The Lottery and Other Stories by Shirley Jackson


  “They’re strange people, the Joneses,” Mrs. Winning said readily. “The father works around as a handyman; maybe you’ve seen him. You see—” she dropped her voice—“the mother was white, a girl from around here. A local girl,” she said again, to make it more clear to a foreigner. “She left the whole litter of them when Billy was about two, and went off with a white man.”

  “Poor children,” Mrs. MacLane said.

  “They’re all right,” Mrs. Winning said. “The church takes care of them, of course, and people are always giving them things. The girl’s old enough to work now, too. She’s sixteen, but….”

  “But what?” Mrs. MacLane said, when Mrs. Winning hesitated.

  “Well, people talk about her a lot, you know,” Mrs. Winning said. “Think of her mother, after all. And there’s another boy, couple of years older than Billy.”

  They stopped in front of the MacLane cottage and Mrs. MacLane touched Davey’s hair. “Poor unfortunate child,” she said.

  “Children will call names,” Mrs. Winning said. “There’s not much you can do.”

  “Well…” Mrs. MacLane said. “Poor child.”

  The next day, after the dinner dishes were washed, and while Mrs. Winning and her mother-in-law were putting them away, the elder Mrs. Winning said casually, “Mrs. Blake tells me your friend Mrs. MacLane was asking around the neighbors how to get hold of the Jones boy.”

  “She wants someone to help in the garden, I think,” Mrs. Winning said weakly. “She needs help in that big garden.”

  “Not that kind of help,” the elder Mrs. Winning said. “You tell her about them?”

  “She seemed to feel sorry for them,” Mrs. Winning said, from the depths of the pantry. She took a long time settling the plates in even stacks in order to neaten her mind. She shouldn’t have done it, she was thinking, but her mind refused to tell her why. She should have asked me first, though, she thought finally.

  The next day Mrs. Winning stopped off at the cottage with Mrs. MacLane after coming up the hill from the store. They sat in the yellow kitchen and drank coffee, while the boys played in the back yard. While they were discussing the possibilities of hammocks between the apple trees there was a knock at the kitchen door and when Mrs. MacLane opened it she found a man standing there, so that she said, “Yes?” politely, and waited.

  “Good morning,” the man said. He took off his hat and nodded his head at Mrs. MacLane. “Billy told me you was looking for someone to work your garden,” he said.

  “Why…” Mrs. MacLane began, glancing sideways uneasily at Mrs. Winning.

  “I’m Billy’s father,” the man said. He nodded his head toward the back yard and Mrs. MacLane saw Billy Jones sitting under one of the apple trees, his arms folded in front of him, his eyes on the grass at his feet.

  “How do you do,” Mrs. MacLane said inadequately.

  “Billy told me you said for him to come work your garden,” the man said. “Well, now, I think maybe a summer job’s too much for a boy his age, he ought to be out playing in the good weather. And that’s the kind of work I do anyway, so’s I thought I’d just come over and see if you found anyone yet.”

  He was a big man, very much like Billy, except that where Billy’s hair curled only a little, his father’s hair curled tightly, with a line around his head where his hat stayed constantly and where Billy’s skin was a golden tan, his father’s skin was darker, almost bronze. When he moved, it was gracefully, like Billy, and his eyes were the same fathomless brown. “Like to work this garden,” Mr. Jones said, looking around. “Could be a mighty nice place.”

  “You were very nice to come,” Mrs. MacLane said. “I certainly do need help.”

  Mrs. Winning sat silently, not wanting to speak in front of Mr. Jones. She was thinking, I wish she’d ask me first, this is impossible…and Mr. Jones stood silently, listening courteously, with his dark eyes on Mrs. MacLane while she spoke. “I guess a lot of the work would be too much for a boy like Billy,” she said. “There are a lot of things I can’t even do myself, and I was sort of hoping I could get someone to give me a hand.”

  “That’s fine, then,” Mr. Jones said. “Guess I can manage most of it,” he said, and smiled.

  “Well,” Mrs. MacLane said, “I guess that’s all settled, then. When do you want to start?”

  “How about right now?” he said.

