Come Along With Me by Shirley Jackson

  I took a card table up to Jannie’s room and squeezed it in among the beds; on it I put a pretty cloth and a bowl of apples, a small dish of candy, a plate of decorated cupcakes, and an ice bucket in which were five bottles of grape soda imbedded in ice. Jannie brought her record player upstairs and put it on the table and Laurie plugged it in for her on condition that she would not turn it on until he was safely back in his room. With what Laurie felt indignantly was an absolute and complete disregard for the peace of mind and healthy sleep of a cherished older son I put a deck of fortunetelling cards on the table, and a book on the meaning of dreams.

  Everything was ready, and Jannie and her father and I were sitting apprehensively in the living room when the first guest came. It was Laura. She was dressed in a blue party dress, and she brought Jannie a charm bracelet which Jannie put on. Then Carole and Linda arrived together, one wearing a green party dress and the other a fancy blouse and skirt, like Jannie. They all admired Jannie’s new blouse and skirt, and one of them had brought her a book and the other had brought a dress and hat for her doll. Kate came almost immediately afterward. She was wearing a wide skirt like Jannie’s, and she had a crinoline, too. She and Jannie compared crinolines, and each of them insisted that the other’s was much, much prettier. Kate had brought Jannie a pocketbook with a penny inside for luck. All the girls carried overnight bags but Kate, who had a small suitcase. “You’ll think I’m going to stay for a month, the stuff I brought,” she said, and I felt my husband shudder.

  Each of the girls complimented, individually, each item of apparel on each of the others. It was conceded that Jannie’s skirt, which came from California, was of a much more advanced style than skirts obtainable in Vermont. The pocketbook was a most fortunate choice, they agreed, because it perfectly matched the little red flowers in Jannie’s skirt. Laura’s shoes were the prettiest anyone had ever seen. Linda’s party dress was of orlon, which all of them simply adored. Linda said if she did say it herself, the ruffles never got limp. Carole was wearing a necklace which no one could possibly tell was not made of real pearls. Linda said that we had the nicest house, she was always telling her mother and father that she wished they had one just like it. My husband said we would sell any time. Kate said our dogs were just darling, and Laura said she loved that green chair. I said somewhat ungraciously that they had all of them spent a matter of thousands of hours in our house and the green chair was no newer or prettier than it had been the last time Laura was here, when she was bouncing up and down on the seat. Jannie said hastily that there were cupcakes and Elvis Presley records up in her room, and they were gone. They went up the back stairs like a troop of horses, saying “Cupcakes, cupcakes.”

  Sally and Barry were in bed, but permitted to stay awake because it was Friday night and Jannie’s birthday. Barry had taken Jannie’s leathercraft set up to his room, planning to make his dear sister a pair of moccasins. Because Sally and Barry were not invited to the party I took them each a tray with one cupcake, a glass of fruit juice, and three candies. Sally asked if she could play her phonograph while she read fairy tales and ate her cupcake and I said certainly, since in the general air of excitement prevailing I did not think that even Barry would fall asleep for a while yet. As I started downstairs Barry called after me to ask if he could play his phonograph and of course I could hardly say no.

  When I got downstairs my husband had settled down to reading freshman themes in the living room. “Everything seems . . .” he said; I believe he was going to finish “quiet,” but Elvis Presley started then from Jannie’s room. There was a howl of fury from Laurie’s room, and then his phonograph started; to answer Elvis Presley he had chosen an old Louis Armstrong record, and he was holding his own. From the front of the house upstairs drifted down the opening announcement of “Peter and the Wolf,” from Sally, and then, distantly, from Barry’s room the crashing chords which heralded (blast off!) “Space Men on the Moon.”

  “What did you say?” I asked my husband.

  “Oh, when the saints, come marching in . . .”

  “I said it seemed quiet,” my husband yelled.

  “The cat, by a clarinet in a loooow register . . .”

  “I want you, I need you . . .”

  “Prepare for blast: five—four—three—two—”

  “I want to be in their number . . .”

  “It sure does,” I yelled back.

