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AMERICAN STORIES - Miriam

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Now the Special English program American Stories. Our story today is called "Miriam". It was written by Truman Capote. Here is Kay Gallant with the story.

Mrs. Henry Miller had lived alone for several years. Her husband was dead. But he had left her a comfortable amount of money. He also had left her a nice apartment in New York City near the East River. There were three other apartments in the large brown building where Mrs. Miller lived with her bird, a yellow canary named Tommy.

Mrs. Miller was sixty-one years old. She had no friends and no special interests. One evening in January, Mrs. Miller saw an advertisement for a movie. It looked so interesting that Mrs. Miller decided to go to see it. There was a long line of people waiting to buy tickets for the movie. Mrs. Miller stood at the end of the line. Looking around her, Mrs. Miller noticed a little girl standing near the line. The child's hair was absolutely white, silver white in fact. The child was thin and delicate. She wore a blue silk dress under her red velvet coat. Mrs. Miller felt strangely excited and when the little girl looked at her, Mrs. Miller gave her a warm smile. The little girl walked over to her and said, "Would you do me a favor? Would you buy a ticket for me? They won't let me go into the movies alone." She handed Mrs. Miller the money and they stood together in the line.

Mrs. Miller felt there was something strange about the little girl. Her eyes were grey and very large. But they did not seem like the eyes of a child.

"What's your name, dear?" Mrs. Miller asked.

"Miriam." The child replied.

Mrs. Miller smiled. "Why? Isn't that funny? That's my name, too. I'm Miriam Miller."

The little girl was silent. By this time they had reached the ticket office. Mrs. Miller bought two tickets. She gave one to Miriam and said, "It was nice to have met you but I must go now." Miriam just nodded her head.

The next week, one evening after dinner, Mrs. Miller's doorbell rang. She opened the door, the little girl in the red coat was standing there.

"Hello," said Miriam. Mrs. Miller did not know what to say. Miriam stepped into the apartment. She took off her red velvet coat and dropped it on the chair. The dress made a soft swishing sound as Miriam in walked around the room.

"What do you want?" Mrs. Miller asked, "And how did you know where I live?"

Miriam laughed. "Let's talk about something else." She said. She walked over to the birdcage which was covered by a piece of cloth.

Mrs. Miller raised her voice, "Leave my bird alone."

"All right," Miriam said, "but I'm hungry."

"Look," Mrs. Miller said, "if I prepare something for you to eat, will you be a good girl and go home?"

"I promise." the little girl said.

Mrs. Miller's hands were shaking as she made the sandwich and poured a glass of milk for Miriam. She kept asking herself who this little girl was and why she had come to her house. Mrs. Miller carried the food into the living room. The room was empty. Mrs. Miller began to feel a little frightened. She went into her bedroom. Her jewelry box was open and Miriam was looking at Mrs. Miller's jewels. The child turned to the old woman looking deeply into her eyes.

"I want this pearl necklace." She told her.

"Put that back!" Mrs. Miller ordered, "You can't have it. That necklace was a gift from my husband."

"But I want it!" Miriam insisted, "It's beautiful. Give it to me!"

Mrs. Miller suddenly felt very weak. She felt as if she were going to faint. Miriam put on the pearl necklace and went into the living room. She ate the sandwich and drank the milk quickly.

"That was very nice," she said when she had finished the food, "but I wish I had some cookies or chocolates."

Mrs. Miller sat on a sofa. Her face was very white and her eyes were staring in the space. "You promised to leave if I made the sandwich," she said.

Miriam picked up her coat and put it on, then she walked to Mrs. Miller. "Kiss me good night," she ordered.

Mrs. Miller trembled. "Please!" The old woman whispered, "I … I don't want to."

"All right." Miriam said, lifting in the eyebrow. She walked slowly to the door, turned and looked at Mrs. Miller then she was gone.

Mrs. Miller spent the next day in bed. The day after that Mrs. Miller woke up feeling much better. The sun was shining and when she opened her bedroom window she discovered the weather felt almost like spring. The day was so beautiful she decided to walk along the wide avenues of New York's Eastside. When she came to a bakery shop something strange happened.

