Robert is an insightful, compassionate man who takes the time to truly listen to others, which helps him to “see” them better than he could with his eyes. Robert and the narrator’s wife have been listening to each other for the past ten years through the audiotapes they send back and forth. All the difficult details of the narrator’s wife’s past, including her marriage, suicide attempt, and divorce, have been recorded and sent to Robert, who has recorded responses in return. He is the person the narrator’s wife turned to when she needed to talk. The fact that we never learn exactly what Robert says on the tapes is significant because it suggests that the mere act of listening to the tapes was more important than responding to them.
Robert’s wife has recently died, but we learn little about his relationship with her and only slightly more about Robert himself. Though he is there in person, discussing his travels, Amway distribution business, and hobbies, he seems disembodied somehow and not really present. The narrator’s wife is glad to see him, but since he cannot see her, their interaction is only slightly different from the back-and-forth conversation they’ve been carrying on through the tapes. Robert becomes wholly real, however, when he invites the narrator to draw a cathedral. With their hands touching, the two men work together and temporarily inhabit a space that excludes the narrator’s wife. Robert is not a magical being in any way, but the effect this interaction has on the narrator is almost mystical.