Come Along With Me by Shirley Jackson

  She had been very angry while she washed her stockings, and angry when she finished the dinner dishes and angry even before that, having her dinner alone, and the fact that he did not come home at all had not made her any the less angry, waiting there in her chair by the radio planning neat bitter things to say to him. (“Do you expect a wife to sit alone night after . . .” “If you prefer the company of your friends to . . .” “Before we were married you used to . . .”) The phrasing of a note to him had been still another pleasure, since she knew by then that she was leaving and could say anything she pleased. She had written first, “Dear Don, I’ve decided I don’t have to take this any more . . .” and had torn that one up, and had then written, “Don, I’ve had enough and I’m leaving,” and had torn that one up, and had written, “I’m not going to stand for this any longer,” and had of course torn that one up, and had finally written, “Dear Don, I know I’ll be happier somewhere else,” and had let that one do because already the enchantment of writing farewell notes was evaporating and she was restless to get on to something else. She had written “love, Elsa,” very firmly at the foot of the note, set the note unfolded on his dresser and then on the table in the living room and finally on the telephone pad where they usually left messages for one another, and she carefully tore her previous notes into small pieces and put them into the garbage pail and emptied the coffee grounds onto them, so that Mrs. Hartford, coming in to clean this morning (for she had slept, finally, lying on the bed in her clothes next to the packed suitcase) might not be able to piece them together and know with relish that Mrs. Dayton had fumbled her farewell note before finally walking out on Mr. Dayton and no wonder, too. It was no more than Don deserved if Mrs. Hartford came before he came home and read the note on the telephone pad and met him at the door with knowing glances, watching with satisfaction from the corner of her eye while he in turn read the note, smiling to herself as he went bewildered from living room to bedroom, saw that the suitcase was certainly gone; she debated leaving her wedding ring on the dresser but decided at last that Mrs. Hartford was not trustworthy.

  So it was ten o’clock in the morning, half an hour before Mrs. Hartford was due, when Elsa Dayton, leaving her husband as she had always suspected she might, went down the steps of her apartment house with her suitcase. She turned once and looked back up at the windows of what had been until now her home, and found them blank and unexciting as always, and thought, if living with Don had been a little bit more exciting . . .

  Going to a hotel had always been part of leaving Don, because it was not necessary to explain to a hotel clerk, as it would be to a mother or a friend or an aunt, that she had left Don for once and all, and did not want to talk about it, and no, there was no particular reason, even his staying away so much, except that there had just come a point when she wanted to leave, and please, she did not want to talk about it.

  She had almost no money. It occurred to her as she went to the corner to catch a taxi—something Don’s true wife would not have done—that somehow with a crisis like this one ordinary problems were suspended, so that where yesterday she had not had enough money to do her week’s shopping, and dared not charge more at the grocer’s, she felt today that money was so small a worry, and no longer a concern of hers; Don must simply find a way of providing them both with money, and now that her interests no longer participated in his, she had abandoned the intention of making his meager funds go as far as possible. He was not a partner now, he was an opponent, and vulnerable here, and he could borrow money if he chose. Yesterday’s inability to say to—for instance—Roger, in the office, “Can you let me borrow some money?” would vanish under this new way of life; perhaps Don was not a better credit risk because his wife had left him, but she suspected that the deep sympathetic mutual feelings of men about their wives would promote a fund for Don as surely as if his house had been struck by lightning.

  Thinking these things for lack of anything else to think about—this was, after all, a new world for her, with new standards and probably new laws, and entering upon it suddenly, equipped with no more than a few dollars and a black evening dress in a suitcase, was a thing to be done warily and without prepared courses of action—she sat in the taxi with her suitcase beside her on the seat, and looked with wonder and delight at the familiar streets which led her from Don’s apartment to the hotel she had chosen because (she did not admit this to herself) it figured so prominently in the gossip columns which she read avidly every morning.

  She was wearing a dark-red wool dress and her beaver coat and high-heeled black shoes and a black hat which she described to herself, without any deliberate meaning, as flirtatious. She came into the hotel carrying her suitcase and felt that no one observed that she was a local housewife dressed up at ten-thirty in the morning, rather than some freed creature from another town, who might have thought as she went across the lobby, “Right now, at home, they’re polishing the silver and setting up the plates, and here I am in a hotel being waited on and not doing a thing!” She registered at the desk, the first time she had ever done such a thing alone, without betraying anything except that she intended to spend a day or two in the hotel. The facts that she was admitted without comment or even an appraising look, that her room was number 808, that the quarter she gave the bellboy was accepted with no more than a “Thank you, madam,” could not communicate any awareness of the unbelievable daring of her position. She had even signed her name “Elsa Masters Dayton.”

