Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 653
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 worse since her husband, “the faithless Essendier,” deserted her. The author decides not to pursue the matter; yet, as she is leaving, a small rainbow appears on the wall, a reflection caused by the sun hitting an imperfection in the window pane. The author is again reminded of her past—she had called the reflection her “rainy moon,” greeting it as an optimistic sign. Rosita confides, however, that her sister considers the little fan of colors a bad omen. Her curiosity again aroused, the author bluffs her way into the bedroom and meets the beautiful, cold Delia Essendier, who has taken to bed not to pine, as the writer had fancied, but to sulk. Annoyed yet intrigued by this saturnine young woman, the author asks her why she does not work like her sister does.“I work too,” she said stiffly. “Only nobody sees what I do. I wear myself out; oh, I wear myself out. In there. . . . In there. . . . ”
She was touching her forehead and pressing her temples.
Nevertheless, the challenge affects Delia, for one day shortly thereafter the author arrives to find her engaged in needlework. Delia remarks that it is good for her to handle pointed things. The author makes a joke of this seemingly inane comment and goes out to make a purchase from a street vendor. As she rushes back inside, she bumps into a fatigued-looking man who is staring fixedly at the Barberet window.
Rosita—seeming suddenly aged herself—explains what has been “wearing out” her sister: Delia has been convoking, or summoning through intense concentration, her husband. Supposedly, the result of convocation is, for her husband, death. When Colette expresses disbelief in convocation, Rosita assures her that it is quite common, citing several examples even in the same neighborhood.
Although not convinced, the author is disgusted by this evil endeavor and vows never to return to the Barberet apartment. However, weeks later, she begins haphazardly running into Delia, whose confinement has apparently ended. The young woman “looked pale and diminished, like a convalescent who is out too soon, pearly under the eyes, and extremely pretty.” Finally, the author catches sight of Delia at a fried-potato stand. Ravenously eating potato chips, Delia is now dressed all in black, wearing the widow’s crepe.
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