Come Along With Me by Shirley Jackson

  In themselves, the Allisons were ordinary people. Mrs. Allison was fifty-eight years old and Mr. Allison sixty; they had seen their children outgrow the summer cottage and go on to families of their own and seashore resorts; their friends were either dead or settled in comfortable year-round houses, their nieces and nephews vague. In the winter they told one another they could stand their New York apartment while waiting for the summer; in the summer they told one another that the winter was well worth while, waiting to get to the country.

  Since they were old enough not to be ashamed of regular habits, the Allisons invariably left their summer cottage the Tuesday after Labor Day, and were as invariably sorry when the months of September and early October turned out to be pleasant and almost insufferably barren in the city; each year they recognized that there was nothing to bring them back to New York, but it was not until this year that they overcame their traditional inertia enough to decide to stay in the cottage after Labor Day.

  “There isn’t really anything to take us back to the city,” Mrs. Allison told her husband seriously, as though it were a new idea, and he told her, as though neither of them had ever considered it, “We might as well enjoy the country as long as possible.”

  Consequently, with much pleasure and a slight feeling of adventure, Mrs. Allison went into their village the day after Labor Day and told those natives with whom she had dealings, with a pretty air of breaking away from tradition, that she and her husband had decided to stay at least a month longer at their cottage.

  “It isn’t as though we had anything to take us back to the city,” she said to Mr. Babcock, her grocer. “We might as well enjoy the country while we can.”

  “Nobody ever stayed at the lake past Labor Day before,” Mr. Babcock said. He was putting Mrs. Allison’s groceries into a large cardboard carton, and he stopped for a minute to look reflectively into a bag of cookies. “Nobody,” he added.

  “But the city!” Mrs. Allison always spoke of the city to Mr. Babcock as though it were Mr. Babcock’s dream to go there. “It’s so hot—you’ve really no idea. We’re always sorry when we leave.”

  “Hate to leave,” Mr. Babcock said. One of the most irritating native tricks Mrs. Allison had noticed was that of taking a trivial statement and rephrasing it downward, into an even more trite statement. “I’d hate to leave myself,” Mr. Babcock said, after deliberation, and both he and Mrs. Allison smiled. “But I never heard of anyone ever staying out at the lake after Labor Day before.”

  “Well, we’re going to give it a try,” Mrs. Allison said, and Mr. Babcock replied gravely, “Never know till you try.”

  Physically, Mrs. Allison decided, as she always did when leaving the grocery after one of her inconclusive conversations with Mr. Babcock, physically, Mr. Babcock could model for a statue of Daniel Webster, but mentally . . . it was horrible to think into what old New England Yankee stock had degenerated. She said as much to Mr. Allison when she got into the car, and he said, “It’s generations of inbreeding. That and the bad land.”

  Since this was their big trip into town, which they made only once every two weeks to buy things they could not have delivered, they spent all day at it, stopping to have a sandwich in the newspaper and soda shop, and leaving packages heaped in the back of the car. Although Mrs. Allison was able to order groceries delivered regularly, she was never able to form any accurate idea of Mr. Babcock’s current stock by telephone, and her lists of odds and ends that might be procured was always supplemented, almost beyond their need, by the new and fresh local vegetables Mr. Babcock was selling temporarily, or the packaged candy which had just come in. This trip Mrs. Allison was tempted, too, by the set of glass baking dishes that had found themselves completely by chance in the hardware and clothing and general store, and which had seemingly been waiting there for no one but Mrs. Allison, since the country people, with their instinctive distrust of anything that did not look as permanent as trees and rocks and sky, had only recently begun to experiment in aluminum baking dishes instead of ironware, and had, apparently within the memory of local inhabitants, discarded stoneware in favor of iron.

  Mrs. Allison had the glass baking dishes carefully wrapped, to endure the uncomfortable ride home over the rocky road that led up to the Allisons’ cottage, and while Mr. Charley Walpole, who, with his younger brother Albert, ran the hardware-clothing-general store (the store itself was called Johnson’s because it stood on the site of the old Johnson cabin, burned fifty years before Charley Walpole was born), laboriously unfolded newspapers to wrap around the dishes, Mrs. Allison said, informally, “Course, I could have waited and gotten those dishes in New York, but we’re not going back so soon this year.”

