Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The most impressive and effective technique that Barry Callaghan uses throughout this compact parable about growing older is the way he transforms the recurrent images of McCrae’s Cuban heels, the couple’s Victorian house, and Queen Victoria in her widows’ weeds into deeply resonating metaphors for what the story is actually about. Their carefully tended old house becomes a symbol of their successful efforts in preserving the past in the midst of change. Callaghan’s use of the stamp of the Black Queen becomes the controlling metaphor of the entire story because it symbolizes the couple’s unconscious mourning for a genteel past that has disappeared; that is, a Victorian sense of refinement and manners that belonged to another time. The concluding image of McCrae “crowning” himself with the Black Queen pulls together all the images of the story into one remarkable symbol. McCrae publicly identifies himself as the Black Queen and simultaneously brings that icon into the sullied world of the present, an act that becomes a crucial reminder to his lover and the rest of the aging homosexual couples that time is unrelenting and they may as well enjoy themselves as much as they can and quit hankering after their lost youth. The raw vegetables he serves to the guests become a kind of sacramental last supper commemorating a bittersweet but belated confrontation with the raw facts of reality.