Wouldn’t married life be dull if spouses couldn’t surprise one another sometimes? Over breakfast one morning, Chen Hang suggests to his wife, Jia Jia, that they take an impromptu holiday, then, with her excitedly packing in the next room, promptly drowns himself in the bath. She peers in, hoping that he might ‘open up to her naturally’ about his sudden whim to travel, only to find him ‘face down in the half-filled tub, his rump sticking out from the water’.
Following this veritable turn for the worse, Jia Jia passes with champion efficiency through the opening stages of grief – denial (‘was it even possible for a grown man to drown in this tub?’) then anger (didn’t Chen Hang consider that the bathroom was ‘a place … improper for a death’?) – before gearing down into a lachrymose, depressive phase that turns out to be roughly novel-length in duration.
Sudden to end but long to stale, Jia Jia and Chen Hang’s was a union of emotional subsistence: a loveless, managed affair, regimented by a code of mutual obligation, muted by unvoiced grievances and a spirit of estrangement. In reaction to her unhappy past, Jia Jia sells her too-large Beijing