  “Heard you was staying on,” Mr. Charley Walpole said. His old fingers fumbled maddeningly with the thin sheets of newspaper, carefully trying to isolate only one sheet at a time, and he did not look up at Mrs. Allison as he went on, “Don’t know about staying on up there to the lake. Not after Labor Day.”

  “Well, you know,” Mrs. Allison said, quite as though he deserved an explanation, “it just seemed to us that we’ve been hurrying back to New York every year, and there just wasn’t any need for it. You know what the city’s like in the fall.” And she smiled confidingly up at Mr. Charley Walpole.

  Rhythmically he wound string around the package. He’s giving me a piece long enough to save, Mrs. Allison thought, and she looked away quickly to avoid giving any sign of impatience. “I feel sort of like we belong here, more,” she said. “Staying on after everyone else has left.” To prove this, she smiled brightly across the store at a woman with a familiar face, who might have been the woman who sold berries to the Allisons one year, or the woman who occasionally helped in the grocery and was probably Mr. Babcock’s aunt.

  “Well,” Mr. Charley Walpole said. He shoved the package a little across the counter, to show that it was finished and that for a sale well made, a package well wrapped, he was willing to accept pay. “Well,” he said again. “Never been summer people before, at the lake after Labor Day.”

  Mrs. Allison gave him a five-dollar bill, and he made change methodically, giving great weight even to the pennies. “Never after Labor Day,” he said, and nodded at Mrs. Allison, and went soberly along the store to deal with two women who were looking at cotton house dresses.

  As Mrs. Allison passed on her way out she heard one of the women say acutely, “Why is one of them dresses one dollar and thirty-nine cents and this one here is only ninety-eight?”

  “They’re great people,” Mrs. Allison told her husband as they went together down the sidewalk after meeting at the door of the hardware store. “They’re so solid, and so reasonable, and so honest.”

  “Makes you feel good, knowing there are still towns like this,” Mr. Allison said.

  “You know, in New York,” Mrs. Allison said, “I might have paid a few cents less for these dishes, but there wouldn’t have been anything sort of personal in the transaction.”

  “Staying on to the lake?” Mrs. Martin, in the newspaper and sandwich shop, asked the Allisons. “Heard you was staying on.”

  “Thought we’d take advantage of the lovely weather this year,” Mr. Allison said.

  Mrs. Martin was a comparative newcomer to the town; she had married into the newspaper and sandwich shop from a neighboring farm, and had stayed on after her husband’s death. She served bottled soft drinks, and fried egg and onion sandwiches on thick bread, which she made on her own stove at the back of the store. Occasionally when Mrs. Martin served a sandwich it would carry with it the rich fragrance of the stew or the pork chops cooking alongside for Mrs. Martin’s dinner.

  “I don’t guess anyone’s ever stayed out there so long before,” Mrs. Martin said. “Not after Labor Day, anyway.”

  “I guess Labor Day is when they usually leave,” Mr. Hall, the Allisons’ nearest neighbor, told them later, in
front of Mr. Babcock’s store, where the Allisons were getting into their car to go home. “Surprised you’re staying on.”

  “It seemed a shame to go so soon,” Mrs. Allison said. Mr. Hall lived three miles away; he supplied the Allisons with butter and eggs, and occasionally, from the top of their hill, the Allisons could see the lights in his house in the early evening before the Halls went to bed.

  “They usually leave Labor Day,” Mr. Hall said.

  The ride home was long and rough; it was beginning to get dark, and Mr. Allison had to drive very carefully over the dirt road by the lake. Mrs. Allison lay back against the seat, pleasantly relaxed after a day of what seemed whirlwind shopping compared with their day-to-day existence; the new glass baking dishes lurked agreeably in her mind, and the half bushel of red eating apples, and the package of colored thumbtacks with which she was going to put up new shelf edging in the kitchen. “Good to get home,” she said softly as they came in sight of their cottage, silhouetted above them against the sky.

