Raising Demons by Shirley Jackson


  On Saturday morning I woke up with my fists clenched and my teeth grinding and got out of bed telling myself that today I was not going to say an unnecessary word to anybody and I was going to smile all day long and I was going to keep my temper, keep my temper, keep my temper. I sang a careless little French song while I dressed myself and brushed my hair and then I let up the shade with a snap that was sure to wake my husband with a jolt. I stopped singing and nearly went back to bed, because it was raining outside. The last Saturday morning before school started, Labor Day weekend, summer’s closing, and it was raining. Laurie was supposed to play baseball that afternoon. Jannie had engaged to walk down to the library with her friend Carole, where the two of them were permitted to check books in and out if their hands were clean. Sally had been invited to visit a neighbor’s sandbox. I had thought to put Barry outdoors riding his bike while I finished up the housework. Laurie had his trumpet lesson on Saturday morning and this meant that I would have to drive him and trumpet there and back. For a minute I wondered whether I had left the guest room curtains out on the line, but of course I had.

  “—Saturday?” my husband inquired drowsily.

  “Saturday,” I confirmed, using no unnecessary words. “Rain.”

  “Sylvia’s coming.”

  I kicked his slippers under the bed and started downstairs. Barry fell in behind me as I passed his doorway; he must have seen that it was raining, because he was carrying Dikidiki. Sally capered out of her room singing her song about Harf, Booney, and Ray, three giants whom I did not ordinarily find tiresome and revolting. Our guests were due about two o’clock. Sally and Barry had been washing paintbrushes in the clean bathroom.

  Behind me on the stairs Barry was making plans. “Because today is his birthday, Dikidiki Bear, and we will have a party for him, and all the bears and rabbits and dolls and even Skunk will come.”

  “And Mommy will make Dikidiki Bear a little cake,” Sally said joyfully. “And we will wrap little presents and Mommy will make some lemonade to put in the doll dishes and a little cake and we can all have some candy.”

  Without employing an unnecessary word I plugged in the coffeepot and sent Barry up to wake his brother and Sally up to wake her sister, and I let the dog out and the cats in. I gathered up the dripping morning paper and declined to answer when my husband came downstairs and remarked that it would have to rain this weekend. I did not speak when Laurie smashed down the stairs into the kitchen and pointed with a furious finger to the rain running down the kitchen window. I closed my eyes in patient silence when Jannie remarked from upstairs that it always rained, always, when she had something planned and this just settled it, that was all. My husband told Sally and Barry about the nice lady who was coming to visit and added that if they behaved quietly and docilely all weekend they would each have a present on Monday morning, and Dikidiki Bear, too. Jannie came downstairs carrying her raincoat and her library books and remarked drearily that this was the kind of thing that always happened to her, always. My husband went to the kitchen window and looked out and then turned to me.

  “Do you think it will rain all weekend?” he asked.

  “Yes,” I said.

  After breakfast Sally and Barry retired to the playroom to brush and beribbon Dikidiki and his relatives. I drove Laurie to his trumpet lesson and came home and gathered up the breakfast dishes and put them in the dishwasher, trusting that I would get down to sweep the kitchen floor before two o’clock, and trudged upstairs to finish off my housework.

  It was the morning to change all the sheets and because I detest changing sheets I wanted to get it done quickly so I could make a lemon pie for dinner and maybe even get a chance to sit down for a few minutes before two o’clock. I gathered up ten clean sheets and six pillowcases and went first into Barry’s room, where I removed six teddy bears—cousins of Dikidiki Bear not yet invited to the party—a green rabbit, two hidden lollipops, and a wooden train from the bed, shifted the bed very cautiously in case Yain had been chasing Gato again and Gato was hiding here, and stripped and made the bed, neglecting square corners in favor of speed. Then I took up my armload of linen and made my way into Sally’s room, sighed, and removed from her bed a stack of coloring books, a disintegrated box of crayons, two dolls, and an Oz book; under her pillow was a half-finished drawing she was doing on commission for her father. It was called “Two Witches Drinking Tea in a Cave,” and it puzzled me for a minute until I realized that the blue-faced witch on the left was a vivid likeness of the dentist’s nurse. I put the drawing on her desk, stacked the rest of the stuff on the floor where she would be sure to fall over it, and stripped and made the bed quickly, checking first in case Gato had been chasing Yain and Yain was hiding here, and dispensing with square corners.

