The Price of Salt, or Carol Summary
Nineteen-year-old Therese Belivet works at a swanky New York City department store during the Christmas season. But she's not selling fancy perfumes. No, she's selling dolls that pee themselves. It isn't very glamorous, and she finds the retail job tedious and soul-sucking. After failing to connect with any of her co-workers, lonely Therese finds herself drawn to a beautiful blonde customer, Mrs. Carol Aird, who purchases a doll for her daughter.
Therese sends Mrs. Aird a Christmas card, and the two go out for coffee. Therese is attracted to Carol, but she has no idea how the sometimes-frosty Mrs. Aird feels about her. Carol invites Therese to her home in New Jersey to decorate a Christmas tree. They trim the heck out of that tree, and Therese, exhausted from all the tinsel, spends the night. She meets Carol's friend, Abby, and Carol's soon-to-be-ex-husband, Harge.
Back in the city, Therese's boyfriend, Richard, helps her network her way to a job designing sets for a theatre. You didn't know she had a boyfriend? We forgot to mention him because Therese doesn't really like him. He loves her, but she is aloof toward him. He wants to go on a trip to Europe, but she keeps blowing him off. One day, Abby takes Therese out to lunch and spills the beans that Carol is planning on asking Therese on a trip. Now that's a ride Therese wants to go on.
Therese breaks up with Richard and embarks on a cross-country road trip with Carol. It's like Thelma and Louise but with fewer gunfights and no Brad Pitt. Oh, and more kissing. At a hotel in Waterloo, Iowa, the two women engage in some lip locking and… other activities as the memorable chapter comes to a close.
However, Carol soon discovers that Harge has a detective on their tails. She's afraid he may be secretly recording them. She and Therese continue on their road trip, and soon Therese realizes that a man has been following them. She realizes the sketchy male must be the detective. In their hotel room, Carol finds out they've been recorded. She confronts the detective and buys the secret taps from him. Carol burns the incriminated evidence, but the detective tells her he's already sent other evidence of Carol's affair with Therese back to New York. Curses.
So Carol returns to New York City while Therese stays in the American West, waiting for Carol's return. Carol doesn't return, though. Instead she writes a letter to Therese and tells her that she will fight for custody of her daughter, which means she can never see Therese again.
Upset, Therese returns to New York City and resumes her theatre job. She returns Carol's car, and the reunion between the two lovers is chilly at best. Carol says that she lost custody of her daughter, and she has moved out on her own. She offers for Therese to live with her, but Therese declines.
However, when an actress flirts with Therese at a party, she realizes that Carol is the only dame for her. She finds Carol in a restaurant and heads toward her to start a life together. The end.
- Therese is a new hire at Frankenberg's, a massive department store in New York City. It's so big, it has a cafeteria.
- Today's lunch: "a grayish slice of roast beef" (1.3). Feels like we're back in elementary school. Mmm-mmm…
- While chewing her mystery meat, Therese sits by herself and reads her new hire manual.
- She thinks about how much she doesn't like the department store already. There are so many people there, but she imagines they are all so lonely.
- An old woman who also works at the store sits across from Therese.
- Therese looks at the woman's hands and, judging by how terrible they look, decides the woman attached to them is so ugly that she can't even look at her.
- The old crone speaks. "You're a new girl, aren't you?" (1.15)
- The voice sounds nice, so Therese looks at the woman. She's shocked to discover that the woman isn't a monster. She is even capable of smiling, although it causes "terrible creases under her eyes and around her mouth" (1.17).
- The wrinkled old bat introduces herself as Mrs. Ruby Robichek, who works in the sweater department on the third floor.
- After lunch Therese returns to her own department—the doll department, where women purchase dolls that wet themselves.
- One evening after work Therese sees Mrs. Robichek at the doughnut shop across the street.
- Wrinkly Robichek invites her to her apartment for dinner.
- In her apartment, rugged ol' Robichek says she used to own a dress shop in Queens.
- She has Therese try on one of her old dresses.
