The Lottery and Other Stories by Shirley Jackson

  When she looked at the clock, finally, and saw that it was after nine, she began at last to hurry. She took a bath, and used one of the clean towels, which she put into the hamper and replaced with a clean one. She dressed carefully, all her underwear fresh and most of it new; she put everything she had worn the day before, including her nightgown, into the hamper. When she was ready for her dress, she hesitated before the closet door. The blue dress was certainly decent, and clean, and fairly becoming, but she had worn it several times with Jamie, and there was nothing about it which made it special for a wedding day. The print dress was overly pretty, and new to Jamie, and yet wearing such a print this early in the year was certainly rushing the season. Finally she thought, This is my wedding day, I can dress as I please, and she took the print dress down from the hanger. When she slipped it on over her head it felt fresh and light, but when she looked at herself in the mirror she remembered that the ruffles around the neck did not show her throat to any great advantage, and the wide swinging skirt looked irresistibly made for a girl, for someone who would run freely, dance, swing it with her hips when she walked. Looking at herself in the mirror she thought with revulsion, It’s as though I was trying to make myself look prettier than I am, just for him; he’ll think I want to look younger because he’s marrying me; and she tore the print dress off so quickly that a seam under the arm ripped. In the old blue dress she felt comfortable and familiar, but unexciting. It isn’t what you’re wearing that matters, she told herself firmly, and turned in dismay to the closet to see if there might be anything else. There was nothing even remotely suitable for her marrying Jamie, and for a minute she thought of going out quickly to some little shop nearby, to get a dress. Then she saw that it was close on ten, and she had no time for more than her hair and her make-up. Her hair was easy, pulled back into a knot at the nape of her neck, but her makeup was another delicate balance between looking as well as possible, and deceiving as little. She could not try to disguise the sallowness of her skin, or the lines around her eyes, today, when it might look as though she were only doing it for her wedding, and yet she could not bear the thought of Jamie’s bringing to marriage anyone who looked haggard and lined. You’re thirty-four years old after all, she told herself cruelly in the bathroom mirror. Thirty, it said on the license.

  It was two minutes after ten; she was not satisfied with her clothes, her face, her apartment. She heated the coffee again and sat down in the chair by the window. Can’t do anything more now, she thought, no sense trying to improve anything the last minute.

  Reconciled, settled, she tried to think of Jamie and could not see his face clearly, or hear his voice. It’s always that way with someone you love, she thought, and let her mind slip past today and tomorrow, into the farther future, when Jamie was established with his writing and she had given up her job, the golden house-in-the-country future they had been preparing for the last week. “I used to be a wonderful cook,” she had promised Jamie, “with a little time and practice I could remember how to make angel-food cake. And fried chicken,” she said, knowing how the words would stay in Jamie’s mind, half-tenderly. “And Hollandaise sauce.”

  Ten-thirty. She stood up and went purposefully to the phone. She dialed, and waited, and the girl’s metallic voice said, “…the time will be exactly ten-twenty-nine.” Half-consciously she set her clock back a minute; she was remembering her own voice saying last night, in the doorway: “Ten o’clock then. I’ll be ready. Is it really true?”

  And Jamie laughing down the hallway.

  By eleven o’clock she had sewed up the ripped seam in the print dress and put her sewing-box away carefully in the closet. With the print dress on, she was sitting by the window drinking another cup of coffee. I could have taken more time over my dressing after all, she thought; but by now it was so late he might come any minute, and she did not dare try to repair anything without starting all over. There was nothing to eat in the apartment except the food she had carefully stocked up for their life beginning together: the unopened package of bacon, the dozen eggs in their box, the unopened bread and the unopened butter; they were for breakfast tomorrow. She thought of running downstairs to the drugstore for something to eat, leaving a note on the door. Then she decided to wait a little longer.

  By eleven-thirty she was so dizzy and weak that she had to go downstairs. If Jamie had had a phone she would have called him then. Instead, she opened her desk and wrote a note: “Jamie, have gone downstairs to the drugstore. Back in five minutes.” Her pen leaked onto her fingers and she went into the bathroom and washed, using a clean towel which she replaced. She tacked the note on the door, surveyed the apartment once more to make sure that everything was perfect, and closed the door without locking it, in case he should come.

  In the drugstore she found that there was nothing she wanted to eat except more coffee, and she left it half-finished because she suddenly realized that Jamie was probably upstairs waiting and impatient, anxious to get started.

  But upstairs everything was prepared and quiet, as she had left it, her note unread on the door, the air in the apartment a little stale from too many cigarettes. She opened the window and sat down next to it until she realized that she had been asleep and it was twenty minutes to one.

  Now, suddenly, she was frightened. Waking without preparation into the room of waiting and readiness, everything clean and untouched since ten o’clock, she was frightened, and felt an urgent need to hurry. She got up from the chair and almost ran across the room to the bathroom, dashed cold water on her face, and used a clean towel; this time she put the towel carelessly back on the rack without changing it; time enough for that later. Hatless, still in the print dress with a coat thrown on over it, the wrong blue pocketbook with the aspirin inside in her hand, she locked the apartment door behind her, no note this time, and ran down the stairs. She caught a taxi on the corner and gave the driver Jamie’s address.

