The Pie - Gary Soto
I knew enough about hell to stop me from stealing. I was holy in almost every bone. Some days I recognized the shadows of angels flopping on the backyard grass, and other days I heard faraway messages in the plumbing that howled underneath the house when I crawled there looking for something to do.
But boredom made me sin. Once, at the German Market, I stood before a rack of pies, my sweet tooth gleaming and the juice of guilt wetting my underarms. I gazed at the nine kinds of pie, pecan and apple being my favorites, although cherry looked good, and my dear, fat-faced chocolate was always a good bet. I nearly wept trying to decide which to steal and, forgetting the flowery dust priests give off, the shadow of angels and the proximity of God howling in the plumbing underneath the house, sneaked a pie behind my coffeelid Frisbee and walked to the door, grinning to the bald grocer whose forehead shone with a window of light.
“No one saw,” I muttered to myself, the pie like a discus in my hand, and hurried across the street, where I sat on someone’s lawn. The sun wavered between the branches of a yellowish sycamore. A squirrel nailed itself high on the trunk, where it forked into two large bark-scabbed limbs. Just as I was going to work my cleanest finger into the pie, a neighbor came out to the porch for his mail. He looked at me, and I got up and headed for home. I raced on skinny legs to my block, but slowed to a quick walk when I couldn’t wait any longer. I held the pie to my nose and breathed in its sweetness. I licked some of the crust and closed my eyes as I took a small bite.
In my front yard, I leaned against a car fender and panicked about stealing the apple pie. I knew an apple got Eve in deep trouble with snakes because Sister Marie had shown us a film about Adam and Eve being cast into the desert, and what scared me more than falling from grace was being thirsty for the rest of my life. But even that didn’t stop me from clawing a chunk from the pie tin and pushing it into the cavern of my mouth. The slop was sweet and gold-colored in the afternoon sun. I laid more pieces on my tongue, wet finger-dripping pieces, until I was finished and felt like crying because it was about the best thing I had ever tasted. I realized right there and then, in my sixth year, in my tiny body of two hundred bones and three or four sins, that the best things in life came stolen. I wiped my sticky fingers on the grass and rolled my tongue over the corners of my mouth. A burp perfumed the air.
I felt bad not sharing with Cross-Eyed Johnny, a neighbor kid. He stood over my shoulder and asked, “Can I have some?” Crust fell from my mouth, and my teeth were bathed with the jam-like filling. Tears blurred my eyes as I remembered the grocer’s forehead. I remembered the other pies on the rack, the warm air of the fan above the door and the car that honked as I crossed the street without looking.
“Get away,” I had answered Cross-Eyed Johnny. He watched my fingers greedily push big chunks of pie down my throat. He swallowed and said in a whisper, “Your hands are dirty,” then returned home to climb his roof and sit watching me eat the pie by myself. After a while, he jumped off and hobbled away because the fall had hurt him.
I sat on the curb. The pie tin glared at me and rolled away when the wind picked up. My face was sticky with guilt. A car honked, and the driver knew. Mrs. Hancock stood on her lawn, hands on hip, and she knew. My mom, peeling a mountain of potatoes at the Redi-Spud factory, knew. I got to my feet, stomach taut, mouth tired of chewing, and flung my Frisbee across the street, its shadow like the shadow of an angel fleeing bad deeds. I retrieved it, jogging slowly. I flung it again until I was bored and thirsty.
I returned home to drink water and help my sister glue bottle caps onto cardboard, a project for summer school. But the bottle caps bored me, and the water soon filled me up more than the pie. With the kitchen stifling with heat and lunatic flies, I decided to crawl underneath our house and lie in the cool shadows listening to the howling sound of plumbing. Was it God? Was it Father, speaking from death, or Uncle with his last shiny dime? I listened, ear pressed to a cold pipe, and heard a howl like the sea. I lay until I was cold and then crawled back to the light, rising from one knee, then another, to dust off my pants and squint in the harsh light. I looked and saw the glare of a pie tin on a hot day. I knew sin was what you took and didn’t give back.
from A Summer Life, 1990
Discussion Questions (DQ):
1) Religion is all over this piece.
a. List ten words or phrases which evoke religion.
b. Speculation: Why are so many present here?
2) Select five details from paragraph two that heighten the visual or auditory intensity.
3) Guilt is substantially present in paragraphs three and four.
a. List five words, phrases, or images which evoke a sense of guilt.
b. Why is Gary Soto feeling guilty?
4) The last line of paragraph 4—“A burp perfumed the air” (line 29). What is the tone of that line?
5) What does “Cross-Eyed Johnny” symbolize? (There are many possibilities so you had best explain.)
6) Gluttony is one of the seven deadly sins! List five images or phrases which evoke the sin of gluttony.
7) In paragraph 7, the major rhetorical device operating is syntactical in nature.
a. What syntactical elements are operating here?
b. What effect do they have upon the reader?
8) Water is a major symbol in this piece. Why?
9) The last line of the piece is a BIG MEANINGFUL STATEMENT.
a. What does it mean?
b. Go back and identify two more BIG MEANINGFUL STATEMENTS and briefly explain their meaning.
10) I think the attitudes of the child Gary and the adult Gary differ. Am I right? How might they?
11) How would you characterize the overall tone of this piece? (If you are insecure in your thoughts at this point, you are welcome to add a sentence or two of explanation).