The Lottery and Other Stories by Shirley Jackson

  “That’s my mommy,” the little boy said. The woman came up behind him and opened the door a little wider. “Yes?” she said.

  Mrs. Winning said, “I’m Helen Winning. I live about three houses up the street, and I thought perhaps I might be able to help you.”

  “Thank you,” the woman said doubtfully. She’s younger than I am, Mrs. Winning thought, she’s about thirty. And pretty. For a clear minute Mrs. Winning saw why the grocer had called her a lady.

  “It’s so nice to have someone living in this house,” Mrs. Winning said shyly. Past the other woman’s head she could see the small hallway, with the larger living-room beyond and the door on the left going into the kitchen, the stairs on the right, with the delicate stair-rail newly painted; they had done the hall in light green, and Mrs. Winning smiled with friendship at the woman in the doorway, thinking, She has done it right; this is the way it should look after all, she knows about pretty houses.

  After a minute the other woman smiled back, and said, “Will you come in?”

  As she stepped back to let Mrs. Winning in, Mrs. Winning wondered with a suddenly stricken conscience if perhaps she had not been too forward, almost pushing herself in…. “I hope I’m not making a nuisance of myself,” she said unexpectedly, turning to the other woman. “It’s just that I’ve been wanting to live here myself for so long.” Why did I say that, she wondered; it had been a very long time since young Mrs. Winning had said the first thing that came into her head.

  “Come see my room,” the little boy said urgently, and Mrs. Winning smiled down at him.

  “I have a little boy just about your age,” she said. “What’s your name?”

  “Davey,” the little boy said, moving closer to his mother. “Davey William MacLane.”

  “My little boy,” Mrs. Winning said soberly, “is named Howard Talbot Winning.”

  The little boy looked up at his mother uncertainly, and Mrs. Winning, who felt ill at ease and awkward in this little house she so longed for, said, “How old are you? My little boy is five.”

  “I’m five,” the little boy said, as though realizing it for the first time. He looked again at his mother and she said graciously, “Will you come in and see what we’ve done to the house?”

  Mrs. Winning put her bag of groceries down on the slim-legged table in the green hall, and followed Mrs. MacLane into the living-room, which was L-shaped and had the windows Mrs. Winning would have fitted with gay curtains and flower-boxes. As she stepped into the room Mrs. Winning realized, with a quick wonderful relief, that it was really going to be all right, after all. Everything, from the andirons in the fireplace to the books on the table, was exactly as Mrs. Winning might have done if she were eleven years younger; a little more informal, perhaps, nothing of quite such good quality as young Mrs. Winning might have chosen, but still richly, undeniably right. There was a picture of Davey on the mantel, flanked by a picture which Mrs. Winning supposed was Davey’s father; there was a glorious blue bowl on the low coffee table, and around the corner of the L stood a row of orange plates on a shelf, and a polished maple table and chairs.

  “It’s lovely,” Mrs. Winning said. This could have been mine, she was thinking, and she stood in the doorway and said again, “It’s perfectly lovely.”

  Mrs. MacLane crossed over to the low armchair by the fireplace and picked up the soft blue material that lay across the arm. “I’m making curtains,” she said, and touched the blue bowl with the tip of one finger. “Somehow I always make my blue bowl the center of the room,” she said. “I’m having the curtains the same blue, and my rug—when it comes!—will have the same blue in the design.”

  “It matches Davey’s eyes,” Mrs. Winning said, and when Mrs. MacLane smiled again she saw that it matched Mrs. MacLane’s eyes too. Helpless before so much that was magic to her, Mrs. Winning said “Have you painted the kitchen yellow?”

  “Yes,” Mrs. MacLane said, surprised. “Come and see.” She led the way through the L, around past the orange plates to the kitchen, which caught the late morning sun and shone with clean paint and bright aluminum; Mrs. Winning noticed the electric coffeepot, the waffle iron, the toaster, and thought, she couldn’t have much trouble cooking, not with just the two of them.

  “When I have a garden,” Mrs. MacLane said, “we’ll be able to see it from almost all the windows.” She gestured to the broad kitchen windows, and added, “I love gardens. I imagine I’ll spend most of my time working in this one, as soon as the weather is nice.”

  “It’s a good house for a garden,” Mrs. Winning said. “I’ve heard that it used to be one of the prettiest gardens on the block.”