  It was no distance at all; she could have walked it if she had not been so weak, but in the taxi she suddenly realized how imprudent it would be to drive brazenly up to Jamie’s door, demanding him. She asked the driver, therefore, to let her off at a corner near Jamie’s address and, after paying him, waited till he drove away before she started to walk down the block. She had never been here before; the building was pleasant and old, and Jamie’s name was not on any of the mailboxes in the vestibule, nor on the doorbells. She checked the address; it was right, and finally she rang the bell marked “Superintendent.” After a minute or two the door buzzer rang and she opened the door and went into the dark hall where she hesitated until a door at the end opened and someone said, “Yes?”

  She knew at the same moment that she had no idea what to ask, so she moved forward toward the figure waiting against the light of the open doorway. When she was very near, the figure said, “Yes?” again and she saw that it was a man in his shirtsleeves, unable to see her any more clearly than she could see him.

  With sudden courage she said, “I’m trying to get in touch with someone who lives in this building and I can’t find the name outside.”

  “What’s the name you wanted?” the man asked, and she realized that she would have to answer.

  “James Harris,” she said. “Harris.”

  The man was silent for a minute and then he said, “Harris.” He turned around to the room inside the lighted doorway and said, “Margie, come here a minute.”

  “What now?” a voice said from inside, and after a wait long enough for someone to get out of a comfortable chair a woman joined him in the doorway, regarding the dark hall. “Lady here,” the man said. “Lady looking for a guy name of Harris, lives here. Anyone in the building?”

  “No,” the woman said. Her voice sounded amused. “No men named Harris here.”

  “Sorry,” the man said. He started to close the door. “You got the wrong house, lady,” he said, and added in a lower voice, “or the wrong guy,” and he and the woman laughed.

  When the door w
as almost shut and she was alone in the dark hall she said to the thin lighted crack still showing, “But he does live here; I know it.”

  “Look,” the woman said, opening the door again a little, “it happens all the time.”

  “Please don’t make any mistake,” she said, and her voice was very dignified, with thirty-four years of accumulated pride. “I’m afraid you don’t understand.”

  “What did he look like?” the woman said wearily, the door still only part open.

  “He’s rather tall, and fair. He wears a blue suit very often. He’s a writer.”

  “No,” the woman said, and then, “Could he have lived on the third floor?”

  “I’m not sure.”

  “There was a fellow,” the woman said reflectively. “He wore a blue suit a lot, lived on the third floor for a while. The Roysters lent him their apartment while they were visiting her folks upstate.”

  “That might be it; I thought, though….”

  “This one wore a blue suit mostly, but I don’t know how tall he was,” the woman said. “He stayed there about a month.”

  “A month ago is when—”

  “You ask the Roysters,” the woman said. “They come back this morning. Apartment 3B.”

  The door closed, definitely. The hall was very dark and the stairs looked darker.

  On the second floor there was a little light from a skylight far above. The apartment doors lined up, four on the floor, uncommunicative and silent. There was a bottle of milk outside 2C.

  On the third floor, she waited for a minute. There was the sound of music beyond the door of 3B, and she could hear voices. Finally she knocked, and knocked again. The door was opened and the music swept out at her, an early afternoon symphony broadcast. “How do you do,” she said politely to this woman in the doorway. “Mrs. Royster?”

  “That’s right.” The woman was wearing a housecoat and last night’s make-up.

  “I wonder if I might talk to you for a minute?”

  “Sure,” Mrs. Royster said, not moving.

  “About Mr. Harris.”

  “What Mr. Harris?” Mrs. Royster said flatly.

  “Mr. James Harris. The gentleman who borrowed your apartment.”

  “O Lord,” Mrs. Royster said. She seemed to open her eyes for the first time. “What’d he do?”

  “Nothing. I’m just trying to get in touch with him.”

  “O Lord,” Mrs. Royster said again. Then she opened the door wider and said, “Come in,” and then, “Ralph!”

  Inside, the apartment was still full of music, and there were suitcases half-unpacked on the couch, on the chairs, on the floor. A table in the corner was spread with the remains of a meal, and the young man sitting there, for a minute resembling Jamie, got up and came across the room.

  “What about it?” he said.

  “Mr. Royster,” she said. It was difficult to talk against the music. “The superintendent downstairs told me that this was where Mr. James Harris has been living.”

  “Sure,” he said. “If that was his name.”

  “I thought you lent him the apartment,” she said, surprised.

  “I don’t know anything about him,” Mr. Royster said. “He’s one of Dottie’s friends.”

  “Not my friends,” Mrs. Royster said. “No friend of mine.” She had gone over to the table and was spreading peanut butter on a piece of bread. She took a bite and said thickly, waving the bread and peanut butter at her husband. “Not my friend.”

  “You picked him up at one of those damn meetings,” Mr. Royster said. He shoved a suitcase off the chair next to the radio and sat down, picking up a magazine from the floor next to him. “I never said more’n ten words to him.”