  “Grand,” Mrs. MacLane said enthusiastically, and then, “Excuse me for a minute,” to Mrs. Winning over her shoulder. She took down her gardening gloves and wide straw hat from the shelf by the door. “Isn’t it a lovely day?” she asked Mr. Jones as she stepped out into the garden while he stood back to let her pass.

  “You go along home now, Bill,” Mr. Jones called as they went toward the side of the house.

  “Oh, why not let him stay?” Mrs. MacLane said. Mrs. Winning heard her voice going on as they went out of sight. “He can play around the garden, and he’d probably enjoy…”

  For a minute Mrs. Winning sat looking at the garden, at the corner around which Mr. Jones had followed Mrs. MacLane, and then Howard’s face appeared around the side of the door and he said, “Hi, is it nearly time to eat?”

  “Howard,” Mrs. Winning said quietly, and he came in through the door and came over to her. “It’s time for you to run along home,” Mrs. Winning said. “I’ll be along in a minute.”

  Howard started to protest, but she added, “I want you to go right away. Take my bag of groceries if you think you can carry it.”

  Howard was impressed by her conception of his strength, and he lifted down the bag of groceries; his shoulders, already broad out of proportion, like his father’s and his grandfather’s, strained under the weight, and then he steadied on his feet. “Aren’t I strong?” he asked exultantly.

  “Very strong,” Mrs. Winning said. “Tell Grandma I’ll be right up. I’ll just say good-bye to Mrs. MacLane.”

  Howard disappeared through the house; Mrs. Winning heard him walking heavily under the groceries, out through the open front door and down the steps. Mrs. Winning rose and was standing by the kitchen door when Mrs. MacLane came back.

  “You’re not ready to go?” Mrs. MacLane exclaimed when she saw Mrs. Winning with her jacket on. “Without finishing your coffee?”

  “I’d better catch Howard,” Mrs. Winning said. “He ran along ahead.”

  “I’m sorry I left you like that,” Mrs. MacLane said. She stood in the doorway beside Mrs. Winning, looking out into the garden. “How wonderful it all is,” she said, and laughed happily.

  They walked together through the house; the blue curtains were up by now, and the rug with the touch of blue in the design was on the floor.

  “Good-bye,” Mrs. Winning said on the front steps.

  Mrs. MacLane was smiling, and following her look Mrs. Winning turned and saw Mr. Jones, his shirt off and his strong back shining in the sun as he bent with a scythe over the long grass at the side of the house. Billy lay nearby, under the shade of the bushes; he was playing with a grey kitten. “I’m going to have the finest garden in town,” Mrs. MacLane said proudly.

  “You won’t have him working here past today, will you?” Mrs. Winning asked. “Of course you won’t have him any longer than just today?”

  “But surely—” Mrs. MacLane began, with a tolerant smile, and Mrs. Winning, after looking at her for an incredulous minute, turned and started, indignant and embarrassed, up the hill.

  Howard had brought the groceries safely home and her mother-in-law was already setting the table.

  “Howard says you sent him home from MacLane’s,” her mother-in-law said, and Mrs. Winning answered briefly, “I thought it was getting late.”

  The next morning when Mrs. Winning reached the cottage on her way down to the store she saw Mr. Jones swinging the scythe expertly against the side of the house, and Billy Jones and Davey sitting on the front steps watching him. “Good morning, Davey,” Mrs. Winning called, “is your mother ready to go downstreet?”
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  “Where’s Howard?” Davey asked, not moving.

  “He stayed home with his grandma today,” Mrs. Winning said brightly. “Is your mother ready?”

  “She’s making lemonade for Billy and me,” Davey said. “We’re going to have it in the garden.”

  “Then tell her,” Mrs. Winning said quickly, “tell her that I said I was in a hurry and that I had to go on ahead. I’ll see her later.” She hurried on down the hill.

  In the store she met Mrs. Harris, a lady whose mother had worked for the elder Mrs. Winning nearly forty years before. “Helen,” Mrs. Harris said, “you get greyer every year. You ought to stop all this running around.”

  Mrs. Winning, in the store without Mrs. MacLane for the first time in weeks, smiled shyly and said that she guessed she needed a vacation.

