Friday, July 29, 2011

Raymond Carver / Popular Mechanics

Ilustración de Cédric Magin
By Raymond Carver

Raymond Carver / Mecánica popular (A Short Story in English)

Early that day the weather turned and the snow was melting into dirty water. Streaks of it ran down from the little shoulder-high window that faced the backyard. Cars slushed by on the street outside, where it was getting dark. But it was getting dark on the inside too.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Raymond Carver / Chef's House

Summer Evening, 1947
by Edward Hopper
Private collection, Washingon, D.C.

By Raymond Carver
That summer Wes rented a furnished house north of Eureka from a recovered alcoholic named Chef. Then he called to ask me to forget what I had going and to move up there and live with him. He said he was on the wagon. I knew about that wagon. But he wouldn’t take no for an answer. He called again and said, Edna, you can see the ocean from the front window. You can smell salt in the air. I listened to him talk. He didn’t slur his words. I said, I’ll think about it. And I did. A week later he called again and said, Are you coming? I said I was still thinking. He said, We’ll start over. I said, If I come up there, I want you to do something for me. Name it, Wes said. I said, I want you to try and be the Wes I used to know. The old Wes. The Wes I married. Wes began to cry, but I took it as a sign of his good intentions. So I said, All right, I’ll come up.
Wes had quit his girlfriend, or she’d quit him – I didn’t know, I didn’t care. When I made up my mind to go with Wes, I had to say goodbye to my friend. My friend said, You’re making a mistake. He said, Don’t do this to me. What about us? he said. I said, I have to do it for Wes’s sake. He’s trying to stay sober. You remember what that’s like. I remember, my friend said, but I don’t want you to go. I said, I’ll go for the summer. Then I‘ll see. I’ll come back, I said. He said, What about me? What about my sake? Don’t come back, he said.

We drank coffee, pop, and all kinds of fruit juice that summer. The whole summer, that’s what we had to drink. I found myself wishing the summer wouldn’t end. I knew better, but after a month of being with Wes in Chef’s house, I put my wedding ring back on. I hadn’t worn the ring in two years. Not since the night Wes was drunk and threw his ring into a peach orchard.
Wes had a little money, so I didn’t have to work. And it turned out Chef was letting us have the house for almost nothing. We didn’t have a telephone. We paid the gas and light and shopped for specials at the Safeway. One Sunday afternoon Wes went out to get a sprinkler and came back with something for me. He came back with a nice bunch of daisies and a straw hat.
Tuesday evenings we’d go to a movie. Other nights Wes would go to what he called his Don’t Drink meetings. Chef would pick him up in his car at the door and drive him home again afterward. Some days Wes and I would go fishing for trout in one freshwater lagoon nearby. We’d fish off the bank and take all day to catch a few little ones. They’ll do fine, I’d say, and that night I’d fry them for supper. Sometimes I’d take off my hat and fall asleep on a blanket next to my fishing pole. The last thing I’d remember would be clouds passing overhead toward the central valley. At night, Wes would take me in his arms and ask me if I was still his girl.
Our kids kept their distance. Cheryl lived with some people on a farm in Oregon. She looked after a herd of goats and sold the milk. She kept bees and put up jars of honey. She had her own life, and I didn’t blame her. She didn’t care one way or the other about what her dad and I did so long as we didn’t get her into it. Bobby was in Washington working in the hay. After the haying season, he planned to work in the apples. He had a girl and was saving his money. I wrote letters and signed them, “Love always.”

