The Wait Themes
by Rick Bass

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Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

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Although the narrator says he thinks he and his girlfriend will get back together “because we have been together far too long not to come back together,” he has little confidence in his own prediction because this time “it was a little different.” His response is to get out of the house. Although his wildness has in the past necessitated escaping from domesticity, which may be associated here with the feminine (Marge goes back home to Virginia, a state that is symbolically feminine), the narrator has a desire for home and family, and the domesticity of his two fishing buddies is attractive to him.

In the course of the story one senses that male companionship is not sufficient. Part of what makes Jack and Kirby best friends, the narrator realizes, is that their wives are also each other’s best friends. None of the feminine figures alluded to in the story are actually present, but their absence prompts desire; they include Marge, Kirby’s and Jack’s wives (Tricia, who has made lunches for them, and Wendy), the missing Renee Jackson, the pregnant redfish, Kirby’s seven-month-old daughter (also named Kirby, which suggests a close father-daughter relationship), and Jack’s dental assistant (whose “bosoms” Kirby claims he can see when she leans over the dentist’s chair). Even one of the strawberry-colored artificial shrimp that they are using as bait looks “like a woman coming out of her slip.” Near the end of the story the narrator describes the sky as “a lurid black, a horrible purple, like the bruise on the inside of a woman’s thigh.” One might question, at this point, how “wild” the narrator has been with Marge. He has never been married, and he sees himself as being even less ready to be a husband than to be a father. Perhaps his weeping over the missing Renee is not so much a display of his compassion and sensitivity as an expression of guilt.

The men in this story are generally associated with a sort of bestial wildness. The narrator associates himself with bulldogging; when he runs off into the mountains in Montana, he sees himself as lying in the sun “like a dog.” Kirby tells Jack that he has dreamed that his friend was “a raccoon, banging around in the garbage.” Jack, who is associated with the coyote, describes his wife as a “hellcat.” Jack’s seventy-nine-year-old father is mentioned at one point as ranting, raving, and “howling” when his son had engine troubles with a boat. The shameless “popdicks” who invade the men’s fishing spot come from a “black squall line, savage thunderstorms, wicked cold streaks of lightning.”

In short, the men in this story appear to be so concerned with not looking like “sissy-pants” shore fishermen that they risk “the shutdown of a life.” Early in the story the narrator says that he feels “like an outlaw, an alien” because the two men riding in the front of the jeep are husbands and fathers. When Jack takes over the throttle of the boat, the narrator sees that he, too, has become an outlaw, but a happy one, and then he recognizes that “the longer you go without something, the happier you are when you finally get it.” This truism applies to the coyote at the end of the story and may eventually hold true for the narrator as well.