Come Along With Me by Shirley Jackson


  My room, as I say, was absolutely, perfectly square; I measured it. I admire a house with a good square room, and when I unpacked I knew I was going to stay. First I unpacked my picture, my painting; it had been painted with Hughie’s paints but I painted it myself. “Keep it around if you like,” Hughie said, “you’re proud of it, all right. Don’t think I hate all painting styles but my own.” So my own painting went on the wall, although Mrs. Faun said that it would cost to repair the hole. Cabot liked my painting, and Brand. Mrs. Flanner poked it with her finger and said it took her back. Mrs. Faun said it would cost to repair the hole.

  “What do you do, Mrs. Motorman?” Brand asked me.

  “A little shoplifting, sometimes,” I told him. “Some meddling.”

  “What brought you to our city?”

  “Curiosity,” I told him.

  Brand and Cabot asked me up for cocktails, and Mrs. Faun asked me for Sunday dinner, and Mrs. Flanner asked me if I played bridge and I said no. I walked to the end of Smith Street and around in the little park, under the trees. One day I went back to the streetcar and got on and went into the center of the city, where I went into the first large store and looked at blouses.

  “If you don’t have this blouse in a size forty-four,” I told the salesgirl, “I’ll just run across the street and look.” I didn’t go across the street, actually; I spoke to a lady in a drugstore where I stopped to have a sandwich and a milk shake. “They’re all chemicals now,” she said to me. “You can’t even buy pure vanilla. All chemicals.”

  “In a drugstore you’d expect chemicals.”

  “Everywhere. You think you’re drinking chocolate in that milk shake? Nothing but chemicals.”

  “I didn’t actually come into the city for a milk shake, though; I came to buy a blouse.”

  “Well, they’re chemical. Clothes, food, drink, plants growing in nothing but water, laboratories overcrowded, it’s a bad world.”

  “Bourbon—”

  “It’s all this mad race into space,” she said, and went away.

  When I got onto the streetcar to go back, it said SMITH STREET in big letters on the front; “Does this streetcar go to Smith Street?” I asked the motorman, and he looked at me for a minute and then he said very quietly, “Yes, ma’am, it surely does.”

  “Thank you,” I said. “How is your wife’s asthma?”

  “I am not married,” he said, “thank God.”

  5

  When I decided it was time for me to give a seance, I spoke to Mrs. Faun first, of course, since it was her house and I had no idea how she might feel about people coming around asking in her own house; “I thought I might hold a kind of a small seance,” I said to her.

  “What would that include?” she asked me.

  “Well, I sit in the middle, and everyone sits around, and we might have sherry. And then I give messages.”

  “Who provides the sherry?”

  “Everyone has some kind of a question they’d like to get answered. Some kind of a question can only be answered from beyond.”

  I was sure she was going to say “Beyond what?” so I said quickly, “You don’t have to believe if you don’t want to.”

  “Thank you,” she said. “I’ll let you have the cooking sherry.”

  “May I use the little parlor?”

  “That means I’d have to come,” Mrs. Faun said. “Unless I choose to sit in the kitchen all the time.”

  “I’d be honored if you’d come.”

  “Who else would be here?”

  I had made a little sign reading MESSAGES OBTAINED. QUESTIONS ANSWERED. FORTUNES and tacked it up in the bookshop I found my first day. Several people had been interested. The bookshop lady had promised to let them know. So I told Mrs. Faun, “I think there will be several people. And of course anyone from the house.”

  “Not Tom. I don’t allow him seances.”

  “Has the question ever come up before?”

  “Not that I ever thought it would. But he can read all right in his room. He doesn’t listen in.”

  “One reason I want to use the little parlor is that chair.”

  Mrs. Faun actually laughed. “It used to be my husband’s favorite chair,” she said. “Night after night.”

  “Did he ever get any manifestations, sitting there?”

  “Not that he thought it worthwhile mentioning. But it’s a good chair. I don’t much care for it myself, but I could sell it for money.”

  It was a good chair. It had a back higher than my head, and the arms were solid, and altogether it looked something like a throne of which the seat had been amply seasoned by Mr. Faun’s bottom. Whenever the door of the little parlor was open I sneaked in and sat down for a minute; I liked that chair.

  “Are you sure,” Mrs. Faun asked me, “that you are not tampering with things better left alone? Are you sure that you know what you are doing? Are you sure, Mrs. Motorman, that you are not stirring up some kind of trouble that will hang around my house?”

  “It’s exactly like taking a long-distance call,” I told her. “Once you hang up, it’s over.”

  “I never knew a long-distance call didn’t mean trouble for someone.”

