When Snow Flower and Lily turn 15, they pin their hair up in a style that symbolizes their impending marriages and spend their time working on their dowries. Snow Flower is set to join Lily's family for the Catching Cool Breezes festival, during which married-in women return to their natal homes for days or weeks. Lily and Snow Flower are the only women in Lily's household, as the rest of the women in her family are visiting family or friends. The weather is oppressively hot.
The girls' activities are entirely focused on their impending marriages, asserting again that this next step is the most important step to becoming (hopefully) women of worth. Essentially, these women are defined only by their relationship to their future husbands, even though they've never even met them.
The first night of Snow Flower's visit, she and Lily lay in bed fully dressed, trying to catch nonexistent cool breezes from the window. Snow Flower suggests on the second night that they shed their outer layers of clothing. On the third night, which is hotter still, the girls strip down to their foot bindings and sleeping slippers, but are still far too warm. Snow Flower fans Lily with their fan, looking her naked body up and down. She licks her forefinger and draws wet lines on Lily's stomach. Snow Flower asks Lily to identify the nu shu character she'd drawn on Lily's stomach, and then draws the character again. Lily remembers they used to write on each other's hands as children. She's breathless at the cool touch and identifies the character as "bed."
This is an intense moment of intimacy for Lily and Snow Flower. Notice that the intimacy comes not just from being naked with each other or even touching each other, but also from their use of language. Writing poetry on each other, which they did as children on each other's hands, provides an easily accessible avenue into physical intimacy. It again asserts that language is powerful, and in this situation, requires the girls to read into the greater context to understand what's happening.
Snow Flower continues to write characters across Lily's torso and hips, writing out the phrase "the bed is lit by moonlight," a line from a poem. Lily and Snow Flower switch places, and Lily regards Snow Flower's body. Lily addresses the reader and shares that at this point she had no idea that there's nothing more erotic for a man than a naked woman in her sleeping slippers, but says that her eyes lingered on Snow Flower's slippers nonetheless. Lily licks her finger and follows the same pattern that Snow Flower did on her own body, moving from stomach to hips. She writes the last two characters on Snow Flower's breasts. Snow Flower whispers, "I think it is the light snow of an early winter morning."
There is an obviously sexual undercurrent to this encounter, though Lily doesn’t even seem to consider this. This scene, perhaps the most intimate of the entire book, shows just how important Snow Flower is to Lily, and cements what seems like a true love between them. It’s suggested here that Lily views Snow Flower as a man or a husband might view a woman (since Lily can only see things through her traditional and heteronormative worldview)—an idea that will be important (and negative) later, but in this instance, it only adds to the intimacy the two experience. The scene also explores the many different forms that writing and language can take. The girls already weave, embroider, and paint their words to each other, but here they combine set phrases (the poem is a popular one) in a new medium.
Snow Flower runs her hand down Lily's body and says they have two more lines. Moving to the foot of the bed, she takes Lily's feet in her lap and traces the third line around Lily's ankles, just above her bindings. Lily's feet tingle with pleasure. Lily then takes Snow Flower's feet in her own hands, writes the first two characters around her ankles, and then moves up Snow Flower's legs. She traces the final characters high up on Snow Flower's inner thigh, and blows on the wet strokes. The girls recite the full poem, which they know is about a traveling scholar, but Lily says that after this night she believed it was about her Snow Flower.
The entirety of this scene suggests that context and experience are extremely important to understanding and creating meaning through language. Lily and Snow Flower change the meaning of the poem by placing it in an entirely new context. They'll experiment throughout the novel with changing both format and content, but this stands as an instance in which Lily learns that nu shu can be more than what she previously thought. Here, it has power to make her and Snow Flower even closer, and provides her first truly erotic and romantic experience.