Come Along With Me by Shirley Jackson


  “I hope everything’s all right, Tootie,” she said graciously. “You must let us know if there is anything we can—”

  “Sure,” Tootie said. “Y’know what?” she asked.

  “Well?”

  “I’m going to name it Heidi,” Tootie said, “after the nice time I had staying with you folks.”

  [1942]

  A CAULIFLOWER IN HER HAIR

  Mr. and Mrs. Garland and their daughter Virginia lived in a pleasant house in a pretty town and every night at seven they ate the agreeable dinner cooked by Agnes, the maid who cooked well and dusted adequately and made beds abominably. Mr. and Mrs. Garland belonged to two country clubs and Mr. Garland had a mustache; Mrs. Garland had given up evening gowns in favor of dinner dresses and had two fur coats, a leopard and an inferior mink. Virginia was in first year high school and went out with the captain of the basketball team. Every Saturday night Mr. Garland shook hands with this young man and they chatted jovially about the war until Virginia came down the stairs wearing her mother’s perfume. Virginia was fifteen years old, Mr. Garland was thirty-nine, and Mrs. Garland was forty-one.

  One evening at dinner—it would have been about twenty minutes past seven—Virginia remarked: “Mother, Millie said she’d be around tonight. Can I skip helping Agnes with the dishes?”

  “What is Millie?” Mr. Garland inquired, regarding the cauliflower Agnes was offering, “a cow?”

  Virginia giggled. “She looks a little bit like one,” she said. “Only she isn’t. She’s Millie, from school. She’s coming over and we’re going to do algebra.”

  “Millie can wait while you help Agnes,” Mrs. Garland said. She looked at Virginia to make Virginia realize that Agnes must be kept in good humor. “It doesn’t take ten minutes, and Millie can wait.”

  “I’ll entertain Millie,” Mr. Garland said helpfully, “Millie and I will do all your algebra. Used to be quite a hand at algebra,” he told Mrs. Garland solemnly.

  “You’re still quite a hand at talk,” Mrs. Garland said. “Take some cauliflower before it gets too cold. Agnes has to have some too, you know.”

  “Millie hasn’t been in school long,” Virginia said. “She didn’t come until the second semester and I’m helping her catch up.”

  “Very kind of you,” Mr. Garland said.

  The doorbell rang, and Virginia dropped her napkin. “When she says early she means early,” she said.

  “That would be Millie?” Mr. Garland inquired.

  Virginia answered the door and Mr. and Mrs. Garland could hear her voice for a minute in the hall. Then she came back into the dining room, leading Millie. Millie was pretty and stupid-looking, and she had heavy black eyelashes and wore a great deal of lipstick.

  “This is my mother and father,” Virginia said, sliding into her chair, “this is Millie. Pull up a chair, Millie.”

  Mrs. Garland frowned slightly. “Have you had your dinner, Millie?”

  “Yes,” Millie said. She looked at Virginia and giggled. “I ought to wait in the living room,” she said, “but Ginny said to come right on in.”

  “Of course,” Mr. Garland said, “have some cauliflower?”

  Millie giggled again, staring at Mr. Garland.

  “If you don’t care to eat it,” Mr. Garland said, “you could wear it in your hair.”

  “My father never takes anything seriously,” Virginia said to Millie. “He’s like that all the time, don’t mind him.”

  “Maybe you’ll have some dessert with us, Millie?” Mrs. Garland said.

  “No, thank you,” Millie said.

  “If you eat anything,” Mr. Garland scowled ferociously at Millie, “you’ll have to wash dishes. Anyone eats in this house, right after dinner they have to go out in the kitchen and wash dishes.”

  “Charles!” Mrs. Garland said. “You’ll frighten the child.”

  “Millie isn’t scared of anything, Mother,” Virginia said, “Millie and I can do anything.”

  “I’ll bet Millie can do anything,” Mr. Garland said. Mrs. Garland looked up.

  “Virginia,” she said finally, “since you and Millie have to do algebra I’ll explain to Agnes and she won’t mind if you don’t help her.”

  “Hallelujah,” Virginia said. “Come on, Millie. Be excused, Mother?”

