So Much Water So Close to Home
by Raymond Carver

MY husband eats with a good appetite. But I don’t think he’s really hungry. He chews, arms on the table, and stares at something across the room. He looks at me and looks away. He wipes his mouth on the napkin. He shrugs, and goes on eating.

“What are you staring at me for?” he says. “What is it?” he says and lays down his fork.

“Was I staring?” I say, and shake my head.

The telephone rings.

“Don’t answer it,” he says.

“It might be your mother,” I say.

“Watch and see,” he says.

I pick up the receiver and listen. My husband stops eating.

“What did I tell you?” he says when I hang up. He starts to eat again. Then throws his napkin on his plate. He says, “Goddamn it, why can’t people mind their own business? Tell me what I did wrong and I’ll listen! I wasn’t the only man there. We talked it over and we all decided. We couldn’t just turn around. We were five miles from the car. I won’t have you passing judgment. Do you hear?”

“You know,” I say.

He says, “What do I know, Claire? Tell me what I’m supposed to know. I don’t know anything except one thing.” He gives me what he thinks is a meaningful look. “She was dead,” he says. “And I’m as sorry as anyone else. But she was dead.”

“That’s the point,” I say.

He raises his hands. He pushes his chair away from the table. He takes out his cigarettes and goes out to the back with a can of beer. I see him sit in the lawn chair and pick up the newspaper again.

His name is in there on the first page. Along with the names of his friends.

I close my eyes and hold on to the sink. Then I rake my arm across the drainboard and send the dishes to the floor.

He doesn’t move. I know he’s heard. He lifts his head as if still listening. But he doesn’t move otherwise. He doesn’t turn around.

HE and Gordon Johnson and Mel Dorn and Vern Williams, they play poker and bowl and fish. They fish every spring and early summer before visiting relatives can get in the way. They are decent men, family men, men who take care of their jobs. They have sons and daughters who go to school with our son, Dean.

Last Friday these family men left for the Naches River. They parked the car in the mountains and hiked to where they wanted to fish. They carried their bedrolls, their food, their playing cards, their whiskey.

They saw the girl before they set up camp. Mel Dorn found her. No clothes on her at all. She was wedged into some branches that stuck out over the water.

He called the others and they came to look. They talked about what to do. One of the men—my Stuart didn’t say which—said they should start back at once. The others stirred the sand with their shoes, said they didn’t feel inclined that way. They pleaded fatigue, the late hour, the fact that the girl wasn’t going anywhere.

In the end they went ahead and set up the camp. They built a fire and drank their whiskey. When the moon came up, they talked about the girl. Someone said they should keep the body from drifting away. They took their flashlights and went back to the river. One of the men—it might have been Stuart—waded in and got her. He took her by the fingers and pulled her into shore. He got some nylon cord and tied it to her wrist and then looped the rest around a tree.

The next morning they cooked breakfast, drank coffee, and drank whiskey, and then split up to fish. That night they cooked fish, cooked potatoes, drank coffee, drank whiskey, then took their cooking things and eating things back down to the river and washed them where the girl was.

They played some cards later on. Maybe they played until they couldn’t see them anymore. Vern Williams went to sleep. But the others told stories. Gordon Johnson said the trout they’d caught were hard because of the terrible coldness of the water.

The next morning they got up late, drank whiskey, fished a little, took down their tents, rolled their sleeping bags, gathered their stuff, and hiked out. They drove until they got to a telephone. It was Stuart who made the call while the others stood around in the sun and listened. He gave the sheriff their names. They had nothing to hide. They weren’t ashamed. They said they’d wait until someone could come for better directions and take down their statements.

I WAS asleep when he got home. But I woke up when I heard him in the kitchen. I found him leaning against the refrigerator with a can of beer. He put his heavy arms around me and rubbed his big hands on my back. In bed he put his hands on me again and then waited as if thinking of something else. I turned and opened my legs. Afterwards, I think he stayed awake.

He was up that morning before I could get out of bed. To see if there was something in the paper, I suppose.

The telephone began ringing right after eight.

“Go to hell!” I heard him shout.

The telephone rang right again.

“I have nothing to add to what I already said to the sheriff!”

He slammed the receiver down.

“What is going on?” I said.

It was then that he told me what I just told you.

I SWEEP up the broken dishes and go outside. He is lying on his back on the grass now, the newspaper and can of beer within reach.

“Stuart, could we go for a drive?” I say.

He rolls over and looks at me. “We’ll pick up some beer,” he says. He gets to his feet and touches me on the hip as he goes past. “Give me a minute,” he says.

We drive through town without speaking. He stops at a roadside market for beer. I notice a great stack of papers just inside the door. On the top step a fat woman in a print dress holds out a licorice stick to a little girl. Later on, we cross Everson Creek and turn into the picnic grounds. The creek runs under the bridge and into a large pond a few hundred yards away. I can see the men out there. I can see them out there fishing.

So much water so close to home.

I say, “Why did you have to go miles away?”

“Don’t rile me,” he says.

We sit on a bench in the sun. He opens us cans of beer. He says, “Relax, Claire.”

“They said they were innocent. They said they were crazy.”

He says, “Who?” He says, “What are you talking about?”

“The Maddox brothers. They killed a girl named Arlene Hubly where I grew up. They cut off her head and threw her into the Cle Elum River. It happened when I was a girl.”

