In the second story of the Raymond Carver short story collection, Will You Please Be Quiet, Please, we have Neighbors and the theme of curiosity and voyeurism. Written in the third person Carver begins the story by introducing the reader to Bill and Arlene Miller, a married couple living in an apartment block. Immediately Carver has Bill and Arlene on the outside. They both feel as if life has passed them by, particularly when they compare themselves to their neighbours from across the hall, Jim and Harriet Stone. The Stones are going on a ten day trip and they ask the Millers to look after their apartment for them. The first night that the Stones are away Bill is talking to Harriet in their kitchen, telling her that he is going across to the Stones apartment to feed the cat and water the plants. How close the Millers and Stones are to each other (as friends) can be seen by the actions of Arlene in the kitchen. She is folding a tablecloth that Harriet had bought her when she was on a trip to Santa Fe. The tablecloth can also be seen as symbolism for the effect the Stones have on their Millers. At no stage does the reader feel that there is anything unusual about the Millers and Stones relationship, until Bill goes into the Stones apartment.
Though he feeds the cat and waters the plant he also opens up the liquor cabinet and takes some of Jim’s Chivas Regal. He also goes into the bathroom and takes some of Harriet’s prescription medication, putting it in his pocket. The benefit of these two actions to the reader is that it highlights that Bill is uncomfortable in his own skin and believes that by taking what is the Stones he will in some way be living or become like them. He does after all believe that the Stones live a life fuller than himself and Arlene.
There is a change that comes over Bill, something the reader sees the next day when he leaves work early. He gets home to Arlene and asks her to go to bed with him. It’s only five in the afternoon and Arlene is surprised. They never make love in the afternoon and Arlene doesn’t know what’s gotten into Bill. Later that evening he goes back over to the Stones apartment to feed the cat, but he also starts to eat some of the food that is in the apartment. By now Bill is making himself at home and even goes into the Stones bedroom and starts to open the drawers, taking a half pack of cigarettes that he finds.
The next morning Bill gets Arlene to ring in sick for him. After she goes to work he goes back into the Stones apartment and into their bedroom. Though he is not really sick it is by now obvious that Bill wants to live someone else’s life (the Stones). He has become obsessed with all the Stones have, Carver telling the reader that Bill saw everything. He starts to go through Jim’s clothes, trying on his shirts and Bermuda shorts. He walks around the apartment drinking Jim’s liquor and after he has finished puts his own clothes back on. Though the reader by now is seeing a more voyeuristic side to Bill what happens next can come as a shock to many. Bill tries on Harriet’s underwear and stands in the bedroom looking out the window from behind the curtains.
That night it is Arlene’s turn to go into the Stones apartment. She tells Bill that she won’t be long but an hour later Bill is knocking on the Stones apartment door. Arlene answers and Bill asks her what is taking her so long. Arlene tells him that she was playing with the cat but as soon as they return to their own apartment she tells Bill she forgot to feed the cat. What is interesting is that when Arlene leaves the Stones apartment it is obvious that she was laying on their bed (white lint on jumper) and that she has been trying on Harriet’s makeup. As they make their way back to the Stones apartment to feed the cat Arlene tells Bill that she found some private photographs of the Stones. By now the reader is aware that Arlene has been searching the Stones apartment just like Bill.
Carver ends Neighbors with Bill and Arlene standing in the hallway outside the Stones apartment and Arlene realising that she has locked herself out of the apartment. By now both Bill and Arlene are getting worried. They have spent their time going through the Stones personal belongings and have not had a chance to clean up. They hold each other in the hall thinking that the Stones may not return, hoping that they can continue living someone else’s life.