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Raymond Carver
by Dan Chaon

Raymond Carver walks into a bar and comes up to me to say hi. I donít know how I recognize him, but I do. We shake hands. "Jesus Christ, Mr. Carver," I say. "I thought you were dead!" but he says no, heís just gone into hiding. And I feel a great sense of being happy, even though I never knew the man. I feel relieved.

We sit there for a while, drinking beers. He is a quiet guy, and reminds me a lot of my dad, who really is dead. He has big, callused hands, oversized, like a carpenterís. He has the old fashioned habit of leaving his money, paper bills, on the bar in front of him. When he puts his money back in his wallet, the bartender will know not to refill his glass. But while the money is there, the bartender doesnít have to ask. I watch as Mr. Carver sips his beer and purses the foam off his lips. I donít quite know what to say to the guy. I admire him a lot.

So instead we sit there watching the TV above the bar. Itís the local news, and the high school basketball scores are being displayed in boxes the color of swimming pools. He keeps glancing over at me wryly, and after a time he takes a cigarette from my pack and puts it up to his nose, smelling it. "Do you mind?" he says, and I watch as he puts the cigarette to his mouth and uses my lighter. He takes a long drag, and smoke curls out of his nose.

"How much do you smoke?" he says conversationally, and since I know that he was supposed to have died of lung cancer, I feel apologetic.

"Iím trying to cut down," I say, and he grins, takes another sip of beer.

"Thatís okay," he says. "Iím not trying to bust your balls."

"Iím going to quit," I say, "by the time I turn forty."

"Uh-huh," he says. He is really enjoying his cigarette. He takes two or three definitive puffs before he blows the smoke out. "Donít worry about it," he says. "Forget I ever said anything."

"OK," I say, and there is a long silence. At the end of the bar, we both observe as a man and a woman argue over a plastic card, maybe a driverís license or a VISA. "Take it," the man says, and the woman says, "No, not anymore, you bastard. I donít want it, now."

After a moment, Mr. Carver turns back to me, bright-eyed. "This feels so good!" he says. "Boy, arenít you glad to be alive?" And I think for a long while before I nod.

"Raymond Carver" was first published in Artful Dodge. It appears here by permission of Dan Chaon.

All content in SmokeLong Quarterly copyright 2003-2014 by its authors.

Dan Chaon's books include You Remind Me of Me, a novel, and Among the Missing, a short story collection. He lives in Cleveland.

Read the interview.
Issue Eighteen (September 15, 2007): When the Toasts Stopped Being Funny by Steve Almond «» Nailed by Robert J. Bradley «» Raymond Carver by Dan Chaon «» The Sound of Success by Terry DeHart «» Ethnic Lego Girls Carry Spears by Heidi W. Durrow «» Mole Man by Stuart Dybek «» Party by Emily Fridlund «» From Halliville To Grice's Town by Jason Jackson «» Starfish by Jeff Landon «» Insomnia of an Elderly French Designer by Sean Lovelace «» Display by Davin Malasarn «» Little Bones by Kuzhali Manickavel «» Stigmata by Susan O'Neill «» Inroads by Dominic Preziosi «» Bachon by Teri Davis Rouvelas «» Voc Rehab Vignettes by Jessica Schantz «» Neighbors by Curtis Smith «» Caging the Thing by Beth Thomas «» Interviews: Steve Almond «» Robert J. Bradley «» Randall Brown «» Dan Chaon «» Terry DeHart «» Heidi W. Durrow «» Stuart Dybek «» Emily Fridlund «» Jason Jackson «» Jeff Landon «» Sean Lovelace «» Davin Malasarn «» Kuzhali Manickavel «» Mary Miller «» Susan O'Neill «» Dominic Preziosi «» Teri Davis Rouvelas «» Jessica Schantz «» Curtis Smith «» Beth Thomas «» Cover Art "Repression of an Open Mind" by Marty D. Ison «» Letter From the Editor
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