Commentary by Karen Bernardo
In Raymond Carver’s “Gazebo,” the two central characters are a married couple named Duane and Holly. They are managers of a motel, for which they receive free lodging and utilities and a small stipend. We sense from Duane’s reference to their college days that this life is somehow far below the level they had expected for themselves, but they have each other and one day has just sort of naturally followed another, aimless as grass.
Shortly before the story opens, however, Duane has had an equally aimless and pointless affair with a Hispanic maid at the motel. Holly is beautiful but he can’t stop thinking of Juanita; he remembers the room in which they most often made love—Number 11—with a special affection. Still, he wants Holly to just get over his infidelity so they can get on with their heedless and thoughtless lives.
However, Holly cannot do this. She tries to rekindle the passion, even going so far as to pour whiskey on his stomach and licking it off. But when she looks at Duane she sees a man who has cheated on her, and a life that has cheated on her as well. As she says, “Something’s died in me….It took a long time for it to do it, but it’s dead. You’ve killed something, just like you’d took an axe to it. Everything is dirt now.” Duane tries to talk her out of feeling this way, but he knows she’s right. Even as they hole themselves up in an upstairs suite with a bottle of whiskey to settle things once and for all, Duane observes that “There was this funny thing of anything could happen now that we realized everything had.”
Again, in this story we find people who are somewhat shell-shocked by life. Both Holly and Duane, like the more upscale drinkers of “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love,” have found life so wanting in terms of meaning and value and worth that they simply go from moment to moment. Duane and Holly compare their lives to a standard resurrected from memory —in this case, it is an elderly couple who once invited Holly and Duane into their home for a glass of water. Behind the house there was a gazebo nestled under a grove of trees, and the old woman told Holly how many years before, “I mean a real long time ago, men used to come around and play music out there on a Sunday, and the people would sit and listen. I thought we’d be like that too when we got old enough. Dignified. And in a place. And people would come to our door.”
We see that it is not so much Duane’s infidelity that has “killed” Holly, but the impermanence it epitomizes. She wants roots, and instead has been granted the job of managing the affairs of transients in a home that isn’t a home and doesn’t even belong to her. The alcohol simply glazes over the pain, but it only works just so long before losing its effect.
This story can be found in the collection What We Talk About When We Talk About Love,
available in paperback from Amazon here.
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