  She was not quite, however, in the position of a visitor; she could not once in her room shower and change to another dress (she had only put this dress on half an hour before, after all, and had showered not ten minutes before that) and then go out to visit points of interest about the town. She had no shopping to do, no important items which she could find nowhere else but in town, and nothing she had been waiting and planning to do, no long-anticipated calls to pay. She did do, finally, what she might have done at home; she took off her dress and shoes and lay in her slip on the bed, reading a mystery story.

  At one o’clock she dressed again and swung her coat over her shoulders and went out of her room and locked the door and went downstairs in the elevator, standing quietly without interest in other people, with the weight of her coat pulling her shoulders down. She walked into the cocktail lounge, stepping quickly with her high heels across the quiet lobby; she was not at all clear about what she intended to do, except that she knew surely that a cocktail before lunch would not today give her a headache. She chose a table, deliberately but with not more than a swift casual glance around, in a corner and hard against another table where a man (gray hair, she noticed in her one quick look, gray suit) was sitting alone, and when she sat down she thought, It’s as though we were strangers at a dinner party and had been seated next to one another and I have only to speak to him as though our hostess had mumbled both our names. She was acutely conscious of her pink nail polish and wondered, as she might have during the first uncomfortable minutes at a dinner table, if she might disgrace herself by spilling something on him. He was compelled, almost in self-defense, to help her with her coat when she struggled to shift it from her shoulders to the back of her seat, and she smiled at him and said kindly—perhaps he was shy—“They put these tables so close together, don’t they?”

  He smiled back at her and said, “They certainly do,” which, if hardly a cosmopolitan answer, was at least civil and did not sound as though he regularly met lovely women who had nefarious designs upon him; he sounded, in fact, quite as though she reminded him of the wife of one of his younger friends, and she wondered briefly if she would have spoken to him at all if he had been Don’s age, or if she had been married too long to know how to talk familiarly to younger men.

  She told the waiter that she would like an old-fashioned, please, in the tone of one who regularly orders for herself and knows precisely what she wants, and then she turned to the man next to her and remarked, “I c
an never get used to this town for the first few days.”

  “I don’t like it,” he said immediately. “I’d be just as happy if I never had to see the place again.”

  “You’re from the West, aren’t you?”

  “Chicago,” he said. “And you?”

  “Maine,” she said; she had come from Maine originally.

  “Nice country up there,” he said. “Whereabouts in Maine?”

  “A small town named Easton,” she said. “Near Augusta.”

  “We drove through Maine one year,” he said. “Spent three weeks.”

  “It’s lovely country,” she said.

  “Beautiful,” he said.

  “Are you in town on business?”

  “Only way they ever get me here,” he said. “Give me Chicago every time.”

  “I’ve never been to Chicago,” she said.

  “Great town,” he said.

  It was the moment in the dinner-table conversation when she might properly have turned to the gentleman on her left and asked him where he was from, but failing that, she took up her cocktail and sipped at it, and accepted a cigarette and a light, and looked with interest around the room, and smiled at him because she could not think of anything to say. He seemed the very type of man she had expected to meet, without ever realizing it—middle-aged, and quiet, and respectable, a man for whom her black evening dress would be quite daring enough. Although her uneasiness in his presence had not quite worn off, and her larger, less-defined strange feeling (which she had called at various times since the night before, anger, and excitement, and pleasure) still remained at the back of her mind, hampering her free enjoyment of the moment, she leaned back against the soft leather of the chair and thought happily about the black evening dress.

  “I’ll be mighty glad to get home tomorrow,” he said. (“At home, right now, they’re all going out to lunch together from the office . . .”)

  “I wouldn’t,” she said. (“Mrs. Hartford had probably forgotten to do the kitchen shelves . . .”) “I mean, I always hate to leave.”

  He hesitated, and she thought for a minute that he would say something indicating that perhaps he did not have to leave tomorrow, and then he said, “The town’s all right if you just want to enjoy yourself. Shows, you know—nightclubs, and all that. No good for people like me, though.”

  “I don’t believe that,” she said, and thought, I am positively simpering.

  “One thing you got to say for this town, though,” he said, “people are always ready to help you. Taxi drivers and cops and even people on the street—always give you a hand. That way,” he added, thinking deeply, “they’re sort of like people out West. You know, out West everyone’s more friendly, somehow.”

  “Perhaps I ought to go out West, then,” she said.

  “You’d like Chicago. Well,” he said, and put out his cigarette, “time to get to work, I guess. I hate these late lunches—people here never seem to get around to eating till sometime in the afternoon. Home,” he told her firmly, “we have our lunch at twelve sharp.” He rose and half bowed to her. “Very pleasant,” he said. “Hope you enjoy your stay.”

  “Thank you,” she said. “And you have a nice trip home.”

  “Thank you,” he said. “Good-by.”

  “Good-by,” she said, and noticed that he had taken her check. She smiled deprecatingly at him and he waved gallantly, and she thought, at least he never dreamed I was anything but a nice lady, someone’s wife on a vacation.