  “I thought so too,” Mrs. MacLane said. “I’m going to have flowers on all four sides of the house. With a cottage like this you can, you know.”

  Oh, I know, I know, Mrs. Winning thought wistfully, remembering the neat charming garden she could have had, instead of the row of nasturtiums along the side of the Winning house, which she tended so carefully; no flowers would grow well around the Winning house, because of the heavy old maple trees which shaded all the yard and which had been tall when the house was built.

  Mrs. MacLane had had the bathroom upstairs done in yellow, too, and the two small bedrooms with overhanging eaves were painted green and rose. “All garden colors,” she told Mrs. Winning gaily, and Mrs. Winning, thinking of the oddly-matched, austere bedrooms in the big Winning house, sighed and admitted that it would be wonderful to have window seats under the eaved windows. Davey’s bedroom was the green one, and his small bed was close to the window. “This morning,” he told Mrs. Winning solemnly, “I looked out and there were four icicles hanging by my bed.”

  Mrs. Winning stayed in the cottage longer than she should have; she felt certain, although Mrs. MacLane was pleasant and cordial, that her visit was extended past courtesy and into curiosity. Even so, it was only her sudden guilt about the three pounds of hamburger and dinner for the Winning men that drove her away. When she left, waving good-bye to Mrs. MacLane and Davey as they stood in the cottage doorway, she had invited Davey up to play with Howard, Mrs. MacLane up for tea, both of them to come for lunch some day, and all without the permission of her mother-in-law.

  Reluctantly she came to the big house and turned past the bolted front door to go up the walk to the back door, which all the family used in the winter. Her mother-in-law looked up as she came into the kitchen and said irritably, “I called the store and Tom said you left an hour ago.”

  “I stopped off at the old cottage,” Mrs. Winning said. She put the package of groceries down on the table and began to take things out quickly, to get the doughnuts on to a plate and the hamburger into the pan before too much time was lost. With her coat still on and her scarf over her head she moved as fast as she could while her mother-in-law, slicing bread at the kitchen table, watched her silently.

  “Take your coat off,” her mother-in-law said finally. “Your husband will be home in a minute.”

  By twelve o’clock the house was noisy and full of mud tracked across the kitchen floor. The oldest Howard, Mrs. Winning’s father-in-law, came in from the farm and went silently to hang his hat and coat in the dark hall before speaking to his wife and daughter-in-law; the younger Howard, Mrs. Winning’s husband, came in from the barn after putting the truck away and nodded to his wife and kissed his mother; and the youngest Howard, Mrs. Winning’s son, crashed into the kitchen, home from kindergarten, shouting, “Where’s dinner?”

  The baby, anticipating food, banged on her high-chair with the silver cup which had first been used by the oldest Howard Winning’s mother. Mrs. Winning and her mother-in-law put plates down on the table swiftly, knowing after many years the exact pause between the latest arrival and the serving of food, and with a minimum of time three generations of the Winning family were eating silently and efficiently, all anxious to be back about their work: the farm, the mill, the electric train; the dishes, the sewing, the nap. Mrs. Winning, feeding the baby, tryi
ng to anticipate her mother-in-law’s gestures of serving, thought, today more poignantly than ever before, that she had at least given them another Howard, with the Winning eyes and mouth, in exchange for her food and her bed.

  After dinner, after the men had gone back to work and the children were in bed, the baby for her nap and Howard resting with crayons and coloring book, Mrs. Winning sat down with her mother-in-law over their sewing and tried to describe the cottage.

  “It’s just perfect,” she said helplessly. “Everything is so pretty. She invited us to come down some day and see it when it’s all finished, the curtains and everything.”

  “I was talking to Mrs. Blake,” the elder Mrs. Winning said, as though in agreement. “She says the husband was killed in an automobile accident. She had some money in her own name and I guess she decided to settle down in the country for the boy’s health. Mrs. Blake said he looked peakish.”

  “She loves gardens,” Mrs. Winning said, her needle still in her hand for a moment. “She’s going to have a big garden all around the house.”

  “She’ll need help,” the elder woman said humorlessly, “that’s a mighty big garden she’ll have.”

  “She has the most beautiful blue bowl, Mother Winning. You’d love it, it’s almost like silver.”

