Come Along With Me by Shirley Jackson


  “My cousin had mercury poisoning,” I said. “That goes directly to the heart, of course. He only lasted for about three days.”

  “I had a cousin something like that,” she said. “You mentioned what a short time they last. Only in her case it all went to the brain. Reddest face I ever saw and she died not knowing one of us.”

  “My aunt was the same,” I said. “Only she died of pneumonia; that’s a very quick one. It catches you without any warning, you swell up, and there you go.”

  “Bloated,” she said, “like my nephew, only his was alcohol.”

  “And then there was this friend of mine,” I said. “She had cirrhosis of the scalp. They don’t have a cure yet for any of those things, you know, and they run right through you. I hate to think of the way my friend went right on suffering until the very end.”

  “Very often the end is the most to be desired,” she said. “There was a friend of mine, we all couldn’t wait for her to go, but she had cancer. Incurable.”

  “I had a friend who had cancer,” I said, “but they cut off her right leg.”

  “That’s never enough,” she said. “Mark me, she’ll be back for her other leg. I knew a woman once who lost both arms that way.”

  “My uncle fell under a truck,” I said. I wondered if I should tell her about my great-aunt.

  “I’m sorry about your uncle,” she said. “Do you want a room or don’t you?”

  “I do.”

  “And what do you do, Mrs. Motorman?”

  “I dabble in the supernatural. Traffic with spirits. Seances, messages, psychiatric advice, that kind of thing.”

  “I never had one of those before,” Mrs. Faun said. “I’m not saying I haven’t had all kinds. You rent out rooms, it’s sometimes a surprise what you get.”

  “I never lived in a room before.”

  You won’t find it terribly difficult,” she said, not smiling. “All you have to do is pay for it regularly. I’d be willing to add some meals, but that would be extra.”

  “Perhaps I could give a hand with the cooking; I’m a fine cook.”

  “I’m not sure but what that would be extra too,” she said. “You may not cook in your room.”

  “I promise,” I said.

  “You may not smoke in your bed.”

  “I promise.”

  “You may not make noise late at night.”

  “I promise.”

  “These are all safety precautions,” she explained to me. “Thou shalt not—I mean, you may not keep dirty pets.”

  “I promise.”

  “You may not spread any contagious diseases. Although the room I plan to show you has a private bath. Linen provided, we do the heavy cleaning, and anything you raise by way of spirits you have to put back yourself.”

  Oh, I liked Mrs. Faun. She turned her head suddenly and then she stood up and went over to the back door of the kitchen, the door leading outside, and opened it. “Little early today,” she said, and “Must have run all the way,” which was clearly some kind of a private joke because there was laughter. I helped myself to another cookie, and then Mrs. Faun came back pushing the wheelchair; there was a ramp built outside the door so she could push it right inside without difficulty. “This is my son Tom,” Mrs. Faun said, “Tom, this is Mrs. Motorman.” Once again it sounded all right; I was going to learn to answer to it.

  “Hi,” the boy in the wheelchair said. He seemed to be about twelve years old, although it’s hard to tell with a boy sitting down. “Any cookies left?”

  “I got my share,” I said. “Someday if you want me to I’ll make you my special chocolate cake; it’s got five layers.”

  “Okay,” he said, and then he laughed. “Motorman’s a funny name,” he said.

  “I just made it up,” I told him. “You just home from school?”

  “I like school,” he said, “but they’re always surprised I’m not smarter, because I don’t play baseball and stuff, they always think I’m going to be smarter than anyone else. And I’m not.”

  “Maybe if you practice,” I said.

  “One kid pushes me down the street every morning and another kid pushes me back home in the afternoon. They do all the pushing and I ride both ways and it’s great, but I’m not as smart as they think I ought to be.”

  “You’re smart enough for your own good,” Mrs. Faun said. She brought him a glass of milk and pushed the plate of cookies a little closer to him. “I’ll go and check your room,” she said to me.

  “I’m pretty smart,” he said to me anxiously. “I’m not stupid, of course.”

  “I’m pretty smart, but I never got pushed back and forth to school.”

