eye. Hard to believe, but she wasn't inclined to like DiMaggio at first—and not because he's Italian, she's bigger than that. But he was so sullen, so tongue-tied in the beginning. So mournful, like Gloria. Then he stood up for himself over the contract business and she fell hard. That was long before everybody else decided to love him, too, long before he took off on this year's hitting streak (fifty-six games in a row, unheard of). Joltin' Joe DiMaggio, trotting around the bases with his shy, embarrassed smile. She almost resents sharing her love. Joe D., like the rest of the Yankees, is a prince.

And the Dodgers are court jesters. “It's a toy stadium!” she says to McClary, but he pretends not to hear and moves ahead to nab an usher. It is a toy stadium, a miniature ball field for miniature men. No wonder the Dodgers call their shortstop Pee Wee.

McClary holds out a hand to her till she's reached him. At the box, he makes a gesture of tipping the usher—all of two bits—and they take their seats inside the jaunty red rail. Very grand. They're surrounded by substantial men in suits, men who must work for the likes of Consolidated Edison, too, only as executives. They give McClary the once-over nod and then not a second glance. Where did he come by these tickets?

She can't help but admit, even with this sensation of dizziness, that it's a splendid view from behind third base. The seat's far roomier than the bleacher allotment she's accustomed to. Droll, that now she pities the fans out there all squeezed together when a month ago she sat in the bleachers herself. But she doesn't know how she's going to make it through this ball game sitting next to McClary. They don't exchange a word, and not a sign of Mickey, either. She wouldn't be a bit surprised if he missed the entire Series game. The story of Mickey's life.

Finally, in the third—the Yanks have pulled ahead two-zip—Mickey and the odious Slippery Quinn show up, sweating through their shirtsleeves, their cheap jackets dragging behind them. They climb in behind McClary and the sun beats down on them all. She would sorely love a sip of beer, but when the men inquire after her health she assures them that she doesn't require a thing. The strange thing about these seats is that the view has diminished over the course of the game, or perhaps that's a haze rising from the diamond. Whatever it is, the infield blurs at the edges. Her Joe is a tall exclamation point out in center field, where he's seen precious little action. McClary passes a flask—oh, for God's sake, how ill-bred—and Quinn, behind them, grabs it up. A spoonful of whisky splashes onto her lap, but before she can properly admonish anyone Tommy Henrich goes back, back, back to strain for the ball Pete Reiser's hit so high. The Dodgers score a run and of course the place goes wild, everyone standing, it appears, but herself.

The Bums are still alive, which is more than Babe can say for her own abused body. Again she feels the walls closing in, though this time the walls are made of her own son and his friends, drinking smuggled whiskey like the working-class men they are while the men in suits pretend they don't smell the diesel aroma. One of them is sure to fetch an usher, sure to betray them. They'll be ejected, and she'll lose this chance to see the Yankees crush the Dodgers.

No usher arrives. Quinn and McClary and her Mickey keep up a steady chatter, like monkeys—where else has she heard monkeys recently? They drone on about the coming war: “Hank Greenberg is a class act,” McClary says. “They draft him and he goes. No special favors.”

Babe bristles. Greenberg indeed.

“Great day at the ballpark, huh, Ma?”

“Swell.” It was supposed to get up to ninety, not a hundred and twenty, which is what it feels like now, and the sun was not supposed to beat down this mercilessly. She tries to calculate how much longer they will have to endure it before they fall under shadow. The men carry on their insipid conversation over, around, through her. Nausea joins her dizziness, and the fourth inning passes in a blur as shapeless as the field is becoming.

In the fifth, after Rolfe grounds out, some inspiration, some drifting spirit, appears out of the hazy field and summons her to remember her role as the Yankees' Most Important Fan. She gives herself a good talking-to. No matter that it's Ebbets Field, no matter that she could be dying of heat stroke, she's still the one with the power to rally her fellas. If she doesn't attend to business here and now, this 2-1 game could slip away from them.

No sooner does she focus on the win then Tommy Henrich slams the first pitch delivered to him over the right-field wall. Not much of a distance in this playhouse, but good for a homer. Good for her recollection of what she can accomplish—what she must accomplish—when she puts her mind to it. Mickey and his pals give her gentle congratulatory pats, as if she's the one who homered. Could they possibly have an inkling what she can do?

Now Joe's up. Her heart pounds recklessly, a young girl's heart, as if it doesn't remember how much it's pounded already in this season of his streak. She's back in the ball game, swollen with love. Her companions chatter and natter.

“How are the girls doing then?” she hears McClary ask Mickey, but she wills herself to focus only on DiMaggio at the plate and Wyatt on the pitcher's mound.

