(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“Intensive Care” is told by a gossipy omniscient narrator partly through flashbacks. The story begins in the Beauty Nook, where several women are having their hair styled and listening to the details from head nurse Lois Hickey about how Cherry Oxendine Westall Palladino Stikes is dying in intensive care. In the women’s self-righteous view, Harold Stikes is getting just what he deserves for deserting his wife and children to marry Cherry.

The next scene shows Harold Stikes leaving the hospital, where he has been visiting Cherry, and driving indiscreetly to his old home in the suburban Camelot Hills development. While his former wife and their children are gone for the day, he lets himself in with his key, sits in the living room, and mulls over his decision to leave his family. The house is straight out of the pages of Southern Living magazine, with everything neat and orderly, and so was his previous life: Joan, his efficient former wife, a home-economics teacher, produced three children spaced three years apart before she got her tubes tied. However, hardworking Harold was infuriated one day when he found a magazine quiz called “How Good Is Your Marriage?” that Joan had filled out: She rated their marriage just average.

Six months later, Harold ran into redheaded, dynamite-figured Cherry Oxendine working in his own Food Lion deli, and events took their course. Cherry got cancer and had to have her breasts removed, but...

(The entire section is 583 words.)