Mrs. Miller could not stop her feet from carrying her inside the store. She spent ten dollars for a bag of chocolates and some cookies. The weather had changed again by the time Mrs. Miller came out of the bakery shop. Winter clouds threw grey shadows over the sun. A cold wind blew in the streets. Soon snow began to fall. Mrs. Miller hurried home. As soon as she entered her apartment, she put the chocolates on a plate with the cookies. At exactly five o'clock the doorbell rang.

"It that you?" Mrs. Miller called.

"Of course," answered Miriam, "open the door!"

"Go away!" said Mrs. Miller. She sat down on a sofa. Mrs. Miller did not move for ten minutes. Then she walked quietly to the door and opened it a little bit. Miriam was sitting on a large box outside the door. She was holding a beautiful French doll.

"Really," Miriam said, "I thought you'll never open this door. Help me get this box into your apartment. It's very heavy."

Mrs. Miller felt as if she were in a dream as she carried the heavy box into her living room. Miriam sat on the sofa, watching Mrs. Miller. She picked up a chocolate and put it into her mouth.

"I've come to live with you." she said.

Mrs. Miller's face turned into a mess of ugly red lines. She began to cry and ran out of her apartment. She ran down the steps and began knocking loudly at the first door she came to. A short man with red hair opened the door, a young woman stood behind him.

"Please!" cried Mrs. Miller, "I'm your neighbor. I live upstairs." She covered her face with her hands, "I know I sound crazy, but I'm afraid of a little girl in my apartment. She won't leave. She's already stolen my pearl necklace and I just know she wants to do something terrible to me."

"Calm down," the young woman said, "Harry will go upstairs and take care of her."

Mrs. Miller sat down, "You're very kind," she told the young woman, "and I'm sorry to cause you any trouble."

After a few minutes, they heard Henry coming down the stairs. Harry came into his apartment shaking his head, "nobody is there." He said. Mrs. Miller stood up. "Did you see a large box or a doll?"

"No mam," Henry said slowly.

Mrs. Miller went back to her apartment. The chocolates and cookies were still there but the room was empty. "Where was Miriam? Where was she?"

Mrs. Miller sat down. The room was dark and getting darker. Mrs. Miller closed her eyes and began thinking. Maybe there was no girl named Miriam. Maybe she had imagined everything like in a dream. Mrs. Miller began to feel better. She was Mrs. Henry Miller. She lived in this apartment. She cooked her own meals, she owned the canary. Mrs. Miller knew who she was. She felt safe and relaxed. Then she heard the sounds coming from her bedroom. Someone was opening and closing the drawers of her bureau. Mrs. Miller sat with her eyes closed tightly. She heard the soft swishing sound of a silk dress. The sound grew louder and louder until the walls of the apartment began to shake. Mrs. Miller opened her eyes.

"Hello." said Miriam.

You have just heard the story called "Miriam". It was written by Truman Capote and adapted for Special English by Donald D. It was published by the K. Company in 1967. Your storyteller was Kay Gallant. This is Shep O'Neal.

-----(END)-----

Summary

Miss Miller has spent her life as a governess for children in some of the most fashionable homes in New York. She is shocked one day to learn that one of her "babies" is expecting a baby of her own and rejects Miss Miller's offer to be the nurse for the forthcoming child. That night, Miss Miller meets Miriam, a strange young girl who resembles Miss Miller when she was a child. Miriam, critical of everything Miss Miller has or does, constantly taunts her about a loveless existence, leading to a violent confrontation and chilling denouement.

A TV Show Script for Miriam

Written by Truman Capote

Narrator: (scene shows an old woman, washing her supper dishes) For several years, a widow has lived in her own pleasant two-room and kitchenette apartment in a rebuilt brownstone near East River. Her late husband, Mr. H. T. Miller, had left a fair amount of insurance money before he passed away. Mrs. Miller is, in fact, not an average sixty-one-year-old woman; she has little interest outside her apartment, has no friends to speak of, and she only ventures out as far as a nearby grocery store. No one who lives near her has taken note of her existence, with her old-fashioned dress and old-fashioned hairstyle, and she never uses any cosmetics. Her daily activities are monotonous, smoking an occasional cigarette, preparing her own meals, feeding her canary christened "Tommy," and keeping her two-room apartment as clean as possible. (Mrs. Miller sits down on her couch, reading through the afternoon newspaper.)

