(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

With only three shopping days left before Christmas, the narrator is in a Woolworth’s store wondering what to buy her mother. She wants something special. What most appeals to her are the dark blue bottles of Evening in Paris perfume. The cosmetic counter entrances her, although she feels inadequate before its shining glass cases, with their mysterious scents and images of womanhood, and she feels awkward and intimidated by the saleslady. “What help is there for three-dollar realities?” she thinks to herself. Her voice falters as she asks for her treasure, a gift-wrapped package of Evening in Paris cologne and bath water. She considers it her best gift ever to her mother and knows that her mother will like it.

Most of the gifts under the family Christmas tree are from her mother’s students. The narrator watches her open them and knows that most of the presents will go into a gift box to be given to others the next year. As the girl waits for her mother to open her special present, she reflects on the passage of seasons, on growth and change, on the special smells and foods of Christmastime, and on the things in her mother’s house. Her sister is disappointed that the bright package is not for her. The sister’s gift is one that their mother gave the narrator to give to her, a red wallet with a picture of Jesus on it. With eager anticipation, the narrator asks her mother to open the midnight-blue package that she has carefully wrapped in white...

(The entire section is 507 words.)