(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The narrator of the story, an author, comes for the first time to the apartment of her new typist, Mlle Rosita Barberet. The typist’s apartment is situated on Montmartre, where the narrator herself once lived. However, there have been many changes since the narrator resided on the Butte: Some of the street names have been changed, and buildings have been repainted or torn down altogether. During the course of their conversation, the author goes to the window to inspect the view; unconsciously, her hand rests on the window catch. The unusual catch—a cast-iron mermaid—jars her memory, and suddenly the author realizes that she used to live in this very apartment.

She does not reveal this discovery to the efficient, birdlike Rosita, but instead asks her to retype a page, stalling for time to inspect the room. The author is especially curious to see again her old bedroom and, as she leaves, pretends to mistake the bedroom door for the door to the corridor. Before she can twist the knob, however, Rosita bars the way.

On her next visit, the author learns (through unsubtle questioning of the typist) that Rosita’s sister lives in the bedroom. Apparently, the sister has been “ill” and confined to the room. The author’s romantic imagination paints a picture of a young woman forsaken by her lover, pining away in the same bed where the author herself once pined for a departed man.

Her guess is actually close to the truth. When the author next comes to the apartment, Rosita is distraught and weepy. The typist confesses that her sister’s character has changed for...

(The entire section is 653 words.)