Tag: enigmas

Carver, “Are You a Doctor?” (1973)

The magnetism of an enigma. Arnold Breit, at home, gets a phone call from a woman, Clara Holt, who can’t explain why she is calling or how she got the number. The sitter may have written down the number. Arnold is bothered. His number is unlisted. He wants to hang up. She doesn’t let him. There’s nothing untoward about her insistence, but she is insistent. She keeps him on the line, asks him for his name, then his last name, gives him hers. He lights a cigar and stays on. Then she seems to end the conversation abruptly, soon after telling him they must meet. She later calls back. “I’m sorry we got cut off.” She calls again the next afternoon. She tells him it’s important they meet–at her home. He can’t help himself. He goes. When he shows up, a little girl improbably opens the door. Her mother is not there. She’s gone to the pharmacy to get some medicines. The girl invites Arnold in, having been told to do so. She tells him she’s not sick. Soon Clara is home with shopping bags, some medicine. “Are you a doctor?” she asks. He’s not. He tells her he must go. She insists, mirroring the non-seductive seduction of the phone conversation. He stays. She tells him she’d checked with the sitter about the number. Someone had called and left a number for Clara, and that’s the number the sitter wrote down. He must leave. He wants to leave. He gets up, she gets up, he takes her around the waist, clumsily, regretfully, and kisses her, as if it was expected, as if there was nothing else to do to ease an exit. He leaves. The phone is ringing when he gets home. He doesn’t pick it up. later when he doesn’t, it’s his wife, who’s been calling all evening. “You don’t sound like yourself,” she tells him.

It’s not clear who the intruder is: she intrudes, but so does he, playing along. They’re both willing to pursue the odd thread, neither so certain who’s weaving it.

Fictions, 1973