Come Along With Me by Shirley Jackson


  “I’ll never forget how you looked that first morning,” Mrs. Peacock told me once, much later. “I knew right away you were the kind of girl I like to rent rooms to—quiet, and well-mannered. But you looked almighty scared of the big city.”

  “I wasn’t scared,” I said. “I was worried about finding a nice room. My mother told me so many things to be careful about I was afraid I’d never find anything to suit her.”

  “Anybody’s mother could come into my house at any time and know that her daughter was in good hands,” Mrs. Peacock said, a little huffy.

  But it was true. When I walked into Mrs. Peacock’s rooming house on Primrose Street, and met Mrs. Peacock, I knew that I couldn’t have done this part better if I’d been able to plan it. The house was old, and comfortable, and my room was nice, and Mrs. Peacock and I hit it off right away. She was very pleased with me when she heard that my mother had told me to be sure the room I found was clean and that the neighborhood was good, with no chance of rowdies following a girl if she came home after dark, and she was even more pleased when she heard that I wanted to save money and take a secretarial course so I could get a really good job and earn enough to be able to send a little home every week; Mrs. Peacock believed that children owed it to their parents to pay back some of what had been spent on them while they were growing up. By the time I had been in the house an hour Mrs. Peacock knew all about my imaginary family upstate: my mother, who was a widow, and my sister, who had just gotten married and still lived at my mother’s home with her husband, and my young brother Paul, who worried my mother a good deal because he didn’t seem to want to settle down. My name was Lois Taylor, I told her. By that time, I think I could have told her my real name and she would never have connected it with the girl in the paper, because by then she was feeling that she almost knew my family, and she wanted me to be sure and tell my mother when I wrote home that Mrs. Peacock would make herself personally responsible for me while I was in the city and take as good care of me as my own mother would. On top of everything else, she told me that a stationery store in the neighborhood was looking for a girl assistant, and there I was. Before I had been away from home for twenty-four hours I was an entirely new person. I was a girl named Lois Taylor who lived on Primrose Street and worked down at the stationery store.

  I read in the papers one day about how a famous fortuneteller wrote to my father offering to find me and said that astral signs had convinced him that I would be found near flowers. That gave me a jolt, because of Primrose Street, but my father and Mrs. Peacock and the rest of the world thought that it meant that my body was buried somewhere. They dug up a vacant lot near the railroad station where I was last seen, and Mrs. Peacock was very disappointed when nothing turned up. Mrs. Peacock and I could not decide whether I had run away with a gangster to be a gun moll, or whether my body had been cut up and sent somewhere in a trunk. After a while they stopped looking for me, except for an occasional false clue that would turn up in a small story on the back pages of the paper, and Mrs. Peacock and I got interested in the stories about a daring daylight bank robbery in Chicago. When the anniversary of my running away came around, and I realized that I had really been gone for a year, I treated myself to a new hat and dinner downtown, and came home just in time for the evening news broadcast and my mother’s voice over the radio.

  “Louisa,” she was saying, “please come home.”

  “That poor poor woman,” Mrs. Peacock said. “Imagine how she must feel. They say she’s never given up hope of finding her little girl alive someday.”

  “Do you like my new hat?” I asked her.

  I had given up all idea of the secretarial course because the stationery store had decided to expand and include a lending library and a gift shop, and I was now the manager of the gift shop and if things kept on well would someday be running the whole thing; Mrs. Peacock and I talked it over, just as if she had been my mother, and we decided that I would be foolish to leave a good job to start over somewhere else. The money that I had been saving was in the bank, and Mrs. Peacock and I thought that one of these days we might pool our savings and buy a little car, or go on a trip somewhere, or even a cruise.

  What I am saying is that I was free, and getting along fine, with never a thought that I knew about ever going back. It was just plain rotten bad luck that I had to meet Paul. I had gotten so I hardly ever thought about any of them any more, and never wondered what they were doing unless I happened to see some item in the papers, but there must have been something in the back of my mind remembering them all the time because I never even stopped to think; I just stood there on the street with my mouth open, and said “Paul!” He turned around and then of course I realized what I had done, but it was too late. He stared at me for a minute, and then frowned, and then looked puzzled; I could see him first trying to remember, and then trying to believe what he remembered; at last he said, “Is it possible?”

  He said I had to go back. He said if I didn’t go back he would tell them where to come and get me. He also patted me on the head and told me that there was still a reward waiting there in the bank for anyone who turned up with conclusive news of me, and he said that after he had collected the reward I was perfectly welcome to run away again, as far and as often as I liked.

