Come Along With Me by Shirley Jackson


  For reasons which amused me considerably, and which I do not care to discuss here, I had decided that what I most wanted to steal was an ornamental candle. I knew that there would probably be a department which sold candles and candlesticks and elaborate boxes of matches, and I thought to steal a candle and take it back to Mrs. Faun to put in the center of her appalling mantelpiece. Moreover, a candle is not too valuable, although perhaps not always easy to hide. Poor Hughie, and he was such a lousy painter.

  In any case, I stepped onto the escalator—such a sense of power, such a sense of being carried, of permitting this small service underfoot—and, looking down at the store, let myself be taken to the second floor, where I paused briefly at lingerie; I do like lace; and then on to the third floor and the fourth, where I found a gift shop and, just beyond, the candles I was looking for. Perhaps a black candle for Mrs. Faun’s next black mass, perhaps a candle that told time—although I do think that’s too much of a good thing; the nicest part of a candle is its inaccuracy—or perhaps a candle topped with flowers, or a candle looking like a cabbage, or a house, or a poodle. I like things made to look like something else, although I draw the line at food. I once had a recipe for imitation potato pancakes made out of ground cauliflower, and they were just as vile as they sound. But an ordinary everyday plain camouflage is quite all right with me.

  I saw a candle made of a thousand different colors, and it was very lovely; I quite wanted it. But wanting it and stealing it were two different things; if I started stealing just because I wanted a colored candle the whole point would be lost, and I had already decided that I could not buy it. So, reluctantly, I passed by the lovely candle and found quite a hideous one; it looked rather like Mrs. Faun, I thought, and I put it in my pocket. Then I turned and saw the salesgirl looking at me with an air of complete joy; she had seen me, of course, and she took a step forward and said, “Can I help you?” and waited to see what I would do.

  Naturally, I took the candle out of my pocket and said, “No, just trying my hand at shoplifting,” and we both laughed. I set the candle back on the counter and turned away, my candle-stealing days over forever. She could have cried, that salesgirl; perhaps she had been waiting all her working life to catch a shoplifter in action; perhaps her big moment tonight at dinner was now hopelessly ruined. After all, “I caught a shoplifter today,” is a much more sensational beginning to a story than just a “I had the craziest old lady in my department today.” She must have waited on a good many crazy old ladies, and, understand, I’m not saying I’m old. She just looked like she’d tell it that way. So I had to shoplift something else. I won’t go into the number of things I took and had to put back; I don’t seem really cut out for the most efficient stealing; but I did manage to pick up a box of birth announcements (“I’m a girl, I’m a girl, I’m a girl”) which I though might suit Mrs. Faun. No one seemed to care about those. One of the things I had to put back was a bottle of perfume called Svelte, which was fair anyway since I really wanted that.

  Well, I’m not boasting. Some of the things that come to me work out well, and some do not. The seance was pretty good, but I will be the very first to admit that I am not light-fingered.

  [1965]

  FOURTEEN STORIES

  JANICE

  First, to me on the phone, in a half-amused melancholy: “Guess I’m not going back to school . . .”

  “Why not, Jan?”

  “Oh, my mother. She says we can’t afford it.” How can I reproduce the uncaring inflections of Janice’s voice, saying conversationally that what she wanted she could not have? “So I guess I’m not going back.”

  “I’m so sorry, Jan.”

  But then, struck by another thought: “Y’know what?”

  “What?”

  “Darn near killed myself this afternoon.”

  “Jan! How?”

  Almost whimsical, indifferent: “Locked myself in the garage and turned on the car motor.”

  “But why?”

  “I dunno. ’Cause I couldn’t go back, I suppose.”

  “What happened?”

  “Oh, the fellow that was cutting our lawn heard the motor and came and got me. I was pretty near out.”

  “But that’s terrible, Jan. What ever possessed—”

  “Oh, well. Say—” changing again, “—going to Sally’s tonight?” . . .

  And, later, that night at Sally’s where Janice was not the center of the group, but sat talking to me and to Bob: “Nearly killed myself this afternoon, Bob.”

