The Lottery and Other Stories by Shirley Jackson

  When she turned into the office building where her dentist was, it was still very early morning. The doorman in the office building was freshly shaven and his hair was combed; he held the door open briskly, as at five o’clock he would be sluggish, his hair faintly out of place. She went in through the door with a feeling of achievement; she had come successfully from one place to another, and this was the end of her journey and her objective.

  The clean white nurse sat at the desk in the office; her eyes took in the swollen cheek, the tired shoulders, and she said, “You poor thing, you look worn out.”

  “I have a toothache.” The nurse half-smiled, as though she were still waiting for the day when someone would come in and say, “My feet hurt.” She stood up into the professional sunlight. “Come right in,” she said. “We won’t make you wait.”

  There was sunlight on the headrest of the dentist’s chair, on the round white table, on the drill bending its smooth chromium head. The dentist smiled with the same tolerance as the nurse; perhaps all human ailments were contained in the teeth, and he could fix them if people would only come to him in time. The nurse said smoothly, “I’ll get her file, doctor. We thought we’d better bring her right in.”

  She felt, while they were taking an X-ray, that there was nothing in her head to stop the malicious eye of the camera, as though the camera would look through her and photograph the nails in the wall next to her, or the dentist’s cuff buttons, or the small thin bones of the dentist’s instruments; the dentist said, “Extraction,” regretfully to the nurse, and the nurse said, “Yes, doctor, I’ll call them right away.”

  Her tooth, which had brought her here unerringly, seemed now the only part of her to have any identity. It seemed to have had its picture taken without her; it was the important creature which must be recorded and examined and gratified; she was only its unwilling vehicle, and only as such was she of interest to the dentist and the nurse, only as the bearer of her tooth was she worth their immediate and practised attention. The dentist handed her a slip of paper with the picture of a full set of teeth drawn on it; her living tooth was checked with a black mark, and across the top of the paper was written “Lower molar; extraction.”

  “Take this slip,” the dentist said, “and go right up to the address on this card; it’s a surgeon dentist. They’ll take care of you there.”

  “What will they do?” she said. Not the question she wanted to ask, not: What about me? or, How far down do the roots go?

  “They’ll take that tooth out,” the dentist said testily, turning away. “Should have been done years ago.”

  I’ve stayed too long, she thought, he’s tired of my tooth. She got up out of the dentist chair and said, “Thank you. Good-bye.”

  “Good-bye,” the dentist said. At the last minute he smiled at her, showing her his full white teeth, all in perfect control.

  “Are you all right? Does it bother you too much?” the nurse asked.

  “I’m all right.”

  “I can give you some codeine tablets,” the nurse said. “We’d rather you didn’t take anything right now, of course, but I think I could let you have them if the tooth is really bad.”

  “No,” she said, remembering her little bottle of codeine pills on the table of a restaurant between here and there. “No, it doesn’t bother me too much.”

  “Well,” the nurse said, “good luck.”

  She went down the stairs and out past the doorman; in the fifteen minutes she had been upstairs he had lost a little of his pristine morningness, and his bow was just a fraction smaller than before.

  “Taxi?” he asked, and, remembering the bus down to Twenty-third Street, she said, “Yes.”

  Just as the doorman came back from the curb, bowing to the taxi he seemed to believe he had invented, she thought a hand waved to her from the crowd across the street.

  She read the address on the card the dentist had given her and repeated it carefully to the taxi driver. With the card and the little slip of paper with “Lower molar” written on it and her tooth identified so clearly, she sat without moving, her hands still around the papers, her eyes almost closed. She thought she must have been asleep again when the taxi stopped suddenly, and the driver, reaching around to open the door, said, “Here we are, lady.” He looked at her curiously.

  “I’m going to have a tooth pulled,” she said.

  “Jesus,” the taxi driver said. She paid him and he said, “Good luck,” as he slammed the door.

  This was a strange building, the entrance flanked by medical signs carved in stone; the doorman here was faintly professional, as though he were competent to prescribe if she did not care to go any farther. She went past him, going straight ahead until an elevator opened its door to her. In the elevator she showed the elevator man the card and he said, “Seventh floor.”