  “Probably,” the elder Mrs. Winning said after a pause, “probably her people came from around here a ways back, and that’s why she’s settled in these parts.”

  The next day Mrs. Winning walked slowly past the cottage, and slowly the next, and the day after, and the day after that. On the second day she saw Mrs. MacLane at the window, and waved, and on the third day she met Davey on the sidewalk. “When are you coming to visit my little boy?” she asked him, and he stared at her solemnly and said, “Tomorrow.”

  Mrs. Burton, next-door to the MacLanes, ran over on the third day they were there with a fresh apple pie, and then told all the neighbors about the yellow kitchen and the bright electric utensils. Another neighbor, whose husband had helped Mrs. MacLane start her furnace, explained that Mrs. MacLane was only very recently widowed. One or another of the townspeople called on the MacLanes almost daily, and frequently, as young Mrs. Winning passed, she saw familiar faces at the windows, measuring the blue curtains with Mrs. MacLane, or she waved to acquaintances who stood chatting with Mrs. MacLane on the now firm front steps. After the MacLanes had been in the cottage for about a week Mrs. Winning met them one day in the grocery and they walked up the hill together, and talked about putting Davey into the kindergarten. Mrs. MacLane wanted to keep him home as long as possible, and Mrs. Winning asked her, “Don’t you feel terribly tied down, having him with you all the time?”

  “I like it,” Mrs. MacLane said cheerfully, “we keep each other company,” and Mrs. Winning felt clumsy and ill-mannered, remembering Mrs. MacLane’s widowhood.

  As the weather grew warmer and the first signs of green showed on the trees and on the wet ground, Mrs. Winning and Mrs. MacLane became better friends. They met almost daily at the grocery and walked up the hill together, and twice Davey came up to play with Howard’s electric train, and once Mrs. MacLane came up to get him and stayed for a cup of coffee in the great kitchen while the boys raced round and round the table and Mrs. Winning’s mother-in-law was visiting a neighbor.

  “It’s such an old house,” Mrs. MacLane said, looking up at the dark ceiling. “I love old houses; they feel so secure and warm, as though lots of people had been perfectly satisfied with them and they knew how useful they were. You don’t get that feeling with a new house.”

  “This dreary old place,” Mrs. Winning said. Mrs. MacLane, with a rose-colored sweater and her bright soft hair, was a spot of color in the kitchen that Mrs. Winning knew she could never duplicate. “I’d give anything in the world to live in your house,” Mrs. Winning said.

  “I love it,” Mrs. MacLane said. “I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy. Everyone around here is so nice, and the house is so pretty, and I planted a lot of bulbs yesterday.” She laughed. “I used to sit in that apartment in New York and dream about planting bulbs again.”

  Mrs. Winning looked at the boys, thinking how Howard was half-a-head taller, and stronger, and how Davey was small and weak and loved his mother adoringly. “It’s been good for Davey already,” she said. “There’s color in his cheeks.”

  “Davey loves it,” Mrs. MacLane agreed. Hearing his name Davey came over and put his head in her lap and she touched his hair, bright like her own. “We’d better be getting on home, Davey boy,” she said.

  “Maybe our flowers have grown some since yesterday,” said Davey.

  Gradually the days became miraculously long and warm, and Mrs. MacLane’s garden began to show colors and became an ordered thing, still very young and unsure, but promising rich brilliance for the end of the summer, and the next summer, and summers ten years from now.

  “It’s even better than I hoped,” Mrs. MacLane said to Mrs. Winning, standing at the garden gate. “Things grow so much better here than almost anywhere else.”

  Davey and Howard played daily after the school was out for the summer, and Howard was free all day. Sometimes Howard stayed at Davey’s house for lunch, and they planted a vegetable patch together in the MacLane back yard. Mrs. Winning stopped for Mrs. MacLane on her way to the store in the mornings and Davey and Howard frolicked ahead of them down the street. They picked up their mail together and read it walking back up the hill, and Mrs. Winning went more cheerfully back to the big Winning house after walking most of the way home with Mrs. MacLane.