  “Glad we decided to stay on,” Mr. Allison agreed.

  * * *

  Mrs. Allison spent the next morning lovingly washing her baking dishes, although in his innocence Charley Walpole had neglected to notice the chip in the edge of one; she decided, wastefully, to use some of the red eating apples in a pie for dinner, and, while the pie was in the oven and Mr. Allison was down getting the mail, she sat out on the little lawn the Allisons had made at the top of the hill, and watched the changing lights on the lake, alternating gray and blue as clouds moved quickly across the sun.

  Mr. Allison came back a little out of sorts; it always irritated him to walk the mile to the mailbox on the state road and come back with nothing, even though he assumed that the walk was good for his health. This morning there was nothing but a circular from a New York department store, and their New York paper, which arrived erratically by mail from one to four days later than it should, so that some days the Allisons might have three papers and frequently none. Mrs. Allison, although she shared with her husband the annoyance of not having mail when they so anticipated it, pored affectionately over the department store circular, and made a mental note to drop in at the store when she finally went back to New York, and check on the sale of wool blankets; it was hard to find good ones in pretty colors nowadays. She debated saving the circular to remind herself, but after thinking about getting up and getting into the cottage to put it away safely somewhere, she dropped it into the grass beside her chair and lay back, her eyes half closed.

  “Looks like we might have some rain,” Mr. Allison said, squinting at the sky.

  “Good for the crops,” Mrs. Allison said laconically, and they both laughed.

  The kerosene man came the next morning while Mr. Allison was down getting the mail; they were getting low on kerosene and Mrs. Allison greeted the man warmly; he sold kerosene and ice, and, during the summer, hauled garbage away for the summer people. A garbage man was only necessary for improvident city folk; country people had no garbage.

  “I’m glad to see you,” Mrs. Allison told him. “We were getting pretty low.”

  The kerosene man, whose name Mrs. Allison had never learned, used a hose attachment to fill the twenty-gallon tank which supplied light and heat and cooking facilities for the Allisons; but today, instead of swinging down from his truck and unhooking the hose from where it coiled affectionately around the cab of the truck, the man stared uncomfortably at Mrs. Allison, his truck motor still going.

  “Thought you folks’d be leaving,” he said.

  “We’re staying on another month,” Mrs. Allison said brightly. “The weather was so nice, and it seemed like—”

  “That’s what they told me,” the man said. “Can’t give you no oil, though.”

  “What do you mean?” Mrs. Allison raised her eyebrows. “We’re just going to keep on with our regular—”

  “After Labor Day,” the man said. “I don’t get so much oil myself after Labor Day.”

  Mrs. Allison reminded herself, as she had frequently to do when in disagreement with her neighbors, that city manners were no good with country people; you could not expect to overrule a country employee as you could a city worker, and Mrs. Allison smiled engagingly as she said, “But can’t you get extra oil, at least while we stay?”

  “You see,” the man said. He tapped his finger exasperatingly against the car wheel as he spoke. “You see,” he said slowly, “I order this oil. I order it down from maybe fifty, fifty-five miles away. I order back in June, how much I’ll need for the summer. Then I order again . . . oh, about November. Round about now it’s starting to get pretty short.” As though the subject were closed, he stopped tapping his finger and tightened his hands on the wheel in preparation for departure.

  “But can’t you give us some?” Mrs. Allison said. “Isn’t there anyone else?”

  “Don’t know as you could get oil anywheres else right now,” the man said consideringly. “I can’t give you none.” Before Mrs. Allison could speak, the truck began to move; then it stopped for a minute and he looked at her through the back window of the cab. “Ice?” he called. “I could let you have some ice.”

  Mrs. Allison shook her head; they were not terribly low on ice, and she was angry. She ran a few steps to catch up with the truck, calling, “Will you try to get us some? Next week?”