  Mrs. Garland nodded and Virginia slid off her chair and ran out of the dining room, waving Millie to follow her.

  Mr. and Mrs. Garland were quiet for a little while after Virginia and Millie had left the room, until finally Mrs. Garland remarked: “She doesn’t seem like an awfully nice girl, does she, this Millie?”

  “I don’t know,” Mr. Garland said, putting down his coffee cup, “she looked all right to me.”

  Mr. and Mrs. Garland were sitting quietly in the living room some time later, Mrs. Garland doing needlepoint—she was making a footstool—and Mr. Garland reading the Saturday Evening Post, when Virginia and Millie, heralded by a clatter of feet from upstairs, burst into the room.

  “Mother,” Virginia cried as she came, “Mother, we finished our homework and can we go down and get a soda, Mother?”

  Mrs. Garland thought. “I suppose so,” she said slowly, “only hurry back.”

  “Wait,” Mr. Garland said reaching into his pocket, “bring back some ice cream and we’ll all have some. Mother and I would like some ice cream.”

  “I don’t think . . .” Mrs. Garland said.

  Virginia rushed over and grabbed the money from her father’s hand. “Back in two seconds,” she said, and she and Millie ran out again.

  “They do rush around so, don’t they,” Mrs. Garland said, turning back to her needlework.

  “They’re young,” Mr. Garland said, “let them have their fun.”

  “I don’t think we should encourage Millie as a friend for Virginia,” Mrs. Garland said, “she doesn’t seem to be quite a nice girl.”

  “She seems all right to me,” Mr. Garland said.

  Millie and Virginia put the ice cream in dishes and brought it in to Mr. and Mrs. Garland. Mr. Garland received his with disgust. “Why should Millie,” he inquired, “get away with so much and only leave this little bit for me?”

  Millie giggled. “I don’t have one bit more than you do, Mr. Garland.”

  “I dished it out myself,” Virginia said.

  “You certainly do, Millie,” Mr. Garland went on, “I got robbed.” He went over to Millie to compare dishes and sat down next to her on the couch. “Now I’m going to sit right down here,” he said, “and watch every bit you eat, and count how much you have, and then you’ll be sorry you didn’t let me have more.”

  Millie giggled again. “Stop, Mr. Garland,” she said, “I’m choking.”

  “Charles,” Mrs. Garland said, “you’re spoiling the girl’s good time.”

  “No, Mrs. Garland,” Millie said, “I think Mr. Garland’s awfully funny.”

  “Now I’m funny,” Mr. Garland said. “First you rob me of my ice cream and then you think I’m funny. Just a silly old man, I guess.”

  “You’re not an old man,” Millie said.

  “He’s old enough not to act like a clown,” Mrs. Garland said sharply.

  “I don’t think you’re old at all,” Millie protested, “really, I think you’re young.”

  Mr. Garland eyed Millie. “How young would you say?” he demanded.

  Millie giggled.

  “My father’s always like that,” Virginia said to Millie. “He’s always fooling people.”

  “Wouldn’t go out with a guy my age, would you, Millie?” Mr. Garland said.

  Millie looked up at him. “I couldn’t say,” she said.

  “Now don’t tease me,” Mr. Garland said.

  Mrs. Garland rose, put down her sewing, and
went to the door. In the doorway she stopped for a minute. “Virginia,” she said, without turning around, “I want to speak to you for a minute, please.”

  Virginia got up and followed her mother out of the room. “Be right with you, Millie,” she said.

  When Virginia was gone Millie turned around to Mr. Garland. “Is Mrs. Garland mad about something I said or something?” she asked.

  “Don’t pay any attention to her,” Mr. Garland said. He touched the flower in Millie’s hair. “Pretty flower,” he said.

  “My boy friend gave it to me,” Millie said.

  “Got a boy friend?” Mr. Garland said. “Does he take you out and show you a good time?”

  Millie giggled. “He sure does,” she said.

  “Where does he take you?” Mr. Garland asked. “Ever take you to this place downtown, this club they call The Blue Lantern?”

  “I’ve been there,” Millie said.

  Mr. Garland got up and walked across the room to get a cigarette and, as an afterthought, offered one to Millie.

