Elizabeth Abigail de Sollar writes to the narrator to express her admiration for his books. Then she calls to arrange a meeting. In the course of the conversation, he mentions his fondness for Thomas Hardy; she soon sends him a beautifully bound set of Hardy’s works. Finally, after a number of delays, she arrives at the narrator’s West Side Manhattan apartment.
As she had in her letter, Elizabeth tells the narrator how much she likes his writing. She also gives him another present, a Ouija board, because he seems interested in the occult.
He asks about her life, and she willingly replies. She is the granddaughter of a Polish rabbi but has married a Christian. Her husband taught philosophy but has quit his professorship to write about astrology and numerology. Soon she is revealing more intimate details, including the information that she is a virgin, that she has never slept with her husband, and that she daydreams about "passionate affairs" with the narrator. She adds, however, that she has not come to seduce him.
The visit is repeatedly interrupted by telephone calls. Even before Elizabeth arrives at the narrator’s apartment, her husband, Oliver Leslie de Sollar, calls, saying that their daughter (his child from a previous marriage, Elizabeth claims), is suffering an asthma attack and that Elizabeth must come home with the medicine which she carries in her purse. Later, Mr. de Sollar calls again to warn the narrator to beware of Elizabeth: "She lives in a world of illusions. . . . If ... you became involved with her, your talent would be the first casualty." He denies that he is writing about astrology; he claims that his book concerns Isaac Newton’s religious views.
The narrator hangs up and goes looking for Elizabeth, whom he finds in his bedroom. She has overheard her husband’s statements and vows never to return to him. She and the narrator begin to act out her passionate daydreams when the phone rings yet again. This time her mother has called to repeat Mr.
de Sollar’s warning. Elizabeth grabs the phone, shouts insults at her mother, and then crashes to the floor in an epileptic fit.
The narrator desperately seeks help. In a nightmarish sequence of events, his phone goes dead. He then knocks at a neighbor’s door, but no one answers. Turning to go back to his apartment, he notices that the door is closed, locking him out. The elevator will not come, so he runs down eleven flights of stairs to the superintendent’s office, but when he reaches the lobby his path is blocked by furniture. He races back to the sixth floor to ask a friend to call the superintendent, but further complications ensue. The narrator finally returns to the lobby, secures a duplicate key, and gets into his apartment, where he finds Elizabeth lying on his couch. She looks at him "with the silent reproof of a wife whose husband has left her sick and alone and gone off somewhere for his own pleasure." She tells him that she wants to stay with the narrator and offers to type, clean, and cook for him.
Before he can reply, someone knocks at the door and again the phone rings. The call is from the lawyer of Elizabeth’s mother; the narrator mistakes the visitor at the door for Elizabeth’s husband and begs him to take her home. In fact, the man proves to be Dr. Jeffrey Lifshitz, a professor of literature and another admirer of the narrator’s work. Elizabeth, realizing from what the narrator has told Lifshitz that she is not wanted, leaves, promising to call if she does not go mad. The narrator never hears from her again.