  “Boom.” Barry’s rocket was in space.

  Barry took control for a minute, because he can sing every word of (blast off!) “Space Men on the Moon,” but then the wolf came pacing up to Peter’s gate, Jannie switched to “Blue Suede Shoes,” and Laurie took out his trumpet. He played without a mute, ordinarily forbidden in the house, so for a few minutes he was definitely ascendant, even though a certain undeniable guitar beat intruded from Jannie, but then Jannie and her guests began to sing and Laurie faltered, lost the Saints, fell irresistibly into “Blue Suede Shoes,” cursed, picked up the Saints, and finally conceded defeat in time for four—three—two—one—Boom. Peter’s gay strain came through clearly for a minute and then Jannie finished changing records and our house rocked to its foundations with “Heartbreak Hotel.”

  “Mommy,” Sally called down, “I can’t even hear the hunters coming.”

  “Blast off!”

  Laurie’s door slammed and he came pounding down the back stairs and into the living room. He was carrying his record player and his trumpet. “Dad,” he said pathetically.

  His father nodded. “Play the loudest,” he said.

  “Got you, man.” They finally decided on Duke Ellington, and I went to sit in the kitchen with all the doors shut so that all I could hear was a kind of steady combined beat which shivered the window frames and got the pots and pans crashing together softly where they hung on the wall. When it got close to nine-thirty I came out to check on Sally and Barry, and found that Sally, fading but grim, had taken off “Peter and the Wolf” and put on another record which featured a kind of laughing woodpecker, but she was getting sleepy. I told her good night, and went on to Barry’s room, where Barry had fallen asleep in his space suit somewhere on the dim craters of the moon, fragments of leather all over his bed. I closed his phonograph, covered him, and by the time I came back to Sally she was asleep, with her fairy-tale book open on her stomach and her kitten next to her cheek on the pillow. I put away her book, and moved the kitten to the foot of the bed, where he waited until I was convincingly on the stairs going down again and then moved softly, tiptoeing, back onto Sally’s pillow. Sally wiggled comfortably, the kitten purred, and I went on downstairs to find Laurie and my husband relaxing over “Take the A Train.”

  Laurie was about to change the record when he hesitated, lifted his head, listened, and looked at his father. His father was listening too. The phonograph upstairs had stopped, and Laurie shook his head gloomily. “Now it comes,” he said.

  He was right.

  After about half an hour I went to the foot of the back stairs and tried to call up to the girls to be quiet, but they could not hear me. They were apparently using the fortunetelling cards, because I could hear someone calling on a tall dark man and someone else remarking bitterly upon jealousy from a friend. I went halfway up the stairs and shouted, but they still could not hear me. I went to the top and pounded on the door and I could have been banging my head against a stone wall. I could hear the name of a young gentleman of Laurie’s acquaintance being bandied about lightly by the ladies inside, coupled—I think—with Laura’s name and references to a certain cake-sharing incident at recess, and insane shrieks, presumably from the maligned Laura. Then Kate brought up another name, joining it with Linda’s, and the voices rose, Linda disclaiming. I banged both fists on the door, and there was silence for a second until someone said, “Maybe it’s your brother,” and there was a great screaming of “Go away! Stay out! Don’t come in!”

p; “Joanne,” I said, and there was absolute silence.

  “Yes, mother?” said Jannie at last.

  “May I come in?” I asked gently.

  “Oh, yes,” said all the little girls.

  I opened the door and went in. They were all sitting on the two beds in Jannie’s room. The needle arm had been taken off the record, but I could see Elvis Presley going around and around. All the cupcakes were gone, and so was the candy. The fortunetelling cards were scattered over the two beds. Jannie was wearing her pink shortie pajamas, which were certainly too light for that cold night. Linda was wearing blue shortie pajamas. Kate was wearing college-girl-type ski pajamas. Laura was wearing a lace-trimmed nightgown, white, with pink roses. Carole was wearing yellow shortie pajamas. Their hair was mussed, their cheeks were pink, they were crammed uncomfortably together onto the two beds, and they were clearly awake long after their several bedtimes.