- Therese likes it, but she can't bring herself to admit it so she just stands there silently like a weirdo.
- She stands there without saying anything for so long that Mrs. Robichek thinks Therese is sick, and she tells her to stay the night.
- After Mrs. Robichek falls asleep, Therese, without saying a word, sneaks out of the apartment and returns to her own place.
- Therese's boyfriend, Richard, organizes a meeting with Phil McElroy, a friend who may be able to get Therese a job in the theatre.
- She designs sets as a hobby and wants to make it a career.
- Therese buys "six cans of beer and some blue cheese" (2.8), which is certainly one approach to dinner.
- They meet up with Phil and his brother, Dannie.
- They know some people who know some people who are trying to produce a small play called Small Rain. It's about rain.
- Phil likes Therese's cardboard set models and says he will talk to the director and put in a good word for her.
- The next day, Therese calls the director and is told the job is hers. Huzzah.
- At work, Therese bangs her leg.
- She patches the wound with a maxi pad from the bathroom vending machine. This giant department store doesn't sell bandages?
- Back in the toy department, she sells a doll to a blonde woman, and Therese finds herself intensely attracted to this woman, Mrs. H.F. Aird.
- The woman buys the doll C.O.D. Ah, the 1950s, when you could have a store deliver you items and pay for them when they arrive.
- Therese forgets to give the woman the C.O.D. slip and rushes after her, excited for the opportunity to talk to the woman again.
- When the woman leaves for good, Therese keeps thinking about her.
- She decides to send the woman a Christmas card. She considers writing on it "You are magnificent" or "I love you," but instead tells her "Special salutations" (3.71). It's slightly less creepy.
- The next day, the woman calls to thank Therese for the card. She asks Therese if she wants to join her for a cup of coffee, and Therese excitedly says yes.
- Therese meets the gorgeous blonde woman for coffee.
- The woman and Therese make a bit of small talk before the woman reveals her name: Carol.
- After coffee, the woman asks Therese if she wants to come out to her house on Sunday.
- Therese says yes.
- "What a strange girl you are" (4.53), says Carol. "Flung out of space" (4.55).
- Therese walks with her boyfriend, Richard, but she has Carol on the brain.
- Richard asks Therese if she wants to hang out on Sunday, but she blows him off.
- He wonders if Therese is into him. Newsflash, Richard: she's just not that into you.
- She flat-out tells him that she doesn't love him, but she does like him.
- That's not enough to shake Richard. He still tells her that he loves her, no matter how she feels about him.
- Therese hops into Carol's car and Carol drives them to her home in New Jersey.
- Carol goes to get Therese a coke, and Therese looks around a bit.
- She spots a picture of Carol and a small girl. Carol has a daughter.
- They talk a bit about Therese's department store job, then Carol asks Therese to play piano for her.
- Therese plays piano, and she gets overwhelmed that she's tickling Carol's ivories. Her fingers are touching the same keys Carol has touched. Swoon.
- No, really—she almost faints and Carol leads her upstairs to take a nap.
- Therese asks for some hot milk, which Carol brings her.
- Therese thinks it's delicious. "The milk seemed to taste of bone and blood, of warm flesh, or hair, saltless as chalk yet alive as a growing embryo" (6.82). If there's ever been a reason to go vegan, this description of milk is it.
- Carol asks Therese about her family, and Therese tells us that her father died, and when her mother remarried, Therese went to go live in a Home, with a capital H, because she didn't like her mother's new husband.
- The telephone rings, and Carol answers. It's Harge, her husband.
- He and Carol seem to be going through a divorce, and he's swinging by to pick up some things.
- Therese offers to leave, but Carol tells her to stay.
- Therese meets Harge when he arrives, then he and Carol talk a bit about Rindy, their daughter.
- After he leaves, Carol takes Therese to the train station instead of driving her home.
- Therese asks if she will see Carol again, and Carol smiles. We think that's a yes.
- Therese pawns a necklace that Richard gave her to get some money.
- She uses that money to buy a handbag for Carol. The handbag costs $71.18, which is $638 in 2015 money (source).
