Automatic Out

Girls Track League Finals, spring 1975

Spike to shin equals a scar I still distrust when I shave my legs. I was a runner. On the second to the last lap of the one-mile race, I was disqualified because I wouldn’t allow the girl running behind me to pass. I stepped in front of her, blocked her more than twice, broke her stride. When she finally ran in front of me, one of the spikes of her shoe slashed my leg. It bled into my sock. I finished the race close to last; walked off the track before my parents or coach could talk to me. Three days before League Finals, I had had an abortion. I was seventeen.


At the clinic I recognized a girl in the waiting room—we had been on the same swim team; favored the same stroke. I think she was fifteen. I tried not to make eye contact; we didn’t speak to each other while we waited. She was with a friend, or maybe her mother. I waited alone with my boyfriend’s $100 in my purse to pay for it.

There was a paper gown, my feet in stirrups, and then I was asleep. Afterwards, in recovery, girls got sick into curve-shaped bowls, rested in cots lined up like an assembly line. I wanted to get dressed to go. I had to wait for Denis to pick me up.


I wouldn’t let the girl pass me. Her teammates called me names as I rounded the curve of the track. I didn’t know the rival school she attended. I don’t remember what she looked like.


Afterwards, when Denis drove me home, I didn’t say much—what was there to say about a child we wouldn’t raise? He dropped me off at my front door, drove back to Los Angeles and his college dorm. I told my mother I stayed home from school because of bad menstrual cramps. Maybe she never knew until now.

I Loved Him Most When He Stole Second Base

Denis could beat out a throw: his long lead off the bag, his cleats roughing up the infield dirt, the force of his slide feet first into second. How he’d beat out a tag. How he’d stand, and dust off his white pants like he was meant to be there. I was part of the crowd noise; I was part of it.

I confess—he stole my dorm mate’s stereo (I pretended not to know). At the local grocery store, he’d shove a thick sirloin steak and a frozen bag of corn into his Levi’s. I bought the frozen blueberry cheesecake for dessert. (In high school, I shoplifted a peasant blouse with three-quarter sleeves, wore it once; the blue and red colors bled in the wash.)

It takes commitment to steal a base, to nurse a strawberry—that red skin abrasion on his butt or thigh—the mark of a thief.

College Ball 

       March 1977

Six months before we married, I drove fifty miles to see Denis play intercollegiate ball in Riverside. I borrowed my dad’s new Ford Pinto, orange with black interior; it was the first car I’d driven with a stick shift. At Evans Park, I watched the Busch girl in her hot pants and white, low-cut t-shirt; she was stacked. She posed between Denis and his buddy Dave for the photo-op—two uniformed men and their Beer Girl as breaking news. Denis was a regular Casanova—he owned the full jock package--thick, dark hair, baby-blue eyes, the muscles, and mustache. I didn’t care if they won or lost the game; I wanted my man. After the game, I thought we’d be together. Denis thanked me for coming, told me to go home. Instead, I followed as he and Dave sped away from the stadium. I floored it to keep up. They tried to lose me on a dirt road, a kind of motocross labyrinth of dips and curves—the Pinto caught air—I lost one of dad’s beloved hub cabs. It bounced and spun astray as I raced into the sun’s glare, trying to leave that Busch girl in the dust-up.

Bird Cage 

Slang for the catcher’s face mask, a bird cage is a padded, metal grate. When there was a play at the plate or a runner stealing second or a foul ball, Denis would bail out of his cage. His quick eye looking upwards, he’d flip his mask into the dirt, his skullcap secure on his head. I’d wait for that delicious smack of ball in mitt. And then his throw. I depended on it.


I didn’t wear a bird cage veil made of Russian netting. Or face blusher of lace. For my bridal headpiece, my cousin Claudine sewed a wreath of peach-colored roses and baby’s breath, ivory tulle, and ribbons. The flower girl all grown up. Peace and love. I knew white was for virgin brides.


Afterwards, Denis would scrape off the plate with his foot as if to score it with his scent; then knock his mask against his knee to remove the dirt. With his mitt folded in half under his arm, he’d use one hand to replace the strap over the back of his head, the other to pull the cage over his face. His backed turned, maybe he’d quip a little something to the ump. Before he assumed the catcher’s crouch, he never looked at me sitting in the box seats behind him. I never saw him look for me.

New Flock of Cards

I’ve never been bird watching. During high school, Denis was two-timing, dated Sue, secretly loved me in the school parking lot after hours. My friend Jules told me this: she saw the lovey couple shopping at the local outdoor mall—the best part—a bird shit on Sue’s shirt, and Denis laughed. I invited Sue to our wedding; thanked her for the gift—a burnt orange crock-pot I used for years.

When Denis signed with the St. Louis Cardinals, I thought the mascot would be a bald-headed Friar Tuck, not a robust redbird. (Most birds are monogamous.) Drafted twelfth round, my newlywed husband went to Calgary three months after our daughter was born, received $2500 as a signing bonus. I don’t remember what we did with the money. It was a short-season, rookie ball—I visited once—long enough to see he was swinging a big bat. That was something to chirp about.

Lorene Delany-Ullman’s book of prose poems, Camouflage for the Neighborhood, was the winner of the 2011 Sentence Award, and published by Firewheel Editions (December 2012). In addition, she has most recently published creative nonfiction and poetry in AGNI, Cimarron Review, Z√≥calo Public Square, Naugatuck River Review, and Chaparral. Her poems have been included in anthologies such as Beyond Forgetting: Poetry and Prose about Alzheimer’s Disease (Kent State University Press, 2009) and Alternatives to Surrender (Plain View Press, 2007). She is currently collaborating with artist Jody Servon, on Saved, an ongoing photographic and poetic exploration of the human experience of life, death, and memory. As one of the founders of the Casa Romantica Reading Series in San Clemente, California, Delany-Ullman organized and hosted monthly poetry and fiction readings from 2004-2010. She teaches composition at the University of California, Irvine.