  “Don’t you think,” I said, “that you had better get some sleep?”

  “Oh, nooooo,” they all said, and Jannie added, “The party’s just beginning.” They were like a pretty bouquet of femininity, and I said—with what I knew Laurie would find a deplorable lack of firmness—that they could stay up for just a few minutes more.

  “Dickie,” Kate whispered, clearly referring to some private joke, and all the little girls dissolved into helpless giggles, all except Carole, who cried out indignantly, “I did not, I never did, I don’t.”

  Downstairs I said nostalgically to my husband and Laurie, “I can remember, when I was about Jannie’s age—”

  “I just hope the neighbors are all asleep,” my husband said. “Or maybe they just won’t know it’s coming from here.”

  “Probably everyone in the neighborhood saw those characters coming in,” Laurie said.

  “Mommy,” Jannie said urgently from the darkness of the dining room. Startled, I hurried in.

  “Listen,” she said, “something’s gone terribly wrong.”

  “What’s the matter?”

  “Shh,” Jannie said. “It’s Kate and Linda. I thought they would both sleep in my library but now Kate isn’t talking to Linda because Linda took her lunch box today in school and said she didn’t and wouldn’t give it back so now Kate won’t sleep with Linda.”

  “Well, then, why not put Linda—”

  “Well, you see, I was going to have Carole in with me because really only don’t tell the others, but really she’s my best friend of all of them only now I can’t put Kate and Linda together and—”

  “Why not put one of them in with you?”

  “Well, I can’t put Carole in with Laura.”

  “Why not?” I was getting tired of whispering.

  “Well, because they both like Jimmy Watson.”

  “Oh,” I said.

  “And anyway Carole’s wearing a shortie and Kate and Laura aren’t.”

  “Look,” I said, “how about I sneak up right now through the front hall and make up the guest-room bed? Then you can put someone in there. Jimmy Watson, maybe.”

  “Mother,” Jannie turned bright red.

  “Sorry,” I said. “Take a pillow from one of the beds in your library. Put someone in the guest room. Keep them busy for a few minutes and I’ll have it ready. I just hope I have two more sheets.”

  “Oh, thank you.” Jannie turned, and then stopped. “Mother?” she said. “Don’t think from what I said that I like Jimmy Watson.”

  “The thought never crossed my mind,” I said.

  I raced upstairs and found two sheets; they were smallish, and not colored, which meant that they were the very bottom of the pile, but as I closed the guest-room door behind me I thought optimistically that at least Jannie’s problems were solved if I excepted Jimmy Watson and the dangerous rivalry of Carole, who is a natural platinum blonde.

  Laurie played “Muskrat Ramble.” Jannie came down to the dining room again in about fifteen minutes. “Shh,” she said, when I came in to talk to her. “Kate and Linda want to sleep together in the guest room.”

  “But I thought you just said that Kate and Linda—”

  “But they made up and Kate apologized for taking Linda’s lunch box and Linda apologized for thinking she did, and they’re all friends now except Laura is kind of mad because now Kate says she likes Harry Benson better.”

  “Better than Laura?” I asked stupidly.

  “Oh, Mother. Better than Jimmy Watson, of course. Except I think Harry Benson is goony.”

  “If he was the one on patrol who let your brother Barry go across the street by himself he certainly is goony. As a matter of fact if there is one word I would automatically and instinctively apply to young Harry Benson it would surely be—”

  “Oh, Mother. He is not.”

  I had been kept up slightly past my own bedtime. “All right,” I said. “Harry Benson is not goony and it is fine with me if Kate and Carole sleep in the guest room if they don’t—”

  “Kate and Linda.”

  “Kate and Linda. If they don’t, if they only don’t giggle any more.”

  “Thank you. And may I sleep in the guest room too?”


  “It’s a big bed. And we wanted to talk very quietly about—”

  “Never mind,” I said. “Sleep anywhere, but sleep.”

  She was downstairs again about ten minutes later. Laurie and his father were eating crackers and cheese and discussing the probable derivation of “cool,” as in “cool jazz.”