- It's Therese's last night working at the department store, and she goes to a bar with Carol afterward.
- Carol seems unsettled, but she won't tell Therese what's going on.
- She doesn't want to talk about her failing marriage, so she asks Therese about Richard.
- Carol thinks that Therese knows Richard better than she knows her own husband; she thinks marrying Harge was a mistake.
- After a few drinks, they purchase a Christmas tree and take it to Carol's house to decorate it.
- It's late, so Therese spends the night.
- She sleeps in Harge's room.
- In the morning, the women have a visitor in the form of Carol's friend Abby, who joins them for coffee.
- Therese sips her coffee and listens to Carol and Abby talk. The coffee isn't bitter, but Therese is—she's bitter that Abby can make Carol laugh, but she can't.
- For some unknown reason, Abby drives Therese home instead of Carol.
- Abby asks Therese how they met, and Therese says, "In a store" (7.201).
- When she gets home, Therese gives Abby the really expensive purse to give to Carol as a Christmas gift.
- At Richard's family's house, Therese makes some sort of Russian Christmas wish. She wishes for Carol, and she won't tell Richard what she wished for.
- Therese thinks that happiness is like flying a kite, and just as she thinks that, Richard shows up with a kite.
- They go to fly it, and when Therese finally gets the thing aloft, Richard cuts the kite string and watches it fly away.
- Therese is upset, but Richard tells her it's only a kite—he can totally make another.
- Carol pays a visit to Therese's apartment.
- She brings her a suitcase as a present and asks her about her new job as a stage designer.
- Therese says she's trying to save money for a Broadway union membership, which costs two thousand dollars. Remember, that's in 1950s money. So whoa.
- Carol offers to loan her the money, because she has thousands of dollars to spare, but Therese refuses.
- Richard shows up and meets Carol.
- Therese lies to Richard and says they met because Therese returned Carol's wallet, which she lost in the store.
- Richard doesn't understand why Therese wants to hang out with Carol instead of him.
- But Therese sends Richard away and goes out with Carol that night instead. "It was a glorious evening" (9.139).
- Therese goes to work at the theatre.
- The play has a new director, Mr. Donohue, who replaced Mr. Cortes, and Therese meets Tom Harding, Georgia Halloran, and Geoffrey Andrews.
- Got all that? Doesn't matter; you won't ever see these people again.
- Therese gets a call from Abby who takes her out to lunch.
- Abby offers to put in a good word for Therese with some producer friends she has.
- She tells Therese that she thinks she is good for Carol, but she doesn't want Therese to end up hurting her.
- Therese thinks this whole conversation is weird. Why would she hurt Carol?
- Abby says Carol thinks highly of Therese, which is why she wants to take a trip with her.
- That's news to Therese, who wonders why Carol would tell Abby first.
- The conversation gets even stranger when Abby says, "You win" (10.98), to Therese.
- Win what? Abby won't answer.
- On the way back to the theater, Therese bumps into Dannie McElroy.
- She goes with him to his apartment and they talk about friendship and the logic—or illogic—of love. Their metaphor involves sheep, wool, and physics.
- Finally, Therese realizes that her lunch hour has taken all afternoon and she returns to work.
- Carol and Therese talk about Abby.
- Therese is upset because she doesn't think Abby likes her.
- Carol says Abby doesn't dislike her, but she is "incredibly clumsy sometimes in the way she talks" (11.22). Abby talking is the equivalent of slipping on a banana peel and knocking over an entire display of soup cans at a grocery store.
- Therese still wonders about this mystery trip that Abby mentioned.
- Carol says they should go on a road trip together, but Therese says no because it would cost money (she shouldn't have blown all that cash on a purse) and because she doesn't want to leave work.
- They chat for a bit about Carol's family problems.
- Her husband wants custody of their daughter, and his whole family doesn't like Carol and is against her.
- Carol says Harge doesn't love her; he wants to control her.
- Even though Therese said she couldn't afford the trip two pages ago, she changes her mind and says she has the money. She'll go.