  She had to back up in the elevator for a nurse to wheel in an old lady in a wheel chair. The old lady was calm and restful, sitting there in the elevator with a rug over her knees; she said, “Nice day” to the elevator operator and he said, “Good to see the sun,” and then the old lady lay back in her chair and the nurse straightened the rug around her knees and said, “Now we’re not going to worry,” and the old lady said irritably, “Who’s worrying?”

  They got out at the fourth floor. The elevator went on up and then the operator said, “Seven,” and the elevator stopped and the door opened.

  “Straight down the hall and to your left,” the operator said.

  There were closed doors on either side of the hall. Some of them said “DDS,” some of them said “Clinic,” some of them said “X-Ray.” One of them, looking wholesome and friendly and somehow most comprehensible, said “Ladies.” Then she turned to the left and found a door with the name on the card and she opened it and went in. There was a nurse sitting behind a glass window, almost as in a bank, and potted palms in tubs in the corners of the waiting room, and new magazines and comfortable chairs. The nurse behind the glass window said, “Yes?” as though you had overdrawn your account with the dentist and were two teeth in arrears.

  She handed her slip of paper through the glass window and the nurse looked at it and said, “Lower molar, yes. They called about you. Will you come right in, please? Through the door to your left.”

  Into the vault? she almost said, and then silently opened the door and went in. Another nurse was waiting, and she smiled and turned, expecting to be followed, with no visible doubt about her right to lead.

  There was another X-ray, and the nurse told another nurse: “Lower molar,” and the other nurse said, “Come this way, please.”

  There were labyrinths and passages, seeming to lead into the heart of the office building, and she was put, finally, in a cubicle where there was a couch with a pillow and a wash-basin and a chair.

  “Wait here,” the nurse said. “Relax if you can.”

  “I’ll probably go to sleep,” she said.

  “Fine,” the nurse said. “You won’t have to wait long.”

  She waited probably, for over an hour, although she spent the time half-sleeping, waking only when someone passed the door; occasionally the nurse looked in and smiled, once she said, “Won’t have to wait much longer.” Then, suddenly, the nurse was back, no longer smiling, no longer the good hostess, but efficient and hurried. “Come along,” she said, and moved purposefully out of the little room into the hallways again.

  Then, quickly, more quickly than she was able to see, she was sitting in the chair and there was a towel around her head and a towel under her chin and the nurse was leaning a hand on her shoulder.

  “Will it hurt?” she asked.

  “No,” the nurse said, smiling. “You know it won’t hurt, don’t you?”

  “Yes,” she said.

  The dentist came in and smiled down on her from over her head. “Well,” he said.

  “Will it hurt?” she said.

  “Now,” he said cheerfully, “we couldn’t stay in business if we hurt peop
le.” All the time he talked he was busying himself with metal hidden under a towel, and great machinery being wheeled in almost silently behind her. “We couldn’t stay in business at all,” he said. “All you’ve got to worry about is telling us all your secrets while you’re asleep. Want to watch out for that, you know. Lower molar?” he said to the nurse.

  “Lower molar, doctor,” she said.

  Then they put the metal-tasting rubber mask over her face and the dentist said, “You know,” two or three times absent-mindedly while she could still see him over the mask. The nurse said “Relax your hands, dear,” and after a long time she felt her fingers relaxing.

  First of all things get so far away, she thought, remember this. And remember the metallic sound and taste of all of it. And the outrage.

  And then the whirling music, the ringing confusedly loud music that went on and on, around and around, and she was running as fast as she could down a long horribly clear hallway with doors on both sides and at the end of the hallway was Jim, holding out his hands and laughing, and calling something she could never hear because of the loud music, and she was running and then she said, “I’m not afraid,” and someone from the door next to her took her arm and pulled her through and the world widened alarmingly until it would never stop and then it stopped with the head of the dentist looking down at her and the window dropped into place in front of her and the nurse was holding her arm.