Narrator: (camera changes scene to Rod Serling, a glowing cigarette held in his hand) One would think that her life would be as normal as anyone else's. She doesn't mind the wall of isolation she has created around herself all these years. But all of this is going to change. Mrs. Miller is going to meet a person, a small child, who, like her, has no freinds, goes through life unnoticed, and ventures only as far as Mrs. Miller. Would it be a dream of happiness come true? or perhaps the worst nightmare Mrs. Miller has ever experienced ... In the Twilight Zone!

Title shows: "Miriam"

Act I: At the Theater

(Scene 1, at Mrs. Miller's apartment)

Mrs. Miller: (thinking at the same time she reads the advertisement in her newspaper, Tommy singing in the background.) Now, here's an interesting picture... It's at the local theater. The title sounds good -- I might go out to see it. (Before getting her heavy fur coat, she places a cover over Tommy's birdcage, then opens her front door and closes it behind her; outside, it is snowing)

(Scene 2, Box office with a long line of customers. Mrs. Miller stands at the end of a very long line to the box office; she takes a look at the marquee for admission prices above the box office before putting away a bag of peppermints she had purchased at the drug store.)

Short Man: (tired and agitated voice) Will this line ever move?

Short Woman: Quit complaining, Harry; the line is moving as fast as it can.

Mrs. Miller: (thinking) I hope not -- I haven't found enough change for... Ah! Here they are. (Smiles, looks up ahead of the line; she is almost at the box office. She notices a small white-haired girl up ahead of the line, underneath the marquee.)

Mrs. Miller: (thinking) My, what is that little girl doing out in the weather like this?

Miriam: (looks at Mrs. Miller, smiles)

Mrs. Miller: (smiles back)

Miriam: (walks over to Mrs. Miller) Excuse me ma'am?

Mrs. Miller: (excited and intrigued look) Yes, dear?

Miriam: Would you care to do me a favor, please?

Mrs. Miller: I'd be glad to... If I can. What is it?

Miriam: It's quite easy. I merely need you to buy a ticket for me; they won't let me in otherwise. (hands Mrs. Miller change) Here. I have money for it.

Mrs. Miller: Why won't they let you in, dear?

Miriam: I don't know, but I want to see the movie. Please, it's only a little favor, ma'am. (hands Mrs. Miller the money earnestly.)

Mrs. Miller: Well, all right.

(Scene 3, Inside the Theater; Mrs. Miller and the girl have gone inside together.)

Mrs. Miller: (sits down) I feel just like a genuine criminal, I mean, that sort of thing is against the law, isn't it? (chuckles) I do hope I haven't done the wrong thing. (turns to her right, where the girl is sitting next to her) Your mother does know where you are, right?

Miriam: (Silence; takes her blue coat off, folds it neatly on her lap, and stares off at the theater screen, expressionless.)

Mrs. Miller: (hands a peppermint to the girl) What is your name, dear?

Miriam: (smiles, takes the candy off Mrs. Miller's hand.) Miriam, ma'am (places the candy in her mouth.)

Mrs. Miller: (surprised look) Why, isn't that something? My name is also Miriam, and it's not even a common name, either! (laughs heartily) Don't tell me your last name is also Miller?

Miriam: (sucking her candy) No, ma'am. Just Miriam.

Mrs. Miller: Oh. Well, isn't it funny, though?

Miriam: (crunches on her candy) Moderately. (smacks her lips)

Mrs. Miller: (looks at Miriam for a long time) My, you have quite a large vocabulary for your age, Miriam.

Miriam: (looks up after finishing her candy) I do?

Mrs. Miller: (uncomfortable voice) Well, um, yes, you do, dear. (looks at the theater screen; turns to Miriam) Do you like the movies? (smiles)

Miriam: (shrugs) I wouldn't really know, to tell you the truth, ma'am. Never been to them before. This is my first.

Mrs. Miller: I see.

(several minutes later, after the movie has finished)

Mrs. Miller: Well, I'd better get going before the weather gets worse. (Stands up, tucking her purse under her arm) It was nice meeting you, Miriam.

Miriam: (smiles and nods) Nice meeting you too, Mrs. Miller.

* * *

Act Two: The Intrusion

(Scene 1, Mrs. Miller reading Times magazine in her bed covers)

Mrs. Miller: (startled; hears the doorbell ring; gets out of bed while doorbell still rings) I'm coming, I'm coming! Please be patient. (ring) Stop it! (ring) It's nearly midnight -- hold on! (opens the door) What in heaven's name--?

