But she doesn't understand. Getting up would relieve the pressure of my pantyhose, which are cutting into my waist like a knife, and it would reassure me I am not an absolute loser, that at least I have good manners. "Honestly, I would love to get up," I say.

Nancy and I gather the bowls and carry them into the kitchen. As I load them into the dishwasher, Nancy whips up a fluffy white sauce and pours it over the green beans. She opens the oven door and pulls out a roast.

"Wow!" I cry. "That's beautiful!"

"No," Nancy insists, poking the meat, prodding it, and lifting it up to examine underneath. "This is not beautiful. It's overcooked. I wanted the center rare. I'm sure Joe would want it rare, too. People who care about their meat like it rare. But I screwed it all up." She is standing at the roast and shaking her head like it was the family pet that just died.

"Nancy," I say, "everything about this evening has been so beautiful—the way you look, the way your home looks, the way your food tastes—that it's intimidating to watch you."

"Right. You're one to feel intimidated…You're so smart," she says. "You had such an interesting career. You happen to be taking time off to take care of your kids, but still you have that professional skill. I was 24 when I quit my job to come here, and all I've done since is have kids. The only thing I know how to do is cook, but look, I can't even do that!"

I have been feeling intimidated by a woman who is in fact intimidated by me. In the kitchen, where I have come to escape how bad I've been feeling, I find myself mopping her ego off her (stunning slate) floor. How can this be right? What in perfection's name are we doing to ourselves?


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