Triumph of the Southside Ladyjacks
James Ellis Thomas
“Get up there, ball!”
They used to be called the Southside Ladybashers, but Brenda Summers had effectively argued that a softball team full of black women from the Acacia Heights housing projects could do without the unflattering connotations of the name “Ladybashers.”
“Get up there, ball!”
“Bashers,” of course, had come from the indisputable fact that Brenda and her teammates bashed the softball like it owed them money. But as of tonight’s game they were Ladybashers no more. Now they “jacked” the ball, as Brenda had pitched it to her teammates last week. They jacked balls.
“Aggressively,” said Brenda, as she paced the dugout, addressing her teammates on the bench. “When we were the Ladybashers, everybody suspected that we were the ones who were getting bashed.”
“How do you know that?” asked Faye Danzey, and Brenda Summers thought to herself, Of course, it would be Faye Danzey. “Bashed,” said Faye, glaring at Brenda. “I didn’t see you standin’ at the box office, pollin’ nobody, Chipmunk. That’s in your mind.”
“Maybe,” said Brenda, dusting off the front of her new jersey. “But from now on we do the jackin’ around here, girlfriends.”
Abruptly, Brenda began to perform a cheerleading routine. A spirit emergency had presented itself, and, as self-appointed rally captain, Brenda Summers had no choice but to respond. Arms akimbo, cleats spread wide: “BE AGGRESSIVE! B-E AGGRESSIVE! B-E-A-G-G-”
Her cheer was promptly interrupted by a barely dodged slap from Faye Danzey. Brenda backed away from the bench a step. However, she continued her routine, arm gestures and dance moves accelerating.
“Ain’t you grown?” asked another teammate, perturbed. “Such behavior on your part is what’s drawin’ all these hateful mosquitoes, Brenda Summers.”
Nobody else commented, much less felt the need to join Brenda in her cheer. Of the Ladyjacks’ roster, there were five women sitting on the dugout bench. Some were looking out at the game, some were swatting mosquitoes, and some were doing both while chugging from their water bottles. Other Ladyjacks were in various stages of preparation outside the dugout. Collectively, the team was somewhat tired of Brenda Summers. Ever since she had started this name-change crusade, her college-dropout affliction had been working overtime. Didn’t nobody give a damn about all that. It was too hot to give a damn about all that. A Ladyjack was at bat – that’s what Brenda Summers should’ve been giving a damn about.
“Brenda, you need to sit your ass down on this bench,” said Faye Danzey, clapping a handful of mosquitoes to death between her bulky hands. “You keep on, you gonna wind up gettin’ jacked by your own teammates, lady.”
“Clever,” said Brenda, still performing her cheerleader routine. “Typical Faye Danzey. Of course, you’re not content with the new uniforms. You’re never content with anything, Faye. You have no personal affirmation of spirit.”
“These new uniforms itch,” said Faye. “I already done told you that.”
“Wash it,” said Brenda.
“In the middle of the game?”
“Faye, I don’t hear anybody else complaining.”
“Brenda, that’s because ain’t nobody else gonna walk up and snatch you bald-headed. You’re the biggest mosquito out here, you know that?”
Brenda continued to dance. She stuck her tongue out at Faye but made sure not to stick it out too far. Faye Danzey, their powerhouse slugger, was a considerable mass of woman. Her attempts to yank out Brenda’s tongue at any and all sightings were as consistent as the slugger’s cornrow hair style. Faye was fat and defiant, the she-Babe of the Southside Ladyjacks. And if that didn’t say enough about Faye Danzey, the knife scarring below her double chins said far too much. To Brenda, it looked as if somebody had tried to slice the rolls of fat off Faye’s neck.
“You think I’m playin’,” said Faye, glaring at Brenda, who was still dancing. “I know this much – you better save some of that ‘personal affirmation of spirit’ to knock me in after I get on first base. Better yet, why don’t you come over here and fill them cheeks up for the winter, Chipmunk. Munch, munch, munch, munch, munch!”
