Raising Demons by Shirley Jackson

  “Some days,” I said, dropping my birthday card into the wastebasket, “everything just seems to go wrong, doesn’t it?”

  • • •

  Laurie and I entered that spring into a most complex and subtle series of strategies. I would sigh deeply and wistfully at the dinner table, staring mournfully into space and refusing dessert, and when my husband asked me what was wrong Laurie would move in with a direct frontal attack. Or Laurie would come home from school with his face artistically smeared with mud and the look of a cowed and fearful wild creature; he would fling himself drearily into a study chair and when his father asked what on earth he had been fighting about now, I would cry indignantly that it wasn’t fair to blame the poor child for something he couldn’t help, he was the laughingstock of the neighborhood and it was our fault. Jannie came in with us after a while; she would sit on her father’s lap and say, “Poor poor Mommy,” and, “Why, Daddy?” in a particularly piercing nasal tone. After about a month—four days short, actually, of the time Laurie and I had originally figured it would take—my husband gave in. Laurie and Jannie and I chose a brown and cream station wagon, with gold and cream inside, and we gave the man the old car with its nose smashed in and one headlight hanging crooked, and when my husband went for a ride in the new station wagon he said that of course since we were in debt for the rest of our lives anyway with the house payments we might as well buy a car too and go bankrupt in style and didn’t I think the gold oil gauge and speedometer were perhaps a little gaudy?

  I took a movie of the decrepit old car being driven away and the glittering new car standing in the driveway. I went out and bought a new car-chair for Beekman, one that had a small steering wheel and gear-shift lever attached; when I put Beekman into his new car-chair he turned the steering wheel and said “Beep beep?” experimentally, and we all laughed and told him he was a brave smart boy. By the end of a week I was no longer fumbling wildly for the brake pedal in the new car, and Beekman was manipulating his steering wheel and gear shift with such wild abandon and skillful maneuvering as to earn himself the title of Mad-Dog Beekman; I could not, at any time of the day or night, attempt to sneak the car out of the driveway without attracting Beekman’s attention, and he would hurl himself wildly at the doors and windows, calling out to wait a minute, he would be right there, and subsiding at last into hysterical terrors at my trying to drive without him.

  For my part, I found it extremely difficult to drive with dual controls, trying to ease around a tight corner with Beekman beside me shifting rapidly from high to reverse to second, swinging his wheel around sharply and yelling “Beep beep.” I used to try letting the car roll backward out of the driveway without starting the motor, but Beekman’s room was in the front and as soon as I got as far as the gateposts he would apparently catch some reflection of light and I would see his small infuriated face pressed against the window and hear the crash as Dikidiki hit the wall, and after a minute my husband or Laurie or Jannie or Sally would open the front door and call that I was to wait, they were just putting on Beekman’s jacket.

  Usually, whenever Beekman drove, Sally wanted to come too. And whenever Sally came, Jannie thought she had better come along. And when Beekman and Sally and Jannie came, Laurie figured that we might just stop in at a movie or some such, and if we did he wanted to be along. As a result, whenever I went shopping in the new car, everyone came except my husband, who could not, for a long time, look at the new car without telling me how we were going bankrupt in style. One Saturday morning I almost got off without Beekman, who was learning from Sally how to cut out paper dolls, but before I was out of the driveway they were calling to me to wait a minute, and by the time I finally turned the car and headed off toward the big supermarkets I had all four of them with me, Sally accompanied by her dolls Susan and David and Patpuss, all dressed entirely in cleansing tissue, and carrying—although I did not know it when she got into the car—a pocketbook containing four pennies and a shilling stolen from her father’s coin collection.

  I suppose I should have known that all was not going to go well when I found a parking space on Main Street on Saturday at noon, with seventeen minutes paid for on the parking meter. Finding a parking space at all was so exceptional an occurrence that I wisely determined to disregard the fact that the car on my left—an out-of-state car, by the way, from some state where land is not so jealously parceled out as it is here in Vermont—was straddling the line. I eased my car in with only the faintest grazing sound, although it was immediately plain that if we were going to get out of our car at all, we were going to have to do it by sliding out the doors on the right-hand side.

