Ben is wiping make-up off his face. The light bulbs framing his dressing room mirror are harsh, revealing all forty-seven of his lifelong years—a good age for a stage actor, for a male. Ben can go both ways, play young and old roles alike. His is a strong face, highly sculptural, a handsome face—not pretty, like Paul's. The mirror begins to fog.
"For Chris'-sakes, Paul, you're going to dissolve. Come out, will you? This place is like a sauna."
Paul cannot hear. The torrent of his scalding shower drowns extraneous noises. He is following his post-performance regimen—his "lobster act," as Ben describes it, "boiling himself alive." To Paul, however, showers provide a purgative; they cleanse his nightly dose of discontent (without unduly dampening his ego).
Ben wipes a window in the fog. Wilde or Poe, tonight? His moods are protean; flamboyant to melancholic, they brook no bounds... and are therefore well-adapted to his chosen profession—if vexing for the few he calls his friends. Ben is more inclined to cultivate fans.
Paul emerges—steaming—and executes his patented Tarzan yell...
Janie has it clocked.
"10:56; he's early. We must have run a little short tonight."
"Is that aimed at me?"
"Calm down, Gillian. Gee, you're touchy lately. I only meant we ran a little short."
"But I'm to blame."
"Okay, it's all your fault. Happy now?"
The women's dressing room, unlike the men's, has less of a locker-room aspect, though all that separates the two is a clapboard wall. Clad in underwear and robes, the actresses sit abreast.
"Sorry, Janie. You going to 'Speare's?"
"I guess. I'd rather not. All we end up doing is talking shop."
"That too; don't remind me. God, I hung one on last night! With Paul. Don't know how he does it. Ever tried keeping up with him?"
The actresses switch from stage to ordinary make-up.
"Incredible, the way he drinks. I'd have trouble holding that much water, let alone the poison he swills—Black Russians; yuk! We must have been to half a dozen bars last night and Paul drank two of those things at every stop—comparing their 'inebriating nuances,' or so he claimed. 'Raskolnikov,' he'd salute—quoting Crime and Punishment while pickling his gourd."
"So 'Speare's is out?"
"What else is there to do, Gill?"
"We could go bowling."
"Bowling? BOWLING? You mean like roll big black balls down skinny little pathways to bash a bunch of props employed by jugglers?
"You got it."
"Bowling?... Hell, why not? Shall we invite the boys?"
"If we go to the place I have in mind, we'll need them."
"Sounds marvelous! HEY TARZAN!"
Paul hears Janie's shout from the other side.
"JANE! JANE! WHERE CHEETAH?"
"YOU ALMOST THROUGH?"
Paul humps the wall.
"WALL TOO THICK. NEED SIMBA. SIMBA! UNGOWA! UNGOWA!"
Ben shakes his head, reproachfully.
Paul 'moons' him.
Ben, to the parboiled ass, blows a rakish kiss—which Paul pretends to capture, presses to his lips, then curtsies in a naughty-girl reply—as Gillian knocks.
"YOU TWO DECENT?"
Paul maintains his posture, girdled by the towel.
Paul converts his curtsy to a courtly bow. Ben rises.
"When is he ever?"
The couples, plan endorsed, depart en masse.
KERR-BOOM! Pins, like fractured teeth, implode.
"That's not fair, Michelle; you're cheating."
"How can you cheat at bowling, Angel?"
"I don't know, but she must be. Isn't she cheating, Leanne? That's three times in a row she's knocked 'em all down. She should give us Cindy to help our team."
"Three against one, you mean?"
"Well, look at 'er score! All I get 's gutter-balls. And Leanne 'n' Cindy... Shit, they're just as lame."
"I resent that. Look at this box. You see that diagonal line? That means a spare!"
"Yeah, but you didn't get nothin' on your next turn so it only counted ten."
"That's ten more than you got."
"That's what I'm sayin'. If we added up all three, Michelle would still be winnin' us."
Leanne is tired of Angel's feeble excuses.
"Stop squawking and get up there; it's your turn."
Angel hoists her ball from the circular return and maladroitly lugs it up to the foul line. As she sets it swinging it snaps her elbow stiff, throwing her off balance. Nonetheless, she manages to heave it—CLUNK!—in the general direction—WOBBLE-WOBBLE-WOBBLE—of the pins; her body-English forecasts yet another gutter-ball.
"Shush, Leanne; she'll hear."
"I hope she does; she's my teammate."
"Finding fault won't help her throw it any faster."
"I'd settle for straighter."
"You guys talkin' 'bout me? I'm tryin'. I can't help it if these goddamn balls go crooked. They weigh a fuckin' ton."
Michelle's shoulders are shaking as she waits in the adjoining lane, unable to suppress an outbreak of giggles. Cindy, likewise affected, titters out loud... joined by Leanne. Angel, in frustration, stamps her dainty foot.
