Come Along With Me by Shirley Jackson

  Wanting to make some kind of a noise in the silence, she coughed, and the small sound moved dustily into the darkness of the house. Well, I’m here, she told herself, and it belongs to me and I can do anything I want here and no one can ever make me leave, because it’s mine. She moved to touch the carved newel post at the foot of the narrow stairway—it was hers, it belonged to her—and felt a sudden joy at the tangible reality of the little house; this is really something to own, she thought, thank you, Aunt. And my goodness, she thought, brushing her hand, couldn’t my very own house do with a little dusting; she smiled to herself at the prospect of the very pleasant work she would do tomorrow and the day after, and for all the days after that, living in her house and keeping it clean and fresh.

  Wanting to whistle, to do something to bring noise and movement into the house, she turned and opened the door on her right and stepped into the dim crowded parlor. I wish I didn’t have to see it first at dusk, she thought, Aunt certainly didn’t believe in bright light; I wonder how she ever found her way around this room. A dim shape on a low table beside the door resolved itself into a squat lamp; when she pressed the switch a low radiance came into the room and she was able to leave the spot by the door and venture into what had clearly been her aunt’s favorite room. The parlor had certainly not been touched, or even opened or lighted, since her aunt’s death; a tea towel, half-hemmed, lay on the arm of a chair, and she felt a sudden tenderness and a half-shame at the thought of the numbers of tea towels, hemmed, which had come to her at birthdays and Christmases over the years and now lay still in their tissue paper, at the bottom of her trunk still at the railroad station. At least I’ll use her towels now, in her own house, she thought, and then: but it’s my house now. She would stack the tea towels neatly in the linen closet, she might even finish hemming this one, and she took it up and folded it neatly, leaving the needle still tucked in where her aunt had left it, to await the time when she should sit quietly in her chair, in her parlor in her house, and take up her sewing. Her aunt’s glasses lay on the table; had her aunt put down her sewing and taken off her glasses at the very end? Prepared, neatly, to die?

  Don’t think about it, she told herself sternly, she’s gone now, and soon the house will be busy again; I’ll clear away tomorrow, when it’s not so dark; how did she ever manage to sew in here with this light? She put the half-hemmed towel over the glasses to hide them, and took up a little picture in a silver frame; her aunt, she recognized, and some smiling woman friend, standing together under trees; this must have been important to Aunt, she thought, I’ll put it away safely somewhere. The house was distantly familiar to her; she had come here sometimes as a child, but that was long ago, and the memories of the house and her aunt were overlaid with cynicism and melancholy and the wearying disappointments of many years; perhaps it was the longing to return to the laughter of childhood which had brought her here so eagerly to take up her inheritance. The music box was in the corner where it had always been and, touching it gently, she brought from it one remote, faintly sweet, jangle of a note. Tomorrow I’ll play the music box, she promised herself, with the windows wide open and the good fresh air blowing through and all the bric-a-brac safely stowed away in the attic; this could be such a pretty room—and she turned, her head to one side, considering—once I take out the junk and the clutter. I can keep the old couch and maybe have it recovered in something colorful, and the big chair can stay, and perhaps one or two of these tiny tables; the mantel is fine, and I’ll keep a bowl of flowers there, flowers from my own garden. I’ll have a great fire in the fireplace and I’ll sit here with my dog and my needlework—and two or three good floor lamps; I’ll get those tomorrow—and never be unhappy again. Tomorrow, lamps, and air the room, and play the music box.

  Leaving a dim trail of lighted lamps behind her, she went from the parlor through a little sunporch where a magazine lay open on the table; Aunt never finished the story she was reading, she thought, and closed the magazine quickly and set it in order on the pile on the table; I’ll subscribe to magazines, she thought, and the local newspaper, and take books from the village library. From the sunporch she went into the kitchen and remembered to turn on the light by pulling the cord hanging from the middle of the ceiling; her aunt had left a tomato ripening on the window sill, and it scented the kitchen with a strong air of decay. She shivered, and realized that the back door was standing open, and remembered her aunt saying, as clearly as though she heard it now, “Darn that door, I wish I could remember to get that latch looked at.”