Now the bench was laughing. Brenda turned her back to look out at the game. Despite the current grade-school high jinks, the Ladyjacks were all grown women. At twenty-five years of age, Brenda Summers was the youngest, but age had nothing to do with her exuberance on this particular night.
“Get up there, ball!” shouted Coach Biv, demanding the fate of the at-bat Ladyjack’s swing. “Get up there, ball!”
Coach Biv patrolled the edge of the diamond like a sentry. He was the oldest member of the Ladyjacks outfit, mature enough to have seen the Negro Baseball Leagues as a kid. To Coach Biv, every second of the game was a spirit emergency. The gray-headed black man rallied history itself by willing – and expecting – nothing but the best from his team. In fact, Coach Biv had championed Brenda Summers’ notion of changing their name from Ladybashers to Ladyjacks. The former name had been inherited. Coach Biv always championed change.
“All right, Faye Danzey,” said Coach Biv, moving toward the dugout. “I want to see you up off that bench. You know you up after Cheryl. Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go!”
“Old man, you better pour out that hip flask,” said Faye Danzey, flattening her cleats with a straining rise. “It’s eleven to zip. Them white girls still at home, eatin’ Atkins.”
Again the bench laughed. Watching the mighty Faye Danzey level the steps of the dugout with her laborious exit, Brenda pulsated with energy. Aggressive, aggressive. That was the key: B-E-A-G-G-R-E-S-S-I-V-E! She hadn’t felt this anxious since she had written off to several black celebrities for a “good black parent” car loan. She could feel it in the air tonight. Change. Humidity. New grass. New hope.
“Mind in the game down there, Summers,” said Coach Biv. “Starry-eyed. I can’t have that tonight. Whatever you thinkin’ about, you better go ahead and work it out before you pick up that bat. Showtime, baby.”
“But -- ”
“Showtime, baby. Showtime.”
What Brenda Summers was thinking about was the fact that her son was in the stands. She hadn’t seen her son in more than four years. She had just brought him to her transplanted home here in Alabama – all the way from California. By bus. That was a lot to think about.
On both sides of the home-plate umpire, the aluminum bleachers bowed under the weight of the spectator crowds. Tonight was the first night of the women’s softball season. Tonight was the first night of the season, but it may as well have been the tenth night during a rain delay as far as the rival team and their fans were concerned. Paris Touch Home Décor was in the throes of their own spirit emergency. It had started during the first inning, when Faye Danzey had executed a satellite-smashing grand slam. Three innings, three Faye Danzey highlight reels later, the score was now Ladyjacks, eleven, Paris Touch, zero. The only perceptible sound coming from the Paris Touch bleachers was the incessant smack of palms slapping mosquitoes against bitten white skin. Paris Touch Home Décor and their fans were all white. The Southside Ladyjacks and their fans were all black. No exceptions on the diamond, no exceptions in the stands. The officiating staff was all white, but the concessions staff was not.
By the time Faye Danzey had waddled up to home plate with her bat, Brenda Summers, too, had exited the dugout. Currently, Brenda stood near the chain-link fence that separated the playing field from the Ladyjacks’ stands. Her eyes scanned the wall of faces, searching for her kid. She grew nervous when she couldn’t find him. Alexander was six years old, and Brenda knew that he was curious about his new surroundings. He was also precocious. Among his many talents, Brenda had discovered, her son was adept at gathering information. Alexander had not only researched his Alabama destination before the bus trip but had downloaded gigabytes of knowledge concerning the entire Southeastern United States. This had made for a highly informative bus ride, as their fellow-travelers could attest. Brenda was delighted with her son’s thirst for knowledge. His mind itself was a veritable search engine. But the real world lacked filters, as Brenda well knew. She was on the verge of panicking when she failed to spot her son in the Ladyjacks’ stands.
“Hey, Mom,” came a voice from behind the dugout, on the spectator side of the fence. “Look at me – I just bought some crack.”
“What?” said Brenda.