  Maybe I did want to go home. Maybe all that time I had been secretly waiting for a chance to get back; maybe that’s why I recognized Paul on the street, in a coincidence that wouldn’t have happened once in a million years—he had never even been to Chandler before, and was only there for a few minutes between trains; he had stepped out of the station for a minute, and found me. If I had not been passing at that minute, if he had stayed in the station where he belonged, I would never have gone back. I told Mrs. Peacock I was going home to visit my family upstate. I thought that was funny.

  Paul sent a telegram to my mother and father, saying that he had found me, and we took a plane back; Paul said he was still afraid that I’d try to get away again and the safest place for me was high up in the air where he knew I couldn’t get off and run.

  I began to get nervous, looking out the taxi window on the way from the Rockville airport; I would have sworn that for three years I hadn’t given a thought to that town, to those streets and stores and houses I used to know so well, but here I found that I remembered it all, as though I hadn’t ever seen Chandler and its houses and streets; it was almost as though I had never been away at all. When the taxi finally turned the corner into my own street, and I saw the big old white house again, I almost cried.

  “Of course I wanted to come back,” I said, and Paul laughed. I thought of the return-trip ticket I had kept as a lucky charm for so long, and how I had thrown it away one day when I was emptying my pocketbook; I wondered when I threw it away whether I would ever want to go back and regret throwing away my ticket. “Everything looks just the same,” I said. “I caught the bus right there on the corner; I came down the driveway that day and met you.”

  “If I had managed to stop you that day,” Paul said, “you would probably never have tried again.”

  Then the taxi stopped in front of the house and my knees were shaking when I got out. I grabbed Paul’s arm and said, “Paul . . . wait a minute,” and he gave me a look I used to know very well, a look that said “If you back out on me now I’ll see that you never forget it,” and put his arm around me because I was shivering and we went up the walk to the front door.

  I wondered if they were watching us from the window. It was hard for me to imagine how my mother and father would behave in a situation like this, because they always made such a point of being quiet and dignified and proper; I thought that Mrs. Peacock would have been halfway down the walk to meet us, but here the front door ahead was still tight shut. I wondered if we would have to ring the doorbell; I had never had to ring this doorbell before. I was still wondering when Carol opened the door for us. “Carol!” I said. I
was shocked because she looked so old, and then I thought that of course it had been three years since I had seen her and she probably thought that I looked older, too. “Carol,” I said, “Oh, Carol!” I was honestly glad to see her.

  She looked at me hard and then stepped back and my mother and father were standing there, waiting for me to come in. If I had not stopped to think I would have run to them, but I hesitated, not quite sure what to do, or whether they were angry with me, or hurt, or only just happy that I was back, and of course once I stopped to think about it all I could find to do was just stand there and say “Mother?” kind of uncertainly.

  She came over to me and put her hands on my shoulders and looked into my face for a long time. There were tears running down her cheeks and I thought that before, when it didn’t matter, I had been ready enough to cry, but now, when crying would make me look better, all I wanted to do was giggle. She looked old, and sad, and I felt simply foolish. Then she turned to Paul and said, “Oh, Paul—how can you do this to me again?”

  Paul was frightened; I could see it. “Mrs. Tether—” he said.

  “What is your name, dear?” my mother asked me.

  “Louisa Tether,” I said stupidly.

  “No, dear,” she said, very gently, “your real name?”

  Now I could cry, but now I did not think it was going to help matters any. “Louisa Tether,” I said. “That’s my name.”

  “Why don’t you people leave us alone?” Carol said; she was white, and shaking, and almost screaming because she was so angry. “We’ve spent years and years trying to find my lost sister and all people like you see in it is a chance to cheat us out of the reward—doesn’t it mean anything to you that you may think you have a chance for some easy money, but we just get hurt and heartbroken all over again? Why don’t you leave us alone?”

  “Carol,” my father said, “you’re frightening the poor child. Young lady,” he said to me, “I honestly believe that you did not realize the cruelty of what you tried to do. You look like a nice girl; try to imagine your own mother—”

  I tried to imagine my own mother; I looked straight at her.

  “—if someone took advantage of her like this. I am sure you were not told that twice before, this young man—” I stopped looking at my mother and looked at Paul—“has brought us young girls who pretended to be our lost daughter; each time he protested that he had been genuinely deceived and had no thought of profit, and each time we hoped desperately that it would be the right girl. The first time we were taken in for several days. The girl looked like our Louisa, she acted like our Louisa, she knew all kinds of small family jokes and happenings it seemed impossible that anyone but Louisa could know, and yet she was an imposter. And the girl’s mother—my wife—has suffered more each time her hopes have been raised.” He put his arm around my mother—his wife—and with Carol they stood all together looking at me.

  “Look,” Paul said wildly, “give her a chance—she knows she’s Louisa. At least give her a chance to prove it.”

