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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
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.
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