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  • In Chy Fong’s RestaurantWhere Miss Massey Meets a Missionary
  • Miriam Michelson1

ALL sorts of queer, disconnected impressions kept coming to me as I sat there in utter silence.

The ear-splitting crash and clang of the Chinese orchestra in the front room, the gaudy, dragon-embroidered hangings to the rear of the restaurant, the gentle twanging of the slave girls’ guitars, the teak-wood chairs and tables, the handleless cups, the bizarre, singsong conversation of the men at the banquet table in the next room—even my own satin blouse, upon which peacocks were embroidered in silver, and the absurd, wide trousers of salmon pink, whose bands of purple were embossed in flaming orange, my purple silk hose and crimson, gold-embroidered slippers—all this was unreal to me; as fanciful and impossible as a mad dream.

Reality stood behind it, apart from it, and the strength of its impressions persisted in replacing even the things that my senses recognized.

I could see the News’s first page of yesterday, with its screaming headline and my story of the raid on the fan-tan games below it, more clearly, much more clearly than the expressionless ivory face, so near to me, of Ah Oy, the most expensive slave girl in Chinatown, worth $3,000 in white man’s money!

I could repeat, word for word, the printed statement of Sergeant Wyss, denying the implication of grafting, which was the atmosphere of my story as surely as the faint smell from the opium-smokers’ pipes was penetrating every part of Chy Fong’s restaurant.

Scraps and phrases of the News’s big double-leaded editorial, openly charging Wyss with protecting gambling in Chinatown for a bribe, instead of wiping it out, came to me; and the whole of that last paragraph, accusing him of bad faith, of deliberately tipping off our projected raid, of warning the gamblers in advance, through their spies, who lurked about, when we met at the corner of the alley.

But back of all this there was a still stronger impression, as of a thing one has got by heart.

“No talk.

“No look see.

“No turn head.

“No move. [End Page 208]

“No listen.

“No speak.

“No bite lips.

“No move fingers.

“No sit so stlaight. Neck down–so.

“No lift feet when walk—slide—slip—soft.

“All time wait—all time sit still—head down—eyes down—all time wait.”

And here I was, “all time waiting,” as old Gum Tai, the duenna of the slave girls, had taught me in a long afternoon rehearsal; with my eyes on the floor and my sleek, black head, with its jeweled bow tow lowered, my senses dulled by the strong perfume of the narcissi in the cloisonné bowls, by the smell of opium, and the dream-like sensation of being apart—all time sitting still, all time waiting; waiting with an Oriental, stupefying patience for bribers and bribed to meet here, as was their custom, and pay the bribe before my very eyes.

What lifelong rehearsals must these pale, quiet girls’ mothers have gone through for centuries and centuries to bring to its perfection that yellow flower of repose that Ah Oy is as she sits idly there with her guitar, ornamented with precious stones, in little hands, closely and compactly made as the sheath of a lily, with nary a twitch of limb nor turn of head, her soft, dull eyes looking straight ahead and down, seeing nothing; and hearing, smelling nothing, one would say, for her ears and delicate nostrils—the color of a softly yellowed magnolia before it falls, overripe, from the tree—seem less like organs of sense than bits of soft but perfect and exotic statuary.

“Look here, Rhoda Massey”—memory, the only faculty which seemed to survive in me the drowsy suspension of my wits, brought McCabe’s voice and his words to me as I sat all time waiting—“go slow. Yellow Journalism, and the success you’ve made of it, are turning your steady little head. You’re out-yellowing your master, and when I came on the News I held the record. The thing is...


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pp. 208-217
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