One afternoon Wes was in the yard pulling weeds when Chef drove up in front of the house. I was working at the sink. I looked and saw Chef’s big car pull in. I could see his car, the access road and the freeway, and, behind the freeway, the dunes and the ocean. Clouds hung over the water. Chef got out of his car and hitched his pants. I knew there was something. Wes stopped what he was doing and stood up. He was wearing his gloves and a canvas hat. He took off his hat and wiped his face with the back of his hand. Chef walked over and put his arm around Wes’s shoulders. Wes took off one of his gloves. I went to the door. I heard Chef say to Wes God knows he was sorry but he was going to have to ask us to leave at the end of the month. Wes pulled off his other glove. Why’s that, Chef? Chef said his daughter, Linda, the woman Wes used to call Fat Linda from the time of his drinking days, needed a place to live and this place was it. Chef told Wes that Linda’s husband had taken his fishing boat out a few weeks back and nobody had heard from him since. She’s my own blood, Chef said to Wes. She’s lost her husband. She’s lost her baby’s father. I can help. I’m glad I’m in a position to help, Chef said. I’m sorry, Wes, but you’ll have to look for another house. Then Chef hugged Wes again, hitched his pants, and got in his big car and drove away. Wes came inside the house. He dropped his hat and gloves on the carpet and sat down in the big chair. Chef’s chair, it occurred to me. Chef’s carpet, even. Wes looked pale. I poured two cups of coffee and gave one to him.
It’s all right, I said. Wes, don’t worry about it, I said. I sat down on Chef’s sofa with my coffee.
Fat Linda’s going to live here now instead of us, Wes said. He held his cup, but he didn’t drink from it.
Wes, don’t get stirred up, I said.
Her man will turn up in Ketchikan, Wes said. Fat Linda’s husband has simply pulled out on them. And who could blame him? Wes said. Wes said if it came to that, he’d go down with his ship, too, rather than live the rest of his days with Fat Linda and her kid. Then Wes put his cup down next to his gloves. This has been a happy house up to now, he said.
We’ll get another house, I said.
Not like this one, Wes said. It wouldn’t be the same, anyway. This house has been a good house for us. This house has good memories to it. Now Fat Linda and her kid will be in here, Wes said. He picked up his cup and tasted from it.
It’s Chef’s house, I said. He has to do what he has to do.
I know that, Wes said. But I don’t have to like it.
Wes had this look about him. I knew that look. He kept touching his lips with his tongue. He kept thumbing his shirt under his waistband. He got up from the chair and went to the window. He stood looking out the ocean and at the clouds, which were building up. He patted his chin with his fingers like he was thinking about something. And he was thinking.
Go easy, Wes, I said.
She wants me to go easy, Wes said. He kept standing there.
But in a minute he came over and sat next to me on the sofa. He crossed one leg over the other and began fooling with the buttons on his shirt. I took his hand. I started to talk. I talked about the summer. But I caught myself talking like it was something that had happened in the past. Maybe years back. At any rate, like something that was over. Then I started talking about the kids. Wes said he wished he could do it over again and do it right this time.
They love you, I said.  
No, they don’t, he said.
I said, Someday, they’ll understand things.
Maybe, Wes said. But it won’t matter then.
You don’t know, I said.
I know a few things, Wes said, and looked at me. I know I’m glad you came up here. I won’t forget you did it, Wes said.
I’m glad, too, I said. I’m glad you found this house, I said.
Wes snorted. Then he laughed. We both laughed. That Chef, Wes said, and shook his head. He threw us a knuckleball, that son of a bitch. But I’m glad you wore your ring. I’m glad we had us this time together, Wes said.
Then I said something. I said, Suppose, just suppose, nothing had ever happened. Suppose this was for the first time. Just suppose. It doesn’t hurt to suppose. Say none of the other had ever happened. You know what I mean? Then what? I said.
Wes fixed his eyes on me. He said, Then I suppose we’d have to be somebody else if that was the case. Somebody we’re not. I don’t have that kind of supposing left in me. We were born who we are. Don’t you see what I’m saying?
I said I hadn’t thrown away a good thing and come six hundred miles to hear him talk like this.
He said, I’m sorry, but I can’t talk like somebody I’m not.
I’m not somebody else. If I was somebody else, I sure as hell wouldn’t be here. If I was somebody else, I wouldn’t be me.
But I’m who I am. Don’t you see?
Wes, it’s all right, I said. I brought his hand to my cheek. Then, I don’t know, I remembered how he was when he was nineteen, the way he looked running across this field to where his dad sat on a tractor, hand over his eyes, watching Wes run toward him. We’d just driven up from California. I got out with Cheryl and Bobby and said, There’s Grandpa. But they were just babies.
Wes sat next to me patting his chin, like he was trying to figure out the next thing. Wes’s dad was gone and our kids were grown up. I looked at Wes and then I looked around Chef’s living room at Chef’s things, and I thought, We have to do something now and do it quick.
Hon, I said. Wes, listen to me.
What do you want? he said. But that’s all he said. He seemed to have made up his mind. But, having made up his mind, he was in no hurry. He leaned back on the sofa, folded his hands in his lap, and closed his eyes. He didn’t say anything else.
I said his name to myself. It was an easy name to say, and I’d been used to saying it for a long time. Then I said it once more. This time I said it loud. Wes, I said.
He opened his eyes. But he didn’t look at me. He just sat where he was and looked toward the window. Fat Linda, he said. But I knew it wasn’t her. She was nothing. Just a name. Wes got up and pulled the drapes and the ocean was gone just like that. I went in to start supper. We still had some fish in the icebox. There wasn’t much else. We’ll clean it up tonight, I thought, and that will be the end of it.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Raymond Carver /Whoever Was Using This Bed