  “Don’t see’s I can,” the man said. “After Labor Day, it’s harder.” The truck drove away, and Mrs. Allison, only comforted by the thought that she could probably get kerosene from Mr. Babcock, or, at worst, the Halls, watched it go with anger. “Next summer,” she told herself. “Just let him try coming around next summer!”

  There was no mail again, only the paper, which seemed to be coming doggedly on time, and Mr. Allison was openly cross when he returned. When Mrs. Allison told him about the kerosene man he was not particularly impressed.

  “Probably keeping it all for a high price during the winter,” he commented. “What’s happened to Anne and Jerry, do you think?”

  Anne and Jerry were their son and daughter, both married, one living in Chicago, one in the Far West; their dutiful weekly letters were late; so late, in fact, that Mr. Allison’s annoyance at the lack of mail was able to settle on a legitimate grievance. “Ought to realize how we wait for their letters,” he said. “Thoughtless, selfish children. Ought to know better.”

  “Well, dear,” Mrs. Allison said placatingly. Anger at Anne and Jerry would not relieve her emotions toward the kerosene man. After a few minutes she said, “Wishing won’t bring the mail, dear. I’m going to go call Mr. Babcock and tell him to send up some kerosene with my order.”

  “At least a postcard,” Mr. Allison said as she left.

  * * *

  As with most of the cottage’s inconveniences, the Allisons no longer noticed the phone particularly, but yielded to its eccentricities without conscious complaint. It was a wall phone, of a type still seen in only few communities; in order to get the operator, Mrs. Allison had first to turn the sidecrank and ring once. Usually it took two or three tries to force the operator to answer, and Mrs. Allison, making any kind of telephone call, approached the phone with resignation and a sort of desperate patience. She had to crank the phone three times this morning before the operator answered, and then it was still longer before Mr. Babcock picked up the receiver at his phone in the corner of the grocery behind the meat table. He said “Store?” with the rising inflection that seemed to indicate suspicion of anyone who tried to communicate with him by means of this unreliable instrument.

  “This is Mrs. Allison, Mr. Babcock. I thought I’d give you my order a day early because I wanted to be sure and get some—”

  “What say, Mrs. Allison?”

  Mrs. Allison raised her voice a little; she saw Mr. Allison, out on the lawn, turn in his chair and regard her sympathetically. “I said,
Mr. Babcock, I thought I’d call in my order early so you could send me—”

  “Mrs. Allison?” Mr. Babcock said. “You’ll come and pick it up?”

  “Pick it up?” In her surprise Mrs. Allison let her voice drop back to its normal tone and Mr. Babcock said loudly, “What’s that, Mrs. Allison?”

  “I thought I’d have you send it out as usual,” Mrs. Allison said.

  “Well, Mrs. Allison,” Mr. Babcock said, and there was a pause while Mrs. Allison waited, staring past the phone over her husband’s head out into the sky. “Mrs. Allison,” Mr. Babcock went on finally, “I’ll tell you, my boy’s been working for me went back to school yesterday and now I got no one to deliver. I only got a boy delivering summers, you see.”

  “I thought you always delivered,” Mrs. Allison said.

  “Not after Labor Day, Mrs. Allison,” Mr. Babcock said firmly. “You never been here after Labor Day before, so’s you wouldn’t know, of course.”

  “Well,” Mrs. Allison said helplessly. Far inside her mind she was saying, over and over, can’t use city manners on country folk, no use getting mad.

  “Are you sure?” she asked finally. “Couldn’t you just send out an order today, Mr. Babcock?”

  “Matter of fact,” Mr. Babcock said, “I guess I couldn’t, Mrs. Allison. It wouldn’t hardly pay, delivering, with no one else out at the lake.”

  “What about Mr. Hall?” Mrs. Allison asked suddenly, “the people who live about three miles away from us out here? Mr. Hall could bring it out when he comes.”

  “Hall?” Mr. Babcock said. “John Hall? They’ve gone to visit her folks upstate, Mrs. Allison.”

  “But they bring all our butter and eggs,” Mrs. Allison said, appalled.

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