  The little parlor had drapes, which Mrs. Faun never closed, which is why the dust rose when I closed them, which is why I sneezed and Mrs. Faun scowled; she kept a clean house, generally. I moved the fine chair into the center of the room, and we put a few dining-room chairs around, not too many because I wasn’t sure how many would come and I didn’t want to look anxious, but enough so no one would stand; no one stood around in Mrs. Faun’s house; perhaps because Tom was always sitting down she thought people standing were uncomfortable. Although I have plenty of money I put a large orange bowl, in which Mrs. Faun usually kept apples, on a low table moved just enough out from the wall to be noticeable. “People expect this,” I told Mrs. Faun.

  “I’ll bring the sherry and the glasses,” she said, “and you can pay me out of the pot.”

  “It’s really a hobby of mine, mostly. But if it does people good, why keep it to myself?”

  “If more people kept more things to themselves this world would be a better place.” Mrs. Faun gave the curtain a little shake. “How you can find dust beats me,” she said.

  I don’t know what the bookstore lady could have said around the bookstore, or even what Mrs. Faun might have said around the neighborhood, because when I came to give my seance there were eight people, which made us nine altogether, which is good. I had decided to wear my long dark-blue dress. It doesn’t fit as well as it used to, but who says a psychic has to be smart? It has these long sleeves, and I wore my pearls; I will say that for Hughie, he didn’t stint me.

  All right, I thought, I’ll try it once anyway. They all sat there watching me as though they dared me to put something over on them, the watchful, the eager, the perceptive. I realized I was stalling; there were a number of things I wanted to do right now a lot more than lean back and close my eyes in the face of those watching people; I knew they would keep on staring at me after I was gone, and I hated that. I could have said right then that it was a joke, but they would have believed me. “I don’t know anything about all this,” came to my mind, “please, all of you, go away and don’t try to make me do something I hate.” But of course I didn’t; I looked each of them right in the eye, thinking I hate you I hate you I hope you are brutally disappointed, and I nodded at Mrs. Faun, who at least was almost snarling out loud, and I leaned back and felt the worn velvet of the chair against the back of my neck and wondered who was clamoring around just inside waiting to come around asking, and I closed my eyes. I could hear them breathing. Easy, slow, contemptuous, that would be Mrs. Faun, waiting to be shown. Then the others, quick and eager, a little woman watching, the men aware, alert, dishonest.

 
I was in a great hall, lofty, pillared, reaching into the distance. There were flowers in great pots, and—the old crystal palace, maybe?—tall glittering walls; there were many people. I waited quietly, not knowing who was going to come around asking, and waited and waited, and then found one man singled out, almost drifting to where I waited, almost moving without movement, surely without sound. “A tall man,” I said, and heard my own voice remotely, “a tall man, wanting something. He has gray hair. He is not very old, but he has gray hair.”

  “My father,” someone said.

  “My brother,” someone else said.

  “Excuse me. My father.”

  “He says,” and I raised my voice, hearing it speak out there, to them, while I listened inside, “he says to take up the book he left behind, the book that he held in his hands near the end, the book he was holding in his hands. He says to take up the book and turn to page . . . page . . . page . . . it has an eight and a five.”

  “Dad?”

  “I beg your pardon. My brother. I know the very book.”

  “An eight and a five; find the page and there will be a message—a letter?—a message. He says he left a message.”

  “Ask him if he is happy. Tell him it’s his sister asking.”

  “Excuse me—”

  “He does not know the word happy. He is here, and that is all. He is going now.”

  “I’m sure it was my father; if I had been given a chance to speak—”

  “Someone is here,” I said. I heard my voice saying it. “Someone is here asking for Alice? Anna? Angela?” I knew even then there was something wrong with Angela, but I had forgotten what. “Alice?”

  “My wife? Her name is Agnes.”

  “She is ill, is she not? Someone is asking if she is better, if her illness has abated; someone is asking that you tell her the old medicine is better. Someone wants her to know that she is being taken care of, someone is over her now, comforting her.”

  “But the old medicine didn’t—”

  “Tell her someone is caring for her. She will be better.”

  “Will you ask my father to come back again? I must speak to him, really.”

  “There are many many many here, some of them wanting to speak, some of them moving away. One who wants to speak is asking for a daughter, but it is not a father who wants a daughter; someone is asking for a daughter. Is there a daughter here?”

  “My mother? My mother wants to talk to me? What for?”

  “Are you well? Are you contented? Someone is asking if you are well.”

  “It’s not my mother then, because she—”

  “Gone now. Some are pressing close to me, some are far away. Here is someone with a message. Do not forget old Ginger.”

  “What?”

  “Do not forget old Ginger.” My Lord, I thought, from somewhere far away, old Ginger was my cat. Messages for myself. Better quit soon. “Do not forget old Ginger,” I said, as though I ever could. “Here is someone asking, asking; a message for a wife.”

  “I don’t want it,” Mrs. Faun said; I could hear her voice thin and annoyed. “Tell him to go away again; I don’t want to hear anything he has to say.”

  “Someone is here, someone who wants to ask about a little child. Was the little child lost? Did it ever come home again? Where is the little child?”

  “Get my father back; we don’t know any little—”

  “Now there is a message here, a message for T. L.”

