The narrator is unable to communicate with his wife on a meaningful level. He doesn't like his job but feels he doesn't have any other options. Lonely and cynical, he uses drugs and alcohol to avoid confronting the problems in his marriage and his job. He's jealous of Robert's friendship with his wife and makes insensitive comments that reveal his prejudice against blind people.
The narrator's wife treasures her 10-year friendship with Robert, the blind man, which began before her first marriage to an Air Force officer. Now lonely and unfulfilled in her marriage to the narrator, she has kept in touch with Robert through audio tapes, confiding in him and sharing with him the poems she writes to express her thoughts and feelings about important experiences in her life. Her troubled marriage to the narrator is marked by a lack of closeness and communication. Her husband has difficulty appreciating and understanding her poems.
Robert is friendly, outgoing, and comfortable with himself. He has many skills and interests. His wife, Buelah, has died, and at the time of the story, he has been visiting her family in Connecticut. He takes the opportunity to also visit the narrator's wife, a friend with whom he's been communicating via audio tapes for nearly 10 years. Robert's genial nature inspires the narrator to try to communicate with him, and Robert gently guides the narrator to a kind of epiphany in which he breaks out of his isolation.