(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Mrs. Ellenger and her thirteen-year-old daughter, Emma, are enjoying a winter cruise on the Mediterranean. A widow, Mrs. Ellenger is rich, attractive, and bored. Emma is a quiet but observant child who is disturbed by her mother’s depression: Mrs. Ellenger is rude to other people, she smokes and drinks too much, and she constantly reminds Emma of what a lucky girl she is, while bragging to others about how Emma lacks for nothing. What Emma lacks is the magic that should suffuse a trip to exotic places. Instead, she is forced to see things through her mother’s jaundiced eyes.

When they arrive at Tangier, the Ellengers are the last to disembark for the mainland, even though Emma can hardly wait to get there. She has even made a tentative date with Eddy, a fatherly bartender on holiday, for lunch in the square. When Eddy shows up, however, Mrs. Ellenger brushes him off and then sits for hours in a sidewalk café drinking, smoking, and reading cheap magazines. Emma is waiting patiently to explore this fabulous town all around them. Mrs. Ellenger finally agrees to look around a bit, and they enter a shop in which she buys Emma an enamel bracelet that is both too expensive and too small. The owner then gives Emma a tiny toy tiger, which, he says, was made by people in the hills and contains magic that can grant her every wish.

Back on the ship, Emma clutches the tiger and makes wishes while her mother converses with a new passenger, Mr. Boyd...

(The entire section is 475 words.)