  “Why did you pull me back?” she said, and her mouth was full of blood. “I wanted to go on.”

  “I didn’t pull you,” the nurse said, but the dentist said, “She’s not out of it yet.”

  She began to cry without moving and felt the tears rolling down her face and the nurse wiped them off with a towel. There was no blood anywhere around except in her mouth; everything was as clean as before. The dentist was gone, suddenly, and the nurse put out her arm and helped her out of the chair. “Did I talk?” she asked suddenly, anxiously. “Did I say anything?”

  “You said, ‘I’m not afraid,’” the nurse said soothingly. “Just as you were coming out of it.”

  “No,” she said, stopping to pull at the arm around her. “Did I say anything? Did I say where he is?”

  “You didn’t say anything,” the nurse said. “The doctor was only teasing you.”

  “Where’s my tooth?” she asked suddenly, and the nurse laughed and said, “All gone. Never bother you again.”

  She was back in the cubicle, and she lay down on the couch and cried, and the nurse brought her whisky in a paper cup and set it on the edge of the wash-basin.

  “God has given me blood to drink,” she said to the nurse, and the nurse said, “Don’t rinse your mouth or it won’t clot.”

  After a long time the nurse came back and said to her from the doorway, smiling, “I see you’re awake again.”

  “Why?” she said.

  “You’ve been asleep,” the nurse said. “I didn’t want to wake you.”

  She sat up; she was dizzy and it seemed that she had been in the cubicle all her life.

  “Do you want to come along now?” the nurse said, all kindness again. She held out the same arm, strong enough to guide any wavering footstep; this time they went back through the long corridor to where the nurse sat behind the bank window.

  “All through?” this nurse said brightly. “Sit down a minute, then.” She indicated a chair next to the glass window, and turned away to write busily. “Do not rinse your mouth for two hours,” she said, without turning around. “Take a laxative tonight, take two aspirin if there is any pain. If there is much pain or excessive bleeding, notify this office at once. All right?” she said, and smiled brightly again.

  There was a new little slip of paper; this one said, “Extraction,” and underneath, “Do not rinse mouth. Take mild laxative. Two aspirin for pain. If pain is excessive or any hemorrhage occurs, notify office.”

  “Good-bye,” the nurse said pleasantly.

  “Good-bye,” she said.

  With the little slip of paper in her hand, she went out through the glass door and, still almost asleep, turned the corner and started down the hall. When she opened her eyes a little and saw that it was a long hall with doorways on either side, she stopped and then saw the door marked “Ladies” and went in. Inside there was a vast room with windows and wicker chairs and glaring white tiles and glittering silver faucets; there were four or five women around the wash-basins, combing their hair, putting on lipstick. She went directly to the nearest of the three wash-basins, took a paper towel, dropped her pocketbook and the little slip of paper on the floor next to her, and fumbled with the faucets, soaking the towel until it was dripping. Then she slapped it against her face violently. Her eyes cleared and she felt fresher, so she soaked the paper again and rubbed her face with it. She felt out blindly for another paper towel, and the woman next to her handed her one, with a laugh she could hear, although she could not see for the water in her eyes. She heard one of the women say, “Where we going for lunch?” and another one say, “Just downstairs, prob’ly. Old fool says I gotta be back in half-an-hour.”

  Then she realized that at the wash-basin she was in the way of the women in a hurry so she dried her face quickly. It was when she stepped a little aside to let someone else get to the basin and stood up and glanced into the mirror that she realized with a slight stinging shock that she had no idea which face was hers!

  She looked into the mirror as though into a group of strangers, all staring at her or around her; no one was familiar in the group, no one smiled at her or looked at her with recognition; you’d think my own face would know me, she thought, with a queer numbness in her throat. There was a creamy chinless face with bright blond hair, and a sharp-looking face under a red veiled hat, and a colorless anxious face with brown hair pulled straight back, and a square rosy face under a square haircut, and two or three more faces pushing close to the mirror, moving, regarding themselves. Perhaps it’s not a mirror, she thought, maybe it’s a window and I’m looking straight through at women washing on the other side. But there were women combing their hair and consulting the mirror; the group was on her side, and she thought, I hope I’m not the blonde, and lifted her hand and put it on her cheek.