  “Vacation!” Mrs. Harris said. “Let that husband of yours do the housework for a change. He doesn’t have nuthin’ else to do.”

  She laughed richly, and shook her head. “Nuthin’ else to do,” she said. “The Winnings!”

  Before Mrs. Winning could step away Mrs. Harris added, her laughter penetrated by a sudden sharp curiosity: “Where’s that dressed-up friend of yours get to? Usually downstreet together, ain’t you?”

  Mrs. Winning smiled courteously, and Mrs. Harris said, laughing again, “Just couldn’t believe those shoes of hers, first time I seen them. Them shoes!”

  While she was laughing again Mrs. Winning escaped to the meat counter and began to discuss the potentialities of pork shoulder earnestly with the grocer. Mrs. Harris only says what everyone else says, she was thinking, are they talking like that about Mrs. MacLane? Are they laughing at her? When she thought of Mrs. MacLane she thought of the quiet house, the soft colors, the mother and son in the garden; Mrs. MacLane’s shoes were green and yellow platform sandals, odd-looking certainly next to Mrs. Winning’s solid white oxfords, but so inevitably right for Mrs. MacLane’s house, and her garden…. Mrs. Harris came up behind her and said, laughing again, “What’s she got, that Jones fellow working for her now?”

  When Mrs. Winning reached home, after hurrying up the hill past the cottage, where she saw no one, her mother-in-law was waiting for her in front of the house, watching her come the last few yards. “Early enough today,” her mother-in-law said. “MacLane out of town?”

  Resentful, Mrs. Winning said only, “Mrs. Harris nearly drove me out of the store, with her jokes.”

  “Nothing wrong with Lucy Harris getting away from that man of hers wouldn’t cure,” the elder Mrs. Winning said. Together, they began to walk around the house to the back door. Mrs. Winning, as they walked, noticed that the grass under the trees had greened up nicely, and that the nasturtiums beside the house were bright.

  “I’ve got something to say to you, Helen,” the elder Mrs. Winning said finally.

  “Yes?” her daughter-in-law said.

  “It’s the MacLane girl, about her, I mean. You know her so well, you ought to talk to her about that colored man working there.”

  “I suppose so,” Mrs. Winning said.

  “You sure you told her? You told her about those people?”

  “I told her,” Mrs. Winning said.

  “He’s there every blessed day,” her mother-in-law said. “And working out there without his shirt on. He goes in the house.”

  And that evening Mr. Burton, next-door neighbor to Mrs. MacLane, dropped in to see the Howard Winnings about getting a new lot of shingles at the mill; he turned, suddenly, to Mrs. Winning, who was sitting sewing next to her mother-in-law at the table in the front room, and raised his voice a little when he said, “Helen, I wish you’d tell your friend Mrs. MacLane to keep that kid of hers out of my vegetables.”

  “Davey?” Mrs. Winning said involuntarily.

  “No,” Mr. Burton said, while all the Winnings looked at the younger Mrs. Winning, “no, the other one, the colored boy. He’s been running loose through our back yard. Makes me sort of mad, that kid coming in spoiling other people’s property. You know,” he added, turning to the Howard Winnings, “you know, that does make a person mad.” There was a silence, and then Mr. Burton added, rising heavily, “Guess I’ll say good-night to you people.”

  They all attended him to the door and came back to their work in silence. I’ve got to do something, Mrs. Winning was thinking, pretty soon they’ll stop coming to me first, they’ll tell someone else to speak to me. She looked up, found her mother-in-law looking at her, and they both looked down quickly.

  Consequently Mrs. Winning went to the store the next morning earlier than usual, and she and Howard crossed the street just above the MacLane house, and went down the hill on the other side.

  “Aren’t we going to see Davey?” Howard asked once, and Mrs. Winning said carelessly, “Not today, Howard. Maybe your father will take you out to the mill this afternoon.”

  She avoided looking across the street at the MacLane house, and hurried to keep up with Howard.

  Mrs. Winning met Mrs. MacLane occasionally after that at the store or the post office, and they spoke pleasantly. When Mrs. Winning passed the cottage after the first week or so, she was no longer embarrassed about going by, and even looked at it frankly once or twice. The garden was going beautifully; Mr. Jones’s broad back was usually visible through the bushes, and Billy Jones sat on the steps or lay on the grass with Davey.

