As she awaits the impending Christmas visit of her teenage son, Donnie, Sue Barker is torn between the love she feels as a mother and the fear that his presence will disrupt the life that she has built in his absence. Having been deserted by theMoreAs she awaits the impending Christmas visit of her teenage son, Donnie, Sue Barker is torn between the love she feels as a mother and the fear that his presence will disrupt the life that she has built in his absence. Having been deserted by the boys father before his birth, Sue was forced to support herself, leaving Donnie to a childhood of orphan homes, delinquency and ultimately a term at the penal farm.
Working her way up to a position of head lingerie buyer for a Chicago department store, Sue has acquired a small but fashionable apartment and a lover, Bernie Slovenk. When Donnie announces that he will not have to go back to the farm if she will give him a home the crisis is broached.
Although Bernie makes a half-hearted attempt to be affable with the boy, there is immediate tension between them and a growing sense of competition. The inescapable showdown comes on Christmas Eve when the couple from next door joins the others for a party. The wife throws herself first at Bernie and then at Donnie, but not before making it evident that she and Bernie have been something more than friendly neighbors. When the husband, Vince, goes out on the town, Sue and Bernie give vent to the animosity that has risen up between them, and Bernie leaves her, storming next door to spend the night.
In the morning, and despite Donnies pleas that he can make up for the loss of Bernie, Sue runs after Bernie, and her son, overwhelmed by the futility and hopelessness of his tortured existence, turns blindly on a nameless woman whom Vince has brought home with him, attacking her savagely in an act of desperate, lethal and inevitable violence.