“You’re going to get me riled,” he says.

I look at the creek. I’m right in it, eyes open, face down, staring at the moss on the bottom, dead.

“I don’t know what’s wrong with you,” he says on the way home. “You’re getting me more riled by the minute.”

There is nothing I can say to him.

He tries to concentrate on the road. But he keeps looking into the rear-view mirror.

He knows.

STUART believes he is letting me sleep this morning. But I was awake long before the alarm went off. I was thinking, lying on the far side of the bed away from his hairy legs.

He gets Dean off for school, and then he shaves, dresses, and leaves for work. Twice he looks in and clears his throat. But I keep my eyes closed.

In the kitchen I find a note from him. It’s signed “Love.”

I sit in the breakfast nook and drink coffee and leave a ring on the note. I look at the newspaper and turn it this way and that on the table. Then I skid it close and read what it says. The body has been identified, claimed. But it took some examining it, some putting things into it, some cutting, some weighing, some measuring, some putting things back again and sewing them in.

I sit for a long time holding the newspaper and thinking. Then I call up to get a chair at the hairdresser’s.

I SIT under the dryer with a magazine on my lap and let Marnie do my nails.

“I am going to a funeral tomorrow,” I say.

“I’m sorry to hear that,” Marnie says.

“It was a murder,” I say.

“That’s the worst kind,” Marnie says.

“We weren’t all that close,” I say. “But you know.”

“We’ll get you fixed up for it,” Marnie says.

That night I make my bed on the sofa, and in the morning I get up first. I put on coffee and fix breakfast while he shaves.

He appears in the kitchen doorway, towel over his bare shoulder, appraising.

“Here’s coffee,” I say. “Eggs’ll be ready in a minute.”

I wake Dean, and the three of us eat. Whenever Stuart looks at me, I ask Dean if he wants more milk, more toast, etc.

“I’ll call you today,” Stuart says as he opens the door.

I say, “I don’t think I’ll be home today.”

“All right,” he says. “Sure.”

I dress carefully. I try on a hat and look at myself in the mirror. I write out a note for Dean.

Honey, Mommy has things to do this afternoon, but will be back later. You stay in or be in the backyard until one of us comes home.

Love, Mommy

 

I look at the word Love and then I underline it. Then I see the word backyard. Is it one word or two?

I DRIVE through farm country, through fields of oats and sugar beets and past apple orchards, cattle grazing in pastures. Then everything changes, more like shacks than farmhouses and stands of timber instead of orchards. Then mountains, and on the right, far below, I sometimes see the Naches River.

A green pickup comes up behind me and stays behind me for miles. I keep slowing at the wrong times, hoping he will pass. Then I speed up. But this is at the wrong times, too. I grip the wheel until my fingers hurt.

On a long clear stretch he goes past. But he drives along beside for a bit, a crewcut man in a blue workshirt. We look each other over. Then he waves, toots his horn, and pulls on up ahead.

I slow down and find a place. I pull over and shut off the motor. I can hear the river down below the trees. Then I hear the pickup coming back.

I lock the doors and roll up the windows.

“You all right?” the man says. He raps on the glass. “You okay?” He leans his arms on the door and brings his face to the window.

I stare at him. I can’t think what else to do.

“Is everything all right in there? How come you’re all locked up?”

I shake my head.

“Roll down your window.” He shakes his head and looks at the highway and then back at me. “Roll it down now.”

“Please,” I say, “I have to go.”

“Open the door,” he says as if he isn’t listening. “You’re going to choke in there.”

He looks at my breasts, my legs. I can tell that’s what he’s doing.

“Hey, sugar,” he says. “I’m just here to help is all.”

THE casket is closed and covered with floral sprays. The organ starts up the minute I take a seat. People are coming in and finding chairs. There’s a boy in flared pants and a yellow short-sleeved shirt. A door opens and the family comes in in a group and moves over to a curtained place off to one side. Chairs creak as everybody gets settled. Directly, a nice blond man in a nice dark suit stands and asks us to bow our heads. He says a prayer for us, the living, and when he finishes, he says a prayer for the soul of the departed.

Along with the others I go past the casket. Then I move out onto the front steps and into the afternoon light. There’s a woman who limps as she goes down the stairs ahead of me. On the sidewalk she looks around. “Well, they got him,” she says. “If that’s any consolation. They arrested him this morning. I heard it on the radio before I come. A boy right here in town.”

We move a few steps down the hot sidewalk. People are starting cars. I put out my hand and hold on to a parking meter. Polished hoods and polished fenders. My head swims.

I say, “They have friends, these killers. You can’t tell.”

“I have known that child since she was a little girl,” the woman says. “She used to come over and I’d bake cookies for her and let her eat them in front of the TV.”

BACK home, Stuart sits at the table with a drink of whiskey in front of him. For a crazy instant I think something’s happened to Dean.

“Where is he?” I say. “Where is Dean?”

“Outside,” my husband says.

He drains his glass and stands up. He says, “I think I know what you need.”

He reaches an arm around my waist and with his other hand he begins to unbutton my jacket and then he goes on to the buttons of my blouse.

“First things first,” he says.

He says something else. But I don’t need to listen. I can’t hear a thing with so much water going.

“That’s right,” I say, finishing the buttons myself. “Before Dean comes. Hurry.”