  “Well, I’m planning to be a scholar, and I better get started pretty soon. You know any Spanish?”

  “No.”

  “I want to learn Spanish and French and Italian and Russian and then Latin and Greek and be a scholar. So far I only know a little Spanish, but I’m lazy.”

  “One of these days I might push you to the movies,” I said.

  “I would like that,” he said. “Perhaps a movie in Spanish or French to improve my accent.”

  We each had another cookie. Then he said, “What do you study, Mrs. Motorman?”

  “I was married to a painter.”

  “Was he any good?”

  “He was lousy.”

  “Is he dead?”

  “Yes.”

  “How long you think I ought to go on studying Spanish before I start French? They’re both good languages.”

  “If you’re so lazy why not give up the whole thing?”

  “Well,” he said, thinking, “I suppose it’s because they all keep waiting for me to be so smart. I wouldn’t play baseball if I could, you can hurt yourself playing those games. But I don’t mind being a scholar.”

  “Look,” I said, “I’m not used to talking to kids.”

  “Oh, that’s all right,” he said.

  “I don’t know why you can’t just sit around and read books.”

  Mrs. Faun came back and said “Drink your milk there,” and “Your room is ready.” She touched the boy on the head and he said, “Hey, Mrs. Motorman and I are going to the movies someday,” and Mrs. Faun looked at me for a minute and then said, “I think you’re going to like the room.”

  3

  I brought a couple of cookies upstairs with me, just in case. My room was perfectly square, which was good. My name was Mrs. Angela Motorman and this was where I was going to live, in a square room in Mrs. Faun’s house on Smith Street. I did not know as yet what I was going to add to this room; it already held a bed and a dresser and two chairs and a pretty little desk, something like the pretty little desk I had last seen disappearing into the back of a station wagon when I had my auction. There was nothing in these desk drawers; I did not know as yet what I was going to put in them. There was a little bookcase which would hold, I thought, perhaps eleven books; I would have to choose my eleven books very carefully; when I found them I could write “Angela Motorman” on the flyleaves. I put my underwear and stockings into the dresser drawers, and hung my two dresses and my fur stole in the closet; someday I would go to the department stores and buy new clothes; I put my brush and comb on the dresser and put my sleeping pills on the bedside table and put my reading glasses beside them. I had no pets, no address books, no small effects to set around on tables or pin on walls, I had no lists of friends to keep in touch with and no souvenirs; all I had was myself.

  I like people, but I have never needed companions; Hughie was my only mistake.

  I set an armchair next to the window of my room, and I was pleased to see that I did indeed look out over the trees and onto the spot on the street where I had stood not long ago wondering over a name; “It’s all right, Angela,?
?? I said very softly out the window, “it’s all right, you made it, you came in and it’s all right; you got here after all.” And outside the dim nameless creature named herself Mrs. Angela Motorman and came steadily to the door.

  4

  I have a real feeling for shapes; I like things square, and my room was finely square. Even though I couldn’t cook there I thought I could be happy. I wanted the barest rock bottom of a room I could have, I wanted nothing but a place to sleep and a place to sit and a place to put my things; any decorating done to my environment is me.

  One reason is, the first time it happened was in a square room, my own room when I was about twelve. Before then, most of it was just whisperings and little half-thoughts, the way a child almost notices something, almost remembers, but this time it was real and I was not dreaming; I know when I’m dreaming. I sat up in bed in the middle of the night, and heard my own voice saying “What? What?” and then I heard another voice, not coming out of my own head—I know what comes out of my own head—saying “Find Rosalind Bleeker. Tell her Sid says hello.” Three times I heard that crazy voice say “Tell her Sid says hello.”