  “How?” Carol asked. “I’m sure if I asked her something like—well—like what was the color of the dress she was supposed to wear at my wedding—”

  “It was pink,” I said. “I wanted blue but you said it had to be pink.”

  “I’m sure she’d know the answer,” Carol went on as though I hadn’t said anything. “The other girls you brought here, Paul—they both knew.”

  It wasn’t going to be any good. I ought to have known it. Maybe they were so used to looking for me by now that they would rather keep on looking than have me home; maybe once my mother had looked in my face and seen there nothing of Louisa, but only the long careful concentration I had put into being Lois Taylor, there was never any chance of my looking like Louisa again.

  I felt kind of sorry for Paul; he had never understood them as well as I did and he clearly felt there was still some chance of talking them into opening their arms and crying out “Louisa! Our long-lost daughter!” and then turning around and handing him the reward; after that, we could all live happily ever after. While Paul was still trying to argue with my father I walked over a little way and looked into the living room again; I figured I wasn’t going to have much time to look around and I wanted one last glimpse to take away with me; sister Carol kept a good eye on me all the time, too. I wondered what the two girls before me had tried to steal, and I wanted to tell her that if I ever planned to steal anything from that house I was three years too late; I could have taken whatever I wanted when I left the first time. There was nothing there I could take now, any more than there had been before. I realized that all I wanted was to stay—I wanted to stay so much that I felt like hanging onto the stair rail and screaming, but even though a temper tantrum might bring them some fleeting recollection of their dear lost Louisa I hardly thought it would persuade them to invite me to stay. I could just picture myself being dragged kicking and screaming out of my own house.

  “Such a lovely old house,” I said politely to my sister Carol, who was hovering around me.

  “Our family has lived here for generations,” she said, just as politely.

  “Such beautiful furniture,” I said.

  “My mother is fond of antiques.”

  “Fingerprints,” Paul was shouting. We were going to get a lawyer, I gathered, or at least Paul thought we were going to get a lawyer and I wondered how he was going to feel when he found out that we weren’t. I couldn’t imagine any lawyer in the world who could get my mother and my father and my sister Carol to take me back when they had made up their minds that I was not Louisa; could the law make my mother look into my face and recognize me?

  I thought that there ought to be some way I could make Paul see that there was nothing we could do, and I came over and stood next to him. “Paul,” I said, “can’t you see that you’re only making Mr. Tether angry?”

  “Correct, young woman,” my father said, and nodded at me to show that he thought I was being a sensible creature. “He’s not doing himself any good by threatening me.”

  “Paul,” I said, “these people don’t want us here.”

  Paul started to say something and then for the first time in his life thought better of it and stamped off toward the door. When I turned to follow him—thinking that we’d never gotten past the front hall in my great homecoming—my father—excuse me, Mr. Tether—came up behind me and took my hand. “My daughter was younger than you are,” he said to me very kindly, “but I’m sure you have a family somewhere who love you and want you to be happy. Go back to them, young lady. Let me advise you as though I were really your father—stay away from that fellow, he’s wicked and he’s worthless. Go back home where you belong.”

  “We know what it’s like for a family to worry and wonder about a daughter,” my mother said. “Go back to the people who love you.”

  That meant Mrs. Peacock, I guess.

  “Just to make sure you get there,” my father said, “let us help toward your fare.” I tried to take my hand away, but he put a folded bill into it and I had to take it. “I hope someday,” he said, “that someone will do as much for our Louisa.”

  “Good-by, my dear,” my mother said, and she reached up and patted my cheek. “Very good luck to you.”

  “I hope your daughter comes back someday,” I told them. “Good-by.”

  * * *

  The bill was a twenty, and I gave it to Paul. It seemed little enough for all the trouble he had taken and, after all, I could go back to my job in the stationery store. My mother still talks to me on the radio, once a year, on the anniversary of the day I ran away.

  “Louisa,” she says, “Please come home. We all want our dear girl back, and we need you and miss you so much. Your mother and father love you and will never forget you. Louisa, please come home.”

  [1960]

  THE LITTLE HO
USE

  I’ll have to get some decent lights, was her first thought, and her second: and a dog or something, or at least a bird, anything alive. She stood in the little hall beside her suitcase, in a little house that belonged to her, her first home. She held the front-door key in her hand, and she knew, remembering her aunt, that the back-door key hung, labeled, from a hook beside the back door, and the side-door key hung from a hook beside the side door, and the porch-door key hung from a hook beside the porch door, and the cellar-door key hung from a hook beside the cellar-door, and perhaps when she slammed the front door behind her all the keys swung gently, once, back and forth. Anything that can move and make some kind of a friendly noise, she thought, maybe a monkey or a cat or anything not stuffed—as she realized that she was staring, hypnotized, at the moose head over the hall mirror.

 
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