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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 475

Andrea is a real estate agent who, from all appearances, is a success at life. She has a good husband, financial security, many possessions, and a job in which she excels. Part of her success at selling real estate is her ability to use tricks to make a house desirable;...

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Andrea is a real estate agent who, from all appearances, is a success at life. She has a good husband, financial security, many possessions, and a job in which she excels. Part of her success at selling real estate is her ability to use tricks to make a house desirable; for example, occasionally she brings her dog, Mondo, to a house if she believes the prospective buyers are dog lovers. Her most common and successful ploy is to bring her special bowl to the house, a bowl that she says is a paradox because it is both subtle and noticeable. She sets the bowl in a prominent place, usually on the coffee table. This bowl fits anywhere, under a Bonnard still life or on a Biedermeier table. Always, she leaves the bowl empty. It sits empty at home, too; she asks her husband not to drop his keys into it.

Over time, Andrea becomes more and more attached to her bowl. She feels that it brings her good luck and wishes she could thank it. Once, she accidentally leaves it at a house and panics; as she rushes back for it, she feels like a mother who has forgotten her child. She begins to dream about the bowl and becomes more possessive toward it. Her anxieties about the bowl grow. Although she knows she would never lose or harm it, she fears that it may be lost or damaged. She has never talked to her husband about the bowl, but as her possessive feelings toward it grow, so does her unwillingness to talk to him about any of her selling strategies or successes, for she believes that they are dependent on the bowl.

Andrea and her husband have a loveless marriage. They are alike in many ways: both quiet, reflective, detail-oriented, and slow to make value judgments, but stubborn once they have come to a conclusion. They are different in other ways: Andrea likes the ironies of life, while her husband is impatient with them. They seem to have little interest in each other’s lives: When they talk together, they exchange the news of the day; in bed, they murmur “sleepy disconnections.” Andrea does not think about her husband when she is not with him; instead, she thinks about the bowl.

The greater significance of the bowl is finally revealed. It is not just a possession detached from any meaning; it was a gift from a lover. He tried to convince Andrea to change her life, to leave her husband for him, to know what she really wanted and act on it. Instead of leaving her husband, she tried to have both husband and lover. Her lover left, taking with him the emotional satisfaction in her life and leaving her with the financial security and emotionally dead marriage that she refused to give up.

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