- Carol is delighted.
- Therese decides to spend the night, so she gets naked and starts listening to music in Carol's husband's bedroom.
- But Abby calls and wants to talk to Therese, so she puts on a robe.
- Abby apologizes for being rude to Therese.
- Therese hangs up the phone and goes back to listening to music with Carol.
- Before bed, Therese asks Carol if she can kiss her goodnight.
- Carol says no. Instead she gives her a check for $200 to pay for the trip.
- Therese doesn't want it, so Carol tells her to tear it up.
- But she doesn't—she leaves it on the table and goes to sleep.
- Therese tells Richard about her upcoming trip with Carol.
- He doesn't think Therese will actually go, though, because she's always changing her mind about things.
- Richard asks to meet Carol first, and they meet up Sunday afternoon.
- Carol and Richard chat about feeding peanuts to squirrels, and then they go to lunch.
- At the restaurant, Therese is shocked to see Harge, Carol's husband, dining nearby with a woman.
- Harge sees them, and Carol walks away to talk to him in private.
- Richard asks Therese if they can bail and go to a concert, but Therese bails on him instead, saying she'd rather hang out with Carol.
- Carol hears this and tells Therese that she is going home, so she should stay with Richard.
- Therese tells Richard she would rather go home alone than go to a concert with him, and he gets angry with her and storms off.
- Therese doesn't care. She doesn't feel guilty for upsetting him.
- Richard accuses Therese of being in "some kind of trance" (13.19), we guess from Carol's lesbian magic.
- They argue, and Richard almost knocks over a statue in the process.
- He catches the small statue and hands it to Therese…and she smashes it to pieces.
- Thinking Therese is crazy, Richard leaves.
- That night, Carol tells Therese she should think about other's feelings for a change.
- Therese is mad that Carol seems to be siding with Richard.
- She says she'll just never talk to Richard again and he'll get the hint. Looks like Therese invented ghosting in the 1950s.
- In the morning, Therese shoos away Carol's maid, Florence, and makes breakfast for Carol.
- The two women lounge around and Carol tells Therese her work as a stage designer is amateurish.
- Therese is upset, and she tells Carol that the next gig she had lined up fell through.
- Carol says she's sorry and pets her head the same way she "might have fondled a dog" (13.111).
- Later that evening, Harge shows up again; he brings Carol some flowers.
- Therese wishes she had brought Carol flowers.
- She assumes it's Carol's birthday, and she doesn't know why Carol didn't tell her.
- She asks Carol why she didn't tell her it was her birthday.
- Carol didn't tell her because it isn't her birthday—it's her wedding anniversary.
- Happy anniversary: the divorce will take six weeks longer than Carol thought.
- Apropos of nothing, Therese tells Carol she never tore up the check she gave her. It's still in the bedroom.
- Before leaving on her trip with Carol, Therese gets a telegram from Richard: "I have not changed. Neither have you. Write to me, I love you, Richard" (14.13).
- Carol thinks Therese should call him, but she's still intent on ghosting him.
- Richard's mother gave Therese a white Russian dress for Christmas, and Carol insists Therese wear it to dinner.
- Carol asks if it's Russian.
- Therese laughs.
- Carol gets mad that Therese didn't answer her and tells her to go upstairs and take the dress off.
- Therese goes upstairs and takes the dress off, then she puts it back on because she thinks Carol wants her to keep it on.
- They eat dinner and go to sleep.
- The next morning, they find a package left by Abby: a toy monkey named Jacopo, which Carol and Abby once took on a road trip together.
- Carol insists that Therese call Richard's mother to thank her for the dress, so she does, and then they hit the road.
- In Pennsylvania, Therese remembers that she left a book in the bedroom. And that she had written a letter to Carol in it.
- Oops. She hopes the maid doesn't find it.
- They stop for a picnic and Carol tells Therese about her own family for a change.
- She has a sister, whom after this moment, she'll never mention again in the book.
- Carol says she hopes Therese will enjoy the trip; she could use some real-life experience for a change.
