Arun comes home the next morning from a trip to the library, to find Mrs. Patton in a bikini in a deck chair in the family’s front yard, sunbathing. Arun is disturbed and scandalized. Avoiding her invitations to sunbathe with him, Arun runs into the house, to find Melanie at the kitchen table, scarfing down the tub of ice cream that her mother had bought with Arun at the store the day before. Melanie scoffs to Arun about the ridiculousness of her mother sunbathing. Arun notices in Melanie a familiar, silent anger, and it reminds him of his own older sister in India, who is bitter “against neglect, against misunderstanding, against inattention to her unique and singular being and its hungers.” Arun is surprised that in the “land of plenty”, he would still find this kind of hunger and neglect.
Arun finally understands why Melanie’s pain is so difficult to him to watch: it is the same pain that he saw in his sister, Uma. Like Uma, Melanie’s emotional needs are unseen or minimized by her parents. Like MamaPapa, the Patton’s fail because they never get to know their daughter as a woman—instead; they treat her like a silly child. All the food or money in America cannot feed Melanie’s need for love and understanding. Melanie’s eating disorder is like Uma’s jumping in the river—both girls cry for help by tempting death.
Mrs. Patton has stopped grocery shopping and cooking. Now, she does nothing but sunbathe. She calls to everyone in her household who passes by, inviting them to join her, but nobody does, as they are all bothered by her new hobby—even Mr. Patton bypasses her when he comes home, going straight for a can of beer and the television. The kitchen gets emptied, and messy, as everyone forages for what’s left. Arun starts staying longer in town, eating sandwiches on park benches, and even seeing movies by himself. A plague of mosquitos has taken over the town, and, Arun thinks, something terrible has taken over the town and the house where he stays.
After Mrs. Patton’s experience with the cashier, she enters into a small mid-life crisis, becoming even more self-involved and neglectful of her children’s needs. Mrs. Patton abandons the domestic chores she previously relied on to define herself as a good wife and mother, and now focuses her self-esteem on one superficial detail of her appearance—her suntan. The decay of the Patton household finally takes a physical form—but emotionally, it has been a long time coming.