The Lottery and Other Stories by Shirley Jackson


  Every morning Elizabeth Style came into the office with the idea that something might be done for it still, that somehow there might be a way to make it look respectable, with Venetian blinds or paneling or an efficient-looking bookcase with sets of classics and the newest books that Robert Shax had presumably sold to their publishers. Or even an end table with expensive magazines. Miss Wilson thought it would be nice to have a radio, but Robert Shax wanted an expensive office with heavy carpeting and desks sitting solidly on the floor and a battery of secretaries.

  This morning the office looked more cheerful than usual, probably because it was still raining outside, or else because the lights were already on and the radiators were going. Elizabeth Style went over to the door of her office and opened it, saying, “Morning, Robbie,” because, since there was no one in the office, there was no need to pretend that the beaverboard partitions were walls.

  “Morning, Liz,” Robbie said, and then, “Come on in, will you?”

  “I’ll take my coat off,” she said. There was a tiny closet in the corner of her office where she hung up her coat, squeezing in back of the desk to do it. She noticed that there was mail on her desk, four or five letters and a bulky envelope that would be a manuscript. She spread the letters out to make sure there was nothing of any particular interest, and then went out of her office and opened the door of Robbie’s.

  He was leaning down over his desk, in an attitude meant to show extreme concentration; the faintly bald top of his head was toward her and his heavy round shoulders cut off the lower half of the window. His office was almost exactly like hers; it had a small filing cabinet and an autographed photograph of one of the few reasonably successful writers the firm had handled. The photograph was signed “To Bob, with deepest gratitude, Jim,” and Robert Shax was fond of using it as a happy example in his office conversations with eager authors. When she had closed the door Elizabeth was only a step away from the straight visitor’s chair slanting at the desk; she sat down and stretched her feet out in front of her.

  “I got soaked coming in this morning,” she said.

  “It’s an awful day,” Robbie said, without looking up. When he was alone with her he relaxed the heartiness that he usually stocked in his voice: he let his face look tired and worried. He was wearing his good grey suit that day, and later, with other people around, he would look like a golfer, a man who ate good rare roast beef and liked pretty girls. “It’s one hell of a day,” he repeated. He looked up at her. “Liz,” he said, “that goddamned minister is in town again.”

  “No wonder you look so worried,” she said. She had been ready to complain at him, to tell him about the woman on the bus, to ask him to sit up straight and behave, but there was nothing to say. “Poor old Robbie,” she said.

  “There’s a note from him,” Robbie said. “I’ve got to go up there this morning. He’s in that goddamned rooming-house again.”

  “What are you planning to tell him?”

  Robbie got up and turned around to the window. When he got out of his chair he had just room to turn around to get to the window of the closet or the filing cabinet; on a pleasanter day she might have an amiable remark about his weight. “I don’t know what in hell I’m planning to tell him,” Robbie said. “I’ll promise him something.”

  I know you will, she thought. She had the familiar picture of Robbie’s maneuvers to escape an awkward situation in the back of her mind: she could see Robbie shaking the old man’s hand briskly, calling him “sir” and keeping his shoulders back, saying that the old man’s poems were “fine, sir, really magnificent,” promising anything, wildly, just to get away. “You’ll come back in some kind of trouble,” she said mildly.

  Robbie laughed suddenly, happily. “But he won’t bother us for a while.”

  “You ought to call him up or something. Write him a letter,” she said.

  “Why?” She could see that he was pleased with the idea of coming back in trouble, of being irresponsible and what he would call carefree; he would make the long trip uptown to the minister’s rooming-house by subway and take a taxi for the last two blocks to arrive in style, and sit for a tiresome hour talking to the old man, just to be carefree and what he might call gallant.

  Make him feel good, she thought. He has to go, not me. “You shouldn’t be trusted to run a business by yourself,” she said. “You’re too silly.”

  He laughed again and walked around the desk to pat her head. “We get along pretty well, don’t we, Liz?”

  “Fine,” she said.

  He was beginning to think about it now; he was holding his head up and his voice was filling out. “I’ll tell him someone wants one of his poems for an anthology,” he said.

  “Just don’t give him any money,” she said. “He has more than we have now.”

  He went back to his closet and took out his coat, his good coat today, and threw it carelessly over his arm. He put his hat on the back of his head and picked up his brief case from the desk. “Got all the old guy’s poems in here,” he said. “I figured I could kill some time reading them aloud to him.”

  “Have a nice trip,” she said.

  He patted her on the head again, and then reached out for the door. “You’ll take care of everything here?”

  “I’ll try to cope with it,” she said.

  She followed him out the door and started into her own office. Halfway across the outer office he stopped, not turning. “Liz?” he said.

  “Well?”

  He thought for a minute. “Seems like there was something I wanted to tell you,” he said. “It doesn’t matter.”

  “See you for lunch?” she asked.

  “I’ll be back about twelve-thirty,” he said.

  He closed the door and she heard his footsteps going emphatically down the hall to the elevator; busy footsteps, she thought, in case anyone was listening in this fearful old building.

