In the Raymond Carver short story Signals we have the theme of relationships and communication. Taken from his Will You Please Be Quiet, Please collection the story begins with Wayne and Caroline going to Aldo’s restaurant for dinner. The occasion is to celebrate Caroline’s thirty seventh birthday but by the end of the story the reader becomes aware that there is very little to celebrate for Wayne and Caroline. Very early on the reader gets the sense that Wayne is in some ways out of his depth in the restaurant. There is Aldo’s suit that Wayne thinks must have cost three hundred dollars, a cost that is out of Wayne’s league and there is Aldo himself. Wayne is impressed by him and the restaurants that he has previously worked in. He is also impressed when Caroline tells him that Aldo knows Frank Sinatra and Lana Turner. Another example of Wayne being out of his depth is when he is ordering his main course. He asks for the sirloin solely based on the fact that he doesn’t know any of the other dishes on the menu.
After they have ordered Wayne tells Caroline that they should have been given a better table by Aldo. He also tells Caroline a story about a guy named Bruno who used to work in the office with him and at night waited on tables. He was eventually fired for robbing money from the petty cash box and it is through this incident that the reader finds that Wayne is judging all waiters by Bruno’s actions. This comparison and Wayne’s belief that he should have got a better table is important because it highlights to the reader that Wayne (and only Wayne) believes he is more important than he is. Carver also highlights to the reader how frugal Wayne is. When he orders champagne he asks for a small domestic bottle. Later this causes an argument between him and Caroline when she suggests that they should have really ordered a bottle of Lancer’s instead and Wayne tells her ‘I don’t care what you do.’ This breakdown in communication is further highlighted through the incident of the soup spoon. Paul the waiter arrives with the soup and Wayne notices that there is no soup spoon on the table. When he asks Paul for a spoon, Paul doesn’t understand him. It is up to Aldo to come over to Wayne and apologise telling him that Paul is new and has very little English.
As they begin their main course the reader realises how distant the relationship between Wayne and Caroline is with Wayne asking ‘Well, what do you think? Is there a chance for us or not?’ This leads to another argument and Caroline telling Wayne that she has given him the best years of her life. Again Wayne tells her (very childishly) ‘I don’t care what you do.’ He also tells her that he doesn’t want to take Aldo up on his offer of a guided tour of the wine cellar and the private dining room. Despite it being Caroline’s birthday the reader suspects that the only person that Wayne is really interested in, is himself. When they finish their meal Carver highlights again to the reader how frugal Wayne is. He leaves only a dollar tip for Paul and it is left to Caroline to leave two more dollars on the table for Paul.
Carver ends Signals with Wayne paying the check and noticing that Caroline is talking to Aldo. He sees Aldo kiss Caroline’s wrist and then pick a rose from a vase and hand it to her. Feeling displeased Wayne tells Caroline that they are leaving. As they make their way out of Aldo’s Caroline tells Wayne ‘You can see how he could be friends with Lana Turner,’ but Wayne just tells her ‘I don’t think he ever knew her.’ The reader left aware that Wayne is jealous of Caroline getting attention from another man and that the difficulties in the relationship have not been resolved.