“Neighbors” by Raymond Carver: Summary of Short Story

“Neighbors” is a short story by Raymond Carver from his 1976 collection Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?, where it can be read in the preview (44% in). It’s about a couple who watch their neighbor’s apartment while they’re away. Here’s a summary of “Neighbors”.

“Neighbors” Summary

Bill and Arlene Miller are happy, but feel their lives aren’t as interesting as those of others in their social circle. Their neighbors across the hall, Jim and Harriet Stone, seem to have more active social lives and frequently travel.

While the Stones go on a business and pleasure trip, the Millers agree to watch their place. They say a friendly goodbye; the Millers wish they were getting away.

After dinner, Bill goes over to the Stones’ apartment. He notices a clock that Harriet was excited to get. He puts out a can of food for the cat. He takes a bottle of Harriet’s pills from the medicine cabinet and puts it in his pocket. He waters the plants, then takes a drink from a bottle in the back of the liquor cabinet and puts it back.

Neighbors by Raymond Carver Summary
“Neighbors” Raymond Carver Summary

Bill leaves with the cat sleeping on the couch. He feels like he’s forgotten something. Arlene asks what kept him; he says he was playing with the cat. He touches her intimately and they go to bed.

The next day, Bill leaves work a little early and meets Arlene at their door as she’ getting home. He looks at the Stones’s door before going in. He wants to go to bed right away and grabs at Arlene. She’s surprised but receptive. After, they eat Chinese food and listen to music.

Bill goes over to the Stones’ apartment. He feeds the cat and waters the plants. He examines the cupboards, fridge and the bedroom. He takes cigarettes from the drawer. Arlene comes to the door; he’s been there over an hour. He says he had to go to the bathroom. That night, they’re intimate again.

Bill doesn’t go to work the next day. He’s listless and takes a walk, which makes him feel a bit better. He into the Stones’ apartment where it seems cooler and darker. He walks through the rooms slowly, observing, and then lies on the bed. He has trouble remembering the Stones and what day it is.

He tries on some of Jim’s clothes and has some drinks. He puts on some of Harriet’s clothes and looks out the living room window for a while. He puts everything away and leaves.

Bill and Arlene don’t eat much that evening. Arlene goes over to the Stones’ place. Bill is restless and follows later. Arlene’s been gone a while; she says she was playing with the cat.

They go back to their apartment. There’s lint on her sweater and her cheeks are flushed. They start kissing. Arlene remembers she forgot to feed the cat and water the plants. They start to go to the Stones’. In the hallway, Arlene tells Bill she found some pictures—ones Bill will have to see for himself.

Arlene surprises herself by suggesting the Stones might not come back. She realizes she left the key inside the Stones’ apartment. The door is locked. She’s stressed and Bill hugs her and says not to worry. They stand there, holding each other, leaning against the door.

I hope this “Neighbors” summary by Raymond Carver was helpful.