“Call If You Need Me” Summary by Raymond Carver

“Call If You Need Me” is a short story by Raymond Carver that was unpublished during his lifetime. It can be found in the 2000 collection Call If You Need Me: The Uncollected Fiction and Other Prose. It’s about a married couple who take a summer getaway in the hope of salvaging their relationship. Here’s a summary of “Call If You Need Me”.

“Call If You Need Me” Summary

Dan and Nancy are renting a house for the summer in Eureka, California. They’ve both been seeing other people and have decided to try and salvage their relationship by cutting off contact and getting away with each other. Their son, Richard, who’s just graduated from high school, is going to his grandmother’s for the summer to work on a farm and save some money. She knows about the situation at home.

After a tearful goodbye from his mother, Richard is driven to the bus station by Dan. Richard asks if they’re getting divorced. They don’t want to; they’re going to try and work things out. They say an emotional goodbye.

Back at home in Palo Alto, Nancy’s in the kitchen with the young couple who’ll be taking their place for the summer. They have coffee and go over a few details. Dan starts loading up the car. The place they’re renting is furnished, so they don’t have to take a lot.

Call If You Need Me Summary by Raymond Carver
“Call If You Need Me” Raymond Carver Summary

Dan rented the house in Eureka three weeks ago, when he drove up there with Susan, the woman he’s been seeing. They stayed in a motel for three nights while he looked for a suitable place. Susan wished she was going to be with Dan for the summer, and felt the weakness of being “the other woman”.

Nancy has been seeing one of Dan’s colleagues, a dapper man with graying hair who drinks too much. She started up with him at a holiday party shortly after discovering Dan’s affair. In late April, Dan and Susan started making plans for their getaway.

Dan puts the last of their things in the trunk. Nancy joins him and they leave. Just before the freeway, they see a car with a broken muffler trailing the street with sparks flying. After a while, they stop at a café for coffee and sandwiches. They see a hummingbird outside the window, its wings a blur. They take it as a lucky sign.

Just before dark, they reach the house in Eureka. Along the way, they passed the motel where Dan had stayed with Susan. They walk through the house. Nancy likes it, and it’s clean. Dan will get some firewood tomorrow and they’ll go into town to shop. They’re both glad to be there.

For the next few days, they look in the town and hike behind the house. They have a truckload of firewood dropped off.

That night, they sit in front of the fireplace and talk about getting a dog. They talk about it a few days but they don’t look for one. Nancy gets in touch with her mother and asks about Richard.

In the middle of July, they see people fishing in some lagoons. It reminds them of a time they fished when Richard was little. They talk to the fishermen about what they’re catching and what they use as bait. They all wish each other luck when they leave.

They stop and buy fishing gear on the way home, with plans to go out in the morning. After dinner that night, Nancy says it won’t work. She doesn’t want to fish and doesn’t want a dog. She wants to visit Richard and her mother and be alone. She cries about missing Richard.

They each say the other will call the other person they’ve been seeing right away. Nancy’s exhausted and wants to go to bed. She’ll leave in the morning. She’s sorry for both of them that it won’t work.

Nancy goes to bed. Dan gets in his pajamas and sits by the fire. Through the window, he sees a horse grazing in the front yard. Turning on the porch light and looking out the window, he sees it’s a whole herd of white horses. They must have escaped a nearby farm.

“Call If You Need Me” Summary, Cont’d

Dan wakes Nancy, who looks like she’s been crying. She’s a bit scared at first, but Dan assures her she’s not in danger. He wants her to come see something. Dan goes ahead and Nancy soon follows in her robe. She thinks the horses are beautiful. Dan didn’t want to call the sheriff until she saw them.

Nancy wants to pet one of them. They don’t think they’ll bite, so they put on their coats and go outside. They each pet a horse and Nancy talks to it. Dan’s going to call the sheriff but Nancy wants him to wait; this is a once in a lifetime thing. She moves around, petting all of them. When one of them starts heading for the front, to the road, Dan calls.

Soon, two sheriff cars arrive followed by a man with a horse trailer. He and the deputies round them up. Dan and Nancy go inside and watch. Nancy feels good, like she’s on a high. They have coffee, listen to music and sit in front of the fire. They talk easily, forgetting their troubles a while, and dance. Toward morning, they go to bed and become intimate.

In the afternoon, Dan drives Nancy to a little airport. They have pleasant goodbye and hold each other. Nancy’s glad they have the memory of last night with the horses and their talk. It helps. Dan didn’t think this would happen to them. Nancy says she’ll write long letters, like the ones from high school.

Nancy boards the plane and Dan has fond feelings for her as she leaves. He waits until it takes off and becomes a speck in the distance.

Dan drives back to the house and looks at the hoofprints on the grounds. He goes inside and, without even taking off his coat, calls Susan.

(End of “Call If You Need Me” summary)

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