By Raymond Carver

The call comes in the middle of the night, three in the morning, and it nearly scares us to death.
"Answer it, answer it!" my wife cries. "My God, who is it? Answer it!"
I can't find the light, but I get to the other room, where the phone is, and pick it up after the fourth ring.
"Is Bud there?" this woman says, very drunk.
"Jesus, you have the wrong number," I say, and hang up.
I turn the light on, and go into the bathroom, and that's when I hear the phone start again.
"Answer that!" my wife screams from the bedroom. "What in God's name do they want, Jack? I can't take any more."
I hurry out of the bathroom and pick up the phone.
"Bud?" the woman says. "What are you doing, Bud?"
I say, "Look here. You have a wrong number. Don't ever call this number again."
"I have to talk to Bud," she says.
I hang up, wait until it rings again, and then I take the receiver and lay it on the table beside the phone. But I hear the woman's voice say, "Bud, talk to me, please." I leave the receiver on its side on the table, turn off the light, and close the door to the room.
In the bedroom I find the lamp on and my wife, Iris, sitting against the headboard with her knees drawn up under the covers. She has a pillow behind her back, and she's more on my side than her own side. The covers are up around her shoulders. The blankets and the sheet have been pulled out from the foot of the bed. If we want to go back to sleep — I want to go back to sleep, anyway — we may have to start from scratch and do this bed over again.
"What the hell was that all about?" Iris says. "We should have unptugged the phone. I guess we forgot. Try forgetting one night to unplug the phone and see what happens. I don't believe it."
After Iris and I started living together, my former wife, or else one of my kids, used to call up when we were asleep and want to harangue us. They kept doing it even after Iris and I were married. So we started unplugging our phone before we went to bed. We unplugged the phone every night of the year, just about. It was a habit. This time I slipped up, that's all.
"Some woman wanting Bud," I say. I'm standing there in my pajamas, wanting to get into bed, but I can't. "She was drunk. Move over, honey. I took the phone off the hook." "She can't call again?"
"No," I say. "Why don't you move over a little and give me some of those covers?"
She takes her pillow and puts it on the far side of the bed, against the headboard, scoots over, and then she leans back once more. She doesn't look sleepy. She looks fully awake. I get into bed and take some covers. But the covers don't feel right. I don't have any sheet; all I have is blanket. I look down and see my feet sticking out. I turn onto my side, facing her, and bring my legs up so that my feet arc under the blanket. We should make up the bed again. I ought to suggest that. But I'm thinking, too, that if we kill the light now, this minute, we might be able to go right back to sleep.
"How about you turning off your light, honey?" I say, as nice as I can.
"Let's have a cigarette first," she says. "Then we'll go to sleep. Get us the cigarettes and the ashtray, why don't you? We'll have a cigarette."
"Let's go to sleep," I say. "Look at what time it is." The clock radio is right there beside the bed. Anyone can see it says three-thirty.
"Come on," Iris says. "I need a cigarette after all that."
I get out of bed for the cigarettes and ashtray. I have to go into the room where the phone is, but I don't touch the phone. I don't even want to look at the phone, but I do, of course. The receiver is still on its side on the table.
I crawl back in bed and put the ashtray on the quilt between us. I light a cigarette, give it to her, and then light one for myself.
She tries to remember the dream she was having when the phone rang. "I can just about remember it, but I can't remember exactly. Something about, about — no, I don't know what it was about now. I can't be sure. I can't remember it," she says finally. "God damn that woman and her phone call. 'Bud,' she says. "I'd like to punch her." She puts out her cigarette and immediately lights another, blows smoke, and lets her eyes take in the chest of drawers and the window curtains. Her hair is undone and around her shoulders. She uses the ashtray and then stares over the foot of the bed, trying to remember.
But, really, I don't care what she's dreamed. I want to go back to sleep is all. I finish my cigarette and put it out and wait for her to finish. I lie still and don't say anything.
Iris is like my former wife in that when she sleeps she sometimes has violent dreams. She thrashes around in bed during the night and wakes in the morning drenched with sweat, the nightgown sticking to her body. And, like my former wife, she wants to tell me her dreams in great detail and speculate as to what this stands for or that portends. My former wife used to kick the covers off in the night and cry out in her sleep, as if someone were laying hands on her. Once, in a particularly violent dream, she hit me on the ear with her fist. I was in a dreamless sleep, but I struck out in the dark and hit her on the forehead. Then we began yelling. We both yelled and yelled. We'd hurt each other, but we were mainly scared. We had no idea what had happened until I turned the lamp on; then we sorted it out. Afterward, we joked about it — fistfighting in our sleep. But then so much else began to happen that was far more serious we tended to forget about that night. We never mentioned it again, even when we teased each other.
Once I woke up in the night to hear Iris grinding her teeth in her sleep. It was such a peculiar thing to have going on right next to my ear that it woke me up. I gave her a little shake, and she stopped. The next morning she told me she'd had a very bad dream, but that's all she'd tell me about it. I didn't press her for details. I guess I really didn't want to know what could have been so bad that she didn't want to say. When I told her she'd been grinding her teeth in her sleep, she frowned and said she was going to have to do something about that. The next night she brought home something called a Niteguard — something she was supposed to wear in her mouth while she slept. She had to do something, she said. She couldn't afford to keep grinding her teeth; pretty soon she wouldn't have any. So she wore this protective device in her mouth for a week or so, and then she stopped wearing it. She said it was uncomfortable and, anyway, it was riot very cosmetic. Who'd want to kiss a woman wearing a thing like that in her mouth, she said. She had something there, of course.
Another time I woke up because she was stroking my face and calling me Carl. I took her hand and squeezed her fingers. "What is it?" I said. "What is it, sweetheart?" But instead of answering she simply squeezed back, sighed, and then lay still again. The next morning, when I asked her what she'd dreamed the night before, she claimed not to have had any dreams.
"So who's Carl?" I said. "Who is this Carl you were talking about in your sleep?" She blushed and said she didn't know anybody named Carl and never had.
The lamp is still on and, because I don't know what else to think about, I think about that phone being off the hook. I ought to hang it up and unplug the cord. Then we have to think about sleep.
"I'll go take care of that phone," I say. "Then let's go to sleep."
Iris uses the ashtray and says, "Make sure it's unplugged this time."
I get up again and go to the other room, open the door, and turn on the light. The receiver is still on its side on the table. I bring it to my ear, expecting to hear the dial tone. But I don't hear anything, not even the tone.
On an impulse, I say something. "Hello," I say.
"Oh, Bud, it's you," the woman says.