"I'll quit! You guys stop making fun or I won't play."
Collectively, they strive to regain composure, as Angel carries out her next attempt. She lugs, she heaves, the ball goes "CLUNK!" then "WOBBLE-WOBBLE-WOBBLE," scarcely reaching the drop-off point at gutter's end.
"Goddamn lopsided mother-fuckin' piece o' black-tar shit!"
Michelle is on her knees, doubled up with hysterics. Cindy and Leanne are likewise overwhelmed. The spectacle of Angel (whose looks reflect her moniker) swearing like a shipwrecked sailor, has them all in stitches. Yielding to the group, she laughs at herself.
An alley four lanes over lights up theatrically. Gillian, Janie, Paul, and Ben are trying on shoes... testing balls for fit and heft... prevaricating about the order of their score sheet.
"Who wants to go first?"
"Not I, said the bird."
"No; I'll defer to Paul. Paul? Down, boy, down. Seems our resident bloodhound has caught a scent."
Paul stands on point, panting, casting canine eyes at the foursome further in. Gillian, venting a sigh, is distinctly un-amused.
"Charming, Paul. Grow up."
Paul retracts his tongue but maintains his stance.
"Hey, don't all look at once, but check out lane 4."
Three roving glances shift—Leanne's the most rapacious.
Angel, sitting down, is less impressed.
"Cute?! Cute is Mickey Mouse; that guy's Adonis."
Leanne directs a risqué wink at Paul...
...whose source of fascination, alas, is Cindy. Alert, however, to any and all displays of 'fitting' homage, Paul responds to Leanne with a rakish grin. Encouraged, she waves back. He nods... then, turning on his heels, lip-syncs to his colleagues, 'What a scream.'
"Hope you get what you deserve."
He lowers his eyes at Gillian.
"And what, pray tell, might that be, dear?"
"Had it. Thrice, as a matter of fact. Best lays ever rendered. I highly recommend the skills of those who fuck for profit. One brief night with a pro beats years with sundry novices."
Ben objects on principle.
"Rrrrrrude, crrrrrrude, and socially unacceptable."
"Thank you, Ben. Are you going to bowl, Paul, or persist in this insufferable show of heat?"
"Harsh words, my Sweet. Tres severe. Me thinks thou hast a bee inside thy bonnet. A cinder in thy eye, mayhap. A pebble in thy shoe? In any case, some troublesome irritation. Prithee, dear, I beg you, have it out."
Paul delivers this speech astraddle the hand-dryer...
...a pose that is not wasted on Leanne.
"Isn't he sexy? Sure would like those legs to wrap around me. Look; his saddle horn 's showing."
"An extra pair of socks, no doubt."
Angel misses the implication; Cindy explains.
"He's prob'bly padded his crotch, is what Michelle means."
"I still don't get it."
"Guys who pad their crotches generally are gay."
Angel, unconvinced, intensifies her gape....
...as Paul contracts his buttocks, straightens his back—gut in, chest prominent—tucks the ball beneath his chiseled chin, adjusts his stance... pauses... focuses... makes his approach with a fluid, four-step stride... and rolls his first attempt straight into the gutter.
The actors are beside themselves with mirth.
The strippers, too, find Paul's performance fun...
...as he walks back from the foul line, drops to his hands and knees, and repeatedly bangs his forehead onto the floorboards. His ball returns. He stands... retrieves it... mentally prepares... (all eyes now are watching)... and proceeds to roll, using perfect form, an equally perfect strike (i.e. a spare), all ten pins cleared with a loud KERR-BOOM!
Cindy, Angel, and Leanne break into applause...
...as do Ben and Janie. Gillian casts a caustic glance at Michelle...
...who looks her way—recognizing Gillian from pictures in the newspaper.
If only I had class like that, so poised, petite, sophisticated...
Gillian, likewise envious, notes Michelle's pronounced physique.
The bigger the boobs, the smaller the brain—which rates her sub-moronic. Wonder what she's gawking at; I doubt we've ever met.
Cindy tugs her teammate's arm.
Michelle turns, startled.
"I've had enough."
"What gives? Are you okay?"
Michelle removes the rental shoes, wrestles on her sandals, gathers up her purse, her scarf, her coat, and walks away.
Leanne calls after her... "HEY!"...then queries Cindy. "Where's she off to?"
"Home, I guess."
"We haven't finished! HEY, MICHELLE! COME BACK!"
Michelle will neither alter course nor reverse her rash decision.
Gillian, having heard the name, takes note...
Michelle departs. Crossing to the parking lot, she gets into her vehicle: lights snap on; the engine sputters; tires emit a shriek; car and driver race off into the night.