Mr. Coffee and Mr. Fixit
by Raymond Carver

I’VE seen some things. I was going over to my mother’s to stay a few nights. But just as I got to the top of the stairs, I looked and she was on the sofa kissing a man. It was summer. The door was open. The TV was going. That’s one of the things I’ve seen.

My mother is sixty-five. She belongs to a singles club. Even so, it was hard. I stood with my hand on the railing and watched as the man kissed her. She was kissing him back, and the TV was going.

Things are better now. But back in those days, when my mother was putting out, I was out of work. My kids were crazy, and my wife was crazy. She was putting out too. The guy that was getting it was an unemployed aerospace engineer she’d met at AA. He was also crazy.

His name was Ross and he had six kids. He walked with a limp from a gunshot wound his first wife gave him.

I don’t know what we were thinking of in those days.

This guy’s second wife had come and gone, but it was his first wife who had shot him for not meeting his payments. I wish him well now. Ross. What a name! But it was different then. In those days I mentioned weapons. I’d say to my wife, “I think I’ll get a Smith and Wesson.” But I never did it.

Ross was a little guy. But not too little. He had a moustache and always wore a button-up sweater.

His one wife jailed him once. The second one did. I found out from my daughter that my wife went bail. My daughter Melody didn’t like it any better than I did. About the bail. It wasn’t that Melody was looking out for me. She wasn’t looking out for either one of us, her mother or me neither. It was just that there was a serious cash thing and if some of it went to Ross, there’d be that much less for Melody. So Ross was on Melody’s list. Also, she didn’t like his kids, and his having so many of them. But in general Melody said Ross was all right.

He’d even told her fortune once.

THIS Ross guy spent his time repairing things, now that he had no regular job. But I’d seen his house from the outside. It was a mess. Junk all around. Two busted Plymouths in the yard.

In the first stages of the thing they had going, my wife claimed the guy collected antique cars. Those were her words, “antique cars.” But they were just clunkers.

I had his number. Mr. Fixit.

But we had things in common, Ross and me, which was more than just the same woman. For example, he couldn’t fix the TV when it went crazy and we lost the picture. I couldn’t fix it either. We had volume, but no picture. If we wanted the news, we had to sit around the screen and listen.

Ross and Myrna met when Myrna was trying to stay sober. She was going to meetings, I’d say, three or four times a week. I had been in and out myself. But when Myrna met Ross, I was out and drinking a fifth a day. Myrna went to the meetings, and then she went over to Mr. Fixit’s house to cook for him and clean up. His kids were no help in this regard. Nobody lifted a hand around Mr. Fixit’s house, except my wife when she was there.

ALL this happened not too long ago, three years about. It was something in those days.

I left my mother with the man on her sofa and drove around for a while. When I got home, Myrna made me a coffee.

She went out to the kitchen to do it while I waited until I heard her running water. Then I reached under a cushion for the bottle.

I think maybe Myrna really loved the man. But he also had a little something on the side—a twenty-two-year-old named Beverly. Mr. Fixit did okay for a little guy who wore a button-up sweater.

He was in his mid-thirties when he went under. Lost his job and took up the bottle. I used to make fun of him when I had the chance. But I don’t make fun of him anymore.

God bless and keep you, Mr. Fixit.

He told Melody he’d worked on the moon shots. He told my daughter he was close friends with the astronauts. He told her he was going to introduce her to the astronauts as soon as they came to town.

It’s a modern operation out there, the aerospace place where Mr. Fixit used to work. I’ve seen it. Cafeteria lines, executive dining rooms, and the like. Mr. Coffees in every office.

Mr. Coffee and Mr. Fixit.

Myrna says he was interested in astrology, auras, I Ching—that business. I don’t doubt that this Ross was bright enough and interesting, like most of our ex-friends. I told Myrna I was sure she wouldn’t have cared for him if he wasn’t.

MY dad died in his sleep, drunk, eight years ago. It was a Friday noon and he was fifty-four. He came home from work at the sawmill, took some sausage out of the freezer for his breakfast, and popped a quart of Four Roses.

My mother was there at the same kitchen table. She was trying to write a letter to her sister in Little Rock. Finally, my dad got up and went to bed. My mother said he never said good night. But it was morning, of course.

“Honey,” I said to Myrna the night she came home. “Let’s hug awhile and then you fix us a real nice supper.”

Myrna said, “Wash your hands.”