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January 26, 2012

Are These Actual Miles? by Raymond Carver- Summary

Are These Actual Miles? by Raymond Carver- Summary

Leo met Toni when she used to sell children's encyclopedias. He bought a set even though he didn't have any children. They went on a date and later married.

One day, years later, they were discussing selling their convertible. Leo said that they needed to sell it immediately for as much CASH as possible, because the coming Monday they would have to go to court. They would be asked questions and would have to sign papers; if they kept the car it would be taken from them. Leo was sending Toni out to sell the car. It was 4 p.m. and Toni was taking her time getting ready; she was trying to look as dignified as possible. Leo sat near her, nervously asking her questions, and trying to hurry her along.

When she was finally ready Leo walked her out onto the porch. He can see Ernest Williams across the street watering his plants-one morning, last winter while Toni and the kids were visiting her mother, Leo brought a woman home. The next morning around 9 a.m. he walked her to her car; Ernest Williams was outside getting his paper and when he saw Leo with the woman, he slapped his newspaper against his leg hard.

Leo tells Toni to start the bargaining at nine hundred dollars.

Ernest Williams turns his hose towards them, and Leo has to fight the nagging urge to confess.

They bought the car three years ago when they had no money troubles. As Toni pulls out of the driveway, Leo tells her things will be different after Monday.

Leo goes inside, pours himself a scotch, and goes out into the backyard. He sits there thinking to himself about a letter they received three days ago from their kids, who were staying with his mother. They said they were having fun and they got a new dog.

Leo goes inside and pours himself another drink, his hands trembling as he pours.

He has a flashback to his childhood; his father pointed out the house of a man named Finch, and said that he had declared bankruptcy at least twice. Finch lived in the picture perfect house.

Leo thought to himself: at least they still had the furniture and clothes. The kid's bikes had been sent to his mom's house for safekeeping. The portable air conditioner, appliances, and the new washer and dryer had been repossessed.

Toni had always bought whatever food or books that she wanted; she had to do without when she was a child and she was not going to let her own children know what it was like to want something that you couldn't have. Leo never complained. They lived a very extravagant lifestyle.

Leo thinks for a moment about hanging himself.

He goes back into the house, pours another drink, makes dinner, cleans up, and then lets himself look at the clock-it was 9 p.m., Toni had been gone for five hours.

Leo pours another drink, 10 p.m., another drink, and finally the phone rings.

Toni tells Leo that she sold the car, and now she is having drinks with the man she sold it to, and later they were going to dinner. Leo asks her where she is, but Toni says that she doesn't know. All Leo can hear in the background is piano music. She apologizes for not calling sooner, and says that she has to go. Leo tries to stall her, but she hung up on him.

Leo thinks about going to bed, but he knows that he will have the same dream again-a large grey-haired woman watches him tie his shoelaces, he looks up at her and then goes back to tying his shoelaces, he clenches his fist.

The phone rings again. Leo asks Toni where she is. Toni tells him that she is at the restaurant. He asks her which one, she tells him she doesn't know. She asks someone and they apparently tell her New Jimmy's. She tells him that she will be home soon, and that she got 625 dollars for the car. Leo tries to persuade her to come home immediately, but she says no and hangs up.

Leo calls New Jimmy's, a man answers and tells him that the restaurant has closed for the night.

Three hours later, the phone rings, but there is only a dial tone.

Just before dawn, Toni comes stumbling in, he cocks his fist. She tells him to go ahead; she lunges toward him, ripping his shirt down the front, and screaming "Bankrupt!" (589). He steps back, looking for something heavy. She stumbles to the bedroom, and passes out on the bed. Leo splashes some water on his face, and goes to the bedroom. He took off her clothes; he examined her panties and then threw them in the corner, and rolled her under the covers, naked.

He takes the check out of her purse and studies it.

He hears a car pull up into the driveway. He goes to the window and sees the convertible. A tall man came and dropped something off on the porch and walked back to the car. Leo turned on the porch light and stepped outside. He saw Toni's make-up bag; the man looks at Leo as he gets into the car. Leo calls out to him to stop. Leo walked up to car. The man is in a hurry to leave.

Ernest Williams' bedroom light went on.

Leo tells the man "Monday." The man doesn't know what he means, but decides to play along. Before the man leaves he asks Leo: "between friends, are these actual miles?" then pulls away after he gets no response from Leo (590).

Leo goes back into the house, locks the door. He goes into the bedroom and locks that door as well. He takes off his clothes and gets into bed. He lies on his back for a while before turning over onto his side. He traces the stretch marks on Toni's hip. He thinks they are like roads. He thinks of the morning after they bought the car, looking at it shiny in the driveway.


Carver, Raymond. "Are These Actual Miles?" The Oxford Book of American Short Stories. Ed. Joyce Carol Oates. New York: Oxford UP, 1992. 583-90.