  “What!”

  Lightly: “Nearly killed myself. Locked myself in the garage with the car motor running.”

  “But why, Jan?”

  “I guess because they wouldn’t let me go back to school.”

  “Oh, I’m sorry about that, Jan. But what about this afternoon? What did you do?”

  “Man cutting the grass got me out.”

  Sally coming over: “What’s this, Jan?”

  “Oh, I’m not going back to school.”

  Myself, cutting in: “How did it feel to be dying, Jan?”

  Laughing “Gee, funny. All black.” Then, to Sally’s incredulous stare: “Nearly killed myself this afternoon, Sally . . .”

  [1938]

  TOOTIE IN PEONAGE

  I really got the first good look at Tootie Maple, since it fell on to my shoulders to interview her for my friend Julie. Julie had found herself settled in New Hampshire for the summer with her two-year-old son, a husband who only came up from his defense job in Boston for week ends, and a rambling old farmhouse that was lonely enough to make some sort of company a welcome necessity. She had carefully told them in the First National store in town: “I want a girl who can take care of Tommy, who can cook and clean a little, and who isn’t scared of the dark. A nice girl,” she had added hopefully. “The nicer the better.”

  Tootie was the first and only applicant. She arrived at Julie’s house one morning, with a suitcase in her hand, and rang the doorbell emphatically. “You Miz Taylor?” she demanded when I opened the door. I shook my head helplessly. Tootie stood not quite five feet tall in her summer sandals, but she had arranged to add another three inches to her height by a complicated coiffure of curls and hair ribbons which made her look like a badly sketched perfume ad. She was wearing a house dress somehow too small for her, held together loosely with pins at the sides, and her arms dangled down to her knees, with bright red fingernails glittering as she waved her suitcase at me. “I come to stay here,” she said. “Like Miz Taylor wanted.”

  As I stood back for her to come in—there was nothing I could think of to say, with that coiffure catching me somewhere about the chin—I saw that her toenails, too, were bright red. “Tommy will love her,” I thought, “just simply love her.” “Sit down,” I said, and she put down her suitcase and sat down, crossing her legs the way they do in the movies.

  “Let’s have a cigarette?” she said. I gave her one.

  “Mrs. Taylor isn’t here right now,” I began, “but she ought to be back any minute. Meanwhile suppose you just tell me about yourself and I can probably let you know whether you’ll be satisfactory or not.”

  She looked at me suspiciously. “Miz Taylor say it’s all right for you to talk to anyone that comes?” I nodded. “Well,” she said, “I got a boy friend. That be all right with Miz Taylor?”

  “I should think so, if you didn’t want to take too many evenings off. But suppose you tell me your name, first.”

  “Tootie Maple,” she said. “His name’s Bud. He works nights, though, so we go for rides in the afternoons. He has a car, a Chevvy, and it’ll do fifty if he pushes her up.”

  “I see. Have you ever had any experience with children? Mrs. Taylor has a two-year-old baby boy you’ll have to—”

  “That ain’t a ba
by. That’s a kid. I took care of m’whole damn family. Guess I can handle this one. He much of a brat?”

  I thought of peaceful little Tommy. “Not much,” I said.

  “Sure,” Tootie told me, waving a set of those fingernails, “I can handle him fine. Pot?” she demanded.

  “I beg your pardon?”

  “I say, does he go on a pot, or—”

  “You’ll have to ask Mrs. Taylor about all that,” I said firmly. “Let me see—can you cook?”

  “Never tried,” Tootie said.

  By the time Julie came home I had discovered that Tootie could not wash clothes (“Never tried”), could not wash dishes (“At least, not a lot of dishes all at once”), was not afraid to stay alone with the baby at night (“Me scared? Of the dark? Jeez!”), and never bathed during the summertime. All this I told Julie in a sort of hurried whisper in the hall. I will never know how much of it she understood, because the next thing I heard, Tootie was hired, to come to work the following Monday morning.

  “It’s just got to be somebody,” Julie said weakly after Tootie had left, storing her suitcase suspiciously in Julie’s guest room. “Maybe she’s sort of wonderful with children.”

