Raising Demons by Shirley Jackson

Jannie giggled suddenly. “I never tried,” she said. She looked over her shoulder and backed up to the sofa and tried to sit down on her hair, and Aunt Gertrude said tolerantly, “Said I was the prettiest girl on the floor, he did. Wasn’t true, you know,” she said, shaking an admonishing finger at Jannie, “at least three prettier than I was. Never get thinking you’re prettier than you are, child.”

  “Did he wear a sword?” Laurie asked, fascinated. “Aunt Gertrude?”

  “Sort of thing one had to say,” Aunt Gertrude went on, nodding. “I had the prettiest hair, though. I,” she said sternly to Jannie, “could sit on my hair, don’t forget that.”

  “I’ll try,” said Jannie obscurely.

  “And you,” Aunt Gertrude said, turning to Sally, “what have you to say for yourself, girl?”

  Sally thought. “What do you use for teeth?” she asked.

  “Sally!” I said.

  “Good question.” Aunt Gertrude leaned back, thinking. “Play much baseball?” she asked Laurie unexpectedly.

  Laurie, caught completely off base, faltered and said, “I guess so.”

  “It was a million-dollar infield,” said Aunt Gertrude, and shook her head sadly. “That was before I met Mr. Corcoran, of course,” she told me. “My late dear husband.”

  “Naturally,” I said.

  “Mr. Corcoran,” she told Laurie, “was not an athletic type of man like yourself. Most refined, of course, but not altogether athletic. A little chess now and then, occasionally a game of bowls, or, on warm evenings, croquet. Sad for one so enthusiastic as I.”

  “Did he have a sword?” asked Laurie tenaciously.

  “No,” said Aunt Gertrude, “but he had good sound investments. There was a dance for you,” she went on dreamily, “and I was in yellow, most daring then, of course; taffeta. Alençon lace. And very daring,” she added archly to me. “You ask about teeth,” she continued. “It was a trip in those days, my dears. I remember we once had a rabbit in the carriage, but of course my mother spoke to the man at once. We never imagined that she was so fanciful.”

  “—a sword?”

  “It’s all very long ago,” Aunt Gertrude said. She looked at the children. “You wouldn’t remember,” she said.

  “Where is that rabbit now?” Sally asked.

  “Fine children,” said Aunt Gertrude, nodding sleepily. “Fine children. Married that young man, did you?”

  “Nearly thirteen years ago,” I said.

  Aunt Gertrude nodded again. “I liked that young man,” she said. “Nice young fellow. Green striped suit.”

  “Not that one,” I said, horrified, “no, no, Aunt Gertrude, not that one. I—”

  “Strong resemblance,” Aunt Gertrude said, nodding at Laurie. “I always did like that fellow.”

  “He’s a radio announcer somewhere in Ohio now,” I said. “I married—”

  “Reminded me of your Uncle Clifford,” Aunt Gertrude said. She brought her head up suddenly. “When’s that fool girl going to put me to sleep?” she demanded.

  We tiptoed out, the children and I, and Aunt Gertrude stirred, and smiled, and spoke softly to herself. I told Cousin Maude that Aunt Gertrude was asleep, and the children and I went precariously down the steep stone steps. Halfway down I stopped and said, “We ought to take some roses home with us; Aunt Gertrude always used to tell me.”

  Solemnly, avoiding thorns, I picked a huge pink rose for each child and one for myself, and we got back into the car. Before I started the car I looked up once at Aunt Gertrude’s house and wondered if I would ever come there again; in the mirror I could see the three children sitting quietly on the back seat, holding their roses. We had come out of the valley, and up the long green hill, and could see far behind only the great heap of roses that was Aunt Gertrude’s cottage, before Jannie moved slightly, and spoke.

  “Someday, I think,” she said, “that prince is coming back.”

  “With his sword,” said Laurie.

  There was another long silence, and then Sally said, “She wasn’t a witch at all, and I don’t know why Mommy said she was, Aunt Gertrude. I liked her.”

  “I’m going to keep my rose forever,” Jannie said, and Sally said, “I’m going to keep mine, too.”

  “She’s sure pretty lucky,” Laurie said.