  “She coming back?” Millie asked, her hand out.

  “Mrs. Garland? Not for a minute or two, probably.” Millie took the cigarette and Mr. Garland lit it for her.

  “She doesn’t like me,” Millie said, leaning back.

  “I shouldn’t think so,” Mr. Garland said.

  “But Virginia’s a swell kid,” Millie said. Mr. Garland laughed, and Millie looked up at him. “What did I say?” she asked.

  Virginia came into the doorway and stopped for a minute. “Millie,” she said, and Millie juggled Mr. Garland’s hand insistently to make him take her cigarette. “Millie,” Virginia said, “Mother wants to know if we will run down and get her a couple of things at the store. Want to go?”

  Millie hesitated, and Mrs. Garland came into the doorway behind Virginia. “Charles,” she said, “I told Virginia that if she and Millie went down to the store for me like good children you’d give them each a dime.”

  “We’ll get a soda,” Virginia said.

  “After all that ice cream?” Mrs. Garland asked tolerantly. “You’d like to have a dime, wouldn’t you, Millie?”

  Millie hesitated. “Come on, Millie,” Virginia said impatiently. “Daddy, give us a dime.”

  Mr. Garland looked at his wife, and reached into his pocket and took out a quarter. “Here,” he said.

  Virginia came over and took the quarter and then grabbed Millie’s arm and started her toward the door.

  Mrs. Garland sat down and picked up her sewing again. “Charles,” she said, “don’t you think the children are having too much ice cream?”

  [1943]

  I KNOW WHO I LOVE

  Catharine Vincent began her life in a two-room apartment in New York; she was born in a minister’s home in Buffalo; the shift from one to the other might be called her tragedy. When the devil prompted William Vincent to marry he did not prompt William further to inquire if his wife were to bear sons or daughters, or if the daughter were to be Catharine (named after William’s mother, finally), thin and frightened, born with a scream and blue eyes.

  When Catharine was twenty-three years old she found out that her father would have preferred a son, if he had to have any child at all. At that time she was still thin and noticeably frightened, with blue eyes and a faint talent for painting. She had eventually gone to New York alone; by the time she was self-supporting she had nearly forgotten her father, and her mother was dying.

  William Vincent was a short heavy man, who affected a large mustache, which he thought made him look more the master of his house. He had become a minister shortly before his marriage because he had a vague feeling that in that way he was somehow certain of being right, and virtuous, and easily sure of his authority. He was not afraid of his wife, who was the only daughter of a grocer with no money, but he was afraid of the lady next door, and the brisk young man at the bank, and the butcher’s delivery boy who made faces over unpaid bills, and asked insolent questions for which he could not be rebuked. William Vincent regarded his daughter as an unnecessary expense, as a trap, and as no true expression of God’s will. He thought of his wife as an amiable woman whose place was in the home; practically the only person he felt really close to was God, in the heavy Bibles and the ponderous words, in the shabby church and the cheap hymns. Catharine early grew accustomed to hearing her father say across his small desk, or along the dull dinner table, “Do you think you are satisfactory, in God’s sight or mine?”

  After Catharine left home, while the train was pulling out of the station, she stopped thinking about her father and mother, except, later, for a weekly letter home. (“I am fine now, my cold is all gone at last. My job is fine, and they said it was all right about my being away three days. I guess I won’t be able to leave work again for a while, so cannot expect to come home just yet.”) Her father across the desk, her mother’s small timid laugh, were emphatically and resolutely put out of her mind, until she was twenty-three and her mother died.

  The doctor was there and Catharine waited outside in the apartment-house hall while the doctor and her mother spent the last few minutes together. “She never spoke at all,” the doctor said. “She died very peacefully, Miss Vincent.”

  “Good,” Catharine said. Her mother had waited until spring to die; next year she could have a fur coat. “What do I have to do about making arrangements?” she asked the doctor, waving her hand vaguely. “About burying her, and so on?”

  The doctor looked at Catharine for a minute. “I’ll help you with all that,” he said.

  Catharine spoke to strange people with soft voices, who told her she was brave, or patted her hand and told her her mother was happier now. “She’s with your dear father,” the maid in the apartment house said to Catharine, “They’re together again at last.”