Mickey says the expected: “More and more like their mother every day,” and despite herself she hears in his voice that operatic catch that Gloria herself must have taught him how to produce. Certainly he never learned it from her.

Wyatt winds up and she has the strangest sensation: staring at the Dodger pitcher, for just an instant she feels as if she's staring at Gloria's wide long-suffering smile. Silly. Wyatt isn't even smiling. Pitchers never smile.

But worse is yet to come. Wyatt seems to know how intently she's watching him. He winks at her and pulls his mouth in so that now it's Gloria's sweeter, smaller smile he wears: so passive, so pleasant. The smile she saved for after the babies came. That was when she carried on the most, after the deliveries. She stayed in her nightgown all day, clutching her rosary beads, had her mother deliver meals. She wanted Mickey to go into the undertaking business with her father—as if that was a calling you could just fall into—and when he wouldn't she hanged herself. The bitch. Babe retracts the word, even though she hasn't actually spoken it. It's a coarse word that doesn't pass her lips. Or rarely, and only in regard to Gloria. She doesn't feel the least bit of guilt for instructing Mickey that he must put her in an institution. He didn't take her advice, in any case—and look what happened.

Wyatt delivers the pitch and Babe watches Gloria's face spin on the fastball hurtling over the foggy infield toward DiMaggio. She turns halfway round to see if Mickey knows she's in trouble—if Mickey has any idea that his wife is haunting her—but his eyes are on the ball game. A flush of terror such as she hasn't known since Albert died. The only cure for it is to follow her son's example, to keep her eyes on the ball field, that field that wavers now below her. She tells herself to snap out of it. She's always had a vivid imagination.

It works. She's back in reality: DiMaggio slams the ball to center field. She sees it fly too high and she sees Reiser make the easy catch. She sees Joe round first at full-speed and advance almost to second before he registers the out and pulls up short. She even sees her beloved DiMaggio cross the infield to make a remark to Wyatt. But that's not right: that's not her shy Joe. He's no wiseacre, he doesn't taunt the pitcher. Hell's bells, everything is upside-down and inside-out. Joe DiMaggio never instigates a fight, he's never even in a fight. He's a prince, but these bums, these clowns, these Dodgers have set him off, have incensed him the way Gloria Calabrese—Gloria O'Leary, God help us—once incensed Babe.

Down on the field, Wyatt and DiMaggio advance on each other, fists raised, trading insults. All of Ebbets Field joins them, roaring its own insults down on Joe DiMaggio. The language is appalling: you simply do not hear that word at Yankee Stadium. Babe does her best to shout out, but she can't see properly and she can't hear.

Below her, the four sides of the diamond push in on each other. The diamond frame becomes an oval, and the crowd's roar stops. DiMaggio and Wyatt battle on in a shrinking cameo outside of which little creatures swarm. Little girls? Monkeys? No, no, the little creatures must be ball players, must be Yankees and Dodgers come to defend their warriors. Babe leans forward as if she could touch them, as if she could use her magical powers to stop them. But the figures jumble together, and then the strangest thing of all happens. Babe O'Leary, Number One Yankee fan, ceases to care.

The spike presses itself back down into her brain and the field below is nothing but blackness, nothing but heat and night. Maybe the devil's finally claimed her because she allowed herself to be escorted to a World Series game in Brooklyn. It's almost enough to give her a good laugh, but she hasn't the time to laugh about this, not while she's flailing, reaching out for McClary's arm so she can hang onto him instead of pitching forward. Funny she hasn't reached for Mickey. With no game to distract her, she feels time slow in her entire body. She tries to cry out that you can't blame Joe for losing his temper, not after this long season of his streak, of the fans' brutal expectations. You can't blame McClary for bringing a flask to the ballpark. He's only lonely, the old bachelor, and Mickey's only lonely too. But that's not right, they have each other, they have that slippery Quinn fellow, while she herself....

She herself has gone deaf in the roaring stadium, deaf and blind, and evidently she's lost all other sensation as well, because she doesn't know if she's standing or sitting or falling head-over-heels onto the miniature toy diamond at Ebbets Field, Brooklyn, New York, borough of Jews and coloreds, borough of the aged, the infirm, and the lonely, borough of weeping young mothers. Borough of the slippery, the nefarious, the smug, the wicked. Borough of the bewitched and the smitten, borough of Pete Reiser and Pee Wee Reese, borough of the living, the dead, the anti-Semitic. Borough of those who pray for war to begin, for the Dodgers to win. Borough of those who float, as Babe O'Leary does now, unable to decide whether it is better to die in Brooklyn, dreaming of escape, or to live on, beaten at your own game.

Published in the 2009-08-14 issue: 
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Valerie Sayers is the William R. Kenan, Jr., Professor of English at the University of Notre Dame and the author of six novels, including The Powers.

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