  “She looked a little bit . . . backwoods New Hampshire, don’t you think?” I asked, carefully regarding my cigarette.

  “Sort of . . . like an ape,” Julie said tentatively. “And I got a look at her mate—this Bud. Gargantua.”

  “Gargantua?”

  “And M’Tootie,” Julie said. “M’Tootie.”

  By the following Monday night it had stopped being quite so funny. For some reason, probably because I had seen her first, Julie came to regard M’Tootie as my project, and even after a while became a little bitter toward me. “It’s not that I think you could have warned me,” she kept saying, “But somebody ought’ve made me think it over.”

  M’Tootie had arrived Monday morning with Bud, an impressive creature of about sixteen, who stopped the Chevvy that would do fifty in front of Julie’s house and disgorged M’Tootie with what looked to Julie, watching from the window, like a sort of desperate relief. M’Tootie shambled in the back door, dropped her jacket on a chair, and said to Julie: “Well, whaddye want me for? Could I have one of them cigarettes?”

  Julie gave her a cigarette and told her to wash the dishes, came out into the kitchen an hour later, and found M’Tootie reading a page from True Confessions which had been used to pave a closet shelf.

  “Aren’t the dishes done yet?” Julie asked.

  “Just getting to them,” M’Tootie said. She flipped the page over. “It don’t finish here anyway,” she said.

  Tommy, as I had suspected, fell madly in love with M’Tootie immediately. He loved her red nail polish, the ribbons in her coiffure, and the shrill version of “I Found a Million Dollar Baby in a Five and Ten Cent Store” with which she used to quiet him when he was nervous. Because of Tommy, Julie was hesitant about attacking the red nail polish, and her first timid attempts at improving M’Tootie were so disastrous that she was forced to reconcile herself to M’Tootie in an anthropoid state. “What happens?” Julie wailed to me, “Where do I get? I give her a bowl of hot water and say, ‘While I’m giving Tommy his bath, Tootie, suppose you wash yourself and then we’ll all go out together, all dressed up—’ nice, you know, like a casual suggestion, and I come upstairs after giving Tommy his bath and the water’s sitting there stone-cold and that damn ape is lying on the bed reading Jo’s Boys and when I come in she says ‘All ready? Just wait’ll I finish this chapter and we’ll go,’ and there I am, and so then I figure that if I give her some nice clothes she might want to be clean and look nice and I say ‘Think how much Bud will admire you if you look pretty,’ and she looks at the clothes I have for her and says ‘Them? Say, I got a whole closet-full of them. Look,’ and she shows me the closet and she has ten dresses nicer than any I own, and she took the ones I gave her and gave them to Bud for his sister to wear. And all the time if she isn’t reading Jo’s Boys it’s Heidi, and she keeps asking me to help her with the long words; while I’m doing the dishes and taking care of Tommy she’s reading Heidi.”

  Julie made one attempt on the coiffure, which not only failed miserably, but brought Bud around to have a talk with Julie when Tootie was upstairs reading.

  “You gotta treat her nice, Miz Taylor,” Bud said earnestly. “She’s an independent sort of a kid, like, and you gotta be sure you’re nice to her. All this fooling around trying to get her to change her ways won’t work; she told me about how you come making her wear other clothes and bothering her hair and all this talk about washing dishes and stuff . . .”

  Julie was dangerously near a stroke, but she said: “Don’t you think Tootie ought to do the work she was hired for, Bud?”

  “Sure,” Bud said, nodding his head profoundly, “that ain’t right, she shouldn’t do her work. But I tell you, Miz Taylor, Tootie’s had a hard time. Her father threw her out of the house when she was eighteen—”

  “When she was eighteen!” Julie said. We had estimated Tootie’s age as approximately fourteen.

  “Yeah,” Bud said, “and she’s been living with us ever since, because I’m sort of her boy friend, and she ought to be treated right. So you just be careful of her, Miz Taylor, and she’ll turn out fine, I promise you.”

