A story about growing up and cutting things down to shape, this is McCullers at her coffee-bitter best. Maybe we all enjoy stories where we learn things – not in terms of trivia or pop quizzes, but when we’re allowed to see thoughts and corollaries of actions played out. The characters’ conversation here seemed a true picture of how questions and learning and keeping alert can be part of innocence, and how that can be treasured, without feeling cloying. Never cloying, McCullers: revelation.
The man leaned his head down and tapped his forehead on the counter. For a few seconds he stayed bowed over in this position, the back of his stringy neck covered with orange furze, his hands with their long warped fingers held palm to palm in an attitude of prayer.
First published November 1942 in Harper’s Bazaar, and collected in Ballad of the Sad Café. available to read online here