  When I came into Jannie’s room, I perceived at once that she had been washing her own sweaters again, because her red nylon sweater, still sopping, fell from the top of the door onto my head. There was another wet sweater over the end of the bed and the box of soap flakes which she had bought with her allowance had spilled on the floor. I thought of how efficiently the washing machine did sweaters, and picked up Little Women, closed it, and put it back in the bookcase. On Jannie’s bed were half a dozen fashion magazines, a box of popcorn left over from the movies, all the clothes she had taken off for the past week, and a little girl’s make-up kit. I put the clothes in a heap near the door where she would be sure to fall over them, with the box of popcorn plaintively on top, and piled the rest of the things on the bookcase so she could not get to Little Women without putting them away. Under the desk I found what seemed to be a letter, addressed in Jannie’s handwriting to “Charles J.” with a heart drawn in one corner. I put it on top of the make-up kit, took the wet sweaters to hang over the edge of the bathtub, checked for Gato and Yain, and stripped and made the bed, with no square corners.

  In order to get into the magpie’s nest which Laurie called his bedroom, it was necessary to pass a series of forbidding signs which read “Private” and “Keep out—this means YOU” and “No admision without my permision.” Once inside, there was a narrow passageway between the electric train table and the wall, if the closet door was shut. Beyond that, a quick turn past the end of the bookcase, an agile twist around the dresser, and you were in, knee-deep in old handicraft magazines and pictures of baseball players. I knew the way because I came in once a week to change the sheets. It always took a minute to find the bed. Underneath the bed were half a dozen cartons of odds and ends, an Erector set half built into a parachute jump, and three or four heavy boards with which he was someday going to make either a surfboard or a pool table. Reflecting that after making the bed of a twelve-year-old boy week after week, climbing Everest would seem a laughable anticlimax, I checked for Yain and Gato and made up the bed, standing on a carton of camp souvenirs and reaching with care around the parachute jump. I did not bother with square corners, and it was not possible to put the bedspread on, because it was draped over the window to make a kind of darkroom where Laurie had apparently been developing his own film. Because he had been to a school dance the night before his best pink shirt was over the lampshade and his black string tie was wound around the neck of the china rabbit on his dresser. After feeling around on the floor for a few minutes I found his good gray pants, which I put on a hanger and in the closet. His baseball uniform was hung up on the closet door, in perfect order, brushed and even, next to a picture of Don Newcombe. I lifted a corner of the bedspread over the window to check what I already knew, which was that the rain was still coming down, gray and dismal.

  I gathered up all the used sheets and put them in the hamper, checking to make sure that Yain and Gato were not hiding in the hamper first, and got the laundry listed and ready to go. It was time to pick up Laurie and his trumpet, and I still had a lemon pie to make. On the way downstairs I stumbled over Sally’s doll dishes, neatly arranged for a party on the bottom step.

 
; It was not possible, in any case, to say an unnecessary word to Laurie on the way home, because he explained ceaselessly and with great rage that if this crummy rain didn’t stop there would be no baseball game. “How we going to play?” he demanded of me indignantly, “how we going to play baseball in this rain?” He flexed his right arm. “It’s already stiff,” he told me drearily, “that’s all I need, for heaven’s sake.” He stamped into the house and up the back stairs. “Who messed up everything in my room?” he howled.