  “Golly,” Jannie said, “and the prince coming back, and all.”

  • • •

  I was not yet done with nostalgia, as it happened. I wrote my mother about our visit to Aunt Gertrude and she wrote back that in hopes of the breakfront she had gone up into the attic to see if she could dig out some of that old china, and in the course of this exploratory journey she had “turned up a few things you will recognize, ha-ha. I thought you might like to have them, so am sending them on.”

  Through a series of those coincidences which are sometimes regarded as progress I found that I had pretty much outgrown the contents of the carton which arrived a few days later, and after a quick look at the top layer I ought really to have put it right away in the farthest corner of our attic, but without really thinking I picked up one of the autograph albums (how could I have forgotten Violet Manning, who wrote on a purple page, “Oh, my friend, our days will soon end, don’t forget, your friend Violet”?) and then of course I started taking out the little china dogs I used to keep on my dresser, and the battered feather fan someone sent me from Honolulu, and the tiny mother-of-pearl opera glasses which showed a tiny picture of Niagara Falls. Then at the bottom of the carton was one of my grandmother’s corset boxes which I had not thought of for all these years, and when I saw it, all the agonies of the summer when I was fourteen came back like a cold wave over my head and the opera glasses and the feather fan and Violet Manning all fell into place abruptly and I could only say, “Gosh.”

  During the long summer when I was fourteen years old, I made, with the collaboration of my friend Dorothy, four hundred and thirty-one clothespin dolls. I know that never before or since have I made so many of anything, or with so much enthusiasm, and I feel increasingly, now, that there is not enough time left in the world to make four hundred and thirty-one things; perhaps some quality of adolescent fervor has disappeared. I know that the summers these days are not so long or so warm as that summer when I was fourteen; perhaps if they would go back to the longer, warmer summers they used to have I would be less apt during the winter to require two martinis before dinner.

  I cannot remember why Dorothy and I made so many clothespin dolls, any more than I can remember why we used to spend hours at a time sitting on the back porch at our house eating pomegranates and breaking occasionally into wild shrill giggling fits, and I cannot remember the exact day which separated the barren years without clothespin dolls from the days when we thought of nothing else. I do believe that it was probably my mother’s suggestion, because she was always asking us if we couldn’t find something to do, girls, and because I can remember the bright-eyed enthusiasm with which she approached us frequently, suggesting one or another occupation for growing girls, which she had read about in a magazine somewhere—that we should plan a bazaar to sell homemade cookies, for instance, or take long walks to gather sweet grass, or fern, or look for wild strawberries, or that we should learn shorthand. It seems only reasonable to suppose that the clothespin dolls were just another such suggestion, although I cannot understand why the idea held so much more immediate appeal than gathering wild strawberries.

  My mother supplied the original materials, although Dorothy and I had to buy subsequent supplies from our allowances after my mother had washed her hands of the whole thing. The next summer we were interested in playing piano duets, Dorothy playing the bass, and my mother very soon came to wash her hands of piano duets. The following summer was the one when I began to write a book of poetry which I planned to illustrate myself and Dorothy took up the cello; that would have been the summer we were almost sixteen a
nd I still have the first pages of the book of poetry. I have not felt equal to taking it out and reading it over recently, nor have I shown it to my husband, but I recall that the first poem was entitled “On Clouds,” and the second was entitled “To a Rose,” and that is as far as I care to go in recollections of my book of poetry. Dorothy and I had by then grown a little apart, what with her cello lessons three days a week and me spending a good deal of time sitting among the nasturtiums at the foot of the garden thinking of rhymes; many years ago, when Jannie was a baby, my mother wrote me that she had run into Dorothy’s mother on the street and Dorothy was married and had a little boy. I always meant to write her.

  That summer when we were fourteen had been an unusually hot summer, even for the warm summers we had then. I remember because our hands were always slightly damp and the paper would stick to our fingers. At first we kept our clothespin-doll supplies in a wicker basket Dorothy’s mother gave us, but after a while we needed three huge cartons which were full of crepe paper in various colors. We used to paw through the assorted papers on the rack at the back of the stationery store, looking for the odd pinks and blues of faded crepe paper, and one roll of black paper which had been water-soaked gave us a lovely moiré effect. We had gold and silver paper, and of course the clothespins, which were the old-fashioned, round-headed kind, not the utterly efficient snap clothespins which may have come into general use because Dorothy and I had dressed up most of the round-headed clothespins there were.

