Cat’s Eye

by

Margaret Atwood

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Elaine’s best friend and worst enemy, Cordelia is a young girl who moves into the neighborhood while Elaine and her family are away for the summer. At first, the reader sees Cordelia through Elaine’s young eyes as sly, manipulative, and powerful. She’s the lynchpin of their friend group, and devises numerous devious plans to control Elaine: she invents a metaphor of a stack of plates to characterize their relationship, and every time Elaine does “something wrong,” Cordelia says “crash” to mark the plates breaking. Capricious and charismatic, Cordelia hates following rules. She also loves acting and feels insecure because of her judgmental mother and older sisters, Perdie and Mirrie, who always leave her out. As she ages, Cordelia’s life slowly deteriorates; she gets held back early in high school, which puts her in the same year as Elaine. She does poorly in school, fearing dissection in biology and allowing herself to get pushed around and judged by Elaine. She never goes to college, instead trying and failing to pursue a career as an actor. After that, Elaine loses track of her for a few years and finds her again in a mental hospital, where her parents have had her committed. While Elaine sees her as a diminished and over-medicated version of her previous self, Cordelia manages to spring an escape. Elaine never sees her again. Much of Cordelia lies in paradox and contrast—when she first appears in the novel as a nine-year-old girl, she seems unambiguously evil. Only over the course of the novel does it become clear that she was made that way by an abusive father and by comparison to her older, more impressive sisters. She does evil things but spends the rest of the novel paying for them by slowing losing all of her power, ultimately appearing pitiable and weak rather than manipulative and strong.

Cordelia Quotes in Cat’s Eye

The Cat’s Eye quotes below are all either spoken by Cordelia or refer to Cordelia. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
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). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Anchor Books edition of Cat’s Eye published in 1998.
Part 3 Quotes

There are days when I can hardly make it out of bed. I find it an effort to speak. I measure progress in steps, the next one and the next one, as far as the bathroom. These steps are major accomplishments. I focus on taking the cap off the toothpaste, getting the brush up to my mouth. I have difficulty lifting my arm to do even that. I feel I am without worth, that nothing I can do is of any value, least of all to myself. What do you have to say for yourself? Cordelia used to ask. Nothing, I would say. It was a word I came to connect with myself, as if I was nothing, as if there was nothing there at all. Last night I felt the approach of nothing.

Related Characters: Elaine Risley (speaker), Cordelia
Page Number: 45
Explanation and Analysis:

As I turn back, I see my purse, lying on the floor where I put it, and after all these years I should know better. It’s open. The cubicle wall comes down to only a foot above the floor, and back through the gap a noiseless arm is retreating, the hand clutching my wallet. The fingernails are painted Day-Glo green. I bring my shoeless foot down hard on the wrist. There’s a shriek, some loud plural giggling: youth on the fast track, schoolgirls on the prowl. My wallet is dropped, the hand shoots back like a tentacle. I jerk open the door. Damn you, Cordelia! I think. But Cordelia is long gone.

Related Characters: Elaine Risley (speaker), Cordelia
Page Number: 49
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 5 Quotes

But Cordelia doesn’t do these things or have this power over me because she’s my enemy. […] In the war there were enemies. Our boys and the boys from Our Lady of Perpetual Help are enemies. […] With enemies you can feel hatred, and anger. But Cordelia is my friend. She likes me, she wants to help me, they all do. They are my friends, my girl friends, my best friends. I have never had any before and I’m terrified of losing them. I want to please. Hatred would have been easier. With hatred, I would have known what to do. Hatred is clear, metallic, one-handed, unwavering; unlike love.

Related Characters: Elaine Risley (speaker), Cordelia, Grace Smeath , Carol Campbell
Page Number: 131-132
Explanation and Analysis:

We cross the wooden bridge on the way home from school. I am walking behind the others. Through the broken boards I can see the ground below. I remember my brother burying his jar full of puries, of waterbabies and cat’s eyes, a long time ago, down there somewhere under the bridge. The jar is still there in the earth, shining in the dark, in secret. I think about myself going down there alone despite the sinister unseen men, digging up the treasure, having all that mystery in my hands. I could never find the jar, because I don’t have the map. But I like to think about things the others know nothing about.

Related Symbols: Cat’s Eye Marble, The Bridge
Page Number: 156
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 7 Quotes

I am still a coward, still fearful; none of that has changed. But I turn and walk away from her. It’s like stepping off a cliff, believing the air will hold you up. And it does. I see that I don’t have to do what she says, and worse and better, I’ve never had to do what she says. I can do what I like.

