It was a small, odd-shaped hallway, with the kitchen and a room on the left and an entrance that led into two rooms on the right. The white wall in the hallway was cold and smooth like porcelain under the late afternoon sun. Dried-up bok choy, muddy turnips and tall spinach lay, looking tired, against the wall. In the middle of the hallway, to one side, stood a refrigerator and an old bamboo dish cabinet set on top of a wet-looking wooden rack.
Baiyun walked in her father's bedroom, which was also the dining room. Her father was sunk down into a cushioned wooden chair trimming the end of a twig. A pot of sand sat next to the twig. In the dim light of a desk lamp, he examined the twig to make sure the cut was perfect. After several tries, he buried the end of the twig in the sand and set it next to a row of pots on the windowsill. With the help of the magnifying glass, he examined them one by one. "Meow, meow!" He yowled, and Baiyun took it as a sign of pleasure.
"Father," said Baiyun, which startled him.
"Oh. What are you doing here?" He looked at Baiyun with his old eyes and went right back to his trimming task.
After taking care of the plants, Father returned to his desk. He began scribbling on scraps of paper. Once in a while he would crumple the paper and throw it into the wastebasket. Then he took a new piece and scribbled some more. Finally he held a sheet of paper in front of his nose and laughed loudly.
"One and a half rats per flower pot, my honored citizens. That's right. Ha, ha..."
He spun around on his chair and picked up a white plastic pail from underneath the desk, which was full of dead rats. He took out the rats one by one and laid them on the dirt in flowerpots. Returning to his desk, he began cutting the rest of rats in half with a huge pair of rusty scissors, one after another. Blood spilled on the floor, and sprayed onto his clothes and face.
"Meow, meow!" He seemed to enjoy the taste of blood in his mouth.
Watching this, Baiyun couldn't stand it anymore. She ran out of the room and thought about leaving that disgusting place. Then she remembered her duty to bring food to father. She opened the refrigerator and found some cold stir-fry. She heated it up on the gas stove in the small kitchen and walked back to the dining room with one hand on her nose.
Father was writing comments between the lines of a textbook using a magnifying glass. The book itself revealed why he had to use the magnifying glass. It was a textbook of advanced mathematics called, "Special Function" that had equations and words. However, a handwritten version also was superimposed on top of the print. In fact most of the printed version had been either crossed out or pasted over with handwritten text.
Baiyun left the food on his desk. Underneath the glass on the table, Baiyun noticed many new pictures of red and purple roses.
Father wolfed down his food and continued his writing on the textbook. After a few minutes, his head nodded. His hand dropped with the weight of the magnifying glass. The pen stopped; blue ink soaked through the page and created a large stain on the page. In a minute, loud snoring sullied the silence. Under the dim lamplight, the flushing of his face made him look like a roasted animal.
Baiyun looked away and only to set her eyes on pots of roses in full bloom. Their color ranged from yellow to pink and from red to black. But most were bloody red like a girl's lipstick ready to be kissed.
Baiyun realized her parents were in no mood or shape to talk to her. Before she decided to leave, she heard a motorcycle approaching. She decided to sit at the desk at the middle of the room.
Lao Zheng rushed into the apartment without knocking. He nodded to Baiyun, winked at her, and then went straight to Meiling's bedroom after letting the curtain down. The curtain on Meiling's bedroom door was like a woman's summer dress—just long enough to hide the mid-parts of the body.
Meiling asked him "How much do we have now?"
"Oh, about twenty thousand," Lao Zheng answered.
"No, I don't believe you. You must have put away some for yourself."
"Come on, woman. You can't be serious. Have I ever cheated you?"
"Stop!" It was the sound of Meiling slapping Lao Zheng. "Don't think you can lay me as soon as you get here. Get serious for a minute. If a civil war started, we wouldn't have anything left. We'd better find a way to save our hard earned money."
"Okay, but let's talk about that later."
"Oh! What do you want? What do you want? Ha, ha..."Meiling's hysterical laugh indicated she was no longer ill. The handsome tiger embroidered on the dark brown knitted curtain suddenly came alive. His widely open mouth and pointed teeth revealed his great hunger.
"Don't be too rough with me! I'm sick."
"Come on, I'm the cure for your illness."
Two pairs of feet in slippers appeared in the space beneath the curtain. One was big and strong with bulging veins under rough dark skin, the other tiny and elegant as marble. They moved closer, separated and rose up onto the bed. The door was closed shut.
The tiger on the curtain seemed to roar. The curtain was thick and impenetrable. Peering through the tiger's eyes, Baiyun could see Meiling's and her boyfriend's ecstatic faces that made her look away immediately. Just before she was about to leave, she saw her father go into the kitchen.
Father lit a burner, took a fire poker and laid it on the fire. When the tip was red hot, he picked it up and marched toward Meiling's bedroom. Without hesitation, he jabbed the fire poker directly through the eye of the tiger on the curtain. A hissing sound told her Meiling's bedroom door was closed and Father had also burned a hole through the wood. Then he burned another and another. Finally he threw down the poker, jumped at the door and, like a lizard crawling on a wall, spied into Meiling's room through the holes he had made. He leaned against the door, making it squeak, then he turned toward one side and slid down. Something was growing in the front of his pants. He put his hand in, rubbing and squeezing. His face was scarlet and twisted.
"Aaeh! Aaeh!" This time his moaning became harsher and more intense.