I hang up the phone and bend over and unplug it from the wall before it can ring again. This is a new one on me. This deal is a mystery, this woman and her Bud person. I don't know how to tell Iris about this new development, because it'll just lead to more discussion and further speculation. I decide not to say anything for now. Maybe I'll say something over breakfast.
Back in the bedroom I see she is smoking another cigarette. I see, too, that it's nearly four in the morning. I'm starting to worry. When it's four o'clock it'll soon be five o'clock, and then it will be six, then six-thirty, then time to get up for work. I lie back down, close my eyes, and decide I'll count to sixty, slowly, before I say anything else about the light.
"I'm starting to remember," Iris says. "It's coming back to me. You want to hear it, Jack?"
I stop counting, open my eyes, sit up. The bedroom is filled with smoke. I light one up, too. Why not? The hell with it.
She says, "There was a party going on in my dream." "Where was I when this was going on?" Usually, for whatever reason, I don't figure in her dreams. It irritates me a little, but I don't let on. My feet are uncovered again. I pull them under the covers, raise myself up on my elbow, and use the ashtray. "Is this another dream that I'm not in? It's O.K., if that's the case." I pull on the cigarette, hold the smoke, let it out.
"Honey, you weren't in the dream," Iris says. "I'm sorry, but you weren't. You weren't anywhere around. I missed you, though. I did miss you, I'm sure of it. It was like I knew you were somewhere nearby, but you weren't there where I needed you. You know how I get into those anxiety states sometimes? If we go someplace together where there's a group of people and we get separated and I can't find you? It was a little like that. You were there, I think, but I couldn't find you."
"Go ahead and tell me about the dream," I say.
She rearranges the covers around her waist and legs and reaches for a cigarette. I hold the lighter for her. Then she goes on to describe this party where all that was being served was beer. "I don't even like beer," she says. But she drank a large quantity anyway, and just when she went to leave — to go home, she says — this little dog took hold of the hem of her dress and made her stay.
She laughs, and I laugh right along with her, even though, when I look at the clock, I see the hands are close to saying four-thirty.
There was some kind of music being played in her dream — a piano, maybe, or else it was an accordion, who knows? Dreams are that way sometimes, she says. Anyway, she vaguely remembers her former husband putting in an appearance. He might have been the one serving the beer. People were drinking beer from a keg, using plastic cups. She thought she might even have danced with him.
"Why are you telling me this?"
She says, "It was a dream, honey."
"I don't think I like it, knowing you're supposed to be here beside me all night but instead you're dreaming about strange dogs, parties, and ex-husbands. I don't like you dancing with him. What the hell is this? What if I told you I dreamed I danced the night away with Carol? Would you like it?"
"It's just a dream, right." she says. "Don't get weird on me. I won't say any more. I see I can't. I can see it isn't a good idea." She brings her fingers to her lips slowly, the way she does sometimes when she's thinking. Her face shows how hard she's concentrating; little lines appear on her forehead. "I'm sorry that you weren't in the dream. But if I told you otherwise I'd be lying to you, right?"
I nod. I touch her arm to show her it's O.K., I don't really mind. And I don't, I guess. "What happened then, honey? Finish telling the dream," I say. "And maybe we can go to sleep then." I guess I wanted to know the next thing. The last I'd heard, she'd been dancing with Jerry. If there was more, I needed to hear it.
She plumps up the pillow behind her back and says, "That's all I can remember. I can't remember any more about it. That was when the goddam phone rang." "Bud," I say. I can see smoke drifting in the light under the lamp, and smoke hangs in the air in the room. "Maybe we should open a window," I say.
"That's a good idea," she says. "Let some of this smoke out. It can't be any good for us." "Hell no, it isn't," I say. I get up again and go to the window and raise it a few inches. I can feel the cool air that comes in and from a distance I hear a truck gearing down as it starts up the grade that will take it to the pass and on over into the next state.
"I guess pretty soon we're going to be the last smokers left in America," she says. "Seriously, we should think about quitting." She says this as she puts her cigarette out and reaches for the pack next to the ashtray.
"It's open season on smokers," I say.
I get back in the bed. The covers are turned every which way, and it's five o'clock in the morning. I don't think we're going to sleep any more tonight. But so what if we don't? Is there a law on the books? Is something bad going to happen to us if we don't?
She takes some of her hair between her fingers. Then she pushes it behind her ear, looks at me, and says, "Lately I've been feeling this vein in my forehead. Impulses sometimes. It throbs. Do you know what I'm talking about? I don't know if you've ever had anything like that. I hate to think about it, but probably one of these days I'll have a stroke or something. Isn't that how they happen? A vein in your head bursts? That's probably what'll happen to me, eventually. My mother, my grandmother, and one of my aunts died of stroke. There's a history of stroke in my family. It can run in the family, you know. It's hereditary, just like heart disease, or being too fat, or whatever. Anyway," she says, "something's going to happen to me someday, right? So maybe that's what it'll be — a stroke. Maybe that's how I'll go. That's what it feels like it could be the beginning of. First it pulses a little, like it wants my attention, and then it starts to throb. Throb, throb, throb. It scares me silly," she says. "I want us to give up these goddam cigarettes before it's too late." She looks at what's left of her cigarette, mashes it into the ashtray, and tries to fan the smoke away.
I'm on my back, studying the ceiling, thinking that this is the kind of talk that could only take place at five in the morning. I feel I ought to say something. "I get winded easy," I say. "I found myself out of breath when I ran in there to answer the phone." "That could have been because of anxiety," Iris says. "Who needs it, anyway! The idea of somebody calling at this hour! I could tear that woman limb from limb."
I pull myself up in the bed and lean back against the headboard. I put the pillow behind my back and try to get comfortable, same as Iris. "I'll tell you something I haven't told you," I say. "Once in a while my heart palpitates. It's like it goes crazy." She's watching me closely, listening for whatever it is I'm going to say next. "Sometimes it feels like it's going to jump out of my chest. I don't know what the hell causes it."
"Why didn't you tell me?" she says. She takes my hand and holds it. She squeezes my hand. "You never said anything, honey. Listen, I don't know what I'd do if something ever happened to you. I'd fold up. How often does it happen? That's scary, you know." She's still holding my hand. But her fingers slide to my wrist, where my pulse is. She goes on holding my wrist like this.
"I never told you because I didn't want to scare you," I say. "But it happens sometimes. It happened as recently as a week ago. I don't have to be doing anything in particular when it happens, either. I can be sitting in a chair with the paper. Or else driving the car, or pushing a grocery basket. It doesn't matter if I'm exerting myself or not. It just starts — boom, boom, boom. Like that. I'm surprised people can't hear it. It's that loud, I think. I can hear it, anyway, and I don't mind telling you it scares me," I say. "So if emphysema doesn't get me, or lung cancer, or maybe a stroke like what you're talking about, then it's going to be a heart attack probably."
I reach for the cigarettes. I give her one. We're through with sleep for the night. Did we sleep? For a minute, I can't remember.
"Who knows what we'll die of?" Iris says. "It could be anything. If we live long enough, maybe it'll be kidney failure, or something like that. A friend of mine at work, her father just died of kidney failure. That's what can happen to you sometimes if you're lucky enough to get really old. When your kidneys fail, the body starts filling up with uric acid then. You finally turn a whole different color before you die." "Great. That sounds wonderful," I say. "Maybe we should get off this subject. How'd we get onto this stuff, anyway?"
She doesn't answer. She leans forward, away from her pillow, arms clasping her legs. She closes her eyes and lays her head on her knees. Then she begins to rock back and forth, slowly. It's as if she were listening to music. But there isn't any music. None that I can hear, anyway.
"You know what I'd like?" she says. She stops moving, opens her eyes, and tilts her head at me. Then she grins, so I'll know she's all right.
"What would you like, honey?" I've got my leg hooked over her leg, at the ankle.
She says, "I'd like some coffee, that's what. I could go for a nice strong cup of black coffee. We're awake, aren't we? Who's going back to sleep? Let's have some coffee." "We drink too much coffee," I say. "All that coffee isn't good for us, either. I'm not saying we shouldn't have any, I'm just saying we drink too much of it. It's just an observation," I add. "Actually, I could drink some coffee myself." "Good," she says. But neither of us makes a move.