  One morning on her way down the hill Mrs. Winning heard a conversation between Davey MacLane and Billy Jones; they were in the bushes together and she heard Davey’s high familiar voice saying, “Billy, you want to build a house with me today?”

  “Okay,” Billy said. Mrs. Winning slowed her steps a little to hear.

  “We’ll build a big house out of branches,” Davey said excitedly, “and when it’s finished we’ll ask my mommy if we can have lunch out there.”

  “You can’t build a house just out of branches,” Billy said. “You ought to have wood, and boards.”

  “And chairs and tables and dishes,” Davey agreed. “And walls.”

  “Ask your mommy can we have two chairs out here,” Billy said. “Then we can pretend the whole garden is our house.”

  “And I’ll get us some cookies, too,” Davey said. “And we’ll ask my mommy and your daddy to come in our house.” Mrs. Winning heard them shouting as she went down along the sidewalk.

  You have to admit, she told herself as though she were being strictly just, you have to admit that he’s doing a lot with that garden; it’s the prettiest garden on the street. And Billy acts as though he had as much right there as Davey.

  As the summer wore on into long hot days undistinguishable one from another, so that it was impossible to tell with any real accuracy whether the light shower had been yesterday or the day before, the Winnings moved out into their yard to sit after supper, and in the warm darkness Mrs. Winning sometimes found an opportunity of sitting next to her husband so that she could touch his arm; she was never able to teach Howard to run to her and put his head in her lap, or inspire him with other than the perfunctory Winning affection, but she consoled herself with the thought that at least they were a family, a solid respectable thing.

  The hot weather kept up, and Mrs. Winning began to spend more time in the store, postponing the long aching walk up the hill in the sun. She stopped and chatted with the grocer, with other young mothers in the town, with older friends of her mother-in-law’s, talking about the weather, the reluctance of the town to put in a decent swimming pool, the work that had to be done before school started in the fall, chickenpox, the P.T.A. One morning she met Mrs. Burton in the store, and they spoke of their husbands, the heat, and the hot-weather occupations of their children before Mrs. Burton said: “By the way, Johnny will be six on Saturday and he’s having a birthday party; can Howard come?”

  “Wonderful,” Mrs. Winning said, thinking, His good white shorts, the dark blue shirt, a carefully-wrapped present.

  “Just about eight children,” Mrs. Burton said,
with the loving carelessness mothers use in planning the birthday parties of their children. “They’ll stay for supper, of course—send Howard down about three-thirty.”

  “That sounds so nice,” Mrs. Winning said. “He’ll be delighted when I tell him.”

  “I thought I’d have them all play outdoors most of the time,” Mrs. Burton said. “In this weather. And then perhaps a few games indoors, and supper. Keep it simple—you know.” She hesitated, running her finger around and around the top rim of a can of coffee. “Look,” she said, “I hope you won’t mind me asking, but would it be all right with you if I didn’t invite the MacLane boy?”

  Mrs. Winning felt sick for a minute, and had to wait for her voice to even out before she said lightly, “It’s all right with me if it’s all right with you; why do you have to ask me?”

  Mrs. Burton laughed. “I just thought you might mind if he didn’t come.”

  Mrs. Winning was thinking. Something bad has happened, somehow people think they know something about me that they won’t say, they all pretend it’s nothing, but this never happened to me before; I live with the Winnings, don’t I? “Really,” she said, putting the weight of the old Winning house into her voice, “why in the world would it bother me?” Did I take it too seriously, she was wondering, did I seem too anxious, should I have let it go?

  Mrs. Burton was embarrassed, and she set the can of coffee down on the shelf and began to examine the other shelves studiously. “I’m sorry I mentioned it at all,” she said.

  Mrs. Winning felt that she had to say something further, something to state her position with finality, so that no longer would Mrs. Burton, at least, dare to use such a tone to a Winning, presume to preface a question with “I hope you don’t mind me asking.” “After all,” Mrs. Winning said carefully, weighing the words, “she’s like a second mother to Billy.”

 
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