- Therese is offended at the suggestion that she's sheltered.
- Carol and Therese go to sausage shop and Therese thinks of sending a sausage to ugly old Mrs. Robichek, but then she decides not do.
- Carol says she should, so she does. Who doesn't like getting a sausage in the mail?
- Therese takes Carol a towel and eyeballs her naked bod in the bathtub.
- Then she goes to get Carol her clothes from her suitcase—and she finds a gun instead.
- Carol says she brought it, but she doesn't expect to go all Thelma and Louise on anyone.
- They continue on their road trip, and eventually stop in Chicago.
- That night, Therese tells Carol she loves her.
- Carol says, "Don't you know I love you?" (15.89), and kisses her.
- Therese asks Carol if she can sleep with her, and Carol points to the bed. It's a double bed, so it's not like they have any other choice.
- They snuggle and kiss all night.
- In the morning, Therese asks what town they're in.
- It's called Waterloo. Bad for Napoleon, good for Therese and Carol.
- The next day, Carol is cold toward Therese.
- Therese tries to take Carol's hand in public, and Carol tells her not to. Ouch.
- Therese asks Carol if she ever did what they did the night before with Abby.
- Carol says she did.
- She tells Therese about her affair with Abby.
- They'd known each other since they were four, but they grew apart. They reunited after Carol was married, and one night they stayed together and Carol fell in love with her.
- It only lasted two months, though.
- Carol says Harge knew about the affair, but she only told him after they started going through the divorce process.
- Therese gets over her jealousy for Abby and they continue their road trip, heading toward Salt Lake City.
- Carol gets a telegram from Abby with some shocking news: Harge has hired a detective to follow Carol and Therese.
- Carol wonders if they should cut the trip short and return to New York.
- Therese realizes she's seen a strange man following them, and Carol tells her to watch out for him.
- Therese says she should go back to New York.
- Carol says she wants Therese to stay with her, and they're going to continue the trip, just as they planned. No detective will stop them.
- After some sunrise snuggles, Carol and Therese get back on the road.
- They stop in Denver and Carol sells her diamond engagement ring, swapping the cold hard jewel for some cold hard cash.
- The pair stays at a hotel near Colorado Springs, and Carol sweeps the hotel room for a Dictaphone—which would record everything they say.
- They spend their days chatting with others in the hotel, and Therese is always on the lookout for the detective.
- Carol teaches Therese how to drive, and Therese gets her license.
- At dinner one night, Therese spots the detective.
- The women play it cool, acting as if they didn't just see him. They casually return to their room, and Carol tears it apart looking for a Dictaphone.
- She finds it under a table and cuts it loose.
- They wonder how long he's been recording them, and what he could have heard.
- Carol decides to leave the next day.
- The women leave Denver and push for Wyoming.
- There, they stop at a tourist camp, but on the first night Therese spots the detective.
- She notices he drives a black two-door sedan.
- They leave that night, hoping to shake him from their trail.
- No luck, though—the car ends up behind them on the freeway—so Carol decides to stop her car and confront him.
- He says he has orders to follow them, and he won't stop.
- Carol returns to the car and sobs a little bit before driving on.
- Then she stops and decides to talk to him again, this time with the gun.
- But before she gets out of the car, she plops the gun into the car door's side pocket.
- This time, she tells the detective she will pay him for the Dictaphone tapes.
- He says he already sent most of his information to New York, but Carol calls his bluff and pays $500 for the tapes he has.
- Carol and Therese burn the tapes on the side of the road and drive to Omaha.
- Either there's an Omaha, Wyoming, or these two are terrible at geography.
- In Omaha, Carol phones Abby and her lawyer, but neither knows anything about Harge and the detective.
- Later that night, Abby calls back and says, "trouble's brewing" (19.156).
- Therese tells Carol about the romantic letter she accidentally left in the bedroom at her house.
- Carol tells Abby to retrieve it, along with the check that Therese never tore up.
- Carol says she will return to New York for a couple of weeks. She offers to let Therese keep the car and stay out west.
