Short Stories for Students

What I Saw from Where I Stood

What I Saw from Where I Stood

Marisa Silver
2001

INTRODUCTION
AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY
PLOT SUMMARY
CHARACTERS
THEMES
STYLE
HISTORICAL CONTEXT
CRITICAL OVERVIEW
CRITICISM
SOURCES
FURTHER READING

INTRODUCTION

When Marisa Silver's short story collection Babe in Paradise appeared in print in 2001, it received enthusiastic reviews, many of which singled out "What I Saw from Where I Stood" as one of its best stories. The story chronicles one week in the lives of young couple, Charles and Dulcie, who a year earlier had miscarried after six months of pregnancy. Charles, the "I" of the title, tells their story from his perspective, from "where [he] stood," as he struggles to help his wife deal with the baby's death and to gain enough strength to face the future. Through his narrative that subtly details his observations and responses to his wife's pain, Silver presents a poignant study of the healing influence of compassion and support, and the resilience of the human spirit.

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY

Marisa Silver was born on April 23, 1960, in Shaker Heights, New Jersey, to Raphael Silver, a film director and producer, and Joan Micklin Silver, a director. While taking classes in the early 1990s at Harvard University, Silver began writing short stories, but her interest in film turned her attention to directing and editing documentaries, including with Peter Davis, the Emmy-nominated "A Community of Praise," a segment of the Middletown series for PBS, which profiled Christian fundamentalists. In 1992, she directed an episode of L. A. Law and Indecency, a film for television. She gained fame,

however, at age twenty-four for her work in film, beginning with Old Enough, which she wrote and co-produced with her sister Dina in 1984. The film won the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival that year. Her directorial success continued with Permanent Record in 1988, Vital Signs in 1990, and He Said, She Said in 1991, with Ken Kwapis who later became her husband.

Silver turned to fiction writing toward the end of the decade when she decided that she did not have enough creative control over her work in films. During this period, she attended creative writing workshops, and in 2001, she had a collection of short stories, Babe in Paradise published. In 2005, her novel No Direction Home appeared. Both works received positive reviews. Silver has also contributed articles to various periodicals, including the New Yorker, American Film, Hollywood Reporter, Interview, People, and Working Woman. As of 2005, she lived with her husband and two sons in Los Angeles.

PLOT SUMMARY

Charles, a young telephone repairman who narrates the story, explains at the beginning of "What I Saw from Where I Stood" that his wife Dulcie, a second-grade teacher, is afraid of the Los Angeles freeways. He remembers that she had to drive home from a party that they went to the previous week after he got drunk. Her touch as she took the keys from his pocket excited him, especially since he admits that she has not been touching him very much lately. Dulcie sank lower in the driver's seat when they passed the hospital where she had miscarried their baby a year earlier after being pregnant for six months.

During the drive home, they were rear-ended. As he and Dulcie got out of the car to inspect the damage, which was minor to such an old car, four or five men emerged from the van that hit them and started posturing. One then pulled a gun. After Dulcie screamed, "Don't shoot," another demanded her keys, which she immediately threw on the ground. Charles calmly picked up the keys and handed them to one of the men along with money from his wallet. When the man with the gun did not move, Charles panicked, grabbed Dulcie's hand, and ran down a side street. They made it to the police station where Dulcie expressed her fears about the men getting their keys and address, but the police gave them "their heartfelt assurance" that there was nothing the police could do for them. They tried to convince Dulcie that carjackers showing up at the homes of their victims "almost never happened," but she was not reassured and so spent a sleepless night going over the details of the crime.

She grew more agitated as she tried and failed to find any logical explanation for what happened. Charles notes that she did the same thing when they lost their baby a year before, as she struggled to find some reason for it or someone to blame even though she had been told that what had happened was no one's fault. As they laid there in bed, Charles told her not to think about what could have happened during the carjacking, but Dulcie insisted, "How can you not think about it?"

When Charles came home from work the next day, he noticed that Dulcie had obviously been crying for a long time. She also had moved the mattress from their bedroom to the middle of the living room to get away from the rat that had nested in the bedroom wall and had been waking them up for the past month with its scratching. When the janitor refused to do anything about it, Charles had patched every hole in the apartment so that the rat would not be able to get in, which reassured Dulcie. After the carjacking, though, her fears returned, and she became convinced that the rat would find a way into the apartment. She also insisted that Charles put his voice on the answering machine so that callers know that there is a man living there.

That night, they slept with the lights on so that, Dulcie insisted, people knew they were home and would not break in. She then, however, considered the possibility that anyone would assume they were out of town if the lights were on at four in the morning. When she wondered whether she should get an inflatable man to put in the seat beside her while driving alone and insisted that there was a good chance that any man driving next to her would have a gun, Charles tried to calm her. He explains how difficult it was for Dulcie when her milk came in two days after their baby died. She had exclaimed, "What a waste."

The next evening, Charles was startled by someone throwing an egg at his car until he realized that it was Halloween. He notes that normally Dulcie enjoys decorating for the holiday and greeting children at the door, but this night he found no decorations and a dark apartment. Dulcie refused to open the door to anyone, afraid that teenagers would be out, "looking for trouble."

When the doorbell rang, Charles waved away Dulcie's protests and opened the door to a boy wearing a cowboy outfit. Charles tried to give him some cookies, but the boy would not take them, insisting that he was only allowed to take things that are wrapped. After he heard other children trick-or-treating on the floor below, Charles insisted to Dulcie that they could not live like this any longer, but she replied, "I can."

Three days after the carjacking, Dulcie returned to work. Charles explains how much she loves teaching. Later that day, however, she showed him a new rule at the school that forbids teachers to touch their students and declared, "this is a f——up town." The two then tried to make jokes about the city.

The following Saturday, Dulcie called the exterminator after she read that rats could carry airborne viruses. When the exterminator arrived, he told them that rats come inside houses to get warm and to have babies, which visibly upset Dulcie.

Charles explains that a month after the baby died, they received the ashes in the mail. When Dulcie realized what they were, she began to giggle uncontrollably. They decided to scatter the ashes in the ocean. After Charles waded out into the water and dumped the contents of the small bag into the ocean, Dulcie told him, "I think that's the bravest thing I've ever seen a person do."

One week after the carjacking, the police told them that their car was found, and it was being held in South Central Los Angeles, a dangerous part of town. The officer warned Charles to go there early in the morning. When they got to the car, they discovered that it had been stripped of everything, including the steering wheel, and so they had to leave it at the pound. Dulcie begged Charles not to make her go with him to the police lineup to pick out the men who robbed them.

Charles dropped Dulcie off at school and walked for hours on a path up into the mountains, thinking about whether he should leave her. He admits that he had been looking forward to the baby and remembers how he felt during its birth, acknowledging that he felt like he would die if anything happened to Dulcie. When he got home, he took the mattress back into the bedroom. Dulcie did not say anything to him about it when she returned, realizing that he had made up his mind to get things back to normal. When he turned to her in bed, she did not move away as he expected she would. As they began to make love, Dulcie got nervous and mentioned getting her diaphragm, but Charles insisted that it would be okay without it. The two were very frightened at the prospect of facing another pregnancy, but they did not stop.

CHARACTERS

Charles

Charles is a young repairman for the telephone company who, although he likes to get drunk at parties, proves himself to be very responsible, supportive, and caring with his wife Dulcie. …