“Cracklings,” said Alexander, producing a carton full of pork rinds. “I just bought some cracklings. ‘The crisp part remaining after hog fat or poultry fat has been rendered.’ Webster’s New World College Dictionary, Fourth Edition, Mom, come on. I was offered crack cocaine, too, but that’s not nearly as regional.”
“Alexander,” said Brenda firmly. “I am not telling you again where it is that I want you to sit. Right there, right on the front row, right next to Miss Hattie.”
Alexander turned around and looked at the kindly old woman who was sitting on the bleachers. She resembled his previous keepers, Grandfather and Grandmother Summers, back in California. His grandparents had been loving guardians, no doubt, but to be under the care of Miss Hattie, however briefly, seemed like a familiar turn in the wrong direction.
“Aw, come on, Mom,” said Alexander, showing his age by fidgeting near the fence.
“Play your Game Boy if you’re bored, Alexander,” said Brenda.
“Aw, come on, Mom, come on. Cracklings.”
“What did I just tell you to do?”
He wasn’t bored, thought Brenda, that was the problem. He was acting more hyper than she was. Despite the fact that they had just got in this morning from their three-day cross-country bus trip, her six-year-old son had been bouncing around the ballpark as if he had bought something illegal. Not that she trusted the oily, brown, and undoubtedly salty snack food that he was carrying (it looked like deep-fried Styrofoam). Sensory overload enthralled Alexander. The culture shock was too acute. His eyes were darting around, his fingers were greasy. When he slapped at the mosquitoes, she watched him check his little palms for blood.
“Summers!” shouted Coach Biv, loud enough to reach the fence from the edge of the diamond. “Every time I turn around, you up over there at that fence!”
“I’m checking on my kid,” said Brenda. “But I’m into the game. Faye hasn’t even taken her first swing.”
“Brenda Summers, you can kiss my fat ass,” said Faye, staring down the home-plate umpire in anticipation of his protesting her language. “Hey, California boy! Hey, refugee! Throw me some of them cracklins, baby. You don’t know what to do with that goodness! Hakuna matata means ‘share hot pork’ down here!”
“No, it doesn’t!” yelled Alexander. “I would’ve learned that when I did a search on the cultural cuisines and popular colloquialism of the Southeastern United States on the Internet!”
“Huh?” said Faye.
Brenda touched the tips of her fingers to Alexander’s fingers through the chain-link fence. She shook her head. Like mother like son, she thought – two fish with varying degrees of how long they had been out of water. Regardless, Brenda smiled, but her beloved only child failed to smile back.
“Alexander,” said Brenda, with a bus-weary sigh. “Miss Hattie was nice enough to say yes when I asked her to keep an eye on you.”
“I get that,” said Alexander, irritated. “But ‘Miss Hattie’ wasn’t in the search results, either, Mom.”
An immediate heat broke out over Brenda’s skin. She felt as though she had just been caught in a lie. Alexander hadn’t anticipated a Miss Hattie after four years of his grandparents. It didn’t matter that the babysitting was situational at present. Brenda’s son was doing a search of his circumstances – both present and past. “Prepare for more of that,” Brenda told herself, as she watched Alexander retreat to the stands. Everything askew in his brilliant young life eventually linked back to his mom.
Six years ago, Brenda Summers had got pregnant.
There was more preamble to the crisis of Brenda Summers than that, but no one (none of her teammates, at least) tuned in until the familiars of “baby,” and “dropped out of school,” and “haven’t seen Alexander’s father since” were mentioned. Her teammates had tuned in to that part of Brenda’s drama as if it were a soap opera. “All My Neglected Children.” The Ladyjacks had never inquired into the whereabouts of Alexander’s father. To them, that part of Brenda’s drama qualified as a rerun, a story that many of them had experienced firsthand.
Six years ago, Brenda Summers had been a sophomore at the private liberal-arts college where one of her teammates now cleaned toilets. At that point in Brenda Summers’ life, the crisis had been more existential than dramatic. She didn’t’ know where she fit in. She didn’t know if she wanted to fit in. There were plenty of people who were willing to help Brenda fit in, and some of them wound up fitting into her.