- Therese agrees to stay, and the two women take a shower together in their hotel room.
- All by herself, Therese takes a room in Sioux Falls.
- She has letters from Dannie and Phil, but she doesn't answer them.
- She calls Carol, who has no news.
- However, she does say that Abby went to retrieve the letter and the check—and she found the check, but not the letter. Uh-oh…
- The next day, Therese leaves the hotel and rents a room from a woman named Mrs. Cooper.
- Therese spends her days hanging out at the library or the diner, and occasionally she works on set models she plans to show someone in New York whenever she returns.
- She waits for news from Carol, but Carol rarely calls, and when she does, she speaks with a short, cold tone.
- Therese worries Carol won't return to her.
- Therese finally receives a letter from Carol, and it has bad news and good news.
- First the bad news: Florence the maid found the letter and sold it to Harge. What a devious maid.
- The good news, though, is that Carol says she misses Therese, and that Therese's courage gives her strength. That's sweet.
- Therese receives a long letter from Richard.
- In it, he says that she fills him with disgust and he's done with her. Ouch.
- Therese doesn't care, though; she's glad to be rid of him.
- Therese also has a letter from Carol, telling her to return to New York with the car.
- She doesn't give a reason, and Therese wonders what happened.
- Therese gets another letter from Mrs. Robichek, thanking her for the sausage.
- Therese calls Carol, who tells her to return to New York so they can talk—she can't talk now because she suspects her phone has been wiretapped.
- After hanging up the phone Therese finds a letter from Carol on her desk that she never noticed.
- We guess the landlady delivers mail wherever she feels like it.
- It's a long letter from Carol, who explains that Harge has threatened to take full custody of Rindy, their daughter.
- Although Carol says she loves Therese, she says that she had to promise her lawyers she'll never see Therese again.
- Upset, Therese goes to the library to be alone.
- In a room, she sees a painting that reminds her of Carol.
- The painting seems to come alive, "the mouth smiled and the eyes regarded her with nothing but mockery" (21.58). A moving painting? Where is this library, Hogwarts?
- Therese gasps and literally runs out of the library, trying to catch her breath.
- In Chicago, Therese takes a general office job.
- Without Carol, she feels like her life has been drained of all happiness.
- One night, Abby calls and wonders when Therese will return to New York.
- Therese wants to speak to Carol, but Carol is in Vermont "taking a rest" (22.26).
- Therese says she'll return with the car in ten days.
- One afternoon later, Therese has a special visitor: Dannie.
- He's heading to California to take a job, and he thought he'd see Therese along the way.
- Her prior landlady gave Dannie her new address.
- Dannie says Therese looks different, "Grown up all of a sudden" (22.70).
- She tells Dannie she will never see Carol again, so asks if she would ever see another woman, and Therese says no.
- She says she will write him, and the two part ways—Dannie to California, Therese back to New York.
- Back in New York, Therese and Carol make arrangements for her to pick up the car.
- Carol is late, as always.
- She remarks that Therese looks different: "All grown up" (23.41). Is that code for old, like "You look tired?" Either way, Therese is getting this a lot lately.
- Carol tells Therese that she lost everything in the divorce, including custody of her daughter.
- She decided not to make promises and not to fight, because she worries her daughter won't want to see her anyway. She suspects Harge will turn Rindy against her.
- Carol has moved out and taken a job selling furniture; she asks Therese if she would move in with her.
- Therese says no—she is afraid Carol would betray her again.
- After their meeting, Therese goes to a cocktail party for the cast of the new play she's working on.
- At the party, she meets Genevieve Cranell, an English actress playing the lead.
- Genevieve hits on Therese and Therese likes it because she reminds her of Carol.
- As they flirt, Therese keeps thinking of Carol.
- Then she realizes that she can't stop thinking of Carol, so it's Carol she should be with.
- Genevieve invites Therese to her room for a private drink, but Therese declines.
- She finds Carol at a restaurant instead.
- Carol sees her and smiles. She waves, and "Therese walked toward her."
- The end.