Related Characters: Elaine Risley (speaker), Cordelia
Page Number: 213
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 9 Quotes

A wave of blood goes up to my head, my stomach shrinks together, as if something dangerous has just missed hitting me. It’s as if I’ve been caught stealing, or telling a lie; or as if I’ve heard other people talking about me, saying bad things about me, behind my back. There’s the same flush of shame, of guilt and terror, and of cold disgust with myself. But I don’t know

where these feelings have come from, what I’ve done.

Related Characters: Elaine Risley (speaker), Cordelia
Page Number: 278
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 14 Quotes

Really it’s Cordelia I expect, Cordelia I want to see. There are things I need to ask her. Not what happened, back then in the time I lost, because now I know that. I need to ask her why. […] Perhaps she’s forgotten the bad things, what she said to me, what she did. Or she does remember them, but in a minor way, as if remembering a game, or a single prank, a single trivial secret, of the kind girls tell and then forget. She will have her own version. I am not the center of her story, because she herself is that. But I could give her something you can never have, except from another person: what you look like from outside. A reflection. This is the part of herself I could give back to her. We are like the twins in old fables, each of whom has been given half a key.

Related Characters: Elaine Risley (speaker), Cordelia
Page Number: 450
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 15 Quotes

This is what I miss, Cordelia: not something that’s gone, but something that will never happen. Two old women giggling over their tea.

Related Characters: Elaine Risley (speaker), Cordelia
Page Number: 462
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire Cat’s Eye LitChart as a printable PDF.
Cat’s Eye PDF