She shakes out her hair and then lights another cigarette. Smoke drifts slowly in the room. Some of it drifts toward the open window. A little rain begins to fall on the patio outside the window. The alarm comes on, and I reach over and shut it off. Then I take the pillow and put it under my head again. I lie back and stare at the ceiling some more. "What happened to that bright idea we had about a girl who could bring us our coffee in bed?" I say.
"I wish somebody would bring us coffee," she says. "A girl or a boy, one or the other. I could really go for some coffee right now."
She moves the ashtray to the nightstand, and I think she's going to get up. Somebody has to get up and start the coffee and put a can of frozen juice in the blender. One of us has to make a move. But what she does instead is slide down in the bed until she's sitting somewhere in the middle. The covers are all over the place. She picks at something on the quilt, and then rubs her palm across whatever it is before she looks up. "Did you see in the paper where that guy took a shotgun into an intensive-care unit and made the nurses take his father off the life-support machine? Did you read about that?" Iris says.
"I saw something about it on the news," I say. "But mostly they were talking about this nurse who unplugged six or eight people from their machines. At this point they don't know exactly how many she unplugged. She started off by unplugging her mother, and then she went on from there. It was like a spree, I guess. She said she thought she was doing everybody a favor. She said she hoped somebody'd do it for her, if they cared about her."
Iris decides to move on down to the foot of the bed. She positions herself so that she is facing me. Her legs are still under the covers. She puts her legs between my legs and says, "What about that quadriplegic woman on the news who says she wants to die, wants to starve herself to death? Now she's suing her doctor and the hospital because they insist on force-feeding her to keep her alive. Can you believe it? It's insane. They strap her down three times a day so they can run this tube into her throat. They feed her breakfast, lunch, and dinner that way. And they keep her plugged into this machine, too, because her lungs don't want to work on their own. It said in the paper that she's begging them to unplug her, or else to just let her starve to death. She's having to plead with them to let her die, but they won't listen. She said she started out wanting to die with some dignity. Now she's just mad and looking to sue everybody. Isn't that amazing? Isn't that one for the books?" she says. "I have these headaches sometimes," she says. "Maybe it has something to do with the vein. Maybe not. Maybe they're not related. But I don't tell you when my head hurts, because I don't want to worry you." "What are you talking about?" I say. "Look at me. Iris? I have a right to know. I'm your husband, in case you've forgotten. If something's wrong with you, I should know about it." "But what could you do? You'd just worry." She bumps my leg with her leg, then bumps it again. "Right? You'd tell me to take some aspirin. I know you."
I look toward the window, where it's beginning to get light. I can feel a damp breeze from the window. It's stopped raining now, but it's one of those mornings where it could begin to pour. I look at her again. "To tell you the truth, Iris, I get sharp pains in my side from time to time." But the moment I say the word I'm sorry. She'll be concerned, and want to talk about it. We ought to be thinking of showers; we should be sitting down breakfast.
"Which side?" she says.
"Right side."
"It could be your appendix," she says. "Something fairly simple like that."
I shrug. "Who knows? I don't know. All I know is it happens. Every so often, for just a minute or two, I feel something sharp down there. Very sharp. At first I thought it might be a pulled muscle. Which side's your gallbladder on, by the way? Is it the left or right side? Maybe it's my gallbladder. Or else maybe; gallstone, whatever the hell that is." "It's not really a stone," she says. "A gallstone is like a little granule, or something like that. It's about as big as the tip of a pencil. No, wait, that might beakidney stone I'm talking about.I guess I don't know anything about it." She shakes her head.
"What's the difference between kidney stone and gallstone?" I say. "Christ, we don't even know which side of the body they're on. You don't know, and I don't know. That's how much we know together. A total of nothing. But I read somewhere that you can pass a kidney stone, if that's what this is, and usually it won't kill you. Painful, yes. I don't know what they say about a gallstone." "I like that 'usually,'" she says. "I know," I say. "Listen, we'd better get up. It's getting really late. It's seven o'clock."
"I know," she says. "O.K." But she continues to sit there. Then she says, "My grandma had arthritis so bad toward the end she couldn't get around by herself, or even move her fingers. She had to sit in a chair and wear these mittens all day. Finally, she couldn't even hold a cup of cocoa. That's how bad her arthritis was. Then she had her stroke. And my grandpa, she says. "He went into a nursing home not long after Grandma died. It was either that or else somebody had to come in and be with him around the clock, and nobody could do that. Nobody had the money for twenty-four-hour-a-day care, either. So he goes into the nursing home. But he began to deteriorate fast in there. One time, after he'd been in that place for a while, my mom went to visit him and then she came home and said something. I'll never forget what she said." She looks at me as if I'm never going to forget it, either. And I'm not. "She said, 'My dad doesn't recognize me anymore. He doesn't even know who I am. My dad has become a vegetable.' That was my mom who said that,"
She leans over and covers her face with her hands and begins to cry. I move down there to the foot of the bed and sit beside her. I take her hand and hold it in my lap. I put my arm around her. We're sitting together looking at the headboard and at the nightstand. The clock's there, too, and beside the clock a few magazines and a paperback. We're sitting on the part of the bed where we keep our feet when we sleep. It looks like whoever was using this bed left in a hurry. I know I won't ever look at this bed again without remembering it like this. We're into something now, but I don't know what, exactly.
"I don't want anything like that to ever happen to me," she says. "Or to you, either." She wipes her face with a corner of the blanket and takes a deep breath, which comes out as a sob. "I'm sorry. I just can't help it," she says.
"It won't happen to us. It won't," I say. "Don't worry about any of it, O.K.? We're fine, Iris, and we're going to stay fine. In any case, that time's a long time off. Hey, I love you. We love each other, don't we? That's the important thing. That's what counts. Don't worry, honey." "I want you to promise me something," she says. She takes her hand back. She moves my arm away from her shoulder. "I want you to promise me you'll pull the plug on me, if and when it's ever necessary. If it ever comes to that, I mean. Do you hear what I'm saying? I'm serious about this, Jack. I want you to pull the plug on me if you ever have to. Will you promise?"
I don't say anything right away. What am I supposed to say? They haven't written the book on this one yet. I need a minute to think. I know it won't cost me anything to tell her I'll do whatever she wants. It's just words, right? Words are easy. But there's more to it than this; she wants an honest response from me. And I don't know what I feel about it yet. I shouldn't be hasty. I can't say something without thinking about what I'm saying, about consequences, about what she's going to feel when I say it — whatever it is I say.
I'm still thinking about it when she says, "What about you?"
What about me what?"
"Do you want to be unplugged if it comes to that? God forbid it ever does, of course," she says. "But I should have some kind of idea, you know — some word from you now — about what you want me to do if worse comes to worst." She's looking at me closely, waiting for me to say. She wants something she can file away to use later, if and when she ever has to. Sure. O.K. Easy enough for me to say, Unplug me, honey, if you think it's for the best. But I need to consider this a little more. I haven't even said yet what I will or won't do for her. Now I have to think about me and my situation. I don't feel I should jump into this. This is nuts. We're nuts. But I realize that whatever I say now might come back to me sometime. It's important. This is a life-and-death thing we're talking about here.
She hasn't moved. She's still waiting for her answer. And I can see we're not going anywhere this morning until she has an answer. I think about it some more, and then I say what I mean. "No. Don't unplug me. I don't want to be unplugged. Leave me hooked up just as long as possible. Who's going to object? Are you going to object? Will I be offending anybody? As long as people can stand the sight of me, just so long as they don't start howling, don't unplug anything. Let me keep going, O.K.? Right to the bitter end. Invite my friends in to say goodbye. Don't do anything rash."
"Be serious," she says. "This is a very serious matter we're discussing." "I am serious. Don't unplug me. It's as simple as that."
She nods. "O.K., then. I promise you I won't." She hugs me. She holds me tight for a minute. Then she lets me go. She looks at the clock radio and says, "Jesus, we better get moving."