  Day after day during that hot summer we carried our three great cartons lovingly, and staggering, back and forth from my house to Dorothy’s house, to the kitchen at Dorothy’s or the dining room at my house. We needed the largest possible table in either house because of the magnitude of our operations, and we always left tiny scraps of paper on the floor. If we wanted to set out our clothespin dolls and compare them or label them or count them, we had to use the long hall at Dorothy’s house. The only place we ever found in which to store our clothespin dolls without tangling them or crushing them was in the collection of corset boxes my grandmother had been accumulating for a number of years; these corset boxes were just wide enough to hold a clothespin doll crosswise, and long enough to hold exactly twenty-five clothespin dolls each. My grandmother had saved her corset boxes to hold torn silk stockings, which she dyed and crocheted into rugs, but my mother persuaded her to give up the corset boxes and keep her stockings in the wicker basket instead. When we stopped making clothespin dolls one afternoon, we had seventeen corset boxes full, and one almost full. We stacked the eighteen corset boxes in the corner of the dining room at my house, where we happened to be that afternoon, and they stayed there for quite a while, along with our three cartons of material, because my mother did not dare hope for a long time that we had really stopped making clothespin dolls.

  The making of clothespin dolls is based upon the debatable assumption that a round-headed clothespin looks enough like a human figure to wear clothes. Allowing—as I believe my mother was the first to point out—that the top looks like a little head, and the bottom looks like little feet, clothing the middle part requires only an infinity of patience and a good deal of paste. We began, Dorothy and I, with ladies dressed in wide skirts, and we used cotton for hair, making a figure roughly like those on sentimental valentines. To make the skirts it is necessary to gather a length of crepe paper and paste it onto a strip of heavier paper—we used brown wrapping paper—as a sort of belt which will fit neatly around the middle of the clothespin. Crepe paper will stretch efficiently in one direction, so that if the skirt is cut on the correct bias it is possible to flare it out and even put a neat ruffle around the bottom. A particularly advanced type of female clothespin doll had several skirts of different colors, making for a rather bulky waist but a rich display of petticoats; this doll would of course stand up much more gracefully than one wearing, say, a sheathlike evening gown. The bodice was made of a contrasting color, and a short cape was frequently worn. We made bonnets to go over the cotton hair, with a foundation of more brown wrapping paper, a ruffle of crepe paper, and an occasional decorative rose. The result was as authentic as a clothespin doll can presumably be. My mother was vastly pleased with the first half-dozen clothespin dolls, and set one on her dresser.

  In the beginning we did not concern ourselves unnecessarily with style or personality, aiming sensibly at getting as many as possible done and onto my mother’s dresser, but with practice small refinements crept in and we began to think more of the product; as a matter of fact, we got so we could set up a cotton-haired lady clothespin doll in about three minutes, and we had to think of something to make it harder. Shoes, we discovered, are impossible on the prongs of a clothespin. The feet could be covered with silver or gold paper, but nothing could make a clothespin’s feet look as though they had shoes on, not even buckles. Small pieces of colored string made acceptable belts, the lace edging that used to come on candy boxes was splendid for ruffles and lace collars. We tried arms made of tissue paper, but they usually fell right off.

  We used homemade flour paste, because we used a good deal of paste and we had to pay for our own supplies. Almost anything could be molded, I recall, from a combination of crepe paper and homemade flour paste. To make a hat for a clothespin doll we started with a piece of brown wrapping paper cut to the correct size, coated it with paste, added a layer of crepe paper, more paste, more paper, and so on until it was thick and workable and could be shaped to the right style. When we had our hats shaped we used to set them on the windowsill where they dried solid in about fifteen minutes, and one of the things that persuaded my mother to wash her hands of clothespin dolls was a row of brown fedoras on the dining room windowsill; once dried, the paste and crepe paper combination was as heavy and hard as rock; if the hat fit the clothespin doll in the first place no power on earth could shift it once it was on.

