Laura is Nick’s wife. They have been together for a year and a half. She is thirty five years old and a legal secretary. The narrator describes her as “easy to be with.” Nick’s depiction of Laura is based on the continuing “honeymoon” tone of their relationship. Laura’s comments and her expressions of affection for Nick are presented in marked contrast to the biting tenor of the exchanges between Terri and Mel.
Mel is a friend of the narrator, and husband of Terri. He is a cardiologist and is described as: “forty-five years old. He was tall and rangy with curly soft hair. His face and arms were brown from the tennis he played.” Mel, clearly an alcoholic, is the dominant voice in the conversation between the two couples, and the tone of the conversation changes as he becomes increasingly drunk. Mel is the one who continues to focus on the question of ”what we talk about when we talk about love.” He brings up Terri’s abusive ex-husband as a negative example of love. He then talks about an old couple who were almost killed in a car accident as an example of the “love” he’s talking about. Mel’s behavior also changes with his drunkenness, as “when he was sober, his gestures, all his movements, were precise, very careful.” As he becomes drunker, his comments to his wife take on an increasingly menacing tone, and he begins to seem capable of the abusive behavior Terri’s ex-husband had exhibited toward her. He eventually decides that he wishes to call his kids, who live with his ex-wife, then decides not to. He effectively turns the conversation between the two couples to the silence with which the story ends when he dumps his shot-glass upside down, spilling its contents on the table.
Nick is the narrator. He is thirty eight years old but beyond that does not describe himself or what he does for a living. He primarily plays the part of observer, as his contributions to the conversation are minimal. Nick’s perspective on his relationship with Laura, whom he’s been with for a year and a half, is in marked contrast to his observations of the menacing tone of the relationship between Mel and Terri. He is clearly in love with Laura and believes their relationship to be in the category of true love. Because Nick is the first-person narrator, the reader is given only his perspective of the other characters and is left to wonder if perhaps his relationship with Laura is bound to take the bitter turn toward the veiled hostility of Terri and Mel’s relationship.
Teresa is the second wife of Mel, who is also her second husband. She is described as: “a bonethin woman with a pretty face, dark eyes, and brown hair that hung down her back. She liked necklaces made of turquoise, and long pendant earrings.” The topic of “love” first revolves around a discussion of her abusive former husband Ed, who tried to kill her, made threats to Mel, and eventually shot himself in the head, taking three days to die from it, during which Terri stayed at his bedside. Terri’s behavior toward Mel walks a line between caution and menace; like Mel’s comments to her, her comments to him, while infused with terms of endearment, such as “honey,” smack of a deep-seated bitterness that is never directly expressed. It seems that, in her marriage to Mel, she is in some ways repeating her relationship with her abusive ex-husband. Terri See Teresa.
Jennifer Smith – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 12, Raymond Carver, Published by Gale Group, 2001.