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Rose’s mother used to carry a white Bible, but it’s been used for over twenty years to prop up one leg of their dining room table. We envisioned other ways in which religion can be useful, but we guess it’s a "to each his own" type of deal.
Rose knows that her mother still sees that Bible, because it is still immaculately clean. Fishy…
Rose is watching her mother sweep the kitchen, waiting for the right moment to tell An-mei that she’s divorcing her husband, Ted. Rose knows that her mother will want her to save the marriage.
We get a flashback of how Rose met Ted.
The two meet in college and Rose is initially attracted to him in part because he’s not Chinese and therefore very different from the guys she’s previously dated.
Neither of their mothers approve. An-mei points out that he’s American.
Ted’s mother pulls Rose aside and basically tells Rose that she better not marry Ted, because that would hurt her son’s future career as a doctor, with the Vietnam War being unpopular and all. Clearly, to this woman, all Asian people are Vietnamese.
Ted and Rose cling together against the world’s prejudice.
As their relationship progresses, Rose and Ted fall into roles: she plays the victim and he’s the hero.
They marry and buy a house.
Ted becomes not only a dermatologist, but the proverbial decider, choosing everything from their furniture to their vacation spots. Rose never thinks of protesting.
After a malpractice suit, Ted pushes Rose to make more decisions.
Ted accuses Rose of not being able to do anything without him. Then he asks for a divorce.
That’s the end of Rose and Ted’s romantic history.
Rose has another flash back to the day her mother lost faith in God.
Enter flashback: The entire family goes to the beach because Rose’s father wants to catch ocean perch, despite not being a fisherman.
Rose’s parents believe in their nengkan, which is a person’s ability to achieve anything she sets her mind on.
Rose’s dad thinks he can catch ocean perch because of his nengkan, and Rose’s parents immigrated from China to America and had seven children on the same basis.
At the beach, Rose’s mother assigns her to watching her four younger brothers, in Chinese literally saying, "Watch out for their bodies."
Rose begins worrying about her youngest brother, Bing. But she feels like her worry is based on superstition from The Twenty-Six Malignant Gates, that Chinese book about all the ways children can get hurt.
As the family is enveloped in chaos of different kinds – some of the boys get into a fight, Rose’s father gets a tug on his line – Rose watches four-year-old Bing fall into the sea.
The rescue people can’t find Bing.
Rose’s mom jumps into the water, searching for Bing. She has so much faith in her nengkan that she’s sure she’ll find Bing even though she doesn’t know how to swim.
Rose knows that it’s all her fault that her brother has been lost to the ocean. She was supposed to look after him. She’s expecting all of her family to blame her.
Instead, each family member blames him or herself.
Rose and her mother go back to the beach the next morning.
Her mother has the white Bible with her and prays to God, begging him to return her son.
When Bing does not appear, she doesn’t lose hope, but tries another tactic.
Rose’s mother begs the Coiling Dragon who lives in the sea, to return her son, throwing into the ocean an offering of sweet tea to cool his temper, and her ring of watery sapphire to distract him from Bing.
Bing fails to appear after even a hour passes.
Rose’s mom now tosses out a life preserver tied to a fishing pole, sure it will float directly to Bing and pull him back to safety.
Despite all of her nengkan, the life preserver is shredded and Bing doesn’t appear.
Finally, Rose’s mother gives up, horrified and despairing.
So the flashback is over and we’re back in real time.
Rose’s mom wants Rose to keep trying to save her marriage, even if it doesn’t work out.
Rose draws a parallel between Bing’s death and her own marriage; both times, she sees the danger coming but does nothing about it.
Rose draws out the Bible from under the table and finds "Bing Hsu" written in erasable pencil, under a section titled "Deaths."