Comfort Summary

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

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Laurie and Michaela have been friends since their senior year at Skidmore College. Because neither girl has definite plans, they have rented an apartment in Saratoga together while holding down nondescript jobs.

One spring evening about a year out of college, they are rocking themselves in wicker chairs at home facing tall bay windows, open to admit the warm breeze. They are waiting for Laurie’s mother’s current boyfriend, Ted Bremmer, to arrive for dinner. Laurie’s mother, who lives in New York City, works for a business firm. She has asked the girls to give the presumably middle-aged man a little tender loving care while he is in Saratoga to direct a television spot for the Saratoga Performing Arts Center.

While killing time, the two girls talk of Laurie’s mother, whose affairs Michaela has always followed with interest. In Laurie’s opinion, her mother has not been very discriminating in her choice of boyfriends, but she has been with Ted for almost a year, longer than with some of the other “jerks.” Although she allows that her mother feels comfortable with Ted, she distrusts him. She explains that the previous summer, Ted ogled her while the three of them were at the shore. Michaela, grinning mischievously, suggests that Laurie test him by attempting to seduce him. When Laurie objects, Michaela volunteers to try it herself. Laurie has always compared herself unfavorably with Michaela, whose control over things, grace and ease, “a sensuality that offered refuge yet promised nothing,” she admires. She reluctantly acquiesces to Michaela’s suggestion.

Ted appears belatedly with excuses and a bottle of good wine. At first, he lavishes his attention on Laurie rather than on Michaela, who he is meeting for the first time. He talks disparagingly about his work but nevertheless appreciates the role of television spots in paying for programming. As the conversation proceeds, Laurie becomes more critical and Michaela more appreciative of these television commercials. Laurie ventures that the world might be better off without the propaganda. Observing Laurie’s critical mind-set, Michaela observes that she sounds like something left over from the 1960’s.

While they talk of other things, more wine is being consumed all around, following the hard drinks that the two girls drank while waiting for Ted to appear. Eventually, all three move to the kitchen to prepare the salad, the pasta, even baste the bread—a deviation from the girls’ normal dinner routine of heating of frozen foods and throwing salads together with whatever vegetables are wilting in the refrigerator. While Ted steps out to his car to pick up pills for the hay fever that has bothered him all evening, Michaela tells Laurie that she thinks he is nice and good-looking, and that she likes him. Laurie is more judgmental, characterizing him as smooth and slick.

Laurie’s mostly repressed hostility to Michaela mounts. She silently resents Michaela’s tendency to think of their place as if it were her house, with her as the hostess and Laurie herself as merely another visitor. Because of the drinks, Laurie is becoming light-headed and fantasizes that she is a young child and that Ted and Michaela are her parents.

Ted is both cynical and funny in his comments. He talks about trained cats who refuse to perform on cue and about not finding a talking seal for an art director for whom he once worked. He confesses that at times he does not know why a grown man does these things. Meanwhile, Laurie’s anger keeps mounting. At one point Michaela follows her and asks pointedly what is wrong with her.

Back in the front room, they talk about Greek islands that Ted and Michaela both happen to know. In order to arouse Ted, Michaela spins a story about a sexual event, allegedly part dream, part fact, that involves a boy about twelve years old and includes a bit about her sleeping naked on a beach in Crete. Laurie, feeling increasingly left out and embarrassed, tries to change the mood and derail Michaela’s increasing obvious play for Ted by suggesting they telephone her mother and all talk to her. When Ted rejects the idea, Laurie goes to her room and falls asleep. When she awakens in the middle of the night, she discovers that Ted is in her friend’s room.

The next morning, Laurie wakes up again with a hangover. Michaela is still asleep but now alone. Laurie cleans up the front room and the kitchen, then calls Ted at his motel. When he answers, she lets out an expletive and hangs up.

Michaela eventually gets up and admits to the seduction, breaking the promise of silence that she made to Ted. Laurie becomes even more disconsolate and swears that she will kill Michaela if her mother ever finds out. Michaela replies, “But at least we know, don’t we? That’s sort of a comfort, isn’t it?”