So we get out of bed and start getting dressed. In some ways it's just like any other morning, except we do things faster. We drink coffee and juice and we eat English muffins. We remark on the weather, which is overcast and blustery. We don't talk anymore about plugs, or about sickness and hospitals and stuff like that. I kiss her and leave her on the front porch with her umbrella open, waiting for her ride to work. Then I hurry to my car and get in. In a minute, after I've run the motor, I wave and drive off.
But during the day, at work, I think about some of those things we talked about this morning. I can't help it. For one thing, I'm bone-tired from lack of sleep. I feel vulnerable and prey to any random, gruesome thought. Once, when nobody is around, I put my head on my desk and think I might catch a few minutes' sleep. But when I close my eyes I find myself thinking about it again. In my mind I can see a hospital bed. That's all — just a hospital bed. The bed's in a room, I guess. Then I see an oxygen tent over the bed, and beside the bed some of those screens and some big monitors — the kind they have in movies. I open my eyes and sit up in my chair and light a cigarette. I drink some coffee while I smoke the cigarette. Then I look at the time and get back to work. At five o'clock, I'm so tired it's all I can do to drive home. It's raining, and I have to be careful driving. Very careful. There's been an accident, too. Someone has rear-ended someone else at a traffic light, but I don't think anyone has been hurt. The cars are still out in the road, and people are standing around in the rain, talking. Still, traffic moves slowly; the police have set out flares.
When I see my wife, I say, "God, what a day. I'm whipped. How are you doing?" We kiss each other. I take off my coat and hang it up. I take the drink Iris gives me. Then, because it's been on my mind, and because I want to clear the deck, so to speak, I say, "All right, if it's what you want to hear, I'll pull the plug for you. If that's what you want me to do, I'll do it. If it will make you happy, here and now, to hear me say so, I'll say it. I'll do it for you. I'll pull the plug, or have it pulled, if I ever think it's necessary. But what I said about my plug still stands. Now I don't want to have to think about this stuff ever again. I don't even want to have to talk about it again. I think we've said all there is to say on the subject. We've exhausted every angle. I'm exhausted."
Iris grins. "O.K.," she says. "At least I know now, anyway. I didn't before. Maybe I'm crazy, but I feel better somehow, if you want to know. I don't want to think about it anymore, either. But I'm glad we talked it over. I'll never bring it up again, either, and that's a promise."
She takes my drink and puts it on the table, next to the phone. She puts her arms around me and holds me and lets her head rest on my shoulder. But here's the thing. What I've just said to her, what I've been thinking about off and on all day, well, I feel as if I've crossed some kind of invisible line. I feel as if I've come to a place I never thought I'd have to come to. And I don't know how I got here. It's a strange place. It's a place where a little harmless dreaming and then some sleepy, early-morning talk has led me into considerations of death and annihilation.
The phone rings. We let go of each other, and I reach to answer it. "Hello," I say.
"Hello, there," the woman says back.
It's the same woman who called this morning, but she isn't drunk now. At least, I don't think she is; she doesn't sound drunk. She is speaking quietly, reasonably, and she is asking me if I can put her in touch with Bud Roberts. She apologizes. She hates to trouble me, she says, but this is an urgent matter. She's sorry for any trouble she might be giving.
While she talks, I fumble with my cigarettes. I put one in my mouth and use the lighter. Then it's my turn to talk. This is what I say to her: "Bud Roberts doesn't live here. He is not at this number, and I don't expect he ever will be. I will never, never lay eyes on this man you're talking about. Please don't ever call here again. Just don't, O.K.? Do you hear me? If you're not careful, I'll wring your neck for you." "The gall of that woman," Iris says. My hands are shaking. I think my voice is doing things. But while I'm trying to tell all this to the woman, while I'm trying to make myself understood, my wife moves quickly and bends over, and that's it. The line goes dead, and I can't hear anything.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Raymond Carver / Why Don't you dance

