It is only two days before Christmas and Melinda finds a note from her mother telling her she can put up the Christmas tree if she wants. So Melinda gets out the tree and begins to sweep out the cobwebs all the while thinking that Christmas is just not Christmas without “rug rats.” Little kids make Christmas fun. She reminisces over the traditions her family followed when she was little and it occurs to her that her parents would probably have divorced if she hadn’t been born. She feels she’s been a disappointment to them, because she’s just like them – “an ordinary drone dressed in secrets and lies.” She thinks it’s hypocritical to keep pretending until she graduates that they’re a happy family. They should just get it over with.
She calls Heather, but she’s gone shopping. So Melinda tries to while away the time by imagining what Heather would do if she were alone in the house and the house didn’t feel like Christmas. She dresses up in geeky snow clothes and plays in the drifts like she did when was little. She wants to make a wish, but she doesn’t know what to wish for, so she ties some pine bows together with red ribbon and puts them on the mantle and the dining room table. She still wishes they could borrow a kid for a few days.
They all sleep in until noon on Christmas and then exchange gifts. One of their gifts to her is charcoal pencils and a sketch pad, because they have noticed her drawing recently. It almost makes Melinda break down and tell them the truth right then, because she is overwhelmed that they have actually noticed. They sit there expectantly, but Melinda cannot get the “snowball” out of her throat. She remembers how, the night of the party, her parents had come in really late, believing she had spent the night at Rachel’s; they both arrived in different cars at different hours. She thinks she knows why and the expectant moment just ebbs away.
It’s obvious from this chapter that Melinda’s family has nearly broken down completely. There is little interest on the part of her parents to decorate for Christmas or even celebrate with some of the old traditions. Melinda tries hard to bring some Christmas spirit into the house, but fails. Even the touching gift of the charcoal pencils and sketch pad is not enough to pull the three of them together. The “snowball” in Melinda’s throat – her inability to speak – destroys the perfect opportunity to tell her parents what had happened to her at the party. Once again, we realize that until she gains her voice again, she will exist in this horrible limbo where she feels utterly alone.
Her parents decide that Melinda cannot just lounge around the house for the entire vacation, so they make her go to work with them. She has to work with all the returned merchandise at her mother’s store and is stuck in the basement stockroom. The other employees there are suspicious of her, thinking she might tell her mother what they are doing, but as soon as she takes out a book and relaxes, they know she is one of them. On the way home, she notices that her mother’s face is a flat gray color and she closes her eyes at a stoplight as if her heart is as weary as her body. Melinda feels badly that she didn’t do more work for her.
At her father’s insurance office the next day, Melinda is expected to stuff envelopes with New Year’s calendars. Her father spends most of his time making social calls to his friends. It makes her very angry and the anger grows until she cuts her tongue while licking an envelope. Somehow the taste of the blood reminds her of IT and the anger just whistles out of her like a popped balloon. Her father gets really angry himself when he sees how many envelopes she’s bled on. He remarks that she needs professional help. This all actually makes her glad to go back to school.
This description of life at her parents’ jobs reinforces how they have allowed their careers to overshadow their family. Melinda is sent to the stockroom in the basement to work, because her mother doesn’t really see her. She doesn’t understand how this might be humiliating or how ridiculous it is to even have Melinda there. However, Melinda does comprehend the tremendous pressure her mother must be under to make sales and how it’s affecting the way she looks as well as the way she feels. It makes us ache for Melinda and her parents, because they are shuffling each other aside for jobs that may not be worth the loss they are facing. Her father’s commentary that she needs professional help is right on the money, but there is no sympathy in his observation; there is only anger. That just makes Melinda’s loneliness and depression even more understandable.