  With the funeral over and her mother gone, Catharine put the apartment back the way it had been before her mother came to live with her. The extra bed was moved out and the little table went back by the window. She spent five dollars on a new slip cover for the armchair, and she had the curtains cleaned. The only thing left of her mother was the old trunk full of her mother’s memories and hopes. The little money from the sale of the furniture stored in Buffalo had paid for the funeral; Catharine had paid for the doctor and the medicine out of her salary and her fur-coat money. She asked the superintendent to put her mother’s trunk in the basement storage room, and the evening before he took it down she opened it, to make sure everything was in moth balls and to take out anything she could use, and, finally, to set her mind dutifully to thinking of her parents.

  For a minute or two her parents’ memory would be centered in a flood of other memories, the thin teacher who snatched the drawing out of Catharine’s hand and snarled, “I should have known better than to assign this to a stupid half-wit.” Coming upon a boy named Freddie frantically rubbing out an inscription in chalk on a fence, and, when Freddie ran away, reading with hollow empty sympathy words he had been so anxiously erasing: “Catharine loves Freddie.” And then her father: “Catharine, do the girls and boys in your school talk to each other about bad things?” The one or two parties, and the flowered chiffon dress her mother made. Her father sending her next door to get back a nickel she had lent to a school friend. And her mother: “I hardly think, dear, that your father would approve of that little girl. Jane. If I were to speak to her, very tactfully . . .”

  And herself, coming back someday, a famous artist with a secretary and gardenias, stepping off the train where they were all waiting for autographs. And there was Freddie, pressing forward, and Catharine, turning slightly aside, said, “I’m afraid you must be mistaken. I never cared for anyone named Freddie.” The tallest in the class, and thin, telling the other unpopular girls at recess: “My father doesn’t like me to go out with boys. You know, the things they do.” A
nd finally, after school, staying by the pretty young teacher, saying, “Don’t you like Mary Roberts Rinehart, Miss Henwood? I think she’s a terribly good author.”

  The girls in school had called Catharine “Catty,” the teachers and her mother and father had called her “Catharine,” the girls in her office called her “Katy” or “Kitty,” but Aaron had called her “Cara.” “Strange Cara,” the one note from him began. Catharine had held it in her hands, sitting by an open window at night and looking at the stars, in Buffalo, with her father moving around suspiciously downstairs; in New York, with her mother dead.

  “Ratty Catty, sure is batty.” Catharine remembered the jingle from the schoolyard and the notes passed from desk to desk, remembered it and turned it over in her mind while she leaned back with her feet on her dead mother’s trunk and felt the soft upholstered chair against her shoulders, saw the traffic moving in the street below her apartment window, knew her job and her paycheck were waiting for her the next day. “Ratty Catty, sure is batty.” Catharine smiled comfortably. There had been a kissing game at one of the few parties she went to, a grammar-school graduation party, and Catharine, in the background, had unexpectedly had to come forward to kiss a boy (what boy? she wondered now. Freddie again?). And the boy, moving backward, saying, “Hey, listen,” while Catharine stood uncertainly. Then someone had shouted, “Catty’s father won’t ler her kiss a boy,” and Catharine, trying to protect her father, had begun a denial before she realized that it was infinitely worse to admit that the boy had turned away from her. Then she told people, the other unpopular girls during recess, “My father won’t let me go to the parties where they play that kind of game,” or, “If my father ever caught me doing what those other girls do!”

  She went to business school, because her father needed someone to help him with his numerous notes and the books of sermons he might write someday, and held the idea of a secretary in his mind as a signal of success. At business school she was no stranger; the pretty girls had all gone on to college, and Catharine was with the other thin dull girls or fat girls who were vivacious and had crushes on the men instructors. The boys in the school were mostly earnest and hard-working, and stopped in the halls to ask Catharine what she thought of the typing test, and whether she had taken down today’s assignment. Aaron came to the school in mid-semester, wearing a yellow sweater suddenly into the typing class, standing thin and small and graceful and smiling while the rows of students sat mutely at their typewriters watching him.

 
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