The Joy Luck Club Chapter 6, Lena St. Clair, The Voice from the Wall
Lena St. Clair remembers Ying-ying telling her about a man who died the worst death imaginable. When Lena asked for more information, her mother got angry, asking why it mattered. Lena always thought it was important to know what the worst thing that could happen to you could be. She wants to know what she is afraid of, unlike her mother, who is afraid of everything and seems haunted, like a ghost. Lena thinks she got this same quality from her mother. Even as a child, she was afraid of everything, and was always imagining gruesome, horrible things. Lena says that while she looks like her father, Clifford St. Clair, an English-Irish man, her eyes are like her mother's. She knows her mother tells her things just to scare her, to make sure that she doesn't do anything dangerous. Lena is ashamed that her mother can't understand English, and she hates her mother's Chinese ways.
When her father was promoted, the family moved to San Francisco. Young Lena is happy: she wants to be around people who can live their lives happily and without fear. But her mother is unhappy, and Lena first learns this when, on the street one day, a man runs up to Ying-ying and calls her the girl of his dreams. Ying-ying is so frightened she cannot move, and she remains shaken for the rest of the day. She starts rearranging the furniture, and Lena can see that something very bad is going to happen soon. Ying-ying says she is worried that the house is out of balance. "This house was built too steep, and a bad wind from the top blows all your strength back down the hill. So you can never get ahead. You are always rolling backward." Chapter 6, pg. 109 Lena is scared, but her father just tells her that her mother is "nesting." Lena later finds out that this is true--her mother is going to have a baby. But Lena sees what her father does not see: her mother bumps against things, as if she has forgotten she is pregnant. She complains about feeling heavy and out of balance. Meanwhile, Lena can hear her neighbors, a woman and her daughter, yelling at each other. They argue, and then Lena hears someone beating someone else. She thinks someone is being murdered, but each night the arguments begin and end the same way. Lena is terrified. When she finally sees the girl in the hallway, she feels guilty for knowing all her secrets.
Lena is taken to the hospital to see her mother. Her mother is lying in bed, screaming and blaming herself for what happened. Lena's father, who has always put words in his wife's mouth when he couldn't understand her Chinese, finally asks Lena what Ying-ying is saying. Lena listens to her mother. Ying-ying screams that the baby came out with no brain, and she knew he was looking at her, knowing how she killed her other son. Lena cannot tell her father this, so she just says something about how her mother hopes the baby is happy in the afterlife. After the baby dies, Ying-ying falls apart--she cries at odd times, and stays in bed for hours. One night, the girl from next door comes over. She pushes her way into Lena's bedroom as if she owns the place. She says that her mother threw her out, and thought she would wait in the hallway and finally apologize. Instead, she is going to climb out of Lena's window and go across the fire escape to her own bedroom. She explains that she and her mother do this all the time, and it is never serious. Lena is amazed, and overjoyed that she was wrong about her neighbors. After that day, she is changed. She imagines a girl explaining to her mother that once you have experienced the worst possible thing, there is nothing left to fear, so you can come back to life.