Kay Boyle’s story, “Astronomer’s Wife”, revolves around a married couple constantly in conflict. The central character, Mrs. Aimes, wakes up in her house and asks her maidservant, the “girl,” to bring her some coffee. As she contemplates her husband, an astronomer, she ponders the idea that he may view himself as the powerful wave while she is the force pulling him back, conveyed through his silence.
She perceives him as distant and observes his fascination with abstract concepts. However, her thoughts are abruptly disrupted when her maidservant informs her about the plumber’s arrival at the residence. Mrs. Aimes guides the plumber to a room that has been flooded, subtly implying that she and her husband are newcomers to the property. The plumber inspects the flooded area and comments that he believes the ‘soil line’ is causing the clogged drain.
The plumber goes outside to inspect the pipes, while the astronomer makes his only appearance, still in bed, shouting at his wife about a challenging problem for her. Mrs. Ames and the plumber head outside together. The plumber notices that the drains are large enough for a person to stand upright in. However, Mrs. Ames is preoccupied with her husband’s words, which sadden her and make her wish he would stay quiet.
She finally realized that she and her husband were incompatible and that there are others like her, such as the plumber, who don’t enjoy belittling others like her husband does. In that instant, Mrs. Ames observes the plumber looking directly into her face. She takes note of specific physical traits, like a section of his hair that continues to glisten like a star even after the rest of him has moved on.
In the text, it is suggested that the astronomer may consider joining the plumber in the drain. Mrs. Ames starts pondering about the contrast between men who descend, such as the plumber, and men who ascend, like her husband. The attributes of the plumber begin to attract her, and she persistently reflects on her dissatisfaction with her husband. She acknowledges that these two men come from different backgrounds, and as the narrative concludes, she joins the plumber in the drainpipe.