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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 499

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"Pet Milk" is a charming short story by by Chicago-born writer Stuart Dybek. He describes memories of his childhood in poetic detail. He remembers drinking "pet milk" (a brand of condensed milk) at his grandmother's home:

The can opener bites in neatly, and the thick liquid spills from the triangular gouge with a different look and viscosity than milk. Pet milk isn’t real milk. The color’s off, to start with. There’s almost something of the past about it, like old ivory. My grandmother always drank it in her coffee. When friends dropped over and sat around the kitchen table, my grandma would ask, “Do you take cream and sugar?” Pet milk was the cream.

This quote introduces the theme of the past. The swirls that the milk makes in the coffee are the same as the swirls that he saw in the King Alphonse drink that he enjoyed with his girlfriend as a young adult. The image transports him to remembering a time in his life when "Kate and I would sometimes meet after work at the Pilsen, dressed in our proper business clothes and still feeling both a little self-conscious and glamorous, as if we were impostors wearing disguises." He remembers this epoch in vivid emotional detail, explaining that the time of their lives when they had been together was difficult because they knew they would not be a part of one another's future. He remembers "seeing a future from which she had vanished. l knew I’d never meet anyone more beautiful to me."

After dinner one night, they become deeply impassioned and take a train to Kate's apartment in Evanston. They kiss on the train, so the narrator is not looking outside of the window; however, he can imagine:

We were speeding past scorched brick walls, gray windows, back porches outlined in sun, roofs, and treetops—the landscape of the El I’d memorized from subway windows over a lifetime of rides: the podiatrist’s foot sign past Fullerton; the bright pennants of Wrigley Field, at Addison; ancient hotel with TRANSIENTS WELCOME signs on their flaking back walls; peeling and graffiti-smudged billboards; the old cemetery just before Wilson Avenue. Even without looking, I knew almost exactly where we were.

He sees a boy standing on the platform passing by a station. The boy waves to him, and the wave transports the narrator to imagining his next flashback as a boy himself. The story ends as follows:

Then he was gone, and I turned from the window, back to Kate, forgetting everything—the passing stations, the glowing late sky, even the sense of missing her—but that arrested wave stayed with me. It was as if I were standing on that platform, with my schoolbooks and a smoke, on one of those endlessly accumulated afternoons after school when I stood almost outside of time simply waiting for a train, and I thought how much I’d have loved seeing someone like us streaming by.