Miriam: Hello (smiles)

Mrs. Miller: Oh... Why, hello there... (pause to look at her outfit -- same blue coat) You're that girl at the theater, are you?

Miriam: Mm-hmm, I thought you were never going to answer the door, but I knew you were home. Aren't you happy to see me, ma'am?

Mrs. Miller: Uhm...

Miriam: Well, you can at least let me in, will you?

Mrs. Miller: (stuttering a bit) My dear, it is awfully late, you know ... and --

Miriam: (interrupts) What difference does it make? Please let me in -- it's cold outside and I only have on a silk dress. (Gestures her hands to beckon Mrs. Miller to move aside; goes inside, dropping her coat on a nearby chair; she is wearing a white silk dress as she said, and looks pale.)

Miriam: (looks around) I really like your place. And I like your rug also -- blue is my favorite color.

Mrs. Miller: My dear, please... What do...?

Miriam: (looks at a vase with roses; disappointed look.) (whispers) Imitations... (strokes the artificial roses) How sad... Aren't imitations melancholy, Mrs. Miller?

Mrs. Miller: (stern voice) What do you want, Miriam?

Miriam: Sit down. It makes me nervous to see people standing.

Mrs. Miller: (sits on a nearby hassock; controlling her anger) Okay, but what do you want from me?

Miriam: (looks at Mrs. Miller's solemn face) You know ... I don't think you're glad to see me here, are you?

Mrs. Miller: Um, well, I... (Thinks) What on earth is she trying to get at? (Speaks in a quivering voice) How -- How did you know where I live?

Miriam: (frowning) Oh, that's not a question at all, ma'am. What's your name? What's my name?

Mrs. Miller: But... I'm not even listed in the phone book. So how could--

Miriam: Could we talk about something different? It's no mystery.

Mrs. Miller: (almost losing control on her steady voice) Your mother must be insane to let a girl like you wander out of your home, at an hour like this -- midnight! And wearing that ridiculous dress of yours -- what is she thinking?

Miriam: (Walks over to Tommy's cage; looks under its cover) A canary! (looks at Mrs. Miller) (angelic voice) Would you mind if I woke him? I would love to hear him sing his melody.

Mrs. Miller: (stands up) (anxious voice) Don't you wake up Tommy, little child. Don't you dare!

Miriam: (frowns) Oh, all right. But I don't see why I can't hear Tommy sing, anyway. (sudden smile) Do you have anything to eat? I'm starving! I would like milk and jam sandwich with --

Mrs. Miller: Look. (steps closer to Miriam) Listen: what if I make you some nice sandwiches and poured you a glass of milk? Then can you be a sweet little child and go home? It is past midnight and you shouldn't be out this late. Isn't you mother even the slightest bit worried where you are?

Miriam: (looks outside through the curtains) But it's snowing. And it's dark and cold. I can't go out there in a weather like this.

Mrs. Miller: Well, you should've thought of that before you left -- you shouldn't have come here in the first place! I cannot stop this weather, sorry. If I make you something to eat, will you promise to leave me in peace?

Miriam: (childish look) Well... All right.

(Scene 2: Mrs. Miller fixing a midnight snack for the child; lights a cigarette; hears the canary sing)

Mrs. Miller: Oh, no! -- Tommy! (leaves the kitchenette) (shouting) Miriam! Miriam, I told you not to bother Tommy while I am making you... a snack -- ?

(the girl isn't in the room; the cover is still on Tommy's cage, and he's still singing. Baffled, she takes a puff of her cigarette.)

Mrs. Miller: Miriam? Miriam, where are you, child? (looks in the kitchenette again before heading to her bedroom) Miriam, did you leave?-- Miriam?!

Miriam: (sitting at the foot of the bed with an opened jewel box) Yes?

Mrs. Miller: (catching her breath from excitement) Miriam, dear, what are you doing?

Miriam: There wasn't anything good in the other room (gestures to her and to indicate the area she is in) nor in here, either. (picks up a jeweled brooch from the box.) But I like this one very much. Charming. (smiles balefully)

Mrs. Miller: (nervous look) Miriam, please put it back where you found it. Don't take it -- it was a gift from my husband ... on our anniversary ... years ago. Put it back.