  And now I have to do it for her, she thought; I’ll get a man in the morning. She found a paper bag in the pantry drawer where paper bags had always been kept, and scraped the rotten tomato from the window sill and carried the bag to the garbage pail by the back steps. When she came back she slammed the back door correctly and the latch caught; the key was hanging where she knew it had been, beside the door, and she took it down and locked the door; I’m alone in the house, after all, she thought with a little chill touching the back of her neck.

  The cup from which her aunt had drunk her last cup of tea lay, washed and long since drained dry, beside the sink; perhaps she put her sewing down, she thought, and came to the kitchen to make a cup of tea before going to bed; I wonder where they found her; she always had a cup of tea at night, all alone; I wish I had come to see her at least once. The lovely old dishes are mine now, she thought, the family dishes and the cut glass and the silver tea service. Her aunt’s sweater hung from the knob of the cellar door, as though she had only just this minute taken it off, and her apron hung from a hook beside the sink. Aunt always put things away, she thought, and she never came back for her sweater. She remembered dainty little hand-embroidered aprons in the hall chest, and thought of herself, aproned, serving a charming tea from the old tea service, using the thin painted cups, perhaps to neighbors who had come to see her delightful, open, light, little house; I must have a cocktail party too, she thought; I’ll bet there’s nothing in the house but dandelion wine.

  It would seem strange at first, coming downstairs in the morning to make herself breakfast in her aunt’s kitchen, and she suddenly remembered herself, very small, eating oatmeal at the kitchen table; it would seem strange to be using her aunt’s dishes, and the big old coffeepot—although perhaps not the coffeepot, she thought; it had the look of something crotchety and temperamental, not willing to submit docilely to a strange hand; I’ll have tea tomorrow morning, and get a new little coffeepot just for me. Lamps, coffeepot, man to fix the latch.

  After a moment’s thought she took her aunt’s sweater and apron and bundled them together and carried them out to the garbage pail. It isn’t as though they were any good to anyone, she told herself reassuringly; all her clothes will have to be thrown away, and she pictured herself standing in her bright parlor in her smart city clothes telling her laughing friends about the little house; “Well, you should have seen it when I came,” she would tell them, “you should have seen the place the first night I walked in. Murky little lamps, and the place simply crawling with bric-a-brac, and a stuffed moose head—really, a stuffed moose head, I mean it—and Aunt’s sewing on the table, and what was positively her last cup in the sink.” Will I tell them, she wondered, about how Aunt set her sewing down when she was ready to die? And never finished her magazine, and hung up her sweater, and felt her heart go? “You should have seen it when I came,” she would tell them, sipping from her glass, “dark, and dismal; I used to come here when I was a child, but I honestly never remembered it as such a mess. It couldn’t have come as more of a surprise, her leaving me the house, I never dreamed of having it.”

  Suddenly guilty, she touched the cold coffeepot with a gentle finger. I’ll clean you tomorrow, she thought; I’m sorry I never got to the funeral, I should have tried to come. Tomorrow I’ll start cleaning. Then she whirled, startled, at the knock at the back door; I hadn’t realized it was so quiet here, she thought,
and breathed again and moved quickly to the door. “Who is it?” she said. “Just a minute.” Her hands shaking, she unlocked and opened the door. “Who is it?” she said into the darkness, and then smiled timidly at the two old faces regarding her. “Oh,” she said, “how do you do?”

  “You’ll be the niece? Miss Elizabeth?”

  “Yes.” Two old pussycats, she thought, wearing hats with flowers, couldn’t wait to get a look at me. “Hello,” she said, thinking, I’m the charming niece Elizabeth, and this is my house now.

  “We are the Dolson sisters. I am Miss Amanda Dolson. This is my sister Miss Caroline Dolson.”