  “Listen,” Jannie said in the dining room, “can Kate sleep in the guest room too?”

  “But I thought Kate was already—”

  “Well, she was, but they couldn’t sleep, because Kate did take Linda’s lunch box and she broke the Thermos and Carole saw her so Carole told Linda and then Kate wouldn’t let Carole in the guest room but I can’t leave Carole with Laura because Laura said Carole’s shortie pajamas were goony and Linda went and told her.”

  “That was unkind of Linda,” I said, floundering.

  “So then Carole said Linda—”

  “Never mind, I said. “Just tell me who is sleeping where.”

  “Well, Kate and I are sleeping in the guest room, because now everyone else is mad at Kate. And Carole is mad at Linda so Carole is sleeping in my room and Linda and Laura are sleeping in my library, except I just really don’t know what will happen,” she sighed, “if anyone tells Laura what Linda said about Jerry. Jerry Harper.”

  “But can’t Carole change with Linda and sleep with Laura?”

  “Oh, Mother. You know about Carole and Laura and Jimmy Watson.”

  “I guess I just forgot for a minute,” I said.

  “Well,” Jannie said, “I just thought I’d let you know where everyone was.”

  About half-past one Laurie held up his hand and said, “Listen.” I had been trying to identify the sensation, and thought it was like the sudden lull in a heavy wind which has been beating against the trees and the windows for hours, and then stops. “Can it be possible?” my husband said.

  Laurie began to put his records away, moving very softly. I went up the back stairs in my stocking feet, not making a sound, and opened the door to Jannie’s room, easing it to avoid the slightest squeak.

  Jannie was peacefully asleep in her own bed. The other bed in her room and the three beds in her library were empty. Reflecting upon the cataclysmic powers of Jimmy Watson’s name, I found the four other girls all asleep on the guest-room bed. None of them was covered, but there was no way of putting a blanket over them without smothering somebody. I closed the window, and tiptoed away, and came downstairs to tell Laurie it was safe, he could go to bed now.

  Then I got myself upstairs and fell into bed, and slept soundly until seventeen minutes past three by the bedroom clock
, when I was awakened by Jannie.

  “Kate feels sick,” she said. “You’ve got to get up right away and take her home.”



  “Louisa,” my mother’s voice came over the radio; it frightened me badly for a minute. “Louisa,” she said, “please come home. It’s been three long long years since we saw you last; Louisa, I promise you that everything will be all right. We all miss you so. We want you back again. Louisa, please come home.”

  Once a year. On the anniversary of the day I ran away. Each time I heard it I was frightened again, because between one year and the next I would forget what my mother’s voice sounded like, so soft and yet strange with that pleading note. I listened every year. I read the stories in the newspapers—“Louisa Tether vanished one year ago”—or two years ago, or three; I used to wait for the twentieth of June as though it were my birthday. I kept all the clippings at first, but secretly; with my picture on all the front pages I would have looked kind of strange if anyone had seen me cutting it out. Chandler, where I was hiding, was close enough to my old home so that the papers made a big fuss about all of it, but of course the reason I picked Chandler in the first place was because it was a big enough city for me to hide in.

  I didn’t just up and leave on the spur of the moment, you know. I always knew that I was going to run away sooner or later, and I had made plans ahead of time, for whenever I decided to go. Everything had to go right the first time, because they don’t usually give you a second chance on that kind of thing and anyway if it had gone wrong I would have looked like an awful fool, and my sister Carol was never one for letting people forget it when they made fools of themselves. I admit I planned it for the day before Carol’s wedding on purpose, and for a long time afterward I used to try and imagine Carol’s face when she finally realized that my running away was going to leave her one bridesmaid short. The papers said that the wedding went ahead as scheduled, though, and Carol told one newspaper reporter that her sister Louisa would have wanted it that way; “She would never have meant to spoil my wedding,” Carol said, knowing perfectly well that that would be exactly what I’d meant. I’m pretty sure that the first thing Carol did when they knew I was missing was go and count the wedding presents to see what I’d taken with me.

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