  It was a quarter to twelve. I opened the cabinet to get out the peanut butter and Laurie remarked from the kitchen doorway “—never get to play baseball, so can I please have Jannie’s goldfish to dissect for my microscope?”

  “No.”

  “But how’m I ever going to use my microscope if you won’t let me dissect anything and it’s just an old goldfish?”

  “No.”

  “But I can’t play—”

  An idea came to me. “Sally,” I said.

  “Dissect Sally? You tipped?”

  “No.” I threw unnecessary words far and wide. “I want a sheet of her big drawing paper and a black crayon.”

  “What for?”

  “Never mind.”

  He stared at me for a minute and then he said, “I got a picture upstairs she made me take, of a prince killing a wicked dragon and you can use the back.”

  “Get it.”

  Looking back at me over his shoulder, he went to the stairs and up to his room. He came back with the picture and a heavy drawing pencil. I spread the paper out on the kitchen table and with Laurie breathing heavily on my neck I wrote in big letters:

  ULTIMATUM

  “What does that mean?” Laurie asked.

  “It means I have a headache,” I said, and wrote:

  BECAUSE OF GENERAL CONDITION OF BEDROOMS, WHINING, AND ALTOGETHER DISTASTEFUL AND INFURIATING HABITS, ALSO BECAUSE I AM TIRED OF HOUSEWORK AND CLEANING AND PICKING UP AFTER EVERYBODY:

  No movies for anyone until further notice.

  No guests for ANY meals, including ballplayers, even when it’s too far to go home for lunch.

  All allowances cut in half.

  Television one hour per person per day.

  Bedtime for everyone until further notice is 8:30. EIGHT-THIRTY.

  The system of fines will be rigidly enforced for:

  disorderly rooms

  uncared-for clothes

  shutting cats in rooms unless hiding

  teasing Barry

  properties left on stairs

  All goldfish to be kept under lock and key.

  “Hey,” Laurie said. “Hey.”

  Jannie was home from the library. We could hear her out in the driveway saying goodbye to her friend Carole. “And I’m not ever going to speak to you again, either,” Jannie was saying, “and you can go swimming this afternoon with someone else, see if I care.” She came up onto the porch and called loudly, “And I’m going to tell Charlie Johnson every single word you said, and tell him who said it, too. Hi,” she said, opening the door, “what’s for lunch? Daddy’s company here yet?”

  “I bet you sure thought you were going to see a baseball game today, I bet. I bet you’re sure going to see some baseball game today.”

  “I was going swimming anyway,” Jannie said unsympathetically, “except it’s raining real hard out. What’re you doing?”

  “I am reforming this household,” I said.

  “Yeah,” Laurie said.

  I took my ultimatum and tacked it up on the kitchen wall where it was clearly visible to anyone sitting at the table for lunch. “That just makes this just a perfect day,” Laurie said.

  “What’s the matter with her?” Jannie asked Laurie.

  “She’s tipped,” Laurie said with conviction.

  “I think it’s Dad’s company coming,” Jannie said perceptively. “I think she’s sore because Dad’s got company coming and she hasn’t got any.”

  “It is not,” I said. I had forgotten to get lemons.

  “But eight-thirty,” Laurie said.

  Sally came into the kitchen and stopped, looking at me plaintively. “You know that big doll of mine that Jannie wrote all over with crayon?”

  “I didn’t, it was Laurie and he wrote my name.”

  “You did so write on it, I saw you. Because it was the day Mommy said she would take you to get new shoes if you didn’t do one single more thing bad all day and you did and she didn’t take you.”

  “She did so take me and I got sneakers.”

  “Because anyway,” Sally went on, addressing me, “you know that big doll? Because I was making a house and playing very nicely for Dikidiki Bear’s birthday.” She turned to Jannie. “We’re going to have a party and no bad girls can come if they write on dolls.”

  “See if I care.”

  “What is it?” I turned to Laurie, who was poking me urgently.

  “—goldfish?”