  “Me? The first initial’s really J., but they always called me Teddy; I guess it’s for me.”

  “Good fortune in store for you, T. L., great good fortune is being warned against; do not be deceived.”

  So that was my first seance; it couldn’t have been a very good one, since no one said anything, and there was only thirty-five cents in the pot; I had to pay fifty cents more out of my own pocket for the sherry.

  “All they talk about is death and dying,” I said to Mrs. Faun after she had seen them out. “And they are cheap.”

  “What do you expect?” She opened the drapes, blowing dust off her nose.

  “They could take a little bit more interest.”

  “If they were interested in real life they wouldn’t have come to listen to you. You’ll find out.”

  I thought she was being unnecessarily dreary, but that, as it turned out, was going to be Mrs. Faun’s way. “They’re all crazy,” she said, “all they want is to be told what to do. They wait for some crackpot to give them the word.”

  “If by crackpot you mean—”

  “I mean what I mean,” Mrs. Faun said. “If the shoe fits, Mrs. Motorman.”

  6

  Well, I don’t want you to think that Mrs. Faun and I came right out and quarreled all the time. We kind of sharpened our nails on each other, that was all, and most of the time we finished off our arguments laughing together over a cup of tea, although I must say I was surprised when I began getting a weekly bill from Mrs. Faun, in addition to the rent for the room, for “tea, cookies, etc.”

  “I thought you invited me,” I said to her the first week.

  “It won’t hurt you,” she said. “I get what I can.”

  I started following people after a day or so in the city; one thing is certain, you can’t find your way around a strange city without someone to show you where to go, and when all you know is a Mrs. Faun who won’t step out of her front parlor for a bomb explosion on the street outside, you pretty well have to get the way from strangers. The first person I followed was an old fellow I picked up outside a restaurant; he had been eating caviar, and I like to follow someone who is good and full of caviar, although I don’t care for it myself; it seemed that he might lead me to a far more interesting place than any I might find by myself, and, in a sense, he did; “Why are you following me?” he asked, turning suddenly on me at a street corner; I was not as good at following people then as I became later.

  “Because you were eating caviar,” I said. Sometimes the truth doesn’t hurt.

  “I like caviar.”

  “I don’t.”

  “Where did you plan to follow me?” He was still bewildered, but I thought amused; I am not very terrifying to look at, I believe. In any case, he was clearly a man without a guilty conscience, or at least no kind of conscience that being followed by me might bother. Perhaps being followed by a lovely young nineteen-year-old boy might have bothered him some.

  “Come and have tea with me,” he said. I swear, he took out a cardcase and handed me a card; I don’t think I have ever known anyone to do that before. “I’d like to,” I told him, “it will save me money with Mrs. Faun.”

  There was the day I tried my hand at shoplifting; it was particularly important because of the weather; it was one of those winter days which suddenly dreams of spring, when the sky is blue and soft and clear, and the wind has dropped its voice and whispers instead of screaming, and the sun is out and the trees look surprised, and over everything there is the faintest, palest tint of green; weather entertains me.

  “I’m trying my hand at shoplifting,” I told the salesgirl, and we both laughed.

  I went to the biggest department store; I had not been there before, but one big department store is much like another. This one was one I might have been in a hundred times before; I knew where things were, and recognized the heavily scented air, so rich after the clean air outside. Sometimes I like big stores, with softness underfoot and pressing against the sides of your head; I like long counters with soft highlights and seductively tumbled scarves and vacant mannequins and the dirty gloves of shoppers; I like everything about big department stores except shopping in them. I do not like salesgirls and their manners, and having to buy my dresses in a special behemoths department, and I do not like the stupid mockery of people who enjoy keeping you wait
ing; I do not like credit offices, but I enjoy quarreling over a bill. Hughie used to be all lost, really frightened, when I got into a fight with a department store because I never really felt I was fighting with people, and so it was not necessary to observe any of the small delicate graces you use automatically when you are fighting with people; even with the electric company I always knew I was fighting with people, but never with department stores, and of course not with the telephone company. We paid our bills—I don’t mean to sound as if I fought with any of them because I wanted to save money—but I could always enjoy a good fight over something. I loved being in a department store, and I am only surprised that I had not thought of shoplifting long before. “Shoplifting,” I explained to the salesgirl, and touched the little box gently with one finger, and we both laughed.

  I had really no good idea how you went about stealing something from a department store, but I thought I could make it up as I went along; that is, you will observe, my way with almost everything. I have always been quite successful at making things up as I went along, and very often surprised at where I led myself. I never thought along the way that I might end up in jail, or hurt, or even embarrassed, because that is simply not the kind of thing that happens to the kind of person I am; I am not above the law, but somehow I make the law, which so many other people do not. This is not arrogance; I first became aware of this when I was a child and always got everything I wanted. Before God, I thought I wanted Hughie. But this is not shoplifting.

 
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