As Clarissa returns home with the flowers, she bumps into Sally in the hallway. Sally tells Clarissa that she is going to lunch with Oliver St. Ives. In the hallway, Clarissa feels sad, and wonders about her quick switch from joy to sadness. She thinks about Richard and how he is disappearing into insanity. When she enters the house, she thinks about the party and feels better. The kitchen brings a feeling of sudden dislocation, and she feels as if she doesn’t belong there. All of a sudden, she considers breaking up with Sally and moving out so that she can feel happy. The feeling passes quickly and she feels in place again. While listening to the messages on the answering machine, Clarissa feels badly that Oliver didn’t invite her to lunch. The feeling of being passed over feels a little bit like death, and Clarissa thinks that the world has started to ignore her. As she puts the roses into water, she thinks that she needs to just be happy being alive.
Clarissa remembers the summer that she and Richard were lovers. Their romance would not have been possible had they not moved into Louis’s aunt and uncle’s house at Wellfleet for the summer. She wonders if she should have stayed with Richard and discovered another future for herself. Though happy with her life, she has a special affection for Richard as the person she loved when she was young and her future was full of possibility. She thinks of the moment that she kissed Richard by the pond and realizes it was not a promise of something more to come, but a moment that mattered in itself.
Laura and Richie’s birthday cake for Dan does not turn out as well as Laura at hoped. Rather than an exquisite work of art, the cake looks like any other homemade cake. Laura thinks about the presents she has to wrap for Dan and how happy he will be as he opens each one. She admires him for his ability to enjoy simple pleasures and wishes that she could just want to be loved by Dan the way he wants to love her. As she considers this, she realizes that she would not want to be crazy like Virginia Woolf.
The Brown’s next-door neighbor Kitty stops by to say hello. Because Kitty was prettier and more popular in high school, Laura feels threatened by her. As she sits down in the kitchen, Kitty comments that Laura’s cake is “cute,” which upsets Laura. Laura thinks Kitty has befriended her because she is married to a man as attractive and respected as Dan. Despite the fact that Kitty has the magnetism of a movie star, her husband is perceived as a disappointment and the couple have not yet been able to conceive a child.
While Laura and Kitty sit and chat about coffee brands, Laura longs to open up to Kitty and find out if she feels the same feelings of confusion and alienation about the domestic life of a housewife. The conversation turns to Kitty’s health, and Kitty mentions that she’ll need Laura to stop by and keep an eye on their dog for a couple of days. Kitty has to enter the hospital to get tests performed on a growth on her uterus. Stunned by this news, Laura feels as if Kitty’s life has been invaded by misfortune. She reaches to Kitty and holds her like a child, gently kissing the top of her head. In the moment of contact, Laura thinks she can look into Kitty’s soul. The two women momentarily kiss on the lips. Laura pulls back, feeling suddenly strange and predatory. She promises to feed the dog and to call Kitty at the hospital. As Kitty leaves, Laura thinks about how she wants to go back to bed. She looks at her cake and dumps it in the garbage can, resolving to make a better one.
Clarissa tries to make peace with the decisions she has made in life, although she cannot help but wonder what might have happened if she had made other choices. In her idle moments, she returns to the question of whether she would have been happier with Richard and whether she made the right decision by choosing a domestic life with Sally. Clarissa’s epiphany about the kiss by the pond is simultaneously hopeful and depressing. She attempts to leave her other possible futures behind and feel happy about all that she has. In spite of this, she realizes that her kiss with Richard by the pond may have been the pinnacle of all her moments—and an experience that she will never recapture. Even though she can take comfort that she has been lucky enough to have the experience at all, she has trouble reconciling the idea that she might have had more moments like that had she made different choices.
Clarissa feels most at home in a domestic setting, so her experience of dislocation in her own apartment is particularly jarring. She enjoys taking care of small details and derives great pleasure from the accomplishments of her morning errands, but she feels disconnected from her surroundings upon reentering her apartment. As she looks as the plates in the cupboard, she wonders if she actually bought those plates and put them there. Clarissa feels confused about the choices she has made. The presence of domestic symbols that remind her of those choices feels strange and unsettling. To Clarissa, these choices seem to have been made by someone that she doesn’t understand and cannot identify with. Laura desires a moment of connection and communication with Kitty, and she reaches over to kiss her when she becomes weary of idle small talk. Both Laura and Kitty are blocked off from their emotions and have trouble speaking frankly with each other about their personal struggles. Laura envies Kitty for her dynamism and magnetism, while Kitty envies Laura for having a wonderful husband and a child. Their connection is tenuous because they cannot get past redundant conversation to discuss the painful experiences with which they are struggling. Impetuously, Laura reaches over and kisses Kitty sensually on the lips. The moment does not feel sexual, but rather it is borne out of Laura’s desperation to feel a moment of deep connection to another human being. Laura feels stifled by her relationship with her husband and thinks that she may find intimacy and empathy with Kitty.
The imperfect cake epitomizes Laura’s frustrations with her own imperfect life. She wanted to create a perfect cake that would seem like a work of art, but it fails to meet her expectations. Her frustration with the cake mirrors her frustrations with her domestic existence. Laura’s frustration deepens when Kitty seems to dismiss her cake as being merely “cute.” She blames herself for the failure and impulsively throws the cake in the trash. She fears that these impulses will make her feel as crazy as Virginia Woolf. By throwing away her imperfect cake, she feels liberated from her failures. Ultimately she will decide to leave her family as a way of escaping the mundane life that drags her down.