  “Jeepers,” Laurie remarked, gazing from his window at the car next to us, “cut it a little close, didn’t you?”

  “It was Beekman,” I said nervously. “He kept pulling to the left.”

  “Jeepers,” Laurie said to Beekman, “you want to watch where you’re going, kid.”

  “Dewey, dewey,” said Beekman, this being a combination word he used for a series of connected ideas, roughly translatable as: Observe my latest achievement, far surpassing all my previous works in this line, a great and personal triumph representing perhaps the most intelligent progress ever accomplished by a child of my years. “Dewey,” said Beekman pleasurably.

  We made a pretty family group as we got out and set forth to do the marketing; after a preliminary skirmish by Laurie and me we got the back of the station wagon open, and removed and set up Beekman’s collapsible stroller, and when I wiggled Beekman into it and managed to get one of his legs on either side of the center axle, he sat nobly, bowing to right and left. Laurie and Jannie spoke to one another for a minute about who was to push the stroller and then, with a certain strong pressure from me, put one hand each on the handle and pushed that way. Sally walked directly in front of the stroller, so that it bumped the backs of her ankles at each step, at which she said “Hey.” Laurie and Jannie said “Look out,” and Beekman said “Dewey.”

  I myself walked a step or two behind, holding anxiously to my pocketbook and trying to decide about dinner on Tuesday. In my pocketbook I had three single dollar bills and twenty-six cents in change, and a check for fifty dollars, wrung from my husband that morning by a series of agile arguments and a tearful description of his children lying at his feet faint from malnutrition.

  I took Beekman into the first supermarket in his stroller, against the rules, and so I felt that it was only right to show my confidence in the store by cashing my check there as we left. I remember that it was the one moment of the day when the manager steps out for a cup of coffee and one of the clerks, whom I remember as fairly small and with lightish hair, cashed my check for me, counting out the fifty dollars in ten-dollar bills.

  “Better count it yourself,” he said, showing me the money, and I spread out the ten-dollar bills, peering at them through the leaves of the artichokes which were an unjustifiable extravagance except that Jannie and I were fond of them, and said, “Okay, okay,” and stuffed four of them into my pocketbook, where I already had the three single bills and twenty-six cents in change.

  I got in line at the check-out counter, with Beekman in his stroller and Jannie and Sally and Laurie crowding around me, and I gave the clerk the ten-dollar bill to pay for the artichokes and the canned shrimp and the box of cookies which Beekman turned out to have selected from a shelf as we went by. At that point I discovered that artichokes, which only a few weeks ago cost twenty cents, if not eighteen or even seventeen, had gone up now to thirty-five cents. I protested violently, holding up the line behind me, and the manager, returning unwanted from his coffee break, most unreasonably supported the girl at the counter. I threatened darkly not to buy his artichokes at all, but to go to the other market where I knew, and the manager knew that I knew, the artichokes were never quite as fresh. The manager, a tactless man to be in a position of such responsibility, said that that was all right with him. I said t
hat I would not take the artichokes, and the manager said all right, no one was going to make me buy them. I said that when I was a little girl in California artichokes twice as big and twice as green as these were two for a nickel, and the manager suggested that I go back to California for my artichokes, then. Finally, when the children grew restless and the people behind me in the line began asking one another why on earth she didn’t take her money and get out instead of keeping people standing here waiting, I let go of my ten-dollar bill and took my change and my bag of groceries and made my way out, grumbling.

  I then went to the other supermarket to get the things that I always buy there, this time with a strong feeling of satisfaction at having shown the artichoke-manager that I was not to be trifled with. In this second supermarket I spent (although I did not subsequently find it necessary for my husband to know the exact amount) twenty dollars and twenty-six cents, which I paid with the precise change.