  She lunched alone at the same table, although no one came to sit next to her. She had a second cocktail and although she felt that properly she might be eating strange sophisticated foods—subtle casseroles, spices, wine—she chose for herself a salad and coffee, and thought, at home I’d be having an egg. She lingered over her coffee, watching people come in and sit down, arrive late for appointments or early, drink or eat, speak to one another, laugh, apologize, greet acquaintances, go out again. No one bothered her; the waiter did not hover over her table indicating by his patient watchfulness that the management disapproved of attractive women sitting alone here for over an hour; her lunch, carefully chosen, would not cost more than she could pay, and she had a clear general impression of belonging in this scene of movement, of passage, that sitting here so quietly in the corner she had somehow achieved a status which enabled her to meet these moving creatures as equals.

  This is what I have always wanted to do, she told herself with conscious satisfaction, this is the way I have been waiting to live, I have been intending to do this for a long time; right now at home Mrs. Hartford has finished eating whatever was in the refrigerator and is reading the paper, sitting at the kitchen table; perhaps Don is home already. This is where I belong, right here.

  At about three o’clock she got up and took her coat; she had left enough of a tip for the waiter so that he came over quickly and pulled the table away and reached for her coat, but she shook her head and said, “I’ll carry it, thanks, it’s so warm,” for some reason not wishing him to know that she had only come down from upstairs. She went through the restaurant, not knowing where she was going but feeling strongly that she must certainly seem like a happy woman who was going to keep an agreeable appointment; she felt this so strongly that she almost believed that somehow, perhaps in the next minute or so, she would find herself appointed, engaged, entreated, and she hesitated in the lobby, wandering over to look into the windows of the sleek jewelry shop, stopped by the florist’s, and even spent a minute looking raptly at the hand-painted ties in the window of the men’s furnishings shop.

  After a few minutes she was no longer able to persuade herself that she was waiting for someone and so she went back to her room, liking the thought that she had a completely private place here, with her own suitcase set down next to the dresser and her own book on the arm of the chair. She sat by the window for a few minutes enjoying almost as a visitor might the sounds of the traffic below, and she thought complacently that she might shower now, and change her clothes, and in an hour or so go downstairs and perhaps out onto the street, and wander watching people until she chose to go into some other quiet shining place and have her dinner. She might go to a movie afterward, or come back to her room, she might fall into conversation with someone and come back to her room briefly, excited and laughing, to change hurriedly into the black evening dress, brushing her hair with little dancing motions, touching herself with more perfume.

  The phone by the bed rang shortly, and then again, and at first she thought it was part of her new life which had suddenly become so real that it was perfectly possible for some vaguely glimpsed stranger to be telephoning her now to ask her to dine, to dance, to go off to Italy, and then she thought could it be that man from Chicago? and then that he did not know her name and could hardly have left his luncheon appointment to follow her, and then she knew of course it was Don. As the phone rang again sharply, almost in Don’s angry tones, she lifted her hand from it and turned away, but the realization that he would have to give her some money in any case made her turn back and answer it. “Hello?” she said, hoping until she heard his voice.


  “Of course, Don.”

  “For heaven’s sake, what are you doing? I’ve called half the hotels in town and your sister’s, and scared them half to death.”

  “You should have read my note.” I want to wear pretty clothes all day long, she was thinking, remembering him as she heard his voice, I want to be beautiful and free and luxurious.

  “I read your note—what on earth is the matter?”

  “Well, if you read my note then you know I’m not coming back.” I shouldn’t have said that, she thought in panic; he didn’t ask me if I was coming back; suppose he had accepted the fact that I wasn’t coming back and now I’ve given him the idea that I might . . .

  “Don?” she

  “Look,” he said, and his voice was subdued, but she knew so well all the tones of all his voices that these changes no longer meant anything now to her; if Don hoped to convince her at this late date that he could be reasonable after she had offended him so deeply, she would not be deceived. “Suppose you just forget this whole thing?” he said.

  Trying to make it sound as though it’s all my fault, she thought. “I like it here,” she said.

  “Elsa,” he began, and then stopped. “We can’t talk over the phone,” he said. “If you won’t come back now why not at least meet me somewhere and we can sit down and talk sensibly?”

  “No,” she said childishly, and then smiled to herself, thinking that after all he had been at one time an engaging companion and since she could now afford to choose her own friends he would have to be very entertaining indeed to hold her attention. “Maybe I will,” she said.

  “You sound funny,” he said. “Are you all right?”

  “Let me see,” she said, one finger reflectively at her cheek, as though he could see her. “I can be at Henry’s Restaurant at seven. You may take me to dinner.”

  There was a short silence, and then he said, “Right. I’ll be there at seven.” He sounded exactly like a man making a date; perhaps, she thought jubilantly, he perceives that I am to be pursued rather than commanded, and she had already begun to sketch out mentally a more flattering version of the conversation with the man from Chicago, to tell him about at dinner.

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