Six years ago, Faye Danzey weighed considerable pounds less. That was Faye Danzey’s favorite response to the navel-gazing in Brenda’s preamble about fitting in. “Yeah, yeah, yeah,” Faye would say, yawning. “You’re a misfit. And at one point in my life I used to be slender. I used to weigh eight pounds and two ounces, at one point in my life. Since then, I haven’t been able to fit into a damn thing, either. What a crazy, mixed-up world.”
The non-boring parts, the aggressive parts of Brenda’s tale of exile, centered on her son. The disgruntled kid beneath the Lakers cap (thank God, Shaquille O’Neal had moved southward), Alexander now looked as out of place in the stands as she had looked trying to claw out a life in this town six years ago. A California native, a nineteen-year-old mother, a depressed college dropout who eventually wound up working at an Alabama chicken-processing plant. What a crazy, mixed-up world, indeed.
“Drugs,” Faye Danzey concluded, after suffering through Brenda’s preamble their first week on the job together. “You’re pretty, you’re smart. Athletically skilled. Had something goin’ on for yourself, then you got caught up with these so-and-sos down here, and you messed it all up. That happens every nine seconds, Brenda Summers.”
“Did that happen to you, Faye Danzey?” Brenda asked. Faye responded by snapping open a chicken.
Brenda had met Faye Danzey, a fellow (community) college dropout, while working at the plant. Faye Danzey was equally plainspoken about her own personal existential crisis. “The next person,” she had said to an inquisitive Brenda Summers. “And I mean the very next person who asks me to explain all the oh-so-obvious mistakes I done made in my life, I’m gonna take one of these chickens and beat them unconscious with it. Work is work. I’m glad to have a job. But the fact that I would use a chicken to beat someone unconscious oughtta make my state of affairs self-explanatory, don’t you think?”
Faye Danzey lived in the Acacia Heights housing projects. Brenda Summers lived in an apartment complex nearby. As time went on, Brenda found that she enjoyed the massive woman’s equally massive defiance. Faye defied everything, it seemed. Her bosses, her bills, her back pain – yes, she paid them their due, but she refused to give them the satisfaction of her fret.
The other then Southside Ladybashers Brenda had also become acquainted with at work, or at certain clubs, or both. Around this time, Brenda’s father and mother had decided to stop criticizing the oh-so-obvious mistakes that Brenda was making in her life and instead, intervened. Father and Mother Summers flew in from California after months of telephone battles and handwritten arguments (which, evidently, had occurred before Brenda got pregnant, before she dropped out of school, before her plane had even landed in Alabama). Brenda’s parents promptly had her declared unfit to raise baby Alexander. Child protective services, court dates, aborted attempts to flee with her son ensued. And Father Summers had felt no qualms about using his daughter’s train wreck of a college life to sabotage her defense. How could he not? She had left a shameful pile of debris lying around.
Brenda’s parents took Alexander back to California, back to her previous home, just when he reached the age of two. Just when he reached the age of two: Brenda lit the candles on his birthday cake at approximately the same time that her son and his grandparents became airborne, headed west.
Time was slow to heal Brenda Summers. Her personal affirmation of spirit had all the conviction of Faye Danzey’s attempts to lose weight. Brenda quit drinking, Brenda quit drugs. Brenda quit men, then relapsed on all three. Prompted by their co-workers at the plant and by their friends at certain clubs, Brenda and Faye both joined the women’s softball league. The sport invigorated. The sport rejuvenated.
Somehow Faye Danzey wound up gaining more weight (owing, perhaps, to her fondness for concession cracklings). The competitiveness and the camaraderie of the then Southside Ladybashers served to reawaken, to stimulate in Brenda Summers, the parts of her that she had allowed herself to neglect. Her love for athleticism returned. Her love for music returned, although the son that she loved to sing to was long gone. Brenda’s love for her son, however, had never abandoned her, nor had she ever abandoned that love, despite the painful acknowledgment, the painful truth that she had, in spirit, abandoned baby Alexander when he needed her most.
