The Talk Short Story

The Talk
Gary Soto
My best friend and I knew that we were going to grow up to be ugly. On a backyard lawn—the
summer light failing west of the mulberry tree where the house of the most beautiful girl on our
street stood—we talked about what we could do: shake the second-base dirt from our hair, wash
our hands of frog smells and canal water, and learn to smile without showing our crooked teeth.
We had to stop spitting when girls were looking and learn not to pile food onto a fork and into a
fat cheek already churning hot grub.
We were twelve, with lean bodies that were beginning to grow in weird ways. First, our heads
got large, but our necks wavered, frail as crisp tulips. The eyes stayed small as well, receding
into pencil dots on each side of an unshapely nose that cast remarkable shadows when we
turned sideways. It seemed that Scott’s legs sprouted muscle and renegade veins, but his arms,
blue with ink markings, stayed short and hung just below his waist. My gangly arms nearly
touched my kneecaps. In this way, I was built for picking up grounders and doing cartwheels,
my arms swaying just inches from the summary grass.
We sat on the lawn, with the porch light off, waiting for the beautiful girl to turn on her
bedroom light and read on her stomach with one leg stirring the air. This stirred us, and our
dream was a clean dream of holding hands and airing out our loneliness by walking up and
down the block.
When Scott asked whom I was going to marry, I said a brown girl from the valley. He said that
he was going to marry a strawberry blonde who would enjoy Millerton Lake, dirty as it was. I
said mine would like cats and the sea and would think nothing of getting up at night from a
warm, restless bed and sitting in the yard under the icy stars. Scott said his wife would work for
the first year or so, because he would go to trade school in refrigeration. Since our town was
made with what was left over after God made hell, there was money in air conditioning, he
I said that while my wife would clean the house and stir pots of nice grub, I would drive a truck
to my job as a carpenter, which would allow me to use my long arms. I would need only a
stepladder to hand a fellow worker on the roof a pinch of nails. I could hammer, saw, lift beams
into place, and see the work I got done at the end of the day. Of course, she might like to work,
and that would be okay, because then we could buy two cars and wave at each other if we
should see the other drive by.
In the evenings, we would drink Kool-Aid and throw a slipper at our feisty dog at least a
hundred times before we went inside for a Pop-Tart and hot chocolate. Scott said he would
work hard too, but now and then he would find money on the street and the two of them could
buy extra things like a second TV for the bedroom and a Doughboy swimming pool for his
three kids. He planned on having three kids and a ranch house on the river, where he could dip a
hand in the water, drink, and say, “Ahh, tastes good.”
But that would be years later. Now we had to do something about our looks. We plucked at the
grass and flung it into each other’s faces.
“Rotten luck,” Scott said. “My arms are too short. Look at ’em.”
“Maybe we can lift weights. This would make up for our looks,” I said.
“I don’t think so,” Scott said, depressed. “People like people with nice faces.”
He was probably right. I turned onto my stomach, a stalk of grass in my mouth. “Even if I’m
ugly, my wife’s going to be good-looking,” I said. “She’ll have a lot of dresses and I’ll have
more shirts than I have now. Do you know how much carpenters make?”
Then I saw the bedroom light come on and the beautiful girl walk into the room drying her hair
with a towel. I nudged Scott’s short arm and he saw what I saw. We flicked the stalks of grass,
stood up, and walked over to the fence to look at her scrub her hair dry. She plopped onto the
bed and began to comb it, slowly at first because it was tangled. With a rubber band, she tied it
back, and picked up a book that was thick as a goodsized sandwich.
Scott and I watched her read a book, now both legs in the air and twined together, her painted
toenails like red petals. She turned the pages slowly, very carefully, and now and then lowered
her face into the pillow. She looked sad but beautiful, and we didn’t know what to do except
nudge each other in the heart and creep away to the front yard.
“I can’t stand it anymore. We have to talk about this,” Scott said.
“If I try, I think I can make myself better looking,” I said. “I read an article about a girl
whitening her teeth with water and flour.”
So we walked up the street, depressed. For every step I took, Scott took two, his short arms
pumping to keep up. For every time Scott said, “I think we’re ugly,” I said two times, “Yeah,
yeah, we’re in big trouble.”
Making Meanings of “The Talk”
Remember to write all answers in complete sentences.
1. Do any of Soto’s characters remind you of yourself—or someone you know? Explain.
2. Soto uses exaggeration to describe himself and his friend Scott.
Find two exaggerated statements in the text.
3. What does this exaggeration tell you about how the boys feel about themselves?
4. What do the boys consider their biggest problem?
5. Find 4 details in the first paragraph that are used to develop this main idea.
6. The phrase “big trouble” exaggerates the boys’ problem. Do you find Soto’s use of
exaggeration funny or sad? Explain your answer.
7. Do you think Scott’s statement, “People like nice faces.” is accurate? Why or why not?
8. How important are good looks?
9. What about other factors—such as good character, honesty, hard work, money? Compare at
least two factors to good looks and explain your reasoning.
Discussion Questions After reading “The Talk,” answer the following 5 questions on a sheet of
paper. Write your answers in complete sentences.
1. Find some figures of speech used to describe the boys’ 12 year old bodies.
2. Do you think the narrator’s arms really hang down almost to his kneecaps? Why does he
3. What inference can you make about the climate in the town where the boys live?
4. What mood does the description of the girl drying her hair help create?
5. Imagine that in ten years Scott and Gary happen to meet in a restaurant. They reminisce
about their talk. With a partner, take the parts of Scott and Gary. Retell what they recall
about their talk.