Miriam: (puts the jewel box on the bed as she stands up, the brooch in her hand.) But it's beautiful ... (walks up to Mrs. Miller) and I want it so much. Give it to me!

Mrs. Miller: (thinking; sigh of defeat) Fine. You can have it...

(Scene 3: Miriam eating her jam sandwiches happily; Mrs. Miller sitting on her hassock, looking more somber than before)

Miriam: (sighs happily) That was very nice, Mrs. Miller. (smacks her lips) Though eating an almond cake and some cherries would be nice, also. (plays with the brooch) Sweets are wonderful, don't you think?

Mrs. Miller: (tired look and voice) Child ...

Miriam: Any candy here -- a cake, perhaps?

Mrs. Miller: You promised that you would leave after you finished your sandwiches and milk. Will you please go?

Miriam: I did?

Mrs. Miller: It was a promise, Miriam. Please go home. It's very late, and I'm not feeling well at all. Go.

Miriam: (giggling; smiles) I was only teasing, don't fret. (sits up, putting her coat on; goes over to Mrs. Miller) (whispers) Kiss me good night?

Mrs. Miller: I'd rather not. I don't feel good.

Miriam: (calm voice) As you wish.

(Mrs. Miller lowers her head, almost falling to sleep; hears glass shattering, then looks up to Miriam, who was standing over the broken vase with the artificial flowers. There is a moment of silence. Miriam walks on the flowers before heading out the door, giving Mrs. Miller one last, unsympathetic look.)

(commercials -- blah!)

* * *

Act Three: The Reduction of Mrs. Miller

(Scene 1: Mrs. Miller walking down on 86th St. while the dream she had a few nights ago echoes in her head)

1st Voice: Where is she taking us, I wonder?

2nd Voice: No one knows, I suppose.

3rd Voice: But isn't she pretty in that outfit? Like a frosted flower -- her hair so shining and white (sighs).

4th Voice: I must say, she is rather lucky to marry H. T. today.

(chuckling in the background fades as Mrs. Miller's mind focuses back to reality; sees a pretty wedding dress in the display window.)

(Mrs. Miller notices an old man at a corner street with heavy package under his arm, shaggy old coat, and checkered cap; he smiles at Mrs. Miller. She smiles back, but then shakes her head slightly, as if she is trying to erase a vision. She crosses the street, and the man follows her slowly, shuffling his feet -- dramatic music. Mrs. Miller watches -- from our point of view -- the reflections of the man off the window displays. She starts walking faster; the man shuffles his feet also to match her speed -- dramatic music increases. Mrs. Miller reaches the flower shop, slips inside quickly, and ... the old man passes by the shop, briefly tipping his cap to her. Dramatic music calms down before an increase once more, when the florist sees Mrs. Miller.)

Florist: May I help you, ma'am?

Mrs. Miller: (yelps) Oh, I'm sorry. Yes, uh, do you have any white roses?

Florist: Yes we do -- how many?

Mrs. Miller: Six please.

(scene 2: home at Mrs. Miller's apartment. she is carrying inside the following items: the roses, a new vase, some cherries, and a cake -- almond cake. The flowers are now in the vase on the coffee table along with a plate of cherries and the almond cake on another plate. Tommy is singing. The clock chimes five p.m. and then the doorbell rings)

Mrs. Miller: (calls out) Is that you again?

Miriam: (shouting) Naturally! (rings the doorbell again) Open this door!

Mrs. Miller: Go away! I beg of you!

Miriam: But I have a big package out here, and need help carrying it in -- Please, hurry!

Mrs. Miller: Just go away! (ringing continues) You might as well leave -- I have no intention of letting a child like you inside my apartment.

(ringing stops; Mrs. Miller hopes that Miriam has given up and gone home. Mrs. Miller tiptoes to her front door, opens the door -- and, with a surprised and disgusted look on her face, sees Miriam is still out there with a huge box and a China doll in her arms.)

Miriam: (beaming) I knew you would open the door sooner or later. Help me with this package -- it's awfully heavy, you know (dragging the box inside the apartment)

Mrs. Miller: All right, let me take it in for you. (takes the box from Miriam, places it in the middle of the room, and catches her breath)

Miriam: (sits on the sofa with her doll) Thank you, ma'am. Go ahead and look in the box -- it's a surprise. (smiles)

Mrs. Miller: (opens the package; pulls out dresses and a white one Miriam was wearing the other day) Why, there are all just clothes. They're very pretty, but... Why, Miriam?

