Miriam by Truman Capote, 1945
The magic trick:
Building the story as a self-consciously ambiguous fable
October falls across the calendar, so your SSMT blog is recognizing the demon days before us with a month-long series of scary stories. Enjoy!
“Miriam” can be just about anything you want it to be. It can be a ghost story. It can be a love story. It can be a story about aging and loneliness. It can be a story about impending death.
Capote sets it up in a very obviously vague way so that the reader is forced to decide for themselves which parts are real and which are imagined. The woman and the child each are named Miriam. The woman’s neighbor can’t confirm the child’s presence when he goes to investigate the elder Miriam’s apartment. These are fairly simple nods to ambiguity by Capote, but they work well, especially within the frame of the story. (For the record, I’m in the camp that says the younger Miriam represents death.) And that’s quite a trick on Capote’s part.
“Hello,” said Miriam.
“Oh…why, hello,” said Mrs. Miller, stepping hesitantly into the hall. “You’re that little girl.”
“I thought you’d never answer, but I kept my finger on the button; I knew you were home. Aren’t you glad to see me?”
Mrs. Miller did not know what to say. Miriam, she saw, wore the same plum velvet coat and now she had also a beret to match; her white hair was braided in two shining plaits and looped at the ends with enormous white ribbons.
“Since I’ve waited so long, you could at least let me in,” she said.
“It’s awfully late….”
Miriam regarded her blankly. “What difference does that make? Let me in. It’s cold out here and I have on a silk dress.” Then, with a gentle gesture, she urged Mrs. Miller aside and passed into the apartment.