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Miriam Summary

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Mrs. H. T. Miller is a widow who lives alone in a small apartment near the East River in New York City. She dresses simply and wears no makeup. She spends her days cleaning her apartment, fixing her own meals, tending her canary, and smoking an occasional cigarette. One evening, she decides to go to the movies.

While waiting in line at the box office, she becomes aware of a thin little girl standing nearby. Mrs. Miller is struck by the girl’s old-fashioned clothes and her silver-white hair. The girl hands her some money and asks her to buy a ticket for her. Mrs. Miller complies without really knowing why and even feels guilty, as if she has done something wrong. Inside the theater, Mrs. Miller gets a closer look at the girl and decides that her most distinctive feature is her eyes, which are large, unblinking, and adultlike. During the few minutes before the film starts, they have a brief conversation; the girl says that her name is Miriam, which happens to be Mrs. Miller’s first name, and that she has never seen a film before.

One snowy night a week later, just as Mrs. Miller curls up in bed with a hot-water bottle and a newspaper, the doorbell rings. She tries to ignore it, but when the noise becomes one unceasing ring, she goes to the door to put a stop to it and finds Miriam on her doorstep. The girl barges into the living room and takes charge. As at their last meeting, her dress is old-fashioned, but this time it is white silk. Mrs. Miller marvels over such a costume on a cold February night. She marvels even more over Miriam’s rude behavior as the girl goes around the room pronouncing judgment on various items. Miriam tries to uncover the cage of the canary to make him sing, but Mrs. Miller stops her. When Miriam says she is hungry and demands food, Mrs. Miller agrees to feed her on the understanding that Miriam will eat and then leave.

While she is in the kitchen fixing sandwiches, Mrs. Miller hears the canary singing and is furious. When she returns with the sandwiches, she finds the canary cage still covered and Miriam snooping in her jewel case. Miriam says there is nothing good there but a cameo brooch and demands that Mrs. Miller give it to her. At that moment, Mrs. Miller realizes just how much she is at the mercy of this sinister little girl. Once she has eaten, Miriam is about to leave, wearing the cameo brooch, when she asks Mrs. Miller for a kiss good-night. When Mrs. Miller refuses, Miriam seizes a vase containing paper flowers and hurls it to the floor, where it shatters. Then she stamps on the bouquet, walks to the door, gives Mrs. Miller a look of “slyly innocent curiosity,” and leaves.

Mrs. Miller spends the next day in bed, but on the following day, she awakens to springlike weather and decides to go shopping. She is in a holiday mood until she encounters a deformed...

(The entire section is 789 words.)