Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 530
Shortly after her twelfth birthday, Pammy is riding with her father, Morris, to a health spa, where she will receive one of the ten tanning sessions that she requested as a birthday gift. Tanning and roller-skating—two of her passions in her final preteen year—help mitigate the worries that beset her youth. As she and her father drive to the spa, some of these concerns begin to surface.
The condition of Pammy’s family, in relation to families around her, both comforts and disturbs her. Her father, who teaches petroleum science at a local university, is an imaginative man who delights in such little things as the pure act of driving; he is good at it, as Pammy notes, and uses their time together in the car to instruct her in the intricacies of geared and fluid movement. His joy in movement is mirrored in the pleasure that Pammy takes in roller-skating. Pammy’s mother, Marge, is a student of art history and film at the university where her husband teaches; she keeps a chip of paint that fell from a Goya painting in a small glass box.
Morris’s fondness for travel has taken the family to many places—including Mexico, where six months earlier Pammy achieved her best-ever tan and also contracted tuberculosis. Pammy’s mother blames her father for her illness; scorning the safe hotel pools, Morris took Pammy to a mountain spa to swim. At this same place he later bought blue tiles for the family kitchen—the same kitchen in which Pammy now takes her orange juice and isoniazid.
Pammy also compares her own family to that of her good friend Wanda, who was adopted in infancy. Unlike her own parents, Wanda’s parents like to drink. In contrast to Pammy’s father, who drinks coffee in his car, Wanda’s father drinks bourbon and water. Wanda’s parents make Pammy nervous; she thinks of them as not very “steadfast.” She is also bothered by a freak accident that once occurred in Wanda’s home. During a vacation, the family had their house tented and fumigated for termites; on their return, they found a dead housebreaker in their living room—killed by the deadly insecticide fumes.
All of these thoughts intrude on Pammy’s imagination as she finally lies down naked on the spa’s tanning bed and draws its cover over her. She thinks of Snow White lying similarly in her glass coffin—an image that recalls her lingering worry over her tuberculosis. She overhears people in the next room discussing familial diseases and deaths. Near the end of her session she hears the door to her tanning room open and sees the vague image of a man standing, staring at her. The figure leaves the room, and Pammy ends her session.
The incident disturbs Pammy but not enough to keep her from signing up for another session. As she leaves the spa with her mother, she considers the blank coldness of the man’s image and realizes that it is something that she never wants to envision again in her world. It is an image that she wishes not even to imagine.