Summary: Chapter 41

Charna phones Elaine to tell her that the article Andrea wrote made the front page of the Entertainment section. Nevertheless, Elaine dreads reading the article, which has the headline “Crotchety Artist Still Has Power to Disturb.” 

The article contains snapshots of two paintings. In the first, Erbug, The Annunciation, Mrs. and Mr. Smeath fly, attached at the back like beetles. In the second, Eye for an Eye, Mrs. Smeath, wearing only bloomers, holds a paring knife and a potato.

Elaine bristles at the words in the article that make her seem old, and hates that Andrea called Elaine’s comments on modern women “deliberately provocative.” Nevertheless, Elaine imagines that Cordelia will see the article in the paper and come to the retrospective. 

Elaine has only ever painted one picture of Cordelia, Half a Face. Cordelia’s whole face is visible in the picture, but another face, covered in a white cloth, hangs on the wall behind her. Elaine had intended to capture Cordelia’s belligerent look, but instead her eyes appear frightened. Elaine’s not afraid of seeing Cordelia, but she is afraid of becoming her.

Summary: Chapter 42

As she starts tenth grade, Elaine finally begins puberty. As she shaves her legs in the bathtub, Stephen knocks at the door, mocking her for being vain. 

One day, as Elaine and Cordelia walk home, Cordelia brings up Grace and begins to mock her family. She calls them the “lump-lump family,” and she and Elaine joke about Grace’s family’s lives. Elaine doesn’t understand why she finds this game so satisfying, nor why Cordelia keeps making jokes. In Cordelia’s new version of their story, they never admired Grace.

The girls enter the cemetery, still mocking the Smeaths. Cordelia sits down for a cigarette, and the girls stare at the Eaton Mausoleum. Elaine announces that Mrs. Eaton is a vampire, which Elaine knows because she, too, is a vampire. Cordelia tries to laugh, but Elaine continues the ruse in a serious tone. Elaine realizes she enjoys making Cordelia uncomfortable and feels stronger than her.

Summary: Chapter 43

In eleventh grade, Elaine develops a reputation for being mean to other girls, which makes her popular. She believes she doesn’t need to fear boys. Cordelia, of course, is Elaine’s favorite target, and Elaine torments her for everything she does.

Elaine starts dating. She has long phone calls with boys that are mostly silences because these silences allow them to escape from adults and other teenagers. Elaine believes she understands what goes on in boys’ heads and thus can dodge the words like “bitch” or “bag” that they use for other girls. She sees these words hanging around the other girls she sees at school trying to impress boys.

Summary: Chapter 44

Elaine tries to help Cordelia with her physics homework. Stephen interrupts and tells them that the model of the atom is out of date. In reality, atoms mostly contain empty space and only have a tendency to exist. He claims that Cordelia only has a tendency to exist. 

Cordelia also goes out on dates, but she unnerves the boys with her politeness and attention. Through Elaine’s eyes, Cordelia talks to boys like a grownup and doesn’t know about male silence.

A professional theater troupe performs Macbeth at the school in collaboration with the students, and Cordelia manages the props. At the end of the play, Macduff tosses a cabbage meant to represent Macbeth’s head onto the stage. Cordelia notices the prop cabbage has gone moldy, and replaces it with a fresh one. During the performance, the cabbage bounces. The professional actors laugh it off, but Cordelia feels horrible. Elaine teases Cordelia at school the next day. 

In grade thirteen, the girls are each other’s lab partners in biology class. Elaine has no problem dissecting the worms, frogs, and crayfish, which Cordelia finds disgusting. 

Sometimes, Elaine goes to dinner at Cordelia’s house. When Cordelia’s father isn’t home, the women eat a relaxed meal. When her father is present, dinner is quite formal. He asks Elaine what she’s studying and finds Elaine’s responses charming in a way that Cordelia can’t manage to be because she’s afraid of him. Cordelia can never be the kind of person her father approves of. 

Summary: Chapter 45

While they drink milkshakes at a diner, Cordelia tells Elaine about a time she ate mercury from a thermometer so that she wouldn’t have to go to school. Cordelia asks Elaine if she remembers the holes they used to dig. Elaine doesn’t. Cordelia says she wanted a hole for herself where she could be safe. She wanted to hide from her father because he used to get angry with her often. Cordelia confesses she hated the kids from elementary school except for Elaine. 

