In the parable that precedes the third section, a mother visits her daughter’s new condominium. She expresses dismay at the mirror her daughter has placed at the foot of the bed: she believes superstitiously that this mirror will cause her daughter’s marriage happiness to bounce back and deflect away. Her daughter dismisses the warning as just another example of her mother’s tendency to see everything as inauspicious. The mother then pulls out a second mirror, which she had bought as a housewarming gift, and places it at the head of the bed: the mirrors reflecting each other will multiply the daughter’s “peach-blossom luck,” she says. When the daughter asks her mother to explain this luck, the mother points into the mirror, and says that she can see her future grandchild. The daughter looks and sees the child in her own reflection.
Lena St. Clair, who discussed her childhood in “The Voice from the Wall,” begins by explaining how her mother has always been able to predict the evils that will affect their family. Now, says Lena, Ying-ying regrets never having done anything to prevent them. Lena wonders what her mother’s insights will reveal when she visits Lena and her husband, Harold, in their new home.
Lena thinks back to another instance of her mother’s predictive powers. Her mother had told her once that her future husband would have one pock mark on his face for every grain of rice Lena did not finish at dinner, and Lena had thought of a neighbor boy named Arnold, who had a pitted face. The boy had always treated Lena like a bully, and thus, to avoid having to marry him, the young Lena scraped every last grain of rice from her bowl: now she would marry only a smooth-faced man. Yet Ying-ying reminded Lena that for many years she had habitually left grains standing in her bowl. Terrified that she was fated to marry Arnold, Lena began to loathe her neighbor and wish for his death.
In Lena’s mind, the connection between her eating and its effect on whether or not she would marry Arnold soon progressed to a causal connection between her eating and the well-being of Arnold himself. The rice conceptually evoked his rice-grain-sized pock marks, and she believed that by leaving her rice, she would cause him to develop more marks. She refused to finish large portions of every kind of food, believing that they would somehow transfer into maladies on Arnold’s body. Five years later, although she had long forgotten Arnold, she had become addicted to not eating and was suffering from anorexia. When she learned that the seventeen-year-old Arnold had suddenly died of an extremely rare measles-related illness, she gorged herself on ice cream and spent the night throwing it up. Looking back, Lena knows that she cannot logically blame herself for Arnold’s death, and yet she wonders whether she might have willed it, whether Arnold was in fact “destined” to be her husband. Even when she dismisses these thoughts, she questions whether her evil intentions caused her to end up with her present husband as a punishment for wanting to kill her “destined” husband.
Ever since Lena and Harold met, they have kept strict accounts of the money each has spent, even when dining out together, and have shared very little other than expenses. Harold took Lena’s advice and started his own architecture firm, but because he was so intent on keeping their accounts separate, he refused her offer of a loan. Instead, he asked her to move in with him—she would pay half of his apartment rent, which meant he would be able to put that money toward his firm. Within a year, Lena was working for Harold as a project coordinator, and she essentially developed his entire business concept by suggesting that he specialize in “thematic restaurant” design. Despite the fact that she works hard and shows great talent, Harold refuses to promote Lena because he does not want to appear to be unfairly favoring his wife. He now earns seven times more than she does. Lena becomes upset when she thinks about what it means to be Harold’s domestic “equal.”
When Ying-ying visits, she notices the list of all the prices of shared items that Lena and Harold have bought for the house. When Lena explains the list, Ying-ying states that Lena should not be expected to pay back Harold for buying ice cream, because Lena has hated ice cream ever since her terrible vomiting incident. Later that night, Lena decides to mention her hatred of ice cream to Harold, who claims that he always supposed Lena abstained from it merely as part of her frequent diets. Although Harold willingly agrees to pay for the ice cream himself, Lena’s feelings of aggression toward him are not alleviated. Unsure of the source of her anger, she picks a fight. Suddenly, Ying-ying breaks a vase on Harold’s wobbly table in the guest room. Harold had designed and built the table himself during his student days, and when Ying-ying saw it in the guest room, she asked why Lena used it. “You put something else on top, everything fall down,” she says. Lena cleans up the glass and tells Ying-ying not to worry; she knew this would happen eventually. Ying-ying asks why Lena hasn’t done anything to prevent it.