  “We’re your nearest neighbors.” Miss Caroline put a thin brown hand on Elizabeth’s sleeve. “We live down the lane. We were your poor poor aunt’s nearest neighbors. But we didn’t hear anything.”

  Miss Amanda moved a little forward and Elizabeth stepped back. “Won’t you come in?” Elizabeth asked, remembering her manners. “Come into the parlor. I was just looking at the house. I only just got here,” she said, moving backward, “I was just turning on some lights.”

  “We saw the lights.” Miss Amanda went unerringly toward the little parlor. “This is not our formal call, you understand; we pay our calls by day. But I confess we wondered at the lights.”

  “We thought he had come back.” Miss Caroline’s hand was on Elizabeth’s sleeve again, as though she were leading Elizabeth to the parlor. “They say they do, you know.”

  Miss Amanda seated herself, as though by right of long acquaintance, on the soft chair by the low table, and Miss Caroline took the only other comfortable chair; my own house indeed, Elizabeth thought, and sat down uneasily on a stiff chair near the door; I must get lamps first thing tomorrow, she thought, the better to see people with.

  “Have you lived here long?” she asked foolishly.

  “I hope you don’t plan to change things,” Miss Amanda said. “Aunt loved her little house, you know.”

  “I haven’t had much time to plan.”

  “You’ll find everything just the way she left it. I myself took her pocketbook upstairs and put it into the drawer of the commode. Otherwise nothing has been touched. Except the body, of course.”

  Oh, that’s not still here? she wanted to ask, but said instead, “I used to come here when I was a child.”

  “So he wasn’t after her money,” Miss Caroline said. “Sister took her pocketbook off the kitchen table; I saw her do it. She took it upstairs and nothing was missing.”

  Miss Amanda leaned a little forward. “You’ll be bringing in television sets? From the city? Radios?”

  “I hadn’t thought much about it yet.”

  “We’ll be able to hear your television set, no doubt. We are your closest neighbors and we see your lights; no doubt your television set will be very loud.”

  “We would have heard if she had screamed,” Miss Caroline said, lifting her thin hand in emphasis. “They say she must have recognized him, and indeed it is my belief that Sheriff Knowlton has a very shrewd notion who he is. It is my belief that we all have our suspicions.”

  “Sister, this is gossip. Miss Elizabeth detests gossip.”

  “We were here the first thing in the morning, Miss Elizabeth, and I spoke to the Sheriff myself.”

  “Sister, Miss Elizabeth does not trouble her mind with wild stories. Let Miss Elizabeth remember Aunt as happy.”

  “I don’t understand.” Elizabeth looked from one of the tight old faces to the other; the two old bats, she thought, and said, “My aunt died of a heart attack, they said.”

  “It is my belief—”

  “My sister is fond of gossip, Miss Elizabeth. I suppose you’ll be packing away all of Aunt’s pretty things?”

  Elizabeth glanced at the table near her. A pink china box, a glass paperweight, a crocheted doily on which rested a set of blue porcelain kittens. “Some of them,” she said.

  “To make room for the television set. Poor Aunt; she thought a good deal of her small possessions.” She frowned. “You won’t find an ash tray in here.”

  Elizabeth put her cigarette down defiantly on the lid of the small pink box.

  “Sister,” Miss Amanda said, “bring Miss Elizabeth a saucer from the kitchen, from the daily china. Not the floral set.”

  Miss Caroline, looking shocked, hurried from the room, holding her heavy skirt away from the tables and Elizabeth’s cigarette. Miss Amanda leaned forward again. “I do not permit my sister to gossip, Miss Elizabeth. You are wrong to encourage her.”

  “But what is she trying to say about my aunt?”

  “Aunt has been dead and buried for two months. You were not, I think, at the funeral?”

  “I couldn’t get away.”

  “From the city. Exactly. I daresay you were delighted to have the house.”

  “Indeed I was.”

