The story takes place between 1945-1947. Kathryn's family was Mennonite and she'd left home sometime after her mother died when Kathryn was just nineteen years old. At her job in Portland, Oregon she is a waitress and a live-in nanny. At the cafe, Carl, enters the picture. He orders a piece of pie each night eventually giving her a ride home, calling her Kay instead of her given name, Kathryn, and visiting her and the family she lives with on Sundays. He seems patient and polite but all along we wonder if he is just sizing her up for whatever. She's had many soldier boyfriends and doesn't seem very religious or even very worried about her behavior. It only comes up a few times when she thinks about her family. She and Carl go to California so that he can work on a skyscraper and she lies to her family and employers that they are eloping. Carl doesn't seem to care either way. The wives of Carl's friends, in California, want to ask questions but they don't. Sure enough, later, a call comes from a woman claiming to be Carl's wife. All of that is not the interesting part. What I find interesting is the way that Kathryn takes on the persona of Kay. She drinks, dances, and lives "in sin." She's really two people, "Kathryn--Kay-- who was she now?" And, "It amazed her, how someone thought he could rename you, just like that, though after the shock of it, she had secretly agreed: Kay."
Some of my first impressions on my first read were, one, toward the end of the story, it seems like it jumps quickly to resolve things whereas in the beginning, the pace felt more relaxed and leisurely. Two, I felt it a bit difficult to believe that she was raised Mennonite. Three, I wanted to see more of the struggles a person who had been part of a strict religion who has left it is affected. Four, her sister-in-law, Bertha, certainly behaves charitably at the end of the story and I found that a bit hard to believe. Maybe I expect more harshness that is often exhibited these days by so-called religious people.
When we find out how much older he is than Kay (Kathryn), I'm surprised. She'd suspected but always seemed a bit naive. I think in those days, she might have been called a tease. She'd been engaged but broke it off because she didn't like how the soldier looked out of his uniform and she'd hardly remembered what he looked like.
Some sinister mystery was brought into the story with the addition of the true tale of Elizabeth Short's murder that took place in January of 1947 in Los Angeles. That gave the story more heart beat when, for a few minutes, I started to think that maybe Carl was the murderer. Or maybe the drunk in the bus station. All in all, I enjoyed the story very much and will probably read it a third time. "Pie" was first published online by Ploughshares and subsequently printed in their Solos: Volume 3 Omnibus edition.
Link to Suzanne Matson's web page