In this minimalistic piece of fiction, a couple fight over their child—they are splitting up and both want custody so they play tug-a-war with the baby until it seems like it is pulled apart in a pure feat-of-strength-of-the-breaking-of-the-wishbone style. The tools that Carver removes from his “writers arsenal” are adverbs, extended metaphors, and internal dialogue. He tells the story with action, the movements of the characters, the character’s mechanics. Because of this, the reader is forced to pay close attention to what the characters are doing, which is all a baby can really comprehend—it doesn’t know how to speak yet, all it knows is the yelling and shoving.
The message here is that children are hurt when their parents argue and fight; in this case the baby is physically hurt, but a lot of times it is more of an emotional scarring. Val Farmer writes in Agweek that “When parents argue in front of children, it is one of the most stressful events of childhood. It isn’t the big blowout-type family argument or crisis that causes the harm. It is the daily hassles with marital conflict and family arguments that best predict whether a child will be affected. Frequent, intense and poorly resolved conflict is related to higher levels of children’s problems.”
As a child of a divorce myself, I know the feeling of being pulled this way and that by my parents. After reading Carver’s story, I ask myself, “did something ‘pop’ in me when I moved with my mother and twin brother to Indiana when my parents split? Did I split?” I can remember their actions, the rigid line in my mother’s jaw when she yelled, the banging of coffee cups against the kitchen table, the slamming of doors, the pushing, the shoving. I can remember the mechanics, but I can’t recall their words said in anger—”Did they ever fight over me?”