  “I suppose Aunt could hardly have done otherwise. Sister, give Miss Elizabeth the saucer. Quickly, before the room catches fire.”

  “Thank you.” Elizabeth took the chipped saucer from Miss Caroline and put out her cigarette; ash trays, she thought, lamps, ash trays, coffeepot.

  “Her apron is gone,” Miss Caroline told her sister.

  “Already?” Miss Amanda turned to look fully at Elizabeth. “I am afraid we will see many changes, Sister. And now Miss Elizabeth is waiting for us to leave. Miss Elizabeth is determined to begin her packing tonight.”

  “Really,” Elizabeth said helplessly, gesturing, “really—”

  “All of Aunt’s pretty things. This is not our formal call, Miss Elizabeth.” Miss Amanda rose grandly, and Miss Caroline followed. “You will see us within three days. Poor Aunt.”

  Elizabeth followed them back to the kitchen. “Really,” she said again, and “Please don’t leave,” but Miss Amanda overrode her.

  “This door does not latch properly,” Miss Amanda said. “See that it is securely locked behind us.”

  “They say that’s how he got in,” Miss Caroline whispered. “Keep it locked always.”

  “Good night, Miss Elizabeth. I am happy to know that you plan to keep the house well lighted. We see your lights, you know, from our windows.”

  “Good night,” Miss Caroline said, turning to put her hand once more on Elizabeth’s arm. “Locked, remember.”

  “Good night,” Elizabeth said, “good night.” Old bats, she was thinking, old bats. Sooner or later I’m going to have words with them; they’re probably the pests of the neighborhood. She watched as they went side by side down the path, their heads not yet turned to one another, their long skirts swinging. “Good night,” she called once more, but neither of them turned. Old bats, she thought, and slammed the door correctly; the latch caught, and she took down the key and locked it. I’ll give them the moose head, she thought, my aunt would have wanted them to have it. It’s late, I’ve got to find myself a bed, I haven’t even been upstairs yet. I’ll give them each a piece of the junk; my very own, my pretty little house.

  Humming happily, she turned back toward the parlor; I wonder where they found her? she thought suddenly; was it in the parlor? She stopped in the doorway, staring at the soft chair and wondering: did he come up behind her there? While she was sewing? And then pick up her glasses from the floor and set them on the table? Perhaps she was reading her magazine when he caught her, perhaps she had just washed her cup and saucer and was turning back to get her sweater; would it have been this quiet in the house? Is it always this quiet?

  “No, no,” she said aloud. “This is silly. Tomorrow I’ll get a dog.”

  Pressing her lips together firmly, she walked across the room and turned off the light, then came back and turned off the lamp beside the door, and the soft darkness fell around her; did they find her here? she wondered as she went through the sunporch, and then said aloud “
This is silly,” and turned off the light. With the darkness following close behind her she came back to the kitchen and checked that the back door was securely locked. He won’t get in here again, she thought, and shivered.

  There was no light on the stairs. I can leave the kitchen light on all night, she thought, but no; they’ll see it from their windows; did he wait for her on the stairs? Pressing against the wall, the kitchen light still burning dimly behind her, she went up the stairs, staring into the darkness, feeling her way with her feet. At the top was only darkness, and she put out her hands blindly; there was a wall, and then a door, and she ran her hand down the side of the door until she had the doorknob in her fingers.

  What’s waiting behind the door? she thought, and turned and fled wildly down the stairs and into the lighted kitchen with the locked back door. “Don’t leave me here alone,” she said, turning to look behind her, “please don’t leave me here alone.”

  * * *

  Miss Amanda and Miss Caroline cuddled on either side of their warm little stove. Miss Amanda had a piece of fruitcake and a cup of tea and Miss Caroline had a piece of marshmallow cake and a cup of tea. “Just the same,” Miss Caroline was saying, “she should have served something.”

  “City ways.”

  “She could have offered some of the city cake she brought with her. The coffeepot was right there in the kitchen. It’s not polite to wait until the company goes and then eat by yourself.”

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