  We then discovered that the electric company was closed. The shade was drawn and the door locked and we stood pathetically outside with our noses pressed to the glass. “Well,” I said, rapping sharply, “what a way to run a business! Why, you’d think they’d want people to come and buy things. My goodness, you’d think—”

  Jannie looked through the crack between the shade and the doorframe. “Is it closed?” she asked. ‘ “Because there’s someone in there.”

  Beekman giggled, and Laurie, who was generally faintly embarrassed by having the rest of us follow him around, retreated half a dozen paces down the sidewalk and stood with his back to us, whistling and apparently scanning the street for casual acquaintances. Sally crouched beside Jannie and helped look through the crack. “Let us in,” she howled, “let us in, let us in.”

  I rattled the door handle irritably.

  “Let us innnnn,” Sally shouted, and Beekman giggled wildly.

  “Here someone comes,” Jannie said. The door opened a little bit and Jannie and Sally, pushing, opened it wider and shoved themselves in. “Come on,” Jannie said urgingly to me but I hesitated, because the girl who opened the door was making feeble brushing motions at Jannie and Sally and saying that they were closed, that she had only come to tell us that they were closed.

  “Dewey,” Beekman explained, and Laurie sighed, took a brief glance around to see if anyone he knew was watching, and stepped over to us. “Look,” he said to the girl, “tomorrow’s Father’s Day. We got to get him a electric razor. On the bill.”

  “—taking inventory,” the girl said. “There’s no one here.”

  “But we got to,” Jannie said, “on the bill because there wasn’t any money in our banks at all, because Mommy—”

  “So,” I put in hastily, since Jannie was apparently prepared to enlarge indefinitely upon this purely personal subject, “we thought if we made the down payment we could put the rest on the bill.”

  The girl hesitated, looking from one to another of our eager faces, and then Sally said softly, “Poor Daddy’s Father’s Day,” and the girl smiled sympathetically and said, “All right. I’m not supposed to, you know, because we’re closed. But I’ll put it on the books like a regular sale and they’ll all think someone else did it and I guess it’ll be all right.”

  “It would be really terribly nice,” I said gratefully.

  “Only you’ve got to promise not to say I did it,” the girl said.

  “I won’t say a word,” I promised.

  “Silent as the grave,” Laurie confirmed.

  “I promise,” Sally said.

  “I promise,” Jannie said.

  “Dewey,” Beekman said.

  It was a perfectly simple transaction. The girl entered the sale of the razor on the books, payments to go on our electric bill. (Perhaps my husband would not even notice and anyway he could hardly say anything, it being his Father’s Day present.) I gave the girl one of my ten-dollar bills to make the down payment, which was four-fifty. When she went to the petty cash box to get me my change, I said, “You know, this is really very kind of you.” Sally was asking Laurie which could win more fights, a giant or an airplane, and Jannie was amusing herself by humming softly and opening and shutting the doors of the sample refrigerators lined up against the wall. The girl said, “Glad I was able to do it.” Then I suddenly glanced around and said, “Beekman?”

  The stroller sat, empty, in the middle of the electric store. “Beekman?” I shouted. “Beekman!”

  “Beekman?” the girl asked, pausing with her hands full of bills, “what are beekman?”

  “Beekman!” said Jannie, running to the door.

  “Beekman!” said Sally, going to look behind the counter.

  “Dewey, dewey?” said Beekman from very far away.

  “Beekman!” said Laurie, getting down to look under the stroller. “I don’t really believe,” he said thoughtfully, “that Dad would even like that razor if we went and lost Beekman.”

  “He’s got to be here somewhere,” I said.

  “Dewey, dewey?” said Beekman remotely.

  The salesgirl put down her two handfuls of money and went and opened the oven door of a sample stove. “Dewey,” said Beekman, pleased.

  “Is this what you were looking for?” the girl asked.