by Raymond Carver

In the kitchen, he poured another drink and looked at the bedroom suite in his front yard. The mattress was stripped and the candy-striped sheets lay beside two pillows on the chiffonier. Except for that, things looked much the way they had in the bedroom—nightstand and reading lamp on his side of the bed, nightstand and reading lamp on her side.
      His side, her side.
      He considered this as he sipped the whiskey.
      The chiffonier stood a few feet from the foot of the bed. He had emptied the drawers into cartons that morning, and the cartons were in the living room. A portable heater was next to the chiffonier. A rattan chair with a decorator pillow stood at the foot of the bed. The buffed aluminum kitchen set took up a part of the driveway. A yellow muslin cloth, much too large, a gift, covered the table and hung down over the sides. A potted fern was on the table, and a few feet away from this stood a sofa and chair and a floor lamp. The desk was pushed against the garage door. A few utensils were on the desk, along with a wall clock and two framed prints. There was also in the driveway a carton with cups, glasses, and plates, each object wrapped in newspaper. That morning he had cleared out the closets, and except for the three cartons in the living room, all the stuff was out of the home. He had run an extension cord on out there and everything was connected. Things worked, no different from how it was when they were inside.
      Now and then a car slowed and people stared. But no one stopped.
It occurred to him that he wouldn't, either.