  Dorothy used this method very successfully to make a pail to go with a milkmaid doll, although it took her all one afternoon to shape the pail so it was symmetrical and no clothespin doll ever born could have carried it with a tissue-paper arm. On the milkmaid doll, and several after that, we used brown yarn for hair, either in long braids ending in a bow, or wound around the top of the head on a coronet. Braiding three strands of brown yarn is remarkably easy compared to anchoring an upswept hair-do on the head of a round-headed clothespin.

  We started out making men in about the state of mind which I suppose created them in the first place—we had run out of kinds of women, and had to think of something else. The first man, as I remember, was a soldier, bright in regimental pink and blue, with a silver paper sword and a tall hat never seen outside the pages of Grimm. Dorothy and I had created him together, and we both found him so lovely that we set out to make an army, all in different colors, but gave up after only a dozen or so. Boots were much more practical than shoes; it was possible to make a high, swaggering sort of boot out of silver or gold paper, and this led us of course into the free-lance, or D’Artagnan, type of soldier, with a short cape and a rakish hat trimmed with crepe-paper feathers, and even, in one lamentable case, Cavalier curls.

  By this time all odds and ends of material had begun to find their way to us, and when my mother decided to take the sequins off her black evening dress, or when my uncle found himself with a half-used roll of tire tape, or when Dorothy’s mother gave up the idea of choosing new wallpaper that year, the sequins and the tire tape and the wallpaper sample book came to us. We tried making black boots with the tire tape, but they were sticky.

  Use of crayon or paint was regarded as unworthy, and I remember a patient, infuriating afternoon when Dorothy laboriously made a plaid shirt, weaving the plaid herself out of tiny strips of colored paper. I was usually able to make two or three dolls during the time it took Dorothy to make one, but hers always had something like plaid shirts or ruffled skirts where each ruffle was lace-edged, or a tiny bouquet made flower by flower.

  The f
inal stage was, I suppose, inevitable; after we had gone through every conceivable fancy-dress creature imaginable, we fell to copying people we knew; it represented the last point of imaginative decay before the deadly advent of the piano duet. We made a small image of my mother in a purple housedress and one of Dorothy’s mother in a pink dressing gown, and made my father and hers, but there was nothing to put on the fathers except gray business suits, which were extremely difficult to make, and we had to distinguish between the two fathers by their ties. Dorothy’s father had the inevitable plaid tie and I made my father a kind of full cravat with polka dots which he assured me earnestly did not resemble anything he had ever worn or would ever wear or could even, he told me, dream of wearing in his worst nightmares.

  The four hundred and thirty-first clothespin doll was, I remember, a lady doll in a wide skirt with cotton hair, and I remember as well Dorothy’s putting her scissors down on the dining room table and saying clearly, “I don’t want to make clothespin dolls any more.”

  I think we must have gone directly on from there into piano duets, because I know that although our eighteen corset boxes full of clothespin dolls stayed in the corner of the dining room and then in the hall closet for a long time, the cartons of material got emptied out after a while so we could use the cartons to keep our piano duets in. I also remember that company who used to have to look at four-hundred-odd clothespin dolls now had to listen to Dorothy and me playing “The Charge of the Uhlans,” and “Selections from the Bohemian Girl,” but I cannot remember how long it might have been before my mother decided that eighteen corset boxes full of clothespin dolls were in the way in the hall closet and she told Dorothy and me to please stop playing duets for five minutes and go get rid of those clothespin dolls. She suggested that if we take out the ones we liked best she would be glad to see that the rest were disposed of. Dorothy and I each took one box full of our personal favorites—Dorothy had, by rights, the plaid shirt doll and the milkmaid, and I took several of the soldiers, which I had always fancied, and my best cotton-headed ladies. I put my box of clothespin dolls in my bottom desk drawer, where I afterward kept my book of poetry, and one day my mother drove Dorothy and me and sixteen boxes of clothespin dolls to the Children’s Hospital in San Francisco, and waited outside while Dorothy and I took the clothespin dolls and went in. We were both wearing black patent-leather shoes and white socks, and we had to walk across a polished marble floor and I was desperately afraid of slipping and spilling clothespin dolls all over the lobby.

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