It was during a typically despondent evening that an instant message popped up while she was downloading Karla Bonoff’s “Cold Wind Blow.” Brenda had always loved that song, and then, suddenly and mysteriously, it started loving her back.
Hey, Mom. Guess what? Shaq Fu!
Not the most poetic turn of phrase from her bright little hope, but God, did it bring forth the tears. The message was completely unexpected. Brenda had no idea how her son had located her via the Internet, and later (after they had verified each other’s identity – he knew more about her than she knew about him) she would be surprised to discover that the search was entirely Alexander’s doing. She had given birth to a wunderkind, who was, fortunately, wondering about his own mother. She wasn’t quite sure how the mystical tenets of Shaq Fu, the winsome aura of the then Laker Shaquille O’Neal, figured into this sudden miracle, but she loved her son, and she loved him all the more for trying to explain it – in all his youthful zest.
Aw, come on, Mom, Shaq Fu!
Gradually, Brenda learned to stop feeling sorry for herself. Gradually, she got a mean-on, and she started to fight. There had been no shame in asking for help. Substance-abuse counselling and life-management guidance fostered her personal affirmation of spirit. That being said, she still hadn’t received a car loan. However, her dedication to improving her life had genuinely impressed her parents. And now Brenda Summers had been granted custody of her son on a trial basis. Her bright little hope had returned.
“Get up there, ball!” Coach Biv commanded, drawing Brenda’s attention back to the game. “All right now, Faye Danzey, just because you the hero of the day don’t mean you can slip out of that cape.”
“I’m bored,” said Faye, yawning at the Paris Touch pitcher. “She up there tryin’ to pitch like she Randy Johnson – knowin’ good and well she got a bid down on Martha Stewart’s prison salad – munch, munch, munch, munch, munch!”
“Faaaaye,” muttered Brenda through clenched teeth. If it were not for the fact that the umpire, not to mention the Ladyjacks’ opponents, was too obviously cowed by Faye Danzey’s presence, the Ladyjacks’ she-Babe would long since have been ejected from the game. Trash-talking, however encrypted, was a big no-no in their sport. But Faye Danzey was bigger.
“Let’s go, Ladyjacks!” chanted the fans. “Let’s go, Ladyjacks!” rocking the stands.
“Summers!” yelled Coach Biv, tapping a finger against his head. “Showtime, baby!”
Brenda walked over to accept her favorite bat from the cutest, littlest equipment manager, a teammate’s four-year-old daughter. The girl could only drag the aluminum bat on the ground. Toothy and clumsy, the cutest, littlest equipment manager always got a round of applause from the Ladyjacks’ fans as soon as she appeared.
Finally approaching the on-deck circle, Brenda checked the scoreboard as if it had miraculously changed: Ladyjacks, eleven; Paris Touch, zero. Faye had been right again. Paris Touch bored – at least, in regard to their athleticism. Other aspects of the opposing team, certain aspects, as Brenda regarded them, were much more enthralling.
In particular, the Paris Touch pitcher displayed a rather provocative hip thrust whenever she threw the ball. The woman had big legs, those big Southern legs that Brenda had grown to appreciate during her years as a transplant. And she grunted. At earsplitting decibels, the Paris Touch pitcher grunted – deeply, gutturally, unabashedly cathartic – each release on the mound bringing a quick, whirling whip of her blond ponytail. Fast-pitch gives you a good estimation of potential hip velocity, thought Brenda Summers (unabashedly). And, goodness gracious, did that girl have a grunt!