      "It must be a yard sale," the girl said to the boy.
      This girl and this boy were furnishing a little apartment.
      "Let's see what they want for the bed," the girl said.
      "And for the TV," the boy said.
      The boy pulled into the driveway and stopped in front of the kitchen table.
      They got out of the car and began to examine things, the girl touching the muslin cloth, the boy plugging in the blender and turning the dial to MINCE, the girl picking up a chafing dish, the boy turning on the television set and making little adjustments.
      He sat down on the sofa to watch. He lit a cigarette, looked around, flipped the match into the grass.
      The girl sat on the bed. She pushed off her shoes and lay back. She thought she could see a star.
      "Come here, Jack. Try this bed. Bring one of those pillows," she said.
      "How is it?" he said.
      "Try it," she said.
      He looked around. The house was dark.
      "I feel funny," he said. "Better see if anybody's home."
      She bounced on the bed.
      "Try it first," she said.
      He lay down on the bed and put the pillow under his head.
      "How does it feel?" she said.
      "It feels firm," he said.
      She turned on her side and put her hand to his face.
      "Kiss me," she said.
      "Let's get up," he said.
      "Kiss me," she said.
      She closed her eyes. She held him.
      He said, "I'll see if anybody's home."
      But he just sat up and stayed where he was, making believe he was watching the television.
      Lights came on in the houses up and down the street.
      "Wouldn't it be funny if," the girl said and grinned and didn't finish.
      The boy laughed, but for no good reason. For no good reason, he switched the reading lamp on.
      The girl brushed away a mosquito, whereupon the boy stood up and tucked in his shirt.
      "I'll see if anybody's home," he said. "I don't think anybody's home. But if anybody is, I'll see what things are going for."
      "Whatever they ask, offer ten dollars less. It's always a good idea," she said. "And, besides, they must be desperate or something."
      "It's a pretty good TV," the boy said.
      "Ask them how much," the girl said.

     The man came down the sidewalk with a sack from the market. He had sandwiches, beer, whiskey. He saw the car in the driveway and the girl on the bed. He saw the television set going and the boy on the porch.
      "Hello," the man said to the girl. "You found the bed. That's good."
      "Hello," the girl said, and got up. "I was just trying it out." She patted the bed. "It's a pretty good bed."
      "It's a good bed," the man said, and put down the sack and took out the beer and the whiskey.
      "We thought nobody was here," the boy said. "We're interested in the bed and maybe in the TV. Also maybe the desk. How much do you want for the bed?"
      "I was thinking fifty dollars for the bed," the man said.
      "Would you take forty?" the girl asked.
      "I'll take forty," the man said.
      He took a glass out of the carton. He took the newspaper off the glass. He broke the seal on the whiskey.
      "How about the TV?" the boy said.
      "Would you take fifteen?" the girl said.
      "Fifteen's okay. I could take fifteen," the man said.
      The girl looked at the boy.
      "You kids, you'll want a drink," the man said. "Glasses in that box. I'm going to sit down. I'm going to sit down on the sofa."
      The man sat on the sofa, leaned back, and stared at the boy and the girl.

     The boy found two glasses and poured whiskey.
      "That's enough," the girl said. "I think I want water in mine."
      She pulled out a chair and sat at the kitchen table.
      "There's water in that spigot over there," the man said. "Turn on that spigot."
      The boy came back with the watered whiskey. He cleared his throat and sat down at the kitchen table. He grinned. But he didn't drink anything from his glass.
      The man gazed at the television. He finished his drink and started another. He reached to turn on the floor lamp. It was then that his cigarette dropped from his fingers and fell between the cushions.
      The girl got up to help him find it.
      "So what do you want?" the boy said to the girl.
      The boy took out the checkbook and held it to his lips as if thinking.
      "I want the desk," the girl said. "How much money is the desk?"
      The man waved his hand at this preposterous question.
      "Name a figure," he said.
      He looked at them as they sat at the table. In the lamplight, there was something about their faces. It was nice or it was nasty. There was no telling.

 "I'm going to turn off this TV and put on a record," the man said. "This recor-player is going, too. Cheap. Make me an offer. "       
       He poured more whiskey and opened a beer.
      "Everything goes," said the man.
      The girl held out her glass and the man poured.
      "Thank you," she said. "You're very nice," she said.
      "It goes to your head," the boy said. "I'm getting it in the head." He held up his glass and jiggled it.
      The man finished his drink and poured another, and then he found the box with the records.
      "Pick something," the man said to the girl, and he held the records out to her.
      The boy was writing the check.
      "Here," the girl said, picking something, picking anything, for she did not know the names on these labels. She got up from the table and sat down again. She did not want to sit still.
      "I'm making it out to cash," the boy said.
      "Sure," the man said.
      They drank. They listened to the record. And then the man put on another.
      Why don't you kids dance? he decided to say, and then he said it.       "Why don't you dance?"
      "I don't think so," the boy said.
      "Go ahead," the man said. "It's my yard. You can dance if you want to."

     Arms about each other, their bodies pressed together, the boy and the girl moved up and down the driveway. They were dancing. And when the record was over, they did it again, and when that one ended, the boy said. "I'm drunk."
      The girl said, "You're not drunk."
      "Well, I'm drunk," the boy said.
      The man turned the record over and the boy said, "I am."
      "Dance with me," the girl said to the boy and then to the man, and when the man stood up, she came to him with her arms wide open.
      "Those people over there, they're watching," she said.
      "It's okay," the man said. "It's my place," he said.
      "Let them watch," the girl said.
      "That's right," the man said. "They thought they'd seen everything over here. But they haven't seen this, have they?"
      He felt her breath on his neck.
      "I hope you like your bed," he said.
      The girl closed and then opened her eyes. She pushed her face into the man's shoulder. She pulled the man closer.
      "You must be desperate or something," she said.

Weeks later, she said: "The guy was about middle-aged. All his things right there in his yard. No lie. We got real pissed and danced. In the driveway. Oh, my God. Don't laugh. He played us these records. Look at this record-player. The old guy give it to us. and all these crappy records. Will you look at this shit?"
      She kept talking. She told everyone. There was more to it, and she was trying to get it talked out.
After a time, she quit trying.