Elaine suddenly feels dizzy and self-loathing and doesn’t understand why. Quickly, Elaine changes the subject back to stupid jokes.

Analysis: Chapters 41–45

Cordelia’s “lump lump” game sheds some light on her emotional state during childhood by reworking their group’s social dynamics. In this game, Cordelia ostensibly changes their history with Grace by making Grace the target of ridicule instead of Elaine, and erasing the way both Cordelia and Elaine had actually looked up to Grace. However, Cordelia’s rewritten history isn’t entirely false because Cordelia never appeared to truly enjoy Grace’s world. Cordelia didn’t really want to play the catalogue game but wanted to act and tell ghost stories, which suggests that the imaginative Cordelia probably did find Grace boring. In this sense, Cordelia’s retelling may not reflect how things actually played out, but it expresses more emotional truth than her behavior at the time did. We see here that, as a child, Cordelia’s behavior and her true feelings didn’t always align. While neither she nor Elaine actively discuss the bullying here, Cordelia’s emphatic insistence on playing the “lump lump” game acts as a kind of apology to Elaine by rewriting their past to reflect how she truly felt rather than how she behaved. However, Elaine interprets the game as a continuation of old patterns, as evidenced by her enjoyment of tearing Grace down and her segue into tormenting Cordelia.

Elaine’s cruelty to other girls is a manifestation of her painful socialization. Her constant torment of Cordelia for whatever she does recalls the women’s magazines she used to read, which taught her that everything women do is subject to ridicule. Her defensiveness around other girls also comes from her understanding from both magazines and lived experience that relationships between girls center around policing and judgement. In fact, cruelty to girls appears so normative in Elaine’s world that she becomes popular because of it. While Elaine’s popularity may not offer deep emotional connections, considering she doesn’t even mention another girl’s name aside from Cordelia, it does offer her emotional security. Elaine also enacts her socialization when Cordelia starts the lump lump game. Elaine views this game as a continuation of the way they behaved as girls and brings up the vampire story as a way to secure her power. Vampires suck the life force from human beings and also to mind the parasitic dynamic between the twins in the horror comic. Instead of continuing to bond together with Cordelia against Grace, Elaine goes on the offensive, asserting that theirs is a hierarchical relationship, and only one can be on top. 

In these chapters, Elaine begins reaping the social rewards for being a girl aligned with boys. However, her success has frightening implications for her sense of identity. Comfortable silence plays the most important role in Elaine’s communication with boys, which means they can interpret her however they want. Elaine calls her silences an escape from adults and peers because she doesn’t ask questions or make demands, like an adult, nor does she try to impress boys by being loud and gregarious like other teenagers. In other words, these silences neither demand her crushes give up anything nor even force them to acknowledge her as a person. Therefore, Elaine’s popularity with boys relates to the numb detachment and commitment to nothingness that she created with her cat’s eye. This nothingness also underlies Elaine’s sense that she can walk between the insults thrown at other girls because those words are labels, and Elaine is, in an odd way, no one. Cordelia, of course, flounders now that boys and men control social capital. Cordelia handles social situations by acting, playing a role, including her exaggerated manner of flirting. If Elaine has cultivated the art of being nobody, Cordelia can’t help but be someone. 

Cordelia’s slightly different memories of her shared childhood with Elaine offer new context on what happened between them that Elaine refuses to acknowledge. In Chapter 45, we see that Cordelia’s actually felt similarly to Elaine throughout elementary school, even faking being sick just like Elaine used to. Cordelia’s revelation that she wanted to use the holes to hide from her father adds a new dimension to her burial of Elaine. By placing Elaine in the hole instead of herself, Cordelia displaced her fear and loneliness onto Elaine. Long ago, Elaine noticed that Cordelia’s torments actually appeared to be imitations of someone else, and now we understand that person was likely Cordelia’s father. Cordelia had been taking out the ridicule she herself was experiencing on Elaine as a method of coping. Elaine cannot handle this revelation and changes the subject because, as she learns in Chapter 40, it would force her to acknowledge Cordelia as a whole person with feelings, which Elaine believes would make Elaine weaker. According to the rule of twins and her understanding of friendships between women, only one of them can exist in a position of strength. Elaine therefore quickly pushes past the subject to maintain her superiority over Cordelia.