They're Not Your Husband

By Carver, Raymond | Chicago Review, Summer-Fall 1996 | Go to article overview

They're Not Your Husband


Carver, Raymond, Chicago Review


Although many writers of the 1970s experimented with non-narrative and self-reflexive techniques, others turned to develop realist portraits of everyday life through a minimalist aesthetic. The chief practitioner of this aesthetic was Raymond Carver. His story, "They're Not Your Husband," appeared in the Spring 1973 issue of Chicago Review; it subsequently was included in his first major collection, Will You Please Be Quiet, Please? (1976). In an interview in the Autumn 1988 issue, Carver noted that this was the first story in which he was able to create an emotional detachment from his characters through narrative framing: "About that time the idea of people looking on, or people looking through something at someone else - a real and a metaphorical frame for the story - that notion began to appeal to me. And I used a frame somewhat similar to that in several stories, written more or less during the same period."

Earl Ober was between jobs as a salesman but Doreen, his wife, had gone to work nights as a waitress at a twenty-four hour coffee shop at the edge of town.

One night when he was drinking Earl decided to stop by the coffee shop and have something to eat. He wanted to see where she worked, and there was always the chance he could order something on the house.

He sat at the counter and studied the menu.

"What are you doing here?" Doreen said when she walked up. She handed over an order to the cook. "What are you going to order, Earl?" she said then. "You sure the kids are okay?"

"They're fine," he said. "I'll have coffee and one of those Number Two sandwiches."

She wrote it down.

"Any chance of, you know?" he said to her and winked.

"No," she said. "Don't talk to me now, I'm busy."

Earl drank his coffee and waited for the sandwich. Two men in business suits, their ties undone and their collars open, sat down next to him and asked for coffee.

As Doreen walked away with the coffee pot one of the men said to the other, "Look at the ass on that, will you? I don't believe it."

The other man laughed. "I've seen better," he said.

"That's what I mean," the man said. "But some people like fat women."

"Not me," the other man said.

"I don't either," the man said. "That's what I was saying."

Doreen put the sandwich in front of Earl. Around the sandwich there were French fries, some cole slaw, and a dill pickle.

"Anything else?" she said. "A glass of milk?"

He didn't say anything. He shook his head when she kept standing there.

"I'll get you more coffee," she said.

She returned with the pot and poured coffee for him and for the two men. Then she picked up a dish and turned to get some ice cream. She reached down into the container and with the dipper began to scoop vanilla ice cream. The white skirt tightened against her hips and crawled up her legs, exposing the lower part of her girdle, the backs of her fleshy thighs, and several dark, broken veins behind her knees.

The two men sitting beside Earl exchanged looks. One of them raised his eyebrows. The other man grinned and kept looking at Doreen over his cup.

She spread chocolate syrup over the ice cream. As she began to shake the can of whipping cream Earl got up, leaving his food, and headed for the door. He heard her call his name, but he kept going.

He checked on the children and then went to the other bedroom and took off his clothes. He pulled the covers up, closed his eyes, and allowed himself to think about the incident. The humiliation started in his face, the forehead and cheeks, and worked down into his shoulders and on into his stomach and legs. He opened his eyes and rolled his head back and forth on the pillow. Then he turned on his side and fell asleep. He didn't even recall her getting into bed later that night.

The next morning, after she had sent the children off to school, she came in the bedroom and raised the shade. …

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