Ellen goes over Starletta's house, which Ellen describes as somewhat of a shack—a dirty place with no toilet and no television. However, Ellen hints that Starletta and her family live better than the colored families nearby, who, so she hears, live fifteen people to a house and eat their meals off of music records instead of plates. Whenever Ellen visits Starletta, she waits until she returns home to go to the bathroom. When Ellen arrives, Starletta's mother is cooking dinner at the stove. Ellen thinks to herself that she could never drink after Starletta because she is colored and tries to see the invisible germs that she leaves on the lip of her cup.
Starletta's parents cannot read. Both work as field hands on a cotton plantation, and Starletta's mother sews quilts to make an additional income. Starletta's father, Ellen says, is the only colored man who does not buy alcohol from her father.
Ellen plays with the toys that Starletta has received as Christmas gifts, though she feels she is too old for them. When Starletta's parents invite Ellen to eat with them, Ellen politely refuses, though she wishes to stay and wait until they finish, which she does. After they eat, Starletta's parents give Ellen their Christmas gift, a beautiful sweater that Ellen thinks "does not look colored at all." Ellen is overwhelmed by emotion at their gift and thinks she may cry. In return, she gives them the spoon rest she has bought for them, which Starletta's mother lovingly places atop the stove.
Afterwards, Ellen insists that she must get home. Starletta's father tells her to come back to their house if her father is home. But when Ellen does return home, her father is still gone. She wonders if he is lying in a ditch somewhere, frozen and dead. Whenever her father is not home, Ellen relaxes and watches television. When he is home, she retreats to her room where she stays until he is gone again, or she escapes out the window and goes elsewhere.
Ellen's father is rarely at the house, though she does not know where he stays. On New Year's Eve, however, he throws a party with a "whole pack of colored men," who eat Ellen's food and rifle through her belongings. She hopes they choke and die, even her own father. Her bedroom window is frozen shut, and there is no escaping her father or his friends. One man lewdly comments that Ellen is at the perfect age to marry, saying "you gots to git em when they is still soff when you mashum." Ellen retreats to the closet and hides there until the men either leave or pass out. When she dares to come out, she knows that she must leave quickly before the men rise and try to rape her. Her own father is the one to sexually assault her, calling her by another woman's name, presumably her mother's, though it is not clear exactly what he does to her. Ellen tries to wriggle free of him, and, when he releases her, she runs to Starletta's house in the darkness, wondering all the while "what the world has come to."
Ellen no longer has any clothes to dress herself in because her mama's mama has sent one of her daughters to collect all of Ellen's mother's clothing, claiming that she would "rather some real niggers" have the clothes than those who "drink and carry on like trash." This confuses and frustrates Ellen, as she does not drink and will "not even eat at a colored house." Ellen has also run out of books to read and longs for the end of the Christmas holiday when the bookmobile will again run its regular route through her neighborhood.