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When Melody was five years old, she had a pet fish named Ollie. One day a couple years later, Ollie hurled himself out of his fishbowl, landing on the table. Melody quickly realized Ollie would die without water, so she screamed to get her mother’s attention. As she grew more desperate, Melody pulled the fishbowl over so Ollie could get water. Melody’s mother finally entered the room and became upset with Melody, misunderstanding the situation and believing Melody purposefully killed Ollie. Melody was angry and sad that she couldn’t communicate that she was trying to save Ollie’s life.
On her eighth birthday, Melody’s parents surprise her with a golden retriever puppy. Melody is thrilled and names the puppy Butterscotch, after her favorite candy. One day, a few months later, Melody falls out of her wheelchair onto the floor while watching The Wizard of Oz. Butterscotch jumps up and sniffs Melody to check on her. Melody is facedown and unable to move or make a sound. The room door is closed, and Melody’s mother is napping. Butterscotch starts scratching, slamming her body against the door, and barking wildly. This wakes Melody’s mother, causing her to come to the room. When she arrives, she realizes that she hadn’t strapped Melody into her wheelchair properly. She checks Melody over and sees that she is okay. They are both incredibly pleased with Butterscotch.
Melody’s life continues to change when she is eight years old. Her mother sits her down and tells Melody that she is pregnant. Melody wonders how her parents will be able to handle a newborn in addition to herself. She worries that perhaps they will take Dr. Hugely’s suggestion of sending Melody away. The whole family is concerned about whether this baby will be “normal.” Her mother feels guilty that Melody was born with a disability and Melody feels guilty for being born that way. Thankfully, her baby sister, Penny, is born a perfectly normal, healthy baby. Penny learns to do everything a baby should do in the recommended time frame that a baby should do it and Melody is amazed by it all. Penny calls her big sister Dee-Dee.
Morning routines become particularly stressful. Penny has to be dressed and ready to spend the day at Mrs. V’s house in addition to Melody needing help getting ready for school. Melody cannot chew very well and needs to be fed by someone, so it is a slow process. Sometimes the added stress causes Melody’s parents to argue, but then they hug, take a deep breath, and continue doing what needs to be done.
Every morning, Melody is happy to hear her mother, Penny, and Butterscotch coming into her room. Then they all go into the bathroom together. Melody feels fortunate that her mother had potty trained Melody by the age of three. Melody and her mother have a special bond. They can sometimes communicate without using words. Melody attempts to talk, but she mostly makes insignificant noises and squeaks. If she works hard at it, she can sometimes make a vowel sound. Penny can vocalize many words and pieces of words. Melody feels that her communication board has become too simplistic to be of much help to her now. One day when her mother isn’t home, Melody tries to communicate to her father that she wants a Big Mac and a shake. Her father keeps trying to guess what she wants but there isn’t anything on her communication board that can properly get her thoughts across to him. Melody starts getting frustrated and feels a “tornado explosion” coming on. Her father tells her that he is going to make her noodles and cheese. Melody gives up on the Big Mac, sighs, calms down, and points to the word yes on her board.
Melody’s pets symbolize aspects of her own limitations and strengths. Melody compares her feeling of being physically trapped to the repetitive circles that her fish, Ollie, makes in his bowl, and she wonders if he gets sick of his confinement like she does. Ollie’s death emphasizes her physical limitations, as she is unable to rescue him or call for help. Her mother’s assumption that Melody caused his death demonstrates that sometimes, even people close to Melody are unable to understand her. Ollie falling to his death also foreshadows Melody’s fall from her chair. When she falls, her dog, Butterscotch, wants to help her, just as Melody wanted to help Ollie. Although Melody notes later that Butterscotch cannot speak either, the dog alerts Melody’s mother to her fall, subtly suggesting that Butterscotch is capable of doing more than is expected of her. After the fall, Butterscotch becomes more protective of Melody, lying in front of her chair to cushion any future falls. Butterscotch shows that like Melody, she is perceptive, caring, and intelligent.
Melody and her parents’ response to Penny’s birth further develops the emotional complexity of their family’s relationships. Melody’s mother’s pregnancy is accompanied by joy but also by concern. An overheard conversation reveals Melody’s mother’s fear that Penny might be disabled, and her guilt that Melody’s disabilities might be her fault. Watching Penny develop gives Melody conflicting feelings. She enjoys watching Penny learn to move around and speak, but it pains her that a baby can do things she can’t. At times, the added stress makes it difficult for the family to understand and support each other. Melody’s mother is exhausted by the demands of caring for both children, and her father feels abandoned because Melody’s mother has little time left to share with him. Melody’s attempt to ask her father for a Big Mac demonstrates that despite how caring her parents are, they aren’t always able to understand what she wants. However, the resolution of that conflict, when her father takes her to McDonalds, proves that the family’s love for each other enables them to cope with their problems.