A Cap For Steve by Morley Callaghan, 1952
The magic trick:
A graceful simplicity
There is a graceful simplicity – almost naiveté – in Morley Callaghan’s writing. In reading 100 short stories this summer, I must admit I have almost become numb to the level of pretense in much of the writing. And I say that with the reassurance that I have loved every minute of this project. It’s just that there is no denying a certain level of self-absorption and pomposity required for an author to think it’s natural to assume that some small reflection of life can be captured in 5,000 or so words. Morley Callaghan – of whom I know through two stories (this and “The Faithful Wife”) – manages to take on the challenge of a short story seemingly with no pretense at all. His writing is a silent vessel for his characters’ stories, no more and no less.
In “A Cap For Steve,” I especially like the way Callaghan portrays the father. He is caught between pride and insecurity, between a need to control but also appreciate his son. These are very natural, human characters living very natural, human lives. The story doesn’t ever get bogged down in literary manipulations. And that’s quite a trick on Callaghan’s part.
“Son, Son!” she cried, rushing from the kitchen. As soon as she threw her arms around Steve, shielding him, Dave’s anger left him and he felt stupid. He walked past them into the kitchen.
“What happened?” she asked anxiously. “Have you both gone crazy? What did you do, Steve?”
“Nothing,” he said sullenly.
“What did your father do?”
“We found the boy with my ball cap, and he let the boy’s father take it from us.”
“No, no,” Dave protested. “Nobody pushed us around. The man didn’t put anything over us.” He felt tired and his face was burning. He told what had happened then he slowly took the two ten-dollar bills out of his wallet and tossed them on the table and looked up guiltily at his wife.