  I knew Rosalind Bleeker—in all the years since I’ve never forgotten her name—and because she was four or five years older and in high school I had a little trouble finding her the next day, but I caught her when she was walking home. I remember I had trouble getting her attention; I was just a little kid, and she was popular and pretty and always laughing. She was wearing a white blouse and a blue skirt and a charm bracelet. Her hair was curly. She was carrying her biology textbook and a blue-covered notebook. Her shoes were white. Her eyes were blue. She wore a little lipstick. I pulled at her sleeve and said “Rosalind, hey, Rosalind,” not very loud because she was a high-school girl. She turned around and looked down at me and frowned, because I was a kid and she was a high-school girl and here I was pulling at her sleeve. “Listen, Rosalind,” I said, “listen. I’m supposed to tell you Sid says to say hello.” “What?” she said. “Sid says to say hello,” I said, and then ran, because I had nothing more to say and I felt silly. I heard later she went home and hanged herself. I don’t know.

  Anyway, that was the first time. After that there were lots more, some more real than others. There was the time I said to my mother, “Grandma just picked up the phone to call you,” and she said, “That’s nice,” just as the phone rang. She looked at me funny; they always did after a while.

  “I dabble in the supernatural,” I told Mrs. Faun; she thought I was making some kind of a joke.

  I quit when I married Hughie; you’d have to.

  I remember another time when I sat by the window and my mother, who ought to have known better by then, said to me, “Why are you always brooding, staring out the window, never doing anything?”

  “I’m watching the peacocks walking on the lawn,” I said.

  “But you ought to be out playing with the other children; why do you suppose we moved here to a nice neighborhood, so you could always sit looking out the window instead of playing with the other kids? Haven’t you got any friends? Doesn’t anyone like you?”

  “I’m watching the peacocks,” I tried to tell her. “They’re walking on the lawn and I’m watching them.”

  “You ought to be out with your friends. What are peacocks doing on our lawn, ruining the grass?” and she came over to look out the window; as I say, she ought to have known better.

  Sometimes I knew and sometimes I didn’t; there would be times when I lay on my stomach on the floor watching creatures playing under the dining-room table, and I knew then of course that my mother wasn’t going to see them and was maybe going to put her foot through one when she came by to say why did they move to a nice neighborhood and I wouldn’t go out and make friends. Sometimes my good square room would be so full I just lay in bed and laughed. Sometimes weeks would go by and I would be reading some specially interesting book, or painting, or following people every day after school, and nothing would come at all; sometimes they followed me; once an old man followed me, but he turned out to be real. I could see what the cat saw.

  When I was about sixteen I began to get self-conscious about all of it; it wasn’t that I minded them coming around asking and following me everywhere I went; most sixteen-year-old girls like to be followed, but by then I knew no one else was going to see them and sometimes I felt like a fool; you don’t go around staring at empty air all the time, not when you’re sixteen years old you don’t, not without people beginning to notice. “Do you need glasses?” my mother used to ask me, or “Can’t you for heaven’s sake stop gawking at nothing and shut your mouth and comb your hair and get out with the other kids?” Then sometimes for weeks at a time I would think that they had gone away, maybe for good, and I’d start taking care of my hair and putting polish on my nails and hanging around the soda shop or going to a football game, and then first thing I knew I’d be talking to someone and a face would come between us and a mouth would open saying some crazy thing, and I’d be watching and listening and whomever I had been talking to would wait for a few minutes and then get edgy and walk away while I was still listening to some other voice. After a while I just stopped talking to anybody.

  That’s not a good way for a girl to grow up. It’s easy to say that if I knew then what I know now I could have handled it better; how can anyone handle things if her head is full of voices and her world is full of things no one else can see? I’m not complaining.

  I sat in my pleasant square room at Mrs. Faun’s house and thought about it all. Ever since I can remember, I thought as quietly as I could, I have been seeing and hearing things no one else could see and hear. By now I can control the nuisance to some extent. It disappeared entirely when I married Hughie; I have reason to believe now that it is coming back. I sat in Mrs. Faun’s house and thought what good did it do to sell the house and find a new name; they don’t care what your name is when they come around asking.