  “I’d hate to send her back to live with your family, Bud,” Julie said, “and I guess I’ll have to give her one more chance, except that—”

  “You’re not going to give her any more chances,” Bud said finally. “Tootie likes it here, and I guess she won’t want to move back with us. She doesn’t like my mother, and so I guess she’ll sort of figure on staying here, so I guess you’ll have to sort of make it up with her.”

  “I see,” Julie said feverishly. “She won’t want to leave.”

  “No’m,” Bud said, “she honest to God won’t.”

  As a test Julie put the matter of leaving up to Tootie, as tactfully as possible, and Tootie smiled prettily and shrugged. “The way I see it, Miz Taylor,” she said, “you people have been mighty nice to me, and I better stick around.”

  “But, Tootie,” Julie explained, “I may have to get someone else to do your work.”

  “That’s all right,” Tootie said, “if you can afford it.”

  “Your family—” Julie began.

  “They don’t really mind,” Tootie reassured her. “My father says you people are German spies, but I don’t much care. Way I see it, it’s your business.”

  “I thought you didn’t see your father?” Julie asked. German spies or not, she was thinking, maybe we could give M’Tootie back.

  “I see him some,” Tootie said. “Bud drives me out there. He thinks you’re German spies, too, Bud does, but, like I say, I don’t mind.”

  “Why?” Julie asked. “Why does he think we’re German spies?”

  “Oh,” Tootie waved her hand vaguely. Then she said brightly: “Maybe because you stay up so late, with the lights on, you know, and then you have so much money, and no husband.”

  “You’ve met Mr. Taylor,” Julie said between her teeth, “he comes up from Boston week ends. You’ve met him.”

  Tootie grinned generously. “Yeah,” she said. “Sure.”

  Before Julie had worked up her courage to call in assistance and put Tootie out, Tootie solved the situation in her own peculiar fashion. After she had been with Julie for some three or four weeks, she came down to breakfast one morning just as Julie was finishing the dishes, and indicated by sitting down at the table and lighting a cigarette that she wanted to talk. Julie, who by that time was exerting every ounce of will power she possessed to ignore Tootie and go on about her own business until the happy day when she and Tootie could part company, refused to turn around until Tootie spoke.

  “Hey,” Tootie said, banging the as
h tray on the table to get attention, “hey, Miz Taylor?”

  “Yes?”

  “Look.” Tootie seemed unusually embarrassed. “Tell me this stuff about babies.”

  Julie half turned. “What about babies?”

  “Well . . .” Tootie shuffled her feet. “I mean, about babies, and, like, what you do to get them.”

  Julie told me later that the only thought in her mind was, “This is what they always told me happened with hired girls, this is what they always told me—but not Tootie; how could it happen to Tootie?” accompanied by a deep unchanging joy which she made no attempt to analyze. She endeavored to answer Tootie in the simplest language possible, “carefully avoiding,” she told me, “any moral question, and leaning heavily on the bees and the flowers.”

  Tootie was delighted. “I guess that’s it,” she said. “I guess I’m gonna.”

  Julie clung to the edge of the sink. “Is it Bud?” she asked.

  Tootie giggled. “According to the way you tell it,” she answered, “I guess it is.”

  Julie was rehearsing statements which began “Well, I guess I can’t let you stay on here, Tootie, after all this . . .” when Tootie went on:

  “Told m’father,” she said. “I’m going home, Miz Taylor. You can get along.”

  “What about Bud?”

  “Him and me ain’t going together no more,” Tootie said. “He’s got hisself a new car, a Ford, and he’s got a girl.”

  “Better let your father talk to him,” Julie said. “After all, if he got you into this . . .”

  “M’father don’t want no Bud around, him and his cars.” Tootie sniffed. “It’s the first,” she added.

  “The first what?”

  “First I ever had,” Tootie said.

  When Tootie had packed all her clothes and the carton of cigarettes Julie gave her, and the bottle of red nail polish, and was standing on the porch waiting for her father to come and get her, Julie had the first feeling of real sympathy she had ever felt for Tootie.

 
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