Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 909
Melinda imagines a scene in which her parents are holding each other closely as they dance to music. She has had this same fantasy since she was four years old, when she learned that the man in the black-and-white photograph was her father. She has no real memories of her father, only this fantasy. When Melinda once asked her mother where her father was, her mother replied vaguely, telling her that her father was gone but would be back sometime. Melinda remembers other people asking about her father, but she has never met him.
Melinda’s mother, Carol, refuses to face reality, drifting along, waiting for Melinda’s father to return. Melinda and Carol are now used to living alone. On Saturday nights they dress in identical outfits and go ice-skating together. Carol points to the empty seats, telling Melinda that when she is older she can bring boys there to watch her skate so that they will know that she is more than simply another pretty girl, that she can really do something. Carol’s advice to her daughter emphasizes physical appearance and the importance of attracting men.
Melinda first hears from her father, John, in 1963, when he calls from Las Vegas to invite her and her mother to join him at Disneyland. When Melinda finally sees him, she finds that he is an ordinary balding man. He works as a waiter in a hotel restaurant and shares an apartment with three roommates. He introduces her to his friends, making Melinda feel that he is proud of her. As he touches her hair, she thinks that she loves him blindly. He gives her a cheap package of headbands, but she is so pleased with this token of her father’s love that she does not even open the package.
When Carol asks John when they will go to Disneyland, he replies that he has lost the money “on the tables.” This revelation provokes a fight, but they sleep together in the bedroom that night while Melinda sleeps on a couch in the living room.
The next morning Melinda and her father have breakfast at a coffee shop. At his invitation she tastes her father’s soft-boiled egg and then tells him how good it is, hoping to share it with him. Instead of sharing the egg, however, her father orders another one for her. He promises that they will visit Disneyland on their next trip. As Melinda holds his hand tightly, she dreams of other trips so that she can spend time with her father. On the plane ride home Carol notices how much the package of headbands means to Melinda. She then reminds her daughter that while she works to pay for the rent, skating lessons, school, and books, all her father has given her is a seventy-nine-cent package of headbands.
The following year Carol marries Jerry, an ice-skating professional whom she has met during a Saturday night skating session at the rink. Melinda and her mother skate in a few ice shows but eventually drop out, while Jerry continues to go to the rink every day just like any other man going to a job. On one Saturday Carol insists that Melinda accompany Jerry to a Girl Scout father-daughter banquet, telling her that Jerry wants to adopt her. Refusing to attend the event, Melinda goes outside to play. When Melinda sees Jerry dressed up for the dinner in a turtleneck sweater and paisley ascot, she feels sorry for him but does not change her mind about attending. As she rides off on her bicycle, she tells herself that none of the...
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other fathers would be wearing ascots.
When Melinda is ten years old, her natural father asks her to visit him in California by herself, but Carol talks him into sending two airplane tickets so that she and her daughter can make the trip together. She thinks that she can persuade John to buy her a television set that she wants. In California, Carol, Melinda, John, and John’s rich new wife tour Disneyland, eating in restaurants and buying souvenirs. Melinda and her father have little to say to each other, and Carol makes no progress in getting John to buy her a television. On their last night in California, Carol coaches Melinda on how to dress and behave in order to get her father to buy the television. The next morning when John buys a candy bar, he asks Melinda if she wants anything. Melinda wants only to stand there eating candy with her father but knows that this moment will be only a memory next year when her father forgets to write or call her. Instead, she follows her mother’s advice and tells John that she is saving up for a television set, realizing as she says this that she is cutting the ties with her father.
After they return home, Carol is still angry with Melinda for failing to get the television and takes out her frustration by telling Melinda that she is ordinary and belongs with the mill workers’ children. To escape her mother’s yelling, Melinda goes to the ice rink. When she sees Jerry, she runs toward him and throws herself into his arms. She now realizes that while her dream of being reunited with her natural father is gone, Jerry is there for her. The story ends with Jerry teaching Melinda how to do loops on the ice.