  She sat for a minute at her desk, smoking and wishing she could paint her office walls a light green. If she wanted to stay late at night she could do it herself. It would only take one can of paint, she told herself bitterly, to do an office like this, with enough left over to do the front of the building. Then she put out her cigarette and thought, I’ve worked in it this long, maybe some day we’ll get a million-dollar client and can move into a real office building where they have soundproof walls.

  The mail on her desk was bad. A bill from her dentist, a letter from a client in Oregon, a couple of ads, a letter from her father, and the bulky envelope that was certainly a manuscript. She threw out the ads and the dentist’s bill, which was marked “Please remit,” set the manuscript and the other letter aside, and opened the letter from her father.

  It was in his own peculiar style, beginning, “Dearest Daughter,” and ending, “Yr. Afft. Father,” and told her that the feed store was doing badly, that her sister in California was pregnant again, that old Mrs. Gill had asked after her the other day, and that he found himself very much alone since her mother’s death. And he hoped she was well. She threw the letter into the wastebasket on top of the dentist’s bill.

  The letter from the client in Oregon wanted to know what had happened to a manuscript sent in three months before; the large bulky envelope contained a manuscript written in longhand, from a young man in Allentown who wanted it sold immediately and their fee taken out of the editor’s check. She glanced through the manuscript carelessly, turning over the pages and reading a few words on each; halfway through she stopped and read a whole page, and then turned back a little and read more. With her eyes still on the manuscript, she leaned over and reached into the bottom drawer of her desk, stirring papers around until she found a small, ten-cent notebook, partly filled with notes. She opened the notebook to a blank page, copied out a paragraph from the manuscript, thinking, I can switch that around and make it a woman instead of a man; and she made another note, “make W., use any name but Helen,” which was the name of the woman in the story. Then she put the notebook
away and set the manuscript to one side of her desk in order to swing up the panel of the desk that brought the typewriter upright. She took out a sheet of notepaper labeled “ROBERT SHAX, Literary Agents, Elizabeth Style, Fiction Department,” and put it into the typewriter; she was just typing the young man’s name and the address: General Delivery, Allentown, when she heard the outer door open and close.

  “Hello,” she called, without looking up.

  “Good morning.”

  She looked up then; it was such a high, girlish voice. The girl who had come in was big and blonde, and walked across the little reception room as though she were prepared to be impressed no matter what happened to her there.

  “Did you want to see me?” Elizabeth asked, her hands still resting on the typewriter keys. If God should have sent me a client, she thought, it won’t hurt to look literary.

  “I wanted Mr. Shax,” the girl said. She waited in the doorway of Elizabeth’s office.

  “He was called out on very pressing business,” Elizabeth said. “Did you have an appointment?”

  The girl hesitated, as though doubting Elizabeth’s authority. “Not exactly,” she said finally. “I’m supposed to be working here, I guess.”

  Seemed like there was something he wanted to tell me, Elizabeth thought, that coward. “I see,” she said. “Come in and sit down.”

  The girl came in shyly, although with no apparent timidity. She figured it was his business to tell me, not hers, Elizabeth thought. “Did Mr. Shax tell you to come to work here?”

  “Well,” the girl said, deciding it was all right to trust Elizabeth, “on Monday about five o’clock I was asking for a job in all the offices in this building and I came here and Mr. Shax showed me around the office and he said he thought I could do the work all right.” She thought back over what she had said. “You weren’t here,” she added.

  “I couldn’t have been,” Elizabeth agreed. He’s known since Monday and I find out, she thought, what is this, Wednesday? I find out on Wednesday when she shows up for work. “I didn’t ask your name.”

  “Daphne Hill,” the girl said meekly.

  Elizabeth wrote “Daphne Hill” down on her memorandum and looked at it, partly to seem as if she was coming to an important decision and partly to see what “Daphne Hill” looked like written down.

  “Mr. Shax said,” the girl began, and stopped. Her voice was high and when she was anxious she opened her small brown eyes wide and blinked. Except for her hair, which was a pale blonde and curled all over the top of her head, she was clumsy and awkward, all dressed up for her first day at work.

  “What did Mr. Shax say?” Elizabeth asked when the girl seemed to have subsided permanently.

  “He said he wasn’t satisfied with the girl he had now and I was to learn her job and get to do it and I was to come today because he was going to tell her yesterday that I was coming.”

  “Fine,” Elizabeth said. “Can you type, do you suppose?”

  “I guess so,” the girl said.

  Elizabeth looked at the letter in the typewriter on her desk and then said, “Well, you go on outside and sit at the desk out there and if the phone rings you answer it. Read or something.”

  “Yes, Miss Style,” the girl said.

  “And please close my office door,” Elizabeth said. She watched the girl go out and close the door carefully. The things she had wanted to say to the girl were waiting to be said: maybe she could rephrase some of them for Robbie at lunch.

  What does this mean, she thought suddenly in panic, Miss Wilson has been here almost as long as I have. Is he trying in his own heavy-handed fashion to beautify the office? He might better buy a bookcase; who is going to teach this incredible girl to answer the phone and write letters, even as well as Miss Wilson? Me, she thought at last. I’m going to have to drag Robbie out of this last beautiful impulsive gesture like always; the things I do for a miserable little office and a chance to make money. Anyway, maybe Daphne will help me paint the walls after five some day; maybe the one thing Daphne knows how to do is paint.

