The Joy Luck Club Chapter 9, Lena St. Clair, Rice Husband
Lena believes that her mother can see things before they happen--something her mother has always claimed to be able to do. She cannot see everything, however--only bad things. She even knows their causes, and she gets upset that she never tries to stop them. Lena thinks about her mother's ability because her mother is visiting her and her husband Harold, and she wonders what her mother will see in their home. Lena knows that her marriage has problems that are so complex that she has no idea how to fix them, and her mother's visit will just make it worse. Her mother knows that their fancy house, a converted barn, is still a barn underneath. She sees the fleas, and the slanted floor. And Lena thinks that her mother must see everything else between her and Harold as well. Her mother has always had that ability: when Lena was a child, Ying-ying looked into her rice bowl and said that Lena would marry a bad man. She would marry a man who had a pockmark for each grain of rice Lena left in her bowl. Since Lena has already been leaving food behind, even if she ate everything that night, it wouldn't matter. She was already doomed. Lena suddenly knew she would marry a mean neighbor boy who had acne. She was frightened. "I began to look at all events and all things as relevant, an opportunity to take or avoid." Chapter 9, pg. 152 Then she saw a movie at Sunday school that was meant to scare the children into feeling grateful about their blessings. The movie showed people without limbs, with terrible sores, and with all kinds of frightening disfigurations. Lena reasoned that these people had spouses who had left tons of food on their plates. Then she realized that in order to avoid marrying her mean neighbor, she had to do just that. She tried giving him leprosy or some other horrible disease by leaving lots of food on her plate, especially if it was something she liked. Five years later, the boy died of a very rare disease. Lena was sure she had killed him, and she thinks about it to this day. The night she found out about the neighbor's death, she forced herself to eat a half-gallon of ice cream, then threw it up. "And I remember wondering why it was that eating something good could make me feel so terrible, while vomiting something terrible could make me feel so good." Chapter 9, pg. 154 Lena is still not sure whether she caused the boy's death or not.
She thinks that her marriage to Harold may have something to do with the death of her neighbor. Though they work together at their own architectural firm now, they used to work at the same design company, and often had business lunches together. Then they began dating, but still split the meal bill half and half, as they had done before. Lena fell in love with Harold and couldn't believe he loved her too. "Now that I'm angry at Harold, it's hard to remember what was so remarkable about him." Chapter 9, pg. 155 Lena knows that Harold has good qualities, and she nervously lists her own: she is exotic looking, and she is intuitive. She is the one who got Harold to start his own business in the first place. Harold didn't want to borrow any money from her, so he asked her to move in with him, supposedly to save money. She assumed he really wanted her to move in anyway. She tried to protest that she wanted to lend him money--she wanted to share herself with him in all ways--but she didn't know what to say. She urged him to create theme restaurants, and gradually, she became responsible for much of his success. She designs much of the décor of each restaurant, and she comes up with many of the original ideas for themes. But Harold pays her very little money, even though she is great at her job. She tries not to think about this. She remembers that one day she was looking at Harold's things on the table and felt suddenly that she really loved him. But when she told him this and he said, "I love you too," mechanically, she decided this wasn't enough for her. Now Harold has gone out and Lena and Ying-ying sit in the kitchen together. Ying-ying sees the list they keep on the refrigerator--it divides their expenses for the week so that each will know if they owe each other money. Her mother sees that Harold lists ice cream as something they share, and Ying-ying gets upset, because she knows Lena doesn't eat ice cream. Lena can't explain why they use the list. When Harold returns, he asks if anyone wants ice cream, and Ying-ying tells him pointedly that Lena doesn't eat ice cream. When Lena admits that this is true, Harold simply says, "Oh well." Lena is irritated. Later, she takes her mother to the guest room, which has the house's bare look (Harold has chosen the decorations because he pays most of the rent.) Her mother comments on a wobbly table: Harold built it when he was a student, and it is poorly designed, but he likes it. Ying-ying wonders why they use it, and Lena has nothing to say.
Back downstairs, Harold has opened the windows, which Lena hates. He sits reading, and suddenly she jumps up, asking him why he has to be so fair all the time. He assumes she is just upset about having to pay the bills for her cat, which they have been arguing about lately. She yells that that isn't the point, but she doesn't know what the point is. What does she want from him? He claims that their marriage is based on much more than their lists of costs, but she isn't so sure. Then they hear a glass breaking upstairs. Lena goes to the guest room and finds her mother, who simply says that the table has collapsed. Lena says she knew it would happen, and it doesn't matter. Her mother wonders why, if she knew, she didn't prevent it, and Lena has no answer.