  “You said it was okay to lend him the place,” Mrs. Royster said before she took another bite. “You never said a word against him, after all.”

  “I don’t say anything about your friends,” Mr. Royster said.

  “If he’d of been a friend of mine you would have said plenty, believe me,” Mrs. Royster said darkly. She took another bite and said, “Believe me, he would have said plenty.”

  “That’s all I want to hear,” Mr. Royster said, over the top of the magazine. “No more, now.”

  “You see.” Mrs. Royster pointed the bread and peanut butter at her husband. “That’s the way it is, day and night.”

  There was silence except for the music bellowing out of the radio next to Mr. Royster, and then she said, in a voice she hardly trusted to be heard over the radio noise, “Has he gone, then?”

  “Who?” Mrs. Royster demanded, looking up from the peanut butter jar.

  “Mr. James Harris.”

  “Him? He must’ve left this morning, before we got back. No sign of him anywhere.”


  “Everything was fine, though, perfectly fine. I told you,” she said to Mr. Royster, “I told you he’d take care of everything fine. I can always tell.”

  “You were lucky,” Mr. Royster said.

  “Not a thing out of place,” Mrs. Royster said. She waved her bread and peanut butter inclusively. “Everything just the way we left it,” she said.

  “Do you know where he is now?”

  “Not the slightest idea,” Mrs. Royster said cheerfully. “But, like I said, he left everything fine. Why?” she asked suddenly. “You looking for him?”

  “It’s very important.”

  “I’m sorry he’s not here,” Mrs. Royster said. She stepped forward politely when she saw her visitor turn toward the door.

  “Maybe the super saw him,” Mr. Royster said into the magazine.

  When the door was closed behind her the hall was dark again, but the sound of the radio was deadened. She was halfway down the first flight of stairs when the door was opened and Mrs. Royster shouted down the stairwell, “If I see him I’ll tell him you were looking for him.”

  What can I do? she thought, out on the street again. It was impossible to go home, not with Jamie somewhere between here and there. She stood on the sidewalk so long that a woman, leaning out of a window across the way, turned and called to someone inside to come and see. Finally, on an impulse, she went into the small delicatessen next door to the apartment house, on the side that led to her own apartment. There was a small man reading a newspaper, leaning against the counter; when she came in he looked up and came down inside the counter to meet her.

  Over the glass case of cold meats and cheese she said, timidly, “I’m trying to get in touch with a man who lived in the apartment house next door, and I just wondered if you know him.”

  “Whyn’t you ask the people there?” the man said, his eyes narrow, inspecting her.

  It’s because I’m not buying anything, she thought, and she said, “I’m sorry. I asked them, but they don’t know anything about him. They think he left this morning.”

  “I don’t know what you want me to do,” he said, moving a little back toward his newspaper. “I’m not here to keep track of guys going in and out next door.”

  She said quickly, “I thought you might have noticed, that’s all. He would have been coming past here, a little before ten o’clock. He was rather tall, and he usually wore a blue suit.”

  “Now how many men in blue suits go past here every day, lady?” the man demanded. “You think I got nothing to do but—”

  “I’m sorry,” she said. She heard him say, “For God’s sake,” as she went out the door.

  As she walked toward the corner, she thought, he must have come this way, it’s the way he’d go to get to my house, it’s the only way for him to walk. She tried to think of Jamie: where would he have crossed the street? What sort of person was he actually—would he cross in front of his own apartment house, at random in the middle of the block, at the corner?

  On the corner was a newsstand; they might have seen him there. She hurried on and waited while a man bought a paper and a woman asked directions. When the newsstand man looked at her she said, “Can you possibly tell me if
a rather tall young man in a blue suit went past here this morning around ten o’clock?” When the man only looked at her, his eyes wide and his mouth a little open, she thought, he thinks it’s a joke, or a trick, and she said urgently, “It’s very important, please believe me. I’m not teasing you.”

  “Look, lady,” the man began, and she said eagerly, “He’s a writer. He might have bought magazines here.”

  “What you want him for?” the man asked. He looked at her, smiling, and she realized that there was another man waiting in back of her and the newsdealer’s smile included him. “Never mind,” she said, but the newsdealer said, “Listen, maybe he did come by here.” His smile was knowing and his eyes shifted over her shoulder to the man in back of her. She was suddenly horribly aware of her over-young print dress, and pulled her coat around her quickly. The newsdealer said, with vast thoughtfulness, “Now I don’t know for sure, mind you, but there might have been someone like your gentleman friend coming by this morning.”

  “About ten?”

  “About ten,” the newsdealer agreed. “Tall fellow, blue suit. I wouldn’t be at all surprised.”

  “Which way did he go?” she said eagerly. “Uptown?”

  “Uptown,” the newsdealer said, nodding. “He went uptown. That’s just exactly it. What can I do for you, sir?”

  She stepped back, holding her coat around her. The man who had been standing behind her looked at her over his shoulder and then he and the newsdealer looked at one another. She wondered for a minute whether or not to tip the newsdealer but when both men began to laugh she moved hurriedly on across the street.

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