"Gaston" by William Saroyan
They were to eat peaches, as planned, after her nap, and now she sat across from the man who would have been a total stranger except that he was in fact her father. They had been together again (although she couldn’t quite remember when they had been together before) for almost a hundred years now, or was it only since day before yesterday? Anyhow, they were together again, and he was kind of funny. First, he had the biggest mustache she had ever seen on anybody, although to her it was not a mustache at all; it was a lot of red and brown hair under his nose and around the ends of his mouth. Second, he wore a blue-and-white striped jersey instead of a shirt and tie, and no coat. His arms were covered with the same hair, only it was a little lighter and thinner. He wore blue slacks, but no shoes and socks, He was barefoot, and so was she, of course.
He was at home. She was with him in his home in Paris, if you could call it a home. He was very old, especially for a young man: thirty-six, he had told her; and she was six, just up from sleep on a very hot afternoon in August.
That morning, on a little walk in the neighbor-hood, she had seen peaches in a box outside a small store and she had stopped to look at them, so he had bought a kilo.
Now, the peaches were on a large plate on the card table at which they sat.
There were seven of them, but one of them was flawed. It looked as good as others, almost the size of a tennis ball, nice red fading to light green, but where the stem had been there was now a break that went straight down into the heart of the seed.
He placed the biggest and best-looking peach on the small plate in front of the girl, and then took the flawed peach and began to remove the skin. When he had half the skin off the peach he ate that side, neither of them talking, both of them just being there, and not being excited or anything: no plans, that is.
The man held the half-eaten peach in his fingers and looked down into the cavity, into the open seed. The girl looked too.
While they were looking, two feelers poked out from the cavity. They were attached to a kind of brown knob-head, which followed the feelers, and then two large legs took a strong grip on the edge of the cavity and hoisted some of the rest of whatever it was out of the seed, and stopped there a moment, as if to look around.
The man studied the seed dweller, and so, of course, did the girl.
The creature paused only a fraction of a second, and then continued to come out of the seed, to walk down the eaten side of the peach to wherever it was going.
The girl had never seen anything like it: a whole big thing made out of brown color, a knob-head, feelers, and a great many legs. It was very active too. Almost businesslike, you might say. The man placed the peach back on the plate. The creature moved off the peach onto the surface of the white plate. There it came to a thoughtful stop.
“Who is it?” the girl said.
“Where does he live?”
“Well, he used to live in this peach seed, but now that the peach has been harvested and sold, and I have eaten half of it, it looks as if he’s out of house and home.”
“Aren’t you going to squash him?”
“No, of course not, why should I?”
“He is a bug. He is ugh.”
“Not at all. He is Gaston the grand boulevardier.”
“Everybody hollers when a bug comes out of an apple, but you don’t holler or anything.”
“Of course not. How should we like it if somebody hollered every time we came out of our house?”
“Why would they?”
“Precisely. So why should we holler at Gaston?”
“He is not the same as us.”
“Well, not exactly, but he’s the same as a lot of other occupants of peach seeds. Now, the poor fellow hasn’t got a home, and there he is with all that pure design and handsome form, and no-where to go.”
“Gaston is just about the handsomest of his kind I’ve ever seen.”
“What’s he saying?”
“Well, he’s a little confused. Now, inside that house of his he had everything in order. Bed here, porch there, and so forth.”
The man picked up the peach, leaving Gaston entirely alone on the white plate. He removed the peeling and ate the rest of the peach.
“Nobody else I know would do that,” the girl said. “They’d throw it away.”
“I can’t imagine why. It’s a perfect good peach.”
He opened the seed and placed the two sides not far from Gaston. The girl studied the open halves.
“Is that where he lives?”
“It’s where he used to live. Gaston is out in the world and on his own now. You can see for yourself how comfortable he was in there. He had everything.”
“Now what has he got?”
“Not very much, I’m afraid.”
“What’s he going to do?”
“What are we going to do?”
“Well, we’re not going to squash him, that’s one thing we’re not going to do,” the girl said.
“What are we going to do, then?”
“Put him back?”
“Oh, that house is finished.”
“Well, he can’t live in our house, can he?”
“Can he live in our house at all?”
“Well, he could try, I suppose. Don’t you want to eat a peach?”
“Only if it’s a peach with somebody in the seed.”
“Well, see if you can find a peach that has an opening at the top, because if you can, that’ll be a peach in which you’re likeliest to find somebody.”
The girl examined each of the peaches on the big plate.
“They’re all shut,” she said.
“Well, eat one, then.”
“No. I want the same kind that you ate, with somebody in the seed.”
“Well, to tell you the truth, the peach I ate would be considered a bad peach, so of course stores don’t like to sell them. I was sold that one by mistake, most likely. And so now Gaston is without a home, and we’ve got six perfect peaches to eat.”
“I don’t want a perfect peach. I want a peach with people.”
“Well, I’ll go out and see if I can find one.”
