Friday, November 13, 2009

"Miranda"


"They put a plate in the back of my head and silver pins in the right thighbone. The arms were in traction longer than the legs. The eye, of course, was something they couldn't fix.

"It was a big, busy place they had there. The way I had come in, I guess, was a sort of a challenge for the doctors. A postgraduate course. See, gentlemen, this thing is alive -- indubitably alive. Watch, now. We will paste it back together the way God made it. Or almost as good."

Thus begins "Miranda," John D MacDonald's 1950 short story, a wild, terrifying and beautifully crafted rollercoaster of jealousy and revenge.

George Corliss, a suburbanite nobody, is admitted to the emergency room after surviving a car crash while on a business trip. Told in the first person, Corliss describes himself as "a good-natured, broad-shouldered slob... who lived in an eleven-thousand-dollar frame house in an orderly little suburban community... He drove too fast, smoked too much, knocked off too many cocktails. In all respects a very average guy." But there's a problem in paradise. George (now speaking in the third-person) believes the accident was caused by "Connie, the little silver-haired wife, feeling the thirties coming on, [who] had acquired an itch for a Latin-type twenty-two year old kid, a gas pumper at the local lubritorium, a pinch-wasted kid with melting eyes, muscles, and a fast line of chatter. Since the kid obviously could not support Connie in the style to which George had gradually accustomed her, nothing seemed simpler than to find some nice safe way of knocking George off and glomming onto the [insurance money] his demise would bring in."

As George convalesces in a hospital room, he plans his revenge. One night he deliriously talks in his sleep and is overheard by the night nurse: "A tall, gawky girl, almost grotesquely angular and yet full of a strange grace. Miranda. She charged at the bed looking capable of tripping and falling over it, yet always her hands were light as moths. Her eyes were deep-set, smallish, a brilliant and Technicolor blue. She knew" Yes, she knew and she wants to help George do the deed. Why? She explains "because they hurt you so badly, and it's something you want to do...because after it's done it will be something so strong between us that we'll never be apart again... something stronger than [love]. Something more exciting."

When George is finally sent home from the hospital, Miranda accompanies him and lives in the house temporarily until he is well enough to look after himself. The pact has been made and the planning begins.



"Miranda" starts out reading like a James M Cain story, then later becomes strongly reminiscent of Cornell Woolrich. The ending, depending on your take on it, is either imagined, supernatural or frighteningly realistic. Francis J Nevins, Jr called it "psychological suspense," but I don't quite know what to make of it, other than to recommend it strongly as a well-written tale that is genuinely frightening.

The story originally appeared in the October 1950 issue of 15 Mystery Stories and was later included, with some minor revisions, in MacDonald's 1982 Pulp anthology The Good Old Stuff. It was also included in a 1993 anthology titled Dark Crimes 2: Modern Masters of Noir, edited by Ed Gorman. Both anthologies are currently out of print, but inexpensive used copies are readily available through used booksellers and Amazon.

 

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