Immoral Woman

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On an unmatched ottoman lay the New-York Times Evening Standard for August 3, 1847. The old man was back before I could unfold it. “Won’t you please accept my apologies for the wait?” he breathed. “Allow me to conduct you.” I hesitated only an instant, whereupon he turned and asked me, barely above a whisper, “It is English, is it not?”

The impatient old man, repeating, “come, come,” led me with agonizing slowness though a succession of rooms in an endless railroad flat, each furnished more peculiarly than the last. He walked ahead stiffly, stooped over so far that the starchy tails of his tuxedo did not point straight down, but slightly backward. A brittle clacking grew steadily louder.

“A bowling alley?” I asked the aged gentlemen.

“Quite.” He held the last door open and inclined his head as a tactful hint that I should enter.

A man in a green eyeshade who was reading a daily racing form sat on a stool behind a glass counter of shoes. Eyes still on the racing form, he reached down and brought out a pair of black-and-white bowling shoes. “Size ten?” The stub of a cigar smoldered, forgotten, in an ashtray.

“Yes,” I answered, not knowing what else to do.

“Sixteen bucks,” said the cashier, and he had four singles ready when I put a twenty into his blunt fingers. Among the many things that occurred to me was the fact that I now had only forty-two dollars and one drachma left.

It’s a League night and there’s a wait,” the man told me.

From a box beside the cash register that read For Our Matchless Friends I took a pack: BOWL-MOR LANES, HEAVEN 0X98HL, N.E. “Heaven is a bowling alley?” I murmured.

“Of course not.” The man pushed up his eyeshade. “Heaven has bowling
alleys, just like earth does.”

The scores of the bowlers loomed above them, blown up by overhead projectors, and the giant shadows of fingers came across them like the hand of God. The man in lane five bowled strikes, adding body English to every ball and working his hips like a hula dancer. Ruan was nowhere to be found. I could not imagine her in a shortsleeved bowling shirt with “Lingyu” embroidered on the pocket.

I returned to the cashier and told him I was looking for Ruan Lingyu.

Should’ve said so in the first place. She’s in the Paradise Lounge.” He stuck a thumb over his shoulder.

I started off, and he called me back. “You’re not gonna bowl a few frames?”

“No,” I said.

“The shoes please, the shoes.” He beckoned with a finger.

I removed the bowling shoes and the man shook Dr. Scholl’s foot powder into them before replacing them under the counter. He unfurled his racing form and picked up his cigar. “What do you know?” he said. “Damned thing’s gone out.”




Immoral Woman



In better days the neon script mounted on the rear wall of the bowling alley had read Pair-o’-Dice Lounge, with neon dice showing one and six; now only three of the pips were lit, and even they were flickering.



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