  At first I tried to point them out to people; I was even foolish enough at first to think other people just hadn’t noticed; “Look at that,” I would say, “look, right over there, it’s a funny man.” It didn’t take long for my mother to put a stop to that; “There isn’t any funny man anywhere,” she would say, and jerk on my arm, “what kind of a sewer do you have for a mind?” Once I tried to tell a neighbor about it; it was quite accidental, because I rarely told anyone anything. He was sitting on his front porch one evening in summer and I had been lying on the grass on our lawn, watching small lights go and come among the grass blades, and listening to a kind of singing—sometimes, especially in summer, it was a kind of pleasant world I lived in—and he heard me laughing. He asked me to come and sit on his front porch and he gave me a glass of lemonade, and when he asked me what I had been doing I went ahead and told him. I told him about seeing and hearing, and he listened, which is more than anyone else ever did. “You’re clairvoyant,” he told me, and I always remembered that; he probably knew less than nothing about it, but he listened and said I was clairvoyant; later he told my mother I ought to be taken to some special clinic and examined, and for about three days she decided I was pregnant. I never talked to him again; I wanted to, once in a while, but he never spoke to me after that.

  I knew a lot about people, a lot that they never knew I knew, but I never seemed to have much sense, probably because one thing I never really knew was whether what I was doing was real or not.

  The house, I later found out, was almost all square. It had three floors and a basement, and neat trim porches on three sides; whoever built that house had either very little imagination or a mind much like mine, because everything was neatly cornered and as near as possible the same size; that is, one door matched the next almost perfectly and where there were doors they were as often as possible right in the middle of the wall, with an equal space on either side of them. The windows were perfectly correct.

 
; When I asked Mrs. Faun later she told me that there were five people renting rooms in the house; I thought it was wrong that they should be an odd number, but since I was the fifth I could hardly protest, and in any case she had only six rooms to rent. On the top floor were a Mr. Brand who was a bookkeeper, and a Mr. Cabot who was, Mrs. Faun believed, in merchandising. On the second floor were old Mrs. Flanner, who kept a bookshop, Mr. Campbell, who was in transit, and me. Mrs. Faun kept the ground floor for herself. “I always wanted it that way,” she told me, “I always used to dream of the time when I could live on the ground floor; I had it planned for years. I always thought the dining room would work out better as a bedroom, and I hated the idea of going upstairs every night and leaving it behind. It’s more comfortable, it’s more convenient, and it’s perfectly safe.”

  “Safe?”

  “In case of fire. I can get out.”

  I may say that in all the time I was in that house I never met Mr. Campbell, who was in transit.

  We were a gay crew, I soon discovered. Here I was, with one suitcase and a fur stole and a pocketbook with plenty of money, but old Mrs. Flanner had had her same room for nine years and she had a television set, all her own furniture, including a Chinese lacquer table, purple drapes on the windows, and a silver tea service. Brand and Cabot on the top floor took cocktails in one another’s room every day at six. Mrs. Faun was apt to invite anyone at random to Sunday dinner; she was almost as good a cook as I am. Brand played the cello, and Mrs. Flanner used to sing at one time before her voice cracked. Mrs. Flanner also played the dirtiest game of bridge that Mrs. Faun had ever seen. Brand had a small mustache, Cabot collected Coalport china, Mrs. Faun disliked garlic and consequently never made a decent salad dressing until the day she died; Brand fell over the bottom step of the staircase every night regularly, coming home at five-thirty. He was neither drunk nor clumsy, he never fell over anything else that anyone ever knew of, he never dropped anything or spilled anything, but every night at five-thirty Mr. Brand tripped over the bottom step of the staircase. You could set your clock by Brand falling over the bottom step of the staircase, Mrs. Faun used to say, if it was important to you to set your clock at five-thirty. Brand and Cabot and Flanner and I usually took most of our meals at a little restaurant around the corner, but every Friday night Brand went to his mother’s and every Saturday night Cabot took out a girl; he had been taking her out for four years now, Mrs. Faun said, but thought marriage was too confining. I liked Mrs. Faun. I had almost nothing to do, so I got to helping with the housework and we’d knock off and sit around the kitchen drinking coffee and eating cookies; Mrs. Faun baked every second morning, before anyone was up, and one thing I did like about living in that house was waking up to the smell of cookies baking.

 
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