With both her parents at work, school out, and two days till Christmas, Melinda’s mother tells her (via note) to put up the Christmas tree. Melinda drags her family’s fake tree out of the basement, cleans it up, and begins to hang the ornaments. She comments that Christmas is only fun if you have a small child. Christmas makes her nostalgic for her own childhood, and she recalls the time when her family used to buy a real tree, drink hot chocolate by the tree, and put up ornaments together before she “figured out the Santa lie.”
As usual, Melinda is alone. She is even more bothered by her isolation than usual, however, because of the nostalgia for childhood and innocence and joy that Christmas brings. She associates the holiday with a happier time when she felt connected to her parents. As usual, Melinda mourns for her lost childhood, believing that she will never feel that innocent, happy, or free again.
Melinda speculates that if she hadn’t been born, her parents would probably be divorced by now. She reflects that they must be disappointed in her, since she’s “not pretty or smart or athletic.” She calls their relationships a sham, and wishes that they could stop “playacting” and simply go their separate ways, since they have “failed family living.”
After trying and failing to contact Heather, Melinda decides to pretend to be her friend instead, wondering what Heather would do if her “house didn’t feel like Christmas.” She bundles up and heads out into the snow, where she is surrounded by trees, bushes, and ice. As she plays in the snow, making a snow angel, Melinda remembers first grade, when her family lived in a smaller house and her parents were happier; her mother worked at a jewelry counter and “was home after school,” while her father had a more lenient boss and “talked all the time about buying a boat.” She reflects that then, she used to believe in Santa Claus.
Although Melinda usually disdains Heather, here she actually tries to embrace her friend’s positivity and optimism. Although her environment is snowy and icy (usually a negative symbol within the book), Melinda enjoys being surrounded by nature, and engaging in activities (like making a snow angel) usually reserved for children. Once again she remembers her own childhood, and mourns for her lost innocence.
A wind rustles the branches above Melinda’s head, and she suddenly feels panicked, her “heart clanging like a firebell.” The spell of the snow is broken, and she complains as it melts on her back. She takes holly and pine off of nearby trees and bring them in to make a centerpiece. She wishes that her family could borrow a child for the holidays.
Melinda’s memory of her past happiness transforms into a small panic attack, triggered by the rustling of branches overhead (a negative association that is explained later). Her creation of a centerpiece is a small effort to regain the feeling of her childhood Christmas.
On Christmas, the family exchanges gifts; among Melinda’s are a TV for her room, skates, and a sketch pad with charcoals because her parents have noticed her drawing. Touched by the fact that they’ve noticed, she begins to cry, and is tempted to tell them about her trauma at the party. As her parents wait for her to speak, Melinda feels a “snowball” in her throat. Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer plays in the background.
What should be a positive experience—realizing that her parents have paid attention to her interest in art—becomes negative. Unable to believe that her parents have actually noticed her, Melinda actually thinks about reaching out to them in turn, but finds that she is unable to do so.
Melinda remembers a portion of the night of the party: how she snuck home later that night, but neither of her parents were in the house; in fact, her mother didn’t return until 2 AM, and her father was out until dawn. She wonders what they had been doing on the night of the party, and decides that she cannot tell them what happened to her. The family sits in silence watching Christmas movies until Melinda’s parents leave. Melinda realizes that she has not even said “‘Thank you’” for the paper and charcoals.
At last, Melinda reveals a tiny portion of her traumatic night at the party, sharing the fact that her parents were mysteriously absent when she returned home (and even implying that they may have been unfaithful to each other). Ultimately her desire to communicate fails her; she cannot trust her parents, and so cannot tell them the truth about her experience.