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What We Talk About When We Talk About Love

Raymond Carver

Plot Overview

Context

Character List

The narrator says that his cardiologist friend, Mel McGinnis, is talking. The narrator and Mel are sitting around Mel’s kitchen table in Albuquerque, New Mexico, drinking gin with their wives, Laura and Terri. They begin talking about love. Mel thinks love is spiritual and says he used to be in the seminary. Terri says that before she lived with Mel, she lived with a man named Ed who tried to kill her because he loved her so much. Mel disagrees that Ed felt any love for her, but Terri says that he did. Mel tells the narrator and Laura that Ed had also threatened him and Terri. The narrator holds Laura’s hand and says that he doesn’t really know whether that’s love, while Laura says that you can never know about other people’s situations.

Terri says Ed took rat poison when she left him but that he survived. Mel says he’s dead now. Terri says he shot himself, but he “bungled it.”

The narrator describes Mel. He’s forty-five, and his movements are usually precise when he hasn’t been drinking. The narrator asks how Ed bungled his suicide, but Mel merely replies that Ed was always threatening him and Terri. Laura asks again what happened with the suicide, and Mel says that when Ed shot himself, someone heard it and called an ambulance, and Ed lived for three days. Terri says she was with him when he died and that Ed died for love. But she admits that she and Mel were scared when Ed was threatening them and that Mel had even made a will. Mel opens another bottle of gin.

The narrator, meanwhile, describes his wife, Laura. She’s a legal secretary, younger than the narrator, and seemingly very compatible with him. Laura says that she and the narrator, whose name is Nick, know all about love. Nick kisses her hand. Terri asks them how long they’ve been together, and Laura tells her that they’ve been together for about eighteen months. They all toast to love.

A dog barks outside, and the sun is bright in the kitchen. Mel says he’ll give them an example of love but then says that no one knows anything about love. He says he loves Terri, but he knows he loved his first wife, Marjorie, too, even though he hates her now. He wants to know what happened to the love he felt for his first wife. He points out that Nick and Laura love each other but loved other people before they met and were each married to someone else before as well. Mel says that if something happened to him or Terri, he knows that whoever remained would find someone else to love. He admits that that’s a horrible thing to say but asks the others to tell him if he’s wrong. Terri asks Mel whether he’s drunk, and he says he can say what he’s thinking without being drunk. He says they’re all just talking, and that he’s not on call. He tells Laura and Nick that he loves them.

Mel says that he was trying to make a point. He tells them about an elderly couple who were nearly killed when a drunk teenager hit their camper with his car. Both of them survived but were badly injured. Mel describes how he and other surgeons operated almost all night and that afterward the couple was transferred to a private room. Mel interrupts himself to tell everyone to drink more gin so that they can all go to dinner at a new place he and Terri know about. Mel says that if he could come back in another life, he’d be a chef or a knight. Terri and Mel debate whether the correct word is vessel or vassal. Nick says that being a knight could be dangerous because of all the heavy armor.

Laura asks what happened to the old couple, then struggles to light a cigarette. Nick notes that the sun in the kitchen has changed. Mel tells Laura that if their situations were different, he’d fall in love with her. Resuming the story, Mel says that he kept checking in on the old couple, both of whom were in full-body casts. The husband was okay, and the wife was going to be okay, but the husband was depressed because he couldn’t see his wife through the eyeholes in his cast. Mel says that he couldn’t believe the man was depressed because he couldn’t see his wife. He asks everyone whether they see the point.

Nick says they’re all drunk and that the light is leaving the room. Terri says Mel is depressed and tells him to take a pill, but Mel says he’s already taken everything possible. Mel says he wants to call his kids, but Terri says he’ll only feel worse if Marjorie answers the phone. Terri says that Mel wishes Marjorie would remarry or die. Mel says Marjorie is allergic to bees and that he wishes he could release bees in her house to kill her. He suggests they all go out to eat, but Nick suggests they should just keep drinking. Laura remarks that she’s starving, and Terri says she’ll serve a snack, but she stays in her seat. Mel notices that the gin is gone, and Terri asks what they should do now. Nick says he can hear everyone’s heart beating. The four friends just sit in their seats until the room is dark.

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