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.
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.