Cordelia Character Timeline in Cat’s Eye

The timeline below shows where the character Cordelia appears in Cat’s Eye. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part One: Iron Lung
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Elaine tells her friend Cordelia that time isn’t linear while the two ride the streetcar together. They make fun of... (full context)
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...walls because those with yellow walls make her skin look too old. She hasn’t seen Cordelia in years, and wonders where she is and if she has aged. She pictures her... (full context)
Part Two: Silver Paper
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...Anne, and thinks about how sensible their names and lives are—she compares their names to Cordelia’s, which may have led to what happened to her. Elaine has a career as a... (full context)
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...thinks about male facial hair and their opportunities for disguise and concealment. She wonders if Cordelia will see the poster, and if she will come to the show. (full context)
Part Three: Empire Bloomers
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...steps to brush her teeth. She feels like she has no worth, and thinks about Cordelia asking her what she had to say for herself, and Elaine answered “Nothing,” which she... (full context)
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...her purse—all she sees is a hand slipping away, and this makes her think of Cordelia, who is long gone. (full context)
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...up out of the mud around it. A third girl has joined Carol and Grace: Cordelia. The three of them watch from the apple trees as Elaine comes home, but they... (full context)
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At the start, Elaine feels intimidated by Cordelia but also a sense of intimacy. Cordelia lives in a bright house with Swedish glass... (full context)
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Elaine, Carol, Grace, and Cordelia play dress-up with Cordelia’s clothing; she wants them to perform plays, but they mostly walk... (full context)
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Cordelia dares the other girls to go down into the water, but none of them want... (full context)
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...one’s legs to avoid flashing one’s underwear. Underwear becomes a popular theme at school, and Cordelia makes up fake underwear for the different teachers—lavender frills for Miss Pigeon, plaid for Miss... (full context)
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...not afraid of snakes or worms, Elaine is afraid of Miss Lumley’s invisible bloomers, which Cordelia says are navy blue. (full context)
Part Four: Deadly Nightshade
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Back in Elaine’s childhood memories, she walks home from school with Cordelia. At Grace’s house, Cordelia realizes that the Smeaths order all their clothing from Eaton’s Catalogue... (full context)
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...the microscope and aren’t grossed out by things like gutted fish they find under logs. Cordelia says that boys put their tongues in your mouth when they kiss you, which repulses... (full context)
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On Halloween, Grace wears an ordinary lady’s dress, Carol a fairy outfit, Cordelia a clown suit, and Elaine a sheet because that is all there is. When Halloween... (full context)
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...thicket of nightshade. She knows there must have been a cake and presents, and that Cordelia, Grace, and Carol must have been there, but she cannot remember anything outside a “vague... (full context)
Part Five: Wringer
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...She watches teenagers on the street outside a department store and wonders if she and Cordelia looked like that at their age. She thinks about all the cloth they sell in... (full context)
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Elaine remembers peeling the skin off her feet during the time when Cordelia had power over her. She did it at night, when she ought to have been... (full context)
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...the past, Elaine sits on a window ledge in the zoology building watching the parade; Cordelia, Grace, and Carol sit on a different ledge because they are not speaking to Elaine.... (full context)
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Elaine stands outside Cordelia’s room while Cordelia, Grace, and Carol have a meeting about her. They think that she... (full context)
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Ultimately, Cordelia permits Elaine to return to the room, but she stands for a long time with... (full context)
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...to avoid having to go out and play. Whenever she does leave, Grace, Carol, and Cordelia are waiting for her. The girls constantly order her around, but only when no one... (full context)
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...cast out of her friend group. That matters to her because she does not see Cordelia as her enemy, because enemies are people who yell at each other and fight, like... (full context)
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Sometimes Cordelia decides to make Carol the target of improvement, and invites Elaine and Grace to walk... (full context)
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...to do worse and deliberately gets a 5 out of 10, but gets chided by Cordelia for getting stupider. (full context)
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...want abandon Mr. Smeath but also doesn’t want to provoke anger when Grace inevitably tells Cordelia what had happened. Grace does report the incident, and they make fun of her for... (full context)
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...that Carol will hear and report the exchange later. All the girls go to watch Cordelia in a play, but instead of feeling excited to attend her first play, Elaine can... (full context)
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...through the season “like a sleepwalker” and takes no interest in snowmen or Santa Claus (Cordelia recently told her that he does not exist). She gets a Barbara Ann Scott doll... (full context)
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...categories of “tame” and “wild,” with her mother, father, and brother being wild along with Cordelia, but Grace and Carol fitting into the category of tame.  Mr. Banerji and Elaine’s father... (full context)
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...year and enjoys looking at the images of king’s heads on them. One day, however, Cordelia and the girls catch her out walking Brian. They ask for his name and when... (full context)
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...another dimension to the image she had of the family—it “adds something extra and heroic.” Cordelia, Carol, and Grace catch her again, and Carol asks for a turn walking the baby.... (full context)
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...three girls at the end of the street, looking dark as if cast in shadow. Cordelia criticizes her for coming to them when they had said they would come to her,... (full context)
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...pulling weeds in their garden, and Elaine skips rope in Grace’s driveway with Carol and Cordelia. They look like girls playing, but Elaine finds the songs that they skip to somehow... (full context)
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...cat’s eye, the wooden bridge over the ravine, and nightshade berries. She doesn’t dream about Cordelia. Elaine’s mother think she is happy. (full context)
Part Six: Cat’s Eye
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...is “Our Lady” and doesn’t love her, which Elaine agrees with—her eyes remind her of Cordelia’s. Elaine tries to convince herself that she’s a good person, but she knows that she... (full context)
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When they come back in September, Elaine feels like Cordelia is backing her towards the edge of a cliff. She used to alternate between kindness... (full context)
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To keep herself sane, Elaine holds onto the cat’s eye. Cordelia, Grace, and Carol walk ahead and she pictures Cordelia and Grace and Carol disappearing, and... (full context)
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Cordelia brings a pocket mirror to school and holds it up to Elaine’s face, demanding that... (full context)
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...boys, though she hides them. Carol has started growing breasts and wearing lipstick, which makes Cordelia jealous because even though she is older she doesn’t have any sign of breasts yet.... (full context)
