A trader from the north arrives by boat in Miriam's village carrying bright and beautiful bolts of fabric--the juliana cloth of the story's title. The trader chooses to trade fabric for sex with some of the village women and girls; for others, perhaps the less appealing, he will take only money. Miriam wants a piece of the cloth, but hasn't the coins to buy and is not offered a trade. Over time, the village watches the more adventurous and attractive women and some of their male partners sicken and die from a strange new malady.

Miriam's mother, a widowed government employee, warns Miriam of the relationship between the deadly sickness and sexual behavior. The officials have promised condoms, but even had they arrived, the programs for education and understanding were not in place. The last we see of the 16-year-old Miriam, she is succumbing to her own adolescent sexual desires with a local boy.


This terse and straightforward narrative of the effect of (although never called by name, presumed to be AIDS) introduction into a community (also not identified, but from descriptions of the environment and the names of the villagers appearing to be isolated, tropical, and likely African). Although the narrator is third person, he/she tells the tale from the perspective of Miriam. The central character is--typical of adolescents--bright, observant, but a risk-taker who chooses to respond to her own need to express herself rather than heed the nagging fears of her mother. This is a brief, but compellingly human, study in one of the many reasons that reason does not always prevail.


First published in The New Yorker, 73 (1/19/1998): 68-71

Primary Source

T. C. Boyle Stories



Place Published

New York



Page Count