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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 181

The titular subject of "Pet Milk" refers to the evaporated milk that the narrator’s grandmother would use in her coffee. Memories of his grandmother are the first in a series of memories which the narrator describes in vivid and poetic detail.
The narrator’s first setting is his grandmother’s house, where the narrator describes a plastic radio playing foreign stations and his time spent watching the “pet milk” (that is, evaporated milk) swirl in the coffee in a particular pattern. The swirling in his drink reminds him of drinking a King Alphonse drink with his college girlfriend at a restaurant in his early twenties. He and Kate meet regularly at a restaurant, where they eat oysters and share their future aspirations, hers in Europe and his in the Peace Corps.
The narrator then travels home on the subway with Kate, and, while they kiss, he sees a young boy wave from a platform. This wave in turn reminds him of his own childhood, taking the subway with his schoolbooks and enjoying the sort of sight that he now supplies.


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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 610

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“Pet Milk” is told from the perspective of a young man as he recalls his youth in an ethnic neighborhood in Chicago and the course of his relationship with his girlfriend in the year after they graduated from college. The story begins with the narrator musing in midwinter about the patterns made by the addition of Pet evaporated milk to a cup of coffee. The swirls of the mixture lead through a series of associations to the thought that evaporated milk is an emblem of an earlier time in his life when a first-generation family had to find an adequate substitute—Pet milk for fresh cream—to compensate for the limits imposed by their economic condition.

Images from his grandmother’s home establish something of the ethos of an urban community in which “all the incompatible states of Europe were pressed together” and then lead toward a more recent time when the swirl in a liqueur glass in a Czech restaurant connects the past to the recent present when the narrator and his girlfriend, Kate, have begun to spend time together for drinks after work. The restaurant has been designed to give the residents of the neighborhood a touch of their origins in Europe, and an older waiter’s continental charm encourages the romantic aura that is gradually enveloping the young couple.

The story shifts at this point to the immediate present on the narrator’s twenty-second birthday, a warm spring day in May. To celebrate, he orders champagne and oysters, a conspicuously upscale and flamboyant choice in contrast to the standard fare—sausage and potatoes—on the menu at the Pilsen. The spirit of the occasion arouses the emotions of the couple, and instead of ordering dinner, they leave the premises to find a suitable location for a more intensely intimate evening. Because the narrator shares an apartment and Kate lives in a suburb north of the city, they head toward a local park,...

(The entire section contains 791 words.)

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