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...hidden in a drawer. She lies on her bed and pretends to be sick, and Cordelia says that they have to listen to her heart and pulls up her shirt. She... (full context)
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Around this time, Cordelia makes up a new game. Elaine is supposed to picture ten stacks of plates for... (full context)
Part Seven: Our Lady of Perpetual Help
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...phone book, and doesn’t find any Campbells, or any other Risleys, or Josef Hrbik, or Cordelia. She remembers earlier on in her relationship to Jon, when she got angry about a... (full context)
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...doesn’t believe that Grace thinks she has done anything wrong. One day, while walking behind Cordelia, Grace, and Carol, Elaine sees a paper with a picture of the Virgin Mary on... (full context)
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One day in the middle of March, Elaine starts laughing with the other girls when Cordelia falls. They were on their way home towards the wooden footbridge, and Cordelia slipped down... (full context)
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...in the river and has a hard time moving her feet. She thinks about what Cordelia said once, about the water being made of dissolved dead people. She manages to pull... (full context)
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...the river because her hat accidentally fell over the bridge. She lies and says that Cordelia, Grace, and Carol had not been with her, and says that a lady helped her.... (full context)
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Elaine receives a get-well card from Carol, and a rehearsed telephone apology from Cordelia. When she gets back to school, Cordelia accuses her of telling on them because her... (full context)
Part Eight: Half a Face
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...their arms, staring at whoever they were talking to, and saying “So?” meaning So what. Cordelia did the same thing when she was that age, and Elaine always felt like there... (full context)
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...used to be Princess Elizabeth—Elaine feels like her memories of the princess make her uneasy. Cordelia and Grace skip a grade to end up in Grade Eight, whereas Elaine and Carol... (full context)
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Elaine remembers having been friends with Cordelia, Carol, and Grace, but they all seem flattened to her, and “their names are like... (full context)
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Cordelia and Grace graduate, and Carol hangs around near boys and isn’t much liked by other... (full context)
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Cordelia’s mother calls the day before high school begins; she wants the two girls to walk... (full context)
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...a whirlwind of emotions; sometimes she watches herself cry in the mirror. She sits with Cordelia at lunch, and they call boys “pills” and “creeps,” words that don’t apply to girls.... (full context)
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...eggs are “eggie-poos,” breakfast is “brekkers,” and a pregnant woman is “preggers.” The girls leave Cordelia out, and criticize her. Cordelia, meanwhile, starts shoplifting, which she calls “pinching.” She pinches candy... (full context)
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...travels alone with her parents to Sault Ste. Marie and exchanges letters with Stephen and Cordelia, who seems bored. Stephen ridicules everything he sees, from the camp counselors to the girls... (full context)
Part Nine: Leprosy
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...it distances her from the whole affair and reduces it to a prank. She hopes Cordelia will see the article, and thinks of the only picture she ever made of Cordelia,... (full context)
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...she is silent and watchful and does her homework, which makes her a good student. Cordelia, on the other hand, is raucous, plucks her eyebrows, and paints her nails Fire and... (full context)
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On the way home from school, Elaine and Cordelia sing witty parodies of popular songs and make snowballs that they throw at passing cars,... (full context)
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...Mrs. Smeath, claiming that she is a vampire and that Elaine herself is one too. Cordelia feels uncomfortable about these lies but can’t keep up with Elaine, so she just calls... (full context)
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...like she is taking some kind of risk. She mostly uses her mean mouth on Cordelia—she insults the guys that Cordelia likes, and makes her feel stupid. Meanwhile, they start to... (full context)
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Stephen interrupts Elaine and Cordelia while they sit doing physics homework, and makes fun of Cordelia for not understanding what... (full context)
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Time passes, and Elaine and Cordelia enter Grade 13. As the oldest people in school now, they get to look down... (full context)
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One night, Cordelia comes to Elaine’s house for help with her biology homework and stays for dinner. At... (full context)
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Cordelia tells Elaine that she used to take extreme actions to fake sick and skip school,... (full context)
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Elaine starts avoiding Cordelia, though she doesn’t fully understand why. Cordelia often waits for her and they walk home... (full context)
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After exams, Cordelia calls Elaine and says that she wants to see her. When Elaine arrives at her... (full context)
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Though Cordelia wants to revisit nostalgic memories, like the cabbage or the fact that they used to... (full context)
Part Ten: Life Drawing
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...and now she is. She sits in the Quasi drinking red wine and thinking about Cordelia—she believes her name may have doomed her. Elaine’s own name was the same name as... (full context)
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Cordelia has run away from home. She finds Elaine at Murray’s, looking gaunt and distinguished. Elaine... (full context)
Part Eleven: Falling Women
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...a display of silk scarves when a girl interrupts her, whom she assumes to be Cordelia. However, it is a young Middle Eastern woman, who convinces her to donate some money... (full context)
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...him. She does not dream about him. Instead, she dreams about Susie, but half-transformed into Cordelia—in her dream, Susie skips rope and licks a popsicle, and looking at her Elaine knows... (full context)
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...and Elaine realizes that she has no close female friends. This makes her think of Cordelia, whom she has not seen for years. Jon has not arrived at the opening despite... (full context)
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Elaine visits an institution where Cordelia’s parents have placed her because she tried to commit suicide. Cordelia had called her on... (full context)
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Cordelia has seemed to have lost her idea of herself, and she asks Elaine to help... (full context)
Part Twelve: One Wing
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...as a museum, and feels like they could have included wax versions of her and Cordelia drinking milkshakes and looking bored. She hasn’t seen Cordelia since she said goodbye to her... (full context)
Part Fourteen: Unified Field Theory
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...the people who arrive for the opening—although she feels drunk and uncomfortable, Elaine just pictures Cordelia arriving. Different women compliment her work as summing up an era, and Elaine tries to... (full context)
Part Fifteen: Bridge
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Elaine hears someone behind her, and imagines it to be Cordelia, looking at her “defiantly” in her old snow jacket, recognizing Elaine’s wrongdoing. Elaine recognizes that... (full context)
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...sees two elderly women on a trip together. Elaine realizes that what she misses with Cordelia is “not something that’s gone,” but a future “that will never happen”—Elaine and Cordelia as... (full context)