Like two scissoring Maria Sharapovas trying to twist open a pickle jar the hard way. Damn, girl, I’d shock you like an Eighth Street cell phone, thought Brenda, as some of her teammates were known to say. Girl, you better come up off that –
Suddenly, a bomb exploded in the vicinity of home plate. Brenda was shocked by the pitcher, rather than the other way around. The Paris Touch arm had launched a dedicated tank-cracker, blasting the receiving catcher’s glove with a powerful smack. A wisp of orange smoke immediately rose from the leather. The crowd went “Wooooo!” on both sides of the umpire. The cutest, littlest equipment manager had to duck to avoid the catcher’s mitt, hurled hotly in hand-shaking disbelief.
“Strike!” yelled the home-plate umpire.
“Shut up!” yelled Faye Danzey.
Meanwhile, there was trouble brewing on the mound. Rather than pitch to Faye Danzey, the Paris Touch chucker started throwing dangerous head shots. Ziiiiip! They flew past Faye Danzey’s helmet. Pow! They exploded into the wall behind the plate. Anybody could guess that it was the lopsided score that had driven the pitcher to snap. Anybody could guess that, but Brenda Summers knew that only Faye Danzey’s mouth could provoke such a volcanic reaction.
“Hakuna matata,” sang Faye, taunting the Paris Touch pitcher. “Look at these Southside so-and-sos holdin’ you down to zero, Paris Touch. On opening day? Girl, what must you be thinkin’?”
Decapitation, thought Brenda, as she observed the escalating tension on the field. The batting stance alone that Faye Danzey had adopted threatened nothing short of public disturbance. She didn’t lean forward. She didn’t lean back. Faye Danzey stood ramrod straight, stomach proud, ass unashamed. Her fingers squeezed the neck of the bat as if it were the last chicken of the shift. Perfectly vertical, she held it, arrogantly she held it, stubbornly she held it – her wind-splitter just waiting to chop.
“Let’s go, Ladyjacks!” chanted the fans. “Let’s go, Ladyjacks!” rocking the stands.
The fact that the Paris Touch pitcher had yet to say anything in response to Faye Danzey’s goading worried Brenda. Sure, it was more sportsmanlike to keep your cool and let the umpire deal with such verbal violations. But the home-plate official had yet to ask Faye for his testicles back, much less warn Paris Touch about their angry, loose cannon of an arm. The pitcher was glowering atop the mound, shooting daggers from her blue eyes, her sweaty blond hair plastered to the sides of her scowling face. When she didn’t throw, she didn’t grunt – a silenced weapon, cocked and ready to fire.
To add to the mounting tension, Faye Danzey was known to lead the Ladyjacks’ swarm onto the field (which Brenda had always participated in, but in front of her kid?). And the fact that Faye had yet to do so in response to the pitcher’s gunning worried Brenda all the more. For such a big woman, there appeared not to be one bead of sweat between Faye Danzey’s cornrows and the rolls of fat on her knife-scarred neck.
“Look at you,” said Faye, smirking at the seething pitcher. “Southside do bad, ya’ll ain’t happy. Southside do good , y’all ain’t happy. Southside do outright phenomenal -- ”
The Paris Touch softball rocketed toward home plate. Brenda had only seen the pitcher’s hips wiggle. There had been no perceptible windup. The game they played was fast-pitch softball – underhanded, body-shaking, rapid-motion missile strikes – there had to be a perceptible windup.
Yet, spliced between the word “phenomenal” and the involuntary blink that shuddered Brenda’s view, the Paris Touch softball had shot like a bullet. It flew far (approximately forty-three feet), and it flew stealthily (no audible grunt), and it flew fast (a white mirage).
And Faye Danzey hit it.
“—outright phenomenal,” said Faye Danzey, completing her speech. “And the world just stops making sense.”
Brenda didn’t see where the ball went. It went up. Of course, it went up. At a moon-punching angle, the ball flew up, up, up. Most people saw it go up. Nobody saw it come down. Nobody could testify that they saw it come down. Not even the Paris Touch fans could put the final destination of the screaming white sphere anywhere other than in outer space.
A hush fell over the diamond. No slapping of mosquitoes or celebratory cheering could be heard from either side of the stands.