“Where will I go?”
“You’ll go with me, unless you’d rather stay. I’ll only be five minutes.”
“If the phone rings, what shall I say?”
“I don’t think it’ll ring, but if it does, say hello and see who it is.”
“If it is my mother, what shall I say?”
“Tell her I’ve gone to get you a bad peach, and anything else you want to tell her.”
“If she wants me to go back, what shall I say?”
“Say yes if you want to go back.”
“Do you want me to?”
“Of course not, but the important thing is what you want, not what I want.”
“Why is that the important thing?”
“Because I want you to be where you want to be.”
“I want to be here.”
“I’ll be right back.”
He put on socks and shoes, and a jacket, and went out. She watched Gaston trying to find out what to do next. Gaston wandered around the plate, but everything seemed wrong and he didn’t know what to do or where to go.
The telephone rang and her mother said she was sending the chauffeur to pick her up because there was a little party for somebody’s daughter who was also six, and then tomorrow they would fly back to New York.
“Let me speak to your father,” she said.
“He’s gone to get a peach.”
“One with people.”
“You haven’t been with your father two days and already you sound like him.”
“There are peaches with people in them. I know. I saw one of them come out.”
“Not a bug. Gaston.”
“Gaston the grand something.”
“Somebody get a peach with a bug in it, and throws it away, but not him. He makes up a lot of foolishness about it.”
“It’s not foolishness.”
“All right, all right, don’t get angry at me about a horrible peach bug of some kind.”
“Gaston is right here, just outside his broken house, and I’m not angry at you.”
“You’ll have a lot of fun at the party.”
“We’ll have fun flying back to New York, too.”
“Are you glad you saw your father?”
“Of course I am.”
“Is he funny?”
“Is he crazy?”
“Yes. I mean, no. He just doesn’t holler when he sees a bug crawling out of a peach seed or anything. He just looks at it carefully. But it is just a bug, isn’t it, really?”
“That’s all it is.”
“And we have to squash it?”
“That’s right. I can’t wait to see you, darling. These two days have been like two years to me. Good-bye.”
The girl watched Gaston on the plate, and she actually didn’t like him. He was all ugh, as he had been in the first place. He didn’t have a home anymore and he was wandering around on the white plate and he was silly and wrong and ridiculous and useless and all sorts of other things. She cried a little, but only inside, because long ago she had decided she didn’t like crying because if you ever started to cry it seemed as if there was so much to cry about you almost couldn’t stop, and she didn’t like that at all. The open halves of the peach seed were wrong, too. They were ugly or something. They weren’t clean.
The man bought a kilo of peaches but found no flawed peaches among them, so he bought another kilo at another store, and this time his luck was better, and there were two that were flawed. He hurried back to his flat and let himself in.
His daughter was in her room, in her best dress.
“My mother phoned,” she said, “and she’s sending the chauffeur for me because there’s another birthday party.”
“I mean, there’s always a lot of them in New York.”
“Will the chauffeur bring you back?”
“No. We’re flying back to New York tomorrow.”
“I liked being in your house.”
“I liked having you here.”
“Why do you live here?”
“This is my home.”
“It’s nice, but it’s a lot different from our home.”
“Yes, I suppose it is.”
“It’s kind of like Gaston’s house.”
“Where is Gaston?”
“I squashed him.”
“Everybody squashes bugs and worms.”
“Oh. Well. I found you a peach.”
“I don’t want a peach anymore.”
He got her dressed, and he was packing her stuff when the chauffeur arrived. He went down the three flights of stairs with his daughter and the chauffeur, and in the street he was about to hug the girl when he decided he had better not. They shook hands instead, as if they were strangers.
He watched the huge car drive off, and then he went around the corner where he took his coffee every morning, feeling a little, he thought, like Gaston on the white plate.
1. Describe the setting of the story.
2. Who is Gaston? What does he look like?
3. Why wouldn't the girl eat any of the peaches?
4. What did the girl do after she talked to her mother on the phone?
5. How did the girl and her father say goodbye?
6. What are some differences you can infer between the girl's usual home and her father's?
7. In what way was the father's reaction unusual (according to the girl)?
8. Why does the girl's attitude toward Gaston keep changing?
9. According to the narrator, the little girl no longer cried out loud because she had learned that "if you ever started to cry it seemed as if there was so much to cry about you almost couldn't stop." What does this statement suggest about the little girl's state of mind and her feelings about her family life?
10. What do you learn about the father from the way the story ends?
11. On the phone, the mother tells the girl that her father's story about Gaston is foolishness. Do you agree or disagree with her? Explain.
12. Do you think both parents are good parents? Support your answer with evidence from the story.
13. (do not need to answer)
14. Evaluate Saroyan's use of dialogue, or conversation between characters, in this story. How does the dialogue help you get to know the characters.
15. What emptiness exists in each of the three characters? Is it the same thing, or do they all lack something different from the others?