Miriam: Because I've come to live with you. What do you think?

Mrs. Miller: What?! Live with me?!

Miriam: You were awfully nice to buy me these cherries. (smiles again as she eats one) They're very delicious.

Mrs. Miller: But you can't! Just go away and leave me alone, for God's sake! Leave!

Miriam: (ignoring her) -- And the almond cake and the flowers -- real flowers. You're a very generous woman. We didn't have much at the last place I lived. The old man I lived with didn't had enough money or food, but I think I'll like it here. (hands her a cherry) Want some?

(Scene 3: interior of a different apartment room. There is frantic knocking on the door. A short man answers the door, but is suddenly pushed aside by an old woman -- Mrs. Miller)

Short Man: Wha?! What the hell is this?

Short Woman: Anything the matter, honey? Who is that? (confronted by Mrs. Miller, who has grabbed her shoulders, obviously stressed) Aack! What is the matter? Clam yourself!

Mrs. Miller: (almost about to cry) Look -- Listen: I am ashamed of my behavior right now, but -- I'm Mrs. H. T. Miller from upstairs and... (lets go of the short woman's shoulders, burying her face in her hands, whimpering) It is so absurd to think about it...!

Short Woman: (leading Mrs. Miller to a nearby chair to sit on) What's absurd?

Mrs. Miller: (still whimpering) I live upstairs and there is this little girl who has been visiting me. I suppose that I'm deathly afraid of her. She just won't leave me be -- I can't make her leave, either -- she's going to do something terrible! She already stolen my brooch, but she's about to do something worse -- awful! (cries in her hands)

Short Man: She's a relative of yours?

Mrs. Miller: I don't know who she is -- she told me her name's Miriam, but as far as I can tell, I don't know exactly who she is to begin with!

Short Woman: Ya gotta calm down, hon. (pats her on the back) Look, Harry, go over to the lady's room and see what the kid is up to; I'll stay here and try to make her feel better.

Mrs. Miller: The door's open -- room 5A.

Short Man: Right. (leaves the room)

Mrs. Miller: (sniff) I'm sorry for acting like such a fool (takes a wet towel the short woman offers, wiping her face) Th-thank you. You're very kind. This wicked child ...

Short Woman: I know (turns on the radio, tapping to the rhythm) Just take it easy, now. Harry's gonna find that kid for ya.

(ten minutes later)

Short Woman: Maybe we oughta go up too.

Mrs. Miller: (bit more calmer than earlier) I don't what to see her again. I don't want to be near her...

Short Woman: Uh-huh. What you shoulda done, though, is to call the police about that kid.

Short Man: (comes back in, scratching behind his head -- perplexed) Couldn't find her. Musta beat it, I guess.

Short Woman: Harry, ya big jerk! We've been sitting here the whole time -- if that kid had left, we woulda seen her pass by our -- (pauses when she sees his serious face)

Short Man: I'm tellin' ya, I didn't find her in that room. Nobody is in that room -- nobody, ya hear?

Mrs. Miller: Could you tell me, then... (stands up) was there a box in the middle of the room? Or a doll in the room?

Short Man: Nope, didn't see none. Sorry, ma'am.

Short Woman: Now, Harry, you idiot! --

(scene 4: Mrs. Miller back in her apartment; roses, cherries, and almond cake in their original state, untouched. She looks outside her window to see if the girl is still out there, but there is no sign of her. She hears the drawers in her bedroom opening and closing a few times before she hears movement and the sound of a silk dress coming closer to her. She looks at who the person is, and is shocked and dismayed to see Miriam again.)

Miriam: Is he gone?

(Mrs. Miller clasps her face with her hands and sinks down to the couch, horrified. Fade out to Rod Serling.)

Narrator: Mrs. H. T. Miller has lost more than her sanity. Since she can't confirm whether Miriam is an endless nightmare in her sleep, an actual human being, or a ghost of the past, Mrs. Miller has now lost her identity to Miriam -- an entirely dependent child. This child has taken control of Mrs. Miller's life... In The Twilight Zone!

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