There was a full minute of craning necks, yet no sign of the awesomely “jacked” ball. No ball dropped to earth. No ball fell back to terra. Everybody was staring up at the night sky – players, coaches, fans, ballpark staff, and even the cutest, littlest equipment manager – all searching for the softball that had left orbit above the dome of the ballpark lights.
“If there’s a God in the heavens,” said Faye Danzey, observing the sea of upturned faces. “May the ghost of my eighth-grade girls’ P.E. coach be sittin’ upon you all. Munch, munch, munch, munch, munch.”
As if that didn’t tweak the miracle enough, Faye unexpectedly lumbered back toward the Ladyjacks’ dugout. She didn’t even walk to first base, much less run to it. What she did do was ignore the fantastical. People were wondering why that ball hadn’t obeyed the rules of gravity. They were too stunned to wonder why the woman who had hit that softball was disobeying the rules of the game. Presumably, Faye Danzey was outing herself by not running her bases. But, of course, she had long stopped giving a damn about that.
“Stay up there, ball!” yelled Coach Biv, hopping up and down as he pulled out his hip flask. “You little hateful white cracka!”
“Cracker,” said Alexander Summers, looking upward from the stands. “A person or device that cracks. A firecracker. A thin, crisp wafer or biscuit. Poor white – contemptuous term. A person born or living in Florida or Georgia – humorous usage. Hey, Mom! Where were the ‘Smokey and the Bandit’ movies set?”
Brenda did not know the answer to that question. Nor was she quite sure what to make of Coach Biv’s impromptu outburst, or, for that matter, of the apparent outer-space location of the softball that had inspired it. To Brenda Summers, the Paris Touch pitcher and the Ladyjacks slugger had both been equally stimulating in their volcanic clash. And people were astonished by the heights of the eruption? Would the spinning, spanked ball ever come back down to earth?
All Brenda Summers knew for certain was that she could see her bright little hope in the stands, gazing up at the stars. The vision made her radiate with just as much pride as when she had opened the first box of the new Ladyjacks uniforms. Three-day bus trip, a life above water – there was no way that she was going to have her son miss the mighty, mighty Ladyjacks’ dominating debut. She smiled, renewed in her cheering, joining the awestruck crowd in staring up, up, up.
“I caught it!” yelled Alexander, waving the stitch-popped proof in his hands. “Mom, look at me! I caught it! I caught the ball! How cool is this?”
Immediately, Brenda Summers dropped her bat in the on-deck circle. She ran back toward the fence. Her son was dancing on top of the bleachers where she had told him to sit, right next to Miss Hattie, right there in the front row, right where the ball had dropped from the firmament like a God-tossed peach. Alexander leaped from the stands, running down to the field to rejoice with his mother, meeting her at the open fence gate.
“Wow, what a catch!” yelled Brenda Summers, as she hugged her long-lost son, her long-lost hope. “How did you do that, Alexander!”
“Aw, Mom, come on! You know it’s just my Shaq Fu!”
Faye Danzey paused a few steps outside the dugout. She looked up at the sky. She looked down at Alexander. She looked back up at the sky. She looked back down at Alexander. The softball that she had hit was now clenched in the young boy’s hands – exploded out of its seams, miraculous hang time forgotten – its white punctured rind bobbing behind Brenda Summers’ back as the mother and her child embraced.
There it was, the softball that Faye Danzey had hit, pressed against the fabric of what used to be a Ladybashers’ jersey. Now the jersey read “Southside Ladyjacks.” Faye Danzey’s jersey read “Southside Ladyjacks” as well, and suddenly Faye Danzey decided that her new jersey no longer itched.
“Well, I’ll be dogged,” said Faye Danzey, staring at the celebrating family. “Joy in Mudville, but, evidently, not a lick of magic. Well…maybe just a lick.”
Copyright © 2004 by James Ellis Thomas
All Rights Reserved
“Triumph of the Southside Ladyjacks” was first published in The New Yorker, November 15, 2004.
Cover image: “A Softball” by Tage Olsin with changes made https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Softball_balls#/media/File:Softball.jpg