  She turned back to the letter in the typewriter. An encouraging letter to a new client; it fell into a simple formula in her mind and she wrote it without hesitating, typing clumsily and amateurishly, but quickly. “Dear Mr. Burton,” she wrote. “We have read your story with a good deal of interest. Your plot is well thought out, and we believe that the character of—” She stopped for a minute and turned back to the manuscript, opening it at random—“Lady Montague, in particular, is of more than usual merit. Naturally, in order to appeal to the better-paying markets, the story needs touching up by a skilled professional editor, a decisive selling service we are able to offer our clients. Our rates—”

  “Miss Style?”

  In spite of the beaverboard partitions, Elizabeth said, “If you want to talk to me, Miss Hill, come in.”

  After a minute Miss Hill opened the door and came in. Elizabeth could see her pocketbook on the desk outside, the lipstick and compact sitting next to it. “When does Mr. Shax get back?”

  “Probably not till this afternoon. He went out on important business with a client,” Elizabeth said. “Why, did anyone call?”

  “No, I just wondered,” Miss Hill said. She closed the door and went heavily back to her desk. Elizabeth looked again at the letter in the typewriter and then turned her chair around to put her still-wet feet on the radiator under the window. After a minute she opened the bottom drawer of her desk again and this time took out a pocket reprint of a mystery story. With her feet on the radiator she settled down to read.

  Because it was raining, and because she was depressed and out of sorts, and because Robbie had not come by quarter to one, Elizabeth treated herself to a Martini while she was waiting, sitting uncomfortably on a narrow chair in the restaurant, watching other unimpressive people go in and out. The restaurant was crowded, the floors wet from the feet coming in from the rain, and it was dark and dismal. Elizabeth and Robbie had come here for lunch two or three times a week, ever since they had opened the office in the building near-by. The first day they had come had been in summer, and Elizabeth, in a sheer black dress—she remembered it still; she would be too thin for it now—and a small white hat and white gloves, had been excited and happy over the great new career opening out for her. She and Robbie had held hands across the table and talked enthusiastically: they were only going to stay in the old building for a year, or two at the most, and then they would have enough money to move uptown; the good clients who would come to the new Robert Shax Agency would be honest reputable writers, with large best-selling manuscripts; editors would go to lunch with them at sleek uptown restaurants, a drink before lunch would not be an extraordinary thing. The first order of stationery saying “ROBERT SHAX, Literary Agents, Elizabeth Style, Fiction Department,” had not been delivered; they planned the letterhead at lunch that day.

  Elizabeth thought about ordering another Martini and then she saw Robbie coming impatiently through the people in the aisles. He saw her across the room and waved at her, aware of people watching him, an executive late for a luncheon appointment, even in a dingy restaurant.

  When he got to the table, his back to the room, his face was tired and his voice was quiet. “Finally made it,” he said. He looked surprised at the empty Martini glass. “I haven’t even had breakfast yet,” he said.

  “Did you have a bad time with the minister?”

  “Terrible,” he said. “He wants a book of his poems published this year.”

  “What did you tell him?” Elizabeth tried not to let her voice sound strained. Time enough for that later, she thought, when he feels like answering me.

  “I don’t know,” Robbie said. “How the hell do I know what I told the old fool?” He sat down heavily. “Something about we’d do our best.”

  That means he’s really made a mess of it, Elizabeth thought. If he did well he’d tell me in detail. She was suddenly so tired that she let her shoulders droop and sat stupidly
staring off at the people coming in and out of the door. What am I going to say to him, she thought, what words will Robbie understand best?

  “What are you looking so glum about?” Robbie asked suddenly. “No one made you go way the hell uptown without breakfast.”

  “I had a tough morning anyway,” Elizabeth said. Robbie looked up, waiting. “I had a new employee to break in.”

  Robbie still waited, his face a little flushed, squinting at her; he was waiting to see what she was going to say before he apologized, or lost his temper, or tried to pass the whole thing off as a fine joke.

  Elizabeth watched him: this is Robbie, she was thinking, I know what he’s going to do and what he’s going to say and what tie he’s going to wear every day in the week, and for eleven years I have known these things and for eleven years I have been wondering how to say things to make him understand; and eleven years ago we sat here and held hands and he said we were going to be successful. “I was thinking of the day we had lunch here when we first started out together,” she said quietly, and Robbie looked mystified. “The day we started out together,” she repeated more distinctly. “Do you remember Jim Harris?” Robbie nodded, his mouth a little open. “We were going to make a lot of money because Jim was going to bring all his friends to us and then you had a fight with Jim and we haven’t seen him since and none of his friends came to us and now we’ve got your friend the minister for a client and a beautiful picture of Jim on your office wall. Signed,” she said. “Signed, with ‘gratitude,’ and if he was making enough money we’d be around trying to borrow from him even now.”

 
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