  She was the pale anxious one with the hair pulled back and when she realized it she was indignant and moved hurriedly back through the crowd of women, thinking, It isn’t fair, why don’t I have any color in my face? There were some pretty faces there, why didn’t I take one of those? I didn’t have time, she told herself sullenly, they didn’t give me time to think, I could have had one of the nice faces, even the blonde would be better.

  She backed up and sat down in one of the wicker chairs. It’s mean, she was thinking. She put her hand up and felt her hair; it was loosened after her sleep but that was definitely the way she wore it, pulled straight back all around and fastened at the back of her neck with a wide tight barrette. Like a schoolgirl, she thought, only—remembering the pale face in the mirror—only I’m older than that. She unfastened the barrette with difficulty and brought it around where she could look at it. Her hair fell softly around her face; it was warm and reached to her shoulders. The barrette was silver; engraved on it was the name, “Clara.”

  “Clara,” she said aloud. “Clara?” Two of the women leaving the room smiled back at her over their shoulders; almost all the women were leaving now, correctly combed and lipsticked, hurrying out talking together. In the space of a second, like birds leaving a tree, they all were gone and she sat alone in the room. She dropped the barrette into the ashstand next to her chair; the ashstand was deep and metal, and the barrette made a satisfactory clang falling down. Her hair down on her shoulders, she opened her pocketbook, and began to take things out, setting them on her lap as she did so. Handkerchief, plain, white, uninitialled. Compact, square and brown tortoise-shell plastic, with a powder compartment and a rouge compartment; the rouge compartment had obviously never been used, although the powder cake was half-gone. Th
at’s why I’m so pale, she thought, and set the compact down. Lipstick, a rose shade, almost finished. A comb, an opened package of cigarettes and a package of matches, a change purse, and a wallet. The change purse was red imitation leather with a zipper across the top; she opened it and dumped the money out into her hand. Nickels, dimes, pennies, a quarter. Ninety-seven cents. Can’t go far on that, she thought, and opened the brown leather wallet; there was money in it but she looked first for papers and found nothing. The only thing in the wallet was money. She counted it; there were nineteen dollars. I can go a little farther on that, she thought.

  There was nothing else in the pocketbook. No keys—shouldn’t I have keys? she wondered—no papers, no address book, no identification. The pocketbook itself was imitation leather, light grey, and she looked down and discovered that she was wearing a dark grey flannel suit and a salmon pink blouse with a ruffle around the neck. Her shoes were black and stout with moderate heels and they had laces, one of which was untied. She was wearing beige stockings and there was a ragged tear in the right knee and a great ragged run going down her leg and ending in a hole in the toe which she could feel inside her shoe. She was wearing a pin on the lapel of her suit which, when she turned it around to look at it, was a blue plastic letter C. She took the pin off and dropped it into the ashstand, and it made a sort of clatter at the bottom, with a metallic clang when it landed on the barrette. Her hands were small, with stubby fingers and no nail polish; she wore a thin gold wedding ring on her left hand and no other jewelry.

  Sitting alone in the ladies’ room in the wicker chair, she thought, The least I can do is get rid of these stockings. Since no one was around she took off her shoes and stripped away the stockings with a feeling of relief when her toe was released from the hole. Hide them, she thought: the paper towel wastebasket. When she stood up she got a better sight of herself in the mirror; it was worse than she had thought: the grey suit bagged in the seat, her legs were bony, and her shoulders sagged. I look fifty, she thought; and then, consulting the face, but I can’t be more than thirty. Her hair hung down untidily around the pale face and with sudden anger she fumbled in the pocketbook and found the lipstick; she drew an emphatic rosy mouth on the pale face, realizing as she did so that she was not very expert at it, and with the red mouth the face looking at her seemed somehow better to her, so she opened the compact and put on pink cheeks with the rouge. The cheeks were uneven and patent, and the red mouth glaring, but at least the face was no longer pale and anxious.

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