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Truman Capote - Miriam

The Kiss of Death - Source: Aris Gionis

Oruman Capote was just just eighteen years of age when he wrote 'Miriam' in the Southern Gothic Horror style of genre. This short story was first published in the June issue of Mademoiselle in 1945.  Capote disliked the dual reality of the character - the widow and the female child stalker with the same Christian name of Miriam. He considered the plot of his first example of creativity to be a "a good stunt, but nothing more" (Flinner, 2009).  Although his creative genius was acknowledged with the O. Henry Award for the best first published short story in 1946. Later on Capote's 'Miriam' would be included in 'A Tree of Night and Other Stories,' which were published in 1950 in hardback and paperback editions.  How best to describe this first part part of the title referring to the tree and night is quite surreal with just a hint of the weird.  A tree can be worm-eaten to the core with brittle leaves subject to the elements of "the human condition," my grandfather's favourite source for inspiration. The colour of night suggests the dark spaces of the character's psyches best hidden from the scrutiny of daylight.

Yes the author of this critical essay also owns a hardback copy 'A Tree of Night and Other Stories,' considered extremely precious because time has faded the amazing green turquoise shade of the outer cover.  This collection of  short stories had been placed on another's bookshelf and neglected for too may years until now.  The wearing of cotton gloves is crucial to ensure that the time-worn yellowed pages scented with vanilla will last my lifetime as the silent words on each page regain their inner voice. This genre of Southern Gothic Horror writing in 'Miriam,' will entrap your senses and make you fully aware that the prosaic day-to-day living can hold unforeseen dangers for the unwary.  The fear of the unknown and the known is just one of the themes as this example of Lovecraftian-style of horror throughout this particular story of 'Miriam.'  There is the unsettling reference to dual personalities' perhaps, the chilling face-to-face reality of the doppelganger or the INNER daemons of the mind and the night-walker within her dream-scape of nightmares.  Mrs. H.T. Miller spirals out of control into psychosis when this widow loses her grip on her sanity because of this harbinger of impeding death existing just outside of her peripheral vision.  The colour white is the seamless thread throughout this story as the omen of death - an Oriental and Western concept which will be fully explained within this essay. Therefore this kiss of death is the non-sexual fetish for this widow who is in denial of the chilling reality that very few escape the  deadly embrace of this daemon commonly referred to as the Angel of Death.

This is just a short story of how this flat character of the widow Mrs. H. T. Miller has lived alone for several years in a remodelled brown-stone in a flat but believable world.  The plot is set against the banal backdrop of the theatre and how one night there is the unwanted intrusion of the other younger Miriam who is the archetype of the creepy child in horror stories.  The older Miriam - a creature of habit who prepares meals for one by her own hand and the only vice is an occasional cigarette.  The yellow canary named Tommy appears to be the only solace for this widow isolated within her state of loneliness. On a whim she decides to view a film at the neighbourhood  theatre.  It is night-time and snowing so she wears the beaver coat to keep warm and the galoshes laced securely to ensure dry feet. Mrs. Miller would sometimes indulge in the ritual of buying a packet of peppermints at the drugstore so as to have sweets to eat during the film. The appearance of a silver-haired young girl wearing this old-fashioned plum-coloured velvet coat, with a gold chain around her neck. This solitary child was standing just inside the foyer of the theatre.  The child asks politely if Mrs. H. T. Miller would buy a ticket on her behalf and hands over a nickel in lieu of payment.  This widow is not thinking rationally when she offers one of her peppermints to this young girl, who is not in the company of an adult. The next foolhardy thing to do is to ask this  personal question of this unknown medium, "What's your name dear." (Capote, 1950).  The girl ponders as if in some curious way her identity is already known to the widow, and this is the catalyst for the split personalities of Miriam to come to the surface for this sixty-one-year-old.

For an entire week it snowed and covered  the widow's windows with the icy white fingers of Jack Frost.  The chilled CityScape seemed too hushed with neither sound or movement of feather or leaf.  On Sunday Mrs. H. T. Miller decided to scramble some eggs and heat tomato soup from a can.  At eleven o'clock in the evening everything in her life was going to turn macabre with sinister intent because of the ringing of her doorbell. ........ 

  to be continued


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