Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Raymond Carver and Mercy

Relationships characterize.

In this passage from Raymond Carver's "Careful," a man suffering from having his ear plugged up--and from acute loneliness--is tended to by his estranged wife.

“Don’t be scared,” she said. “It’s just some of your landlady’s baby oil, that’s all it is. I told her what was wrong, and she thought this might help. No guarantees,” Inez said. “But maybe this’ll loosen things up in there. She said it used to happen to her husband. She said this one time she saw a piece of wax fall out of his ear, and it was like a big plug of something. It was ear wax, was what it was. She said try this. And she didn’t have any Q-tips. I can’t understand that, her not having any Q-tips. That part really surprises me.”

“Okay,” he said. “All right. I’m willing to try anything. Inez, if I had to go on like this, I think I’d rather be dead. You know? I mean it, Inez.”

“Tilt your head all the way to the side now,” she said. “Don’t move. I’ll pour this in until your ear fills up, then I’ll stopper it with this dishrag. And you just sit there for ten minutes, say. Then we’ll see. If this doesn’t do it, well, I don’t have any other suggestions. I just don’t know what to do then.”

“This’ll work,” he said. “If this doesn’t work, I’ll find a gun and shoot myself. I’m serious. That’s what I feel like doing, anyway.”

“Farther,” she said. He held on to the chair for balance and lowered his head even more. All of the objects in his vision, all of the objects in his life, it seemed, were at the far end of this room. He could feel the warm liquid pour into his ear. Then she brought the dishrag up and held it there. In a little while, she began to massage the area around his ear. She pressed into the soft part of the flesh between his jaw and skill. She moved her fingers to the area over his ear and began to work the tips of her fingers back and forth. After a while, he didn’t know how long he’d been sitting there. It could have been ten minutes. It could have been longer. He was still holding on to the chair. Now and then, as her fingers pressed the side of his ehad, he could feel the warm oil she’d poured in there wash back and forth in the canals inside his ear. When she pressed a certain way, he imagined he could hear, inside his head, a soft, swishing sound.

“Sit up straight,” Inez said. He sat up and pressed the heel of his hand against his head while she liquid poured out of his ear. She caught it in the towel. Then she wiped the outside of his ear.

The exercise: In exacting detail and using as small an action or series of actions as possible, draft a scene where one character shows mercy to another character.