  “No.”

  “So anyway I told him not to and he did anyway. So,” Sally went on insistently, “I think you better come and get him out.”

  “Who?”

  “Barry. I been telling you.”

  “Barry?”

  “Yes, because he’s stuck in the toy box.”

  As I headed wearily for the stairs Laurie was saying with heavy disgust, “You see what she’s gone and done, there on the wall? All because you girls leave your room in a mess, my goodness, and always fighting, and now look.”

  Barry was head down in the toy box, feet waving cheerfully. I picked my way carefully through thousands of little plastic cars and trucks, unwedged Barry, breaking a fingernail on the top of the toy box, and promised Dikidiki Bear an extra cookie if Barry would give me five minutes of his time to pick up the playroom. There was a sudden great shout of laughter from the kitchen below. With Barry’s unwilling co-operation I scooped up handfuls of little cars and trucks and dumped them into the wooden box where they belonged. By the time I had the floor almost cleared Barry had uncovered a box of jigsaw puzzles and poured puzzle pieces in a heap; while I was gathering up the puzzle pieces, he went and got Jannie’s doll house. I picked up Dikidiki, retied his pink ribbon, and sat down on the toy box with him in my lap. Gato came to the doorway, moving fast, saw me, and veered toward Laurie’s room and safe cover.

  “Barry,” I said, “you know what I would like to do more than anything?”

  Barry bent over the doll house. “Here is the baby doll named Barry,” he said. “And his mommy is putting him to bed. He is already in his pajamas.”

  “Mexico, maybe,” I said. “Someplace where it’s hot and I don’t need to talk to anyone because I can’t understand a word they say.”

  Far away the phone rang. “I’ll get it,” Laurie shrieked; Jannie howled, “It’s for meeeee”; “I want to,” Sally yelled.

  “Hello?” Barry said into the doll-house telephone.

  Downstairs, the study door opened. “Company here?” my husband inquired.

  Then, without warning, a great shout arose, from Jannie in the kitchen, Laurie at the phone, my husband in the study, Sally somewhere out front. Barry lifted his head and nodded wisely. “Sunshine,” he pointed out. The rain had stopped, the clouds were blowing off, and the sun was out, in that unbelievable unexpected brightness which makes the electric lights look faded. Barry and I started downstairs and we could hear Laurie in the study saying, “Signed Sylvia, and it said very sorry car broke down Albany must return maybe next year.”

  “Car broke down Albany?” My husband sounded puzzled.

  My ultimatum on the kitchen wall was gone, hidden now behind a second sheet of Sally’s big drawing paper, on which was written in black crayon:

  OUR TERMS. If preveleges are returned we agree to—

  take care of our rooms
except Barry

  wip feet

  brush all teeth dayly

  pick up things except not in rooms like clothes

  read to Barry and put him to bed and dress him unless he bites

  praktice music lessons

  remeber to set table

  only Barry has got to leave other peoples things alone

  also if Barry bites we can bite back

  and after this if Dad has got company coming Mommy has got to have a guest too because otherwise she gets grouchy

  This document was signed by the three older children and gave Barry a good deal of honest amusement because, as he pointed out, he only bited when other people bited him first. My husband came to the lunch table, informed me of the telegram and the cancellation of our guests, and I told the children magnanimously that all privileges would be restored and they could have one more chance on keeping things neat. Sally and Barry decided to postpone Dikidiki’s birthday party to the next rainy day. Jannie telephoned Carole and they decided to go berrying, so I said I would make a raspberry shortcake for dessert. Laurie came downstairs in his uniform and invited us all to come and see him play baseball, and my husband said we would, if Mother was not too tired from doing all that housework.

  Laurie’s ball team won easily. In the bottom of the fourth inning, when Laurie hit a double with the bases loaded, I turned to my husband and said in a forgiving kind of voice, “I’m sorry that your friends couldn’t make it.”

 
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