  One afternoon Mrs. Winning put the baby in Howard’s wagon and with the two boys they went for a long walk in the country. Mrs. MacLane picked Queen Anne’s lace and put it into the wagon with the baby, and the boys found a garter snake and tried to bring it home. On the way up the hill Mrs. MacLane helped pull the wagon with the baby and the Queen Anne’s lace, and they stopped halfway to rest and Mrs. MacLane said, “Look, I believe you can see my garden all the way from here.”

  It was a spot of color almost at the top of the hill and they stood looking at it while the baby threw the Queen Anne’s lace out of the wagon. Mrs. MacLane said, “I always want to stop here to look at it,” and then, “Who is that beautiful child?”

  Mrs. Winning looked, and then laughed. “He is attractive, isn’t he,” she said. “It’s Billy Jones.” She looked at him herself, carefully, trying to see him as Mrs. MacLane would. He was a boy about twelve, sitting quietly on a wall across the street, with his chin in his hands, silently watching Davey and Howard.

  “He’s like a young statue,” Mrs. MacLane said. “So brown, and will you look at that face?” She started to walk again to see him more clearly, and Mrs. Winning followed her. “Do I know his mother and fath—?”

  “The Jones children are half-Negro,” Mrs. Winning said hastily. “But they’re all beautiful children; you should see the girl. They live just outside town.”

  Howard’s voice reached them clearly across the summer air. “Nigger,” he was saying, “nigger, nigger boy.”

  “Nigger,” Davey repeated, giggling.

  Mrs. MacLane gasped, and then said, “Davey,” in a voice that made Davey turn his head apprehensively; Mrs. Winning had never heard her friend use such a voice, and she too watched Mrs. MacLane.

  “Davey,” Mrs. MacLane said again, and Davey approached slowly. “What did I hear you say?”

  “Howard,” Mrs. Winning said, “leave Billy alone.”

  “Go tell that boy you’re sorry,” Mrs. MacLane said. “Go at once and tell him you’re sorry.”

  Davey blinked tearfully at his mother and then went to the curb and called across the street, “I’m sorry.”

  Howard and Mrs. Winning waited uneasily, and Billy Jones across the street raised his head from his hands and looked at Davey and then, for a long time, at Mrs. MacLane. Then he put his chin on his hands again.

  Suddenly Mrs. MacLane called, “Young man—Will you come here a minute, p

  Mrs. Winning was surprised, and stared at Mrs. MacLane, but when the boy across the street did not move Mrs. Winning said sharply, “Billy! Billy Jones! Come here at once!”

  The boy raised his head and looked at them, and then slid slowly down from the wall and started across the street. When he was across the street and about five feet from them he stopped, waiting.

  “Hello,” Mrs. MacLane said gently, “what’s your name?”

  The boy looked at her for a minute and then at Mrs. Winning, and Mrs. Winning said, “He’s Billy Jones. Answer when you’re spoken to, Billy.”

  “Billy,” Mrs. MacLane said, “I’m sorry my little boy called you a name, but he’s very little and he doesn’t always know what he’s saying. But he’s sorry, too.”

  “Okay,” Billy said, still watching Mrs. Winning. He was wearing an old pair of blue jeans and a torn white shirt, and he was barefoot. His skin and hair were the same color, the golden shade of a very heavy tan, and his hair curled lightly; he had the look of a garden statue.

  “Billy,” Mrs. MacLane said, “how would you like to come and work for me? Earn some money?”

  “Sure,” Billy said.

  “Do you like gardening?” Mrs. MacLane asked. Billy nodded soberly. “Because,” Mrs. MacLane went on enthusiastically, “I’ve been needing someone to help me with my garden, and it would be just the thing for you to do.” She waited a minute and then said, “Do you know where I live?”

  “Sure,” Billy said. He turned his eyes away from Mrs. Winning and for a minute looked at Mrs. MacLane, his brown eyes expressionless. Then he looked back at Mrs. Winning, who was watching Howard up the street.

  “Fine,” Mrs. MacLane said. “Will you come tomorrow?”

  “Sure,” Billy said. He waited for a minute, looking from Mrs. MacLane to Mrs. Winning, and then ran back across the street and vaulted over the wall where he had been sitting. Mrs. MacLane watched him admiringly. Then she smiled at Mrs. Winning and gave the wagon a tug to start it up the hill again. They were nearly at the MacLane cottage before Mrs. MacLane finally spoke. “I just can’t stand that,” she said, “to hear children attacking people for things they can’t help.”

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