  “Those are nice big ovens,” I said, interested. “The one I’ve got now won’t hold anything larger than an eighteen-pound turkey.”

  “Some of these models have two ovens,” the girl said. “I can’t show them to you now, but if you’d come back some other time . . .”

  “I will,” I said. I gathered Beekman up and went and put him into the stroller and fastened the strap tight and put the package with the electric razor on top of him to help hold him down. “This is really most kind of you,” I said ineffectually. “I’ll certainly be back for another look at those stoves.”

  The girl, who still smiled agreeably but was beginning to look, I thought, faintly regretful, said, “Nothing at all, really.”

  I said, “Well, we promise not to say a word, don’t we, children?” and the children all promised again.

  I took the change the girl held out and put it into my pocketbook and said, “Well, thanks, too, for finding Beekman,” and the girl went over and opened the door for us and said, “Glad to do it.” We wheeled the stroller out, all saying “Thank you,” and the door closed firmly behind us.

  Now, I am not going to pretend that when she handed me my change I counted it. I was thinking about that stove, and whether I could convince my husband that now there were so many in our family an eighteen-pound turkey was not big enough, and I was wondering how Beekman had gotten out of his stroller and I was noticing at the same time that that red jacket was really getting too small for Sally. And I am not going to maintain that when that impertinent girl told me artichokes had gone up to thirty-five cents, although they were surely no more than twenty-three or twenty-four cents not a week before—I won’t say that I stood at the counter with people pushing behind me and the manager arguing and checked over the change she gave me. And it is, I think, not unreasonable that when the clerk cashed my check I merely glanced briefly at the fan of bills. My husband’s subsequent contention—that I could only count up to five when we were married and have not learned anything since—is unjustified and easily disproven any time I want to go to so much trouble. All I know is that when I then sat down in the car with Beekman shifting gears aimlessly beside me I counted the money in my pocketbook and I had thirty-three dollars and twelve cents.

  “Laurie,” I said, “what’s six times thirty-five?”

  Laurie thought, mumbled, and finally said, “It’s two hundred and ten.”

  “And add two hundred and fifteen?”

  Laurie growled and mumbled further. “That makes four hundred and twenty-five.”

  “And twenty-nine cents for Beekman’s cookies?”

  “Hey,” Laurie
said, overtaxed.

  “It doesn’t matter anyway,” I said. “It just can’t come out right. I couldn’t end up with thirty-three dollars, could I?”

  “Why?” Laurie said.

  “Somebody has given me ten dollars too much,” I said.

  “What for?” Jannie asked.

  “Either the man who cashed my check or the girl with the artichokes or the razor lady. Not the second supermarket,” I said, thinking, “because I gave them the exact change. A ten-dollar bill stuck to a single, probably.”

  “Nice of them,” Laurie said.

  “Yeah,” I said, pleased. “Now I can—”

  “We talk about that kind of thing in Cub Scouts,” Laurie said. “Suppose somebody gives you too much money for change—what do you do?”

  “Oh,” I said. I sighed. “Well,” I said, “I guess I’d better go back to the electric store. Maybe when Beekman got lost she got the change mixed up.”

  “Or maybe even you had more to start with?” Jannie suggested.

  “No,” I said, “because when I went and asked Daddy for money he said he didn’t have any and I looked then and I said how do you expect me to buy groceries for this family with three dollars and twenty-six cents and I counted it carefully then because Dad wanted to know was that all I had left from the money he gave me yesterday. And Dad said—”

  “But the razor lady won’t let you in,” Sally said.

  “Sure,” I said. “If I tell her—”

  “I just bet she won’t, though,” Sally said.

  “And you can’t wait till they figure it out and find out they gave you too much,” Laurie said, “because she wasn’t supposed to anyway and if she did give you too much she wouldn’t tell anyway and you promised you wouldn’t. And if she didn’t give you too much and you go in next time they’re open and ask, then you’d be telling anyway.”

  “And we all promised,” Sally pointed out.

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