Chroma Summary

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

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The unnamed narrator explains that his wife, Alicia, is not home this weekend; she is with her boyfriend, George. As part of their “new deal,” Alicia spends every other weekend with him. The narrator is therefore spending Saturday with his attractive neighbor, Juliet, a fitness and health buff in her twenties. Juliet lives next door with her girlfriend, Heather, who is thirty-five. At a restaurant, Juliet tries to get the narrator to say what is bothering him, but he is unwilling to discuss it. She abruptly announces, “When we go back to the house I want to make love to you.”

When they return to Juliet’s house, she sits the narrator down on the sofa. Looking out the sliding doors, he notices that Heather and Juliet do not have a real Weber barbecue. Juliet tries to seduce him, but the narrator feels uncomfortable with the idea. They hug and kiss but do not have sex.

Later in the afternoon the narrator is out driving and comes on Heather, who has been shopping and is riding the bus. He gives her a ride home. As they talk, Heather urges the narrator to take a stand against Alicia’s relationship with George. She also expresses concern about the narrator’s and Juliet’s interest in each other. On arriving home, they find Alicia working with some potted plants. Alicia invites Heather and Juliet to join them later for dinner. After Heather leaves, Alicia suggests that they go inside for a nap.

Juliet and Heather arrive at eight. There is a phone call from George in the middle of dinner, and Alicia goes into the other room to talk privately. Heather and Juliet become uncomfortable; Juliet gives the narrator a “sweet look out of the tops of her eyes.” After Heather and Juliet leave, he tells Alicia about his earlier dalliance with Juliet. Unhappy, Alicia points out that their “deal” was that she would be free to go out while he stayed home and remained faithful to her. Pointing out that he looks unhappy, she asks if he will be okay if she goes out, clearly hinting that he should ask her to stay home. He does not pick up his cue. “Maybe I ought to stay?” she asks; he replies, “I’m O.K.” Soon George arrives, honking his horn to summon Alicia.

The narrator watches television alone, fantasizes about Juliet, and eventually falls asleep. He is wakened by the doorbell. It is Heather, upset because Juliet has told her that she kissed him and offered to make love to him. The narrator tries to placate her, telling her that it was a sweet gesture, but one that nobody took seriously. Heather blurts out, “I don’t want us in your mess.” He admits that he feels “lousy” about the whole situation.

Alicia returns before midnight. She asks the narrator to talk to her while she takes a bath. He tells her that he did not sleep with Juliet but that they had a “terrific time.” He stares at his wife, thinking that she is beautiful. They finally talk seriously, wondering aloud if they are “in trouble,” as Heather had said, and wondering why he is becoming interested in Juliet, which was not part of the plan. Alicia guesses that they can save their marriage if they want to. Then she holds up her hands in a way that the narrator interprets to mean that she wants to straighten out something very important. Instead, she says that she is hungry for—“dying for”—cheese ball and has been thinking about it all night long. She will even make it herself. The story ends with the narrator trying to sort out his feelings as his wife has thrown him yet another curve. “She’s so beautiful,” he thinks.