Like most of his work, I Could See the Smallest Things, is an ultra-short piece–a snapshot of how humans interact.
A woman wakes in the middle of the night and can’t go back to sleep because of the way her husband sounds, breathing and snoring. She gets up and goes down to the fence her husband had built after getting in an argument with the neighbor, strangely, the neighbor has also built a fence as well, as if not to be outdone by the man he had once counted as a friend.
Despite the late hour, the neighbor guy is down by the gate and the narrator starts talking with him. He’s out in the middle of the night pouring some kind of stuff on the slugs, to make them shrivel up. I remember doing this with salt when I was a kid. I am sad to think of how cruel that is. I can’t imagine what I might have felt like. I remember finding the snotty smears that were the remains of the slugs about 15-20 minutes later. My mother would ask me to do this outside her garden. I guess it was for a good reason and I never killed enough slugs to hurt their population, but still, I feel bad.
It’s obvious that both the characters in this piece feel bad too. I’ve always felt like it’s the words that aren’t there that Carver is so great at bringing to light, and this story is no different. There’s a lot going on between the narrator and this neighbor that is only ever hinted at, but the sadness they share is a connection that might be deeper than anyone can know.