By Logan Murphy
Hu Yan’s father Dai had started keeping his collection of jade bi stacked in his bathtub, an old ovoid washing basin of hardwood boards banded together with pig iron. Hu Yan had come by on her way home from work, and had brought her daughter Chen Chen, who sat in the living room still wearing her uniform from Jianshan No. 2 Middle School. The window in the bathroom looked out over the bay, with a view of the thunderclouds rolling in from the South China Sea. What diminishing light filtered through the curtains captured the facets of the carved disks in the tub, motifs of dragons and carp, which made symmetrical revolutions around the hole in the center of each disk. There were bi the size of a ring that could fit around Chen Chen’s little finger, and ones so large that they were leaned upright against the back of the tub, a meter across their center and nearly five centimeters thick.
A cuff of thunder shot across the water, coming in fast, clouds now coating the tips of the suspension bridge that linked Jianshan’s rural outskirts with the city center. The sea’s surface was crumpling with rain drops, and a soft hiss permeated the area like the gentle rush of factory steam, constant as the rain made landfall, pattering on the roads, touching the wide, waxy leaves of the durian trees.
“Dad?” Hu Yan peeked out of the bathroom. She could hear jangling in the kitchen. “Can we talk about the bathtub?”
“Who wants something to drink?” her father replied, coming out into the living room with a tray. He wore rubber waders that covered him toe to armpit, and had a hat with a built-in umbrella. “But you’d better drink quickly,” he added.
“Me!” Chen Chen stuck her hand in the air and wagged it.
“That’s my girl,” said Dai. “And afterwards you can help grandpa with the boat.”
Hu Yan pinched the bridge of her nose to steady her oncoming headache. “What boat, dad? Can you stop moving around for a minute?”
The rain was close now. Rising winds carried the droplets horizontally, slanting them hard against the windows of the house. The doors rattled in their jambs. A trickle of water began to snake its way beneath the front door.
After tea, Hu Dai rolled the barrel-like bath sideways through the bathroom doorway, let it crash back onto the living room floor, and started to load it up with assorted jade decor. Hu Yan sighed.
Forty minutes later, they all watched their house slide off the cliff and into the harbor. They paddled against the current, laden with two hundred kilos of rocks, being blasted by rain and wind. The first building they came across was Wang Yifen’s restaurant, bobbing in the surf, a dam of palm trees buoying it high enough above the water for its customers to continue their meals undisturbed. Hu Yan clearly saw beef balls and dumplings and fried vegetables steaming in bowls.
“Dai Ge,” cried a man, poking out a window, mouth half-crammed with food, “is that your granddaughter? I haven’t seen her since she could barely walk.”
“Yes, Mr. Huang,” Dai said. “Say hello, Chen Chen.”
They paddled to the village center, which had become wholly altered.
Entire apartment blocks bobbed like fishing floats side to side, spilling laundry and dishes and pets from their high windows to splash into the rising flood. A dozen families floated about in boats of their own, some laden with luggage, others lashed into 5-boat rafts with grills for barbecuing, most drifting nearby the still-rising sites of their homes.
A meeting was in progress. There was a table set centrally amid the makeshift rafts, and an electric kettle connected to a scooter battery provided hot water for the village council members. The roar of the rain and the rocking of the floating homes drowned out the contents of the meeting, though Hu Yan could distinctly hear the words, “…prudent policies will continue…” shouted above the noise.
“Dad, we need to get you out of this rain,” she pleaded again. She had lost track of how many times this was. “And Chen Chen.”
“Yes, her homework will get wet,” said Hu Dai, as if finally getting it.
Hu Yan opened her mouth to speak, then closed it again. Good enough.
The water was deep brown and treacherous with upturned trees and sunken cars and burst pipes.
Hu Yan reached out with a tree branch and snagged onto a parked car, pulling their bathtub closer to shore. Hu Yan held on while her father and daughter disembarked.
Wind rushed around the mountain, carrying the rain, picking up water from below and tossing it back into the air, dousing everything. It began to fill the bathtub.
“You’re out of your mind if you think we’re saving your weird bathtub,” said Hu Yan triumphantly before bodily lifting her father and placing him inside a car that Chen Chen had found unlocked.
They all sat together inside someone else’s car, surrounded by someone else’s food wrappers and gym bag and half-drunk tea thermos. The Hu family had a wonderful view of Hu Dai’s bathtub filled with jade collectibles sinking into the flooded jungle. He sulked powerfully in the passenger seat.
Hu Yan leaned her head back against the seat and tried to unplaster her hair from her face and neck. She closed her eyes and smashed the heels of her hands into them, trying to relieve the headache. She had work in the morning.
Chen Chen offered Hu Yan a chicken nugget she’d found in the back seat of the car, and for the breadth of a single moment, Hu Yan seriously considered eating it.