Rose begins her narrative with the power of her mother’s words. As a child Rose’s mother would try to teach her how to know the power of true words, so that Rose wouldn’t listen so easily to other people and be swayed by their selfish desires.
We enter into a brief flashback to when Rose was a little girl.
Rose has trouble sleeping. She’s afraid of "Old Mr. Chou," the guardian to the world of dreams, and where he takes her at night. Basically, Rose has bad dreams.
In one of her dreams, Rose finds herself in Mr. Chou’s backyard, being forced to choose one of the dolls in Mr. Chou’s sandboxes. She can hear her mother telling Mr. Chou which doll Rose will select. As not to be predictable, Rose picks a doll that she doesn’t like and runs away. Rose’s mom tells Mr. Chou to stop Rose. And Mr. Chou paralyzes Rose for not listening to her mother.
In the morning, Rose’s mom laughs at her dream, but does insist that Rose should listen to her mother.
In the present day, Rose and her mother chat at a funeral.
Rose’s mom knows that Rose and her husband, Ted, are getting a divorce.
When Rose tells her mother that Ted has sent her a check, Rose’s mother concludes that Ted is "doing monkey business" with someone.
Rose really disagrees, and from the pictures in her head, we gather that he is too much of a Neanderthal to have an affair.
When Rose refuses to talk more about the matter, her mother argues that Rose should talk to her own mother, not to a psychiatrist, because mothers know their children best.
Rose has been talking to a lot of people, such as Waverly, Lena, and her psychiatrist – but not to Ted.
Rose tells Waverly that she only realized how much she loved Ted once she lost him.
She tells Lena that she definitely doesn’t miss Ted.
To her psychiatrist, Rose says she wants revenge.
Basically, Rose doesn’t know what to think.
We flash back to when Rose receives the check and divorce papers from Ted.
Rose gets this awful terse note from Ted on one of his prescription notepads (remember, he’s a doctor) that just tells her where to sign on the forms.
She starts analyzing the note and the check, right down to the pen he used to write it.
She doesn’t know what to do or what her options are in the divorce, so she puts the papers away in a drawer.
Rose remembers a time when her mother pointed out that Rose has no wood in her character, meaning that Rose is too susceptible to suggestions from different people. (Does that sound familiar? This was the criticism Suyuan leveled at Rose’s mom.)
Rose remembers how her mother used to say that she needed to listen to her mother while growing up, so that she would grow straight. If she listened to other people, she would grow crooked.
Rose feels like she listened to other people more than her mom, and ended up with a mind full of other peoples’ English thoughts, leaving her confused and unreadable to her own mother.
In her life, she chose to live the American way, a life with lots of options. But it turns out a lot of options can mean too many options, and too many opportunities to make the wrong decision.
Rose is absolutely frozen with indecision; she doesn’t know what she wants or what she should do about the divorce.
Rose stays in bed for three days, eating chicken noodle soup and taking sleeping pills.
The phone ringing finally wakes Rose up from a nightmare about Mr. Chou hunting her down.
It’s her mother calling. She’s going to bring over some food.
Rose says she’s busy, but her mom gets to the point, asking her why she can’t face her husband. Her mom says she needs to stand up for herself.
Ted calls. He wants to know why she hasn’t cashed the check or sent him the signed papers.
Then he says that he wants the divorce soon and he wants the house, because he’s going to be remarried. So it was "monkey business," just like her mom said.
Ted’s call makes everything clear. She starts laughing at him. Then she invites him over after work, finally ready to confront Ted for the first and last time.
They meet in the garden (his former pride and joy, now completely neglected).
Ted comments on what a mess the garden is. Rose says she likes it this way.
Rose asserts herself. She tells Ted that she wants the house, and that her lawyer will serve him papers.
Finally Rose speaks for herself and uses some true words, words of power like her mom kept trying to teach her about. Rose says, "You can’t just pull me out of your life and throw me away."
Ted gets scared.
Rose dreams about Mr. Chou again. He’s with her mom in the garden. Her mom is happily planting weeds, some for herself and some for Rose. We gather that this is supposed to be a happy dream, because Rose likes the garden overgrown.