A Serious Talk The concept of a relationship being over is hard for some to grasp. Ending a relationship is many times one person's decision. For some, the concept of not feeling wanted by that other person is too hard to handle. Feelings of jealousy surface and people choose different ways to deal with this. Denial, anger, and resentment are classic ways of coping with the hardships of losing a partner's love and support. "A Serious Talk" by Raymond Carver expresses this inability to let go of a relationship.
"A Serious Talk", is a story of a divorced couple, Vera and Burt; Vera lives with their children in her home that was once theirs, and Burt frequently visits despite Vera's clear indication that she does not want him there. Vera has established a new life with different friends and a new love interest, while Burt lives as though they are still together, not able to let go.
The story begins as Burt pulls into the driveway of Vera's house. Carver reflects back to the previous night, when Burt had entered the house with Christmas presents for his children and ex-wife, and they all exchange gifts. Burt sits down in his old chair and feels a sense of normalcy, he "liked it where he was. He liked it in front of the fireplace, a glass in his hand, his house, his home" (Carver 163). Burt then walks toward the fireplace and throws five sawdust logs in it and darts for the patio door, taking six pies that the author describes as: "one for every ten times she had ever betrayed him" (Carver 163), showing how Burt is aware of his actions, and linking them to reasoning. Burt is not the only one encountering problems with change, Vera also has her own set of them.
After the reflection of the previous night, as Burt knocks on the back door, Vera answers. She tells him to leave, she tells him "I can't take this any more. You tried to burn the house down" (Carver 164) yet never does a thing about it and later goes to a separate room to talk to her boyfriend. This is a major example of their miscommunication. Despite her anger, Vera lets him in and they begin to talk. Burt questions her on her friend that came over after he had left the night before, and she immediately responds by saying: "If your going to start that, you can go right now"(Carver 164), proving this was not the first time the question arose. She does not know how to stay away from the unhealthy communication, since it seems as if she teases him, letting him know that there is someone, and he is not the man of the house anymore. The subject is quickly dropped and Vera goes over to her stove to get the pilot light working. Burt strangely imagines her catching fire and him saving her. He feels that he will be able to win her back by saving her, like a hero. He yearns to feel wanted by her and does not know how to attain that. After reaching this point in the story, is unclear if Burt's intentions were actually to light the house on fire with the logs, being that it would give him a perfect situation to save her and the children and possibly win her back, or simply so he could have an excuse to return to the house the next day.
Although it is still the morning, Burt asks for a drink and fetches a glass of vodka for himself. After getting his drink, Burt apologizes again as Vera heads to the bathroom. The phone rings twice and Burt picks up. The person asks for "Charlie" both times, and Burt tells them he's not here. Being that no "Charlie" was mentioned in the story, there are three possibilities; it could be a wrong number, it could be for his son whose name could be "Charlie" though it was not mentioned, or maybe it could be the name Vera told her boyfriend to use if a man answers the phone knowing it would be Burt. Shortly after this incident, the phone rings again and Burt picks up then gives it to Vera. She tells him to hang up the phone when she picks up the other line in her bedroom. Burt takes the phone from her, and after hearing a man clear his throat on the phone, he cuts the wire and the phone goes dead. Vera heads back to the kitchen confused, and discovers the cut wire. At this point she attacks him with threats of calling the police and obtaining a restraining order, and then throws him out of the house. He leaves, but not before taking "their" ashtray with him. Carver states: "He hoped he had made something clear. The thing was, they had to have a serious talk soon" (Carver 169). Burt taking the ashtray is a way of telling Vera that he will be back. If he takes the ashtray, he has a reason to return, just like he did the night before when he used the fire as an excuse to come back to apologize. Even in the car, he drives in reverse still holding the ashtray like a metal, like if he was obsessed, until he finally puts it down at the very end. No serious talk ever happened, nothing has changed, just another example of how badly they deal with change. One person can't let go of the past while the other just threatens and asks for problems.
The problem with the relationship at hand is that no closure was established, no problems were discussed, and nothing was resolved between them. The deprivation the both suffer is their inability to talk to talk to each other. Burt harbors resentment and jealousy, and Vera would like to move on with her new life, bluntly in the presence of Burt. They both approach their situation in different ways, but have never had an actual conversation about their problems, or how to deal with them. The ashtray is just a promise that the story's title will occur.