My bare feet were in a patch of dirt when Dad smiled and said, “You swing like a boy.” He always offered pointers: Level it out, kick up your elbow, bend that knee, wait on your pitch. But “You swing like a boy” was the praise that sent me rocketing to first base. I made it before the wiffle ball smacked the lawn chair. I usually did.
But I wasn’t much help in the outfield. When the apple and pear trees dropped fruit in July, I’d stand next to second base and gnaw on a crabapple until a ball came flying. Then I’d drop the half-eaten thing and pick a fresh one later.
I was playing shortstop one day between the pear tree and compost pile when Dylan threw a worm at me from second base— a nightcrawler he’d scrounged up from our garden, just behind the fruit trees and home run territory. Dylan wasn’t like Justin or Christophe, the neighbor boys we’d known since kindergarten. Dylan wasn’t even from Argyle Estates. The boys knew him from school and he’d sort of invited himself through Bill Walker’s woods, down the hill from his subdivision, to our backyard diamond. He spent a lot of time winging things, and mostly, he missed. But the worm smacked my shirt, oozed, and fell wriggling to the grass. I stared at the splotch on my stomach, then up at Dylan. He laughed, and I laughed too.
“Oh. I thought you’d scream, or something.”
I guess I’d eaten too many holey crabapples.
Our games happened sporadically throughout summer break, usually when Christophe’s grandparents turned on the six o’clock news and shooed him through the woods, down a path he’d cleared for himself, across the Pates’ yard. My brothers would pull out the bats and turn the hammock on its side for a backstop. The sky pinkened behind Lowry’s mighty oak, and we’d play ball.
Now and then, friends came to play— outsiders besides the boys. They’d run the bases and chew pears with us, but I don’t think they saw things the way we did. The homer fence. The Green Giant, looming. Trees were trees to them. To them, I was a girl in boys’ shorts. But my swing became steady and my bare feet fast, thanks to Dad and our diamond.
It’s summer again and I’m twenty and my swing is rusty. Grass has grown over the pitcher’s mound. But when the weather’s right, Brian crouches and tosses Elsie balls and gives her pointers: Level it out, kick up your elbow, bend that knee, wait on your pitch.
In time, she’ll swing it like a boy.