The Lottery and Other Stories by Shirley Jackson


  At the meeting I sat restlessly, scanning each comfortable matronly face, trying to determine which one hid the secret of Charles. None of them looked to me haggard enough. No one stood up in the meeting and apologized for the way her son had been acting. No one mentioned Charles.

  After the meeting I identified and sought out Laurie’s kindergarten teacher. She had a plate with a cup of tea and a piece of chocolate cake; I had a plate with a cup of tea and a piece of marshmallow cake. We maneuvered up to one another cautiously, and smiled.

  “I’ve been so anxious to meet you,” I said. “I’m Laurie’s mother.”

  “We’re all so interested in Laurie,” she said.

  “Well, he certainly likes kindergarten,” I said. “He talks about it all the time.”

  “We had a little trouble adjusting, the first week or so,” she said primly, “but now he’s a fine little helper. With occasional lapses, of course.”

  “Laurie usually adjusts very quickly,” I said. “I suppose this time it’s Charles’s influence.”

  “Charles?”

  “Yes,” I said, laughing, “you must have your hands full in that kindergarten, with Charles.”

  “Charles?” she said. “We don’t have any Charles in the kindergarten.”

  Afternoon In Linen

  IT WAS a long, cool room, comfortably furnished and happily placed, with hydrangea bushes outside the large windows and their pleasant shadows on the floor. Everyone in it was wearing linen—the little girl in the pink linen dress with a wide blue belt, Mrs. Kator in a brown linen suit and a big, yellow linen hat, Mrs. Lennon, who was the little girl’s grandmother, in a white linen dress, and Mrs. Kator’s little boy, Howard, in a blue linen shirt and shorts. Like in Alice Through the Looking-Glass, the little girl thought, looking at her grandmother; like the gentleman all dressed in white paper. I’m a gentleman all dressed in pink paper, she thought. Although Mrs. Lennon and Mrs. Kator lived on the same block and saw each other every day, this was a formal call, and so they were drinking tea.

  Howard was sitting at the piano at one end of the long room, in front of the biggest window. He was playing “Humoresque” in careful, unhurried tempo. I played that last year, the little girl thought; it’s in G. Mrs. Lennon and Mrs. Kator were still holding their teacups, listening to Howard and looking at him, and now and then looking at each other and smiling. I could still play that if I wanted to, the little girl thought.

  When Howard had finished playing “Humoresque,” he slid off the piano bench and came over and gravely sat down beside the little girl, waiting for his mother to tell him whether to play again or not. He’s bigger than I am, she thought, but I’m older. I’m ten. If they ask me to play the piano for them now, I’ll say no.

  “I think you play very nicely, Howard,” the little girl’s grandmother said. There were a few moments of leaden silence. Then Mrs. Kator said, “Howard, Mrs. Lennon spoke to you.” Howard murmured and looked at his hands on his knees.

  “I think he’s coming along very well,” Mrs. Kator said to Mrs. Lennon. “He doesn’t like to practise, but I think he’s coming along well.”

  “Harriet loves to practise,” the little girl’s grandmother said. “She sits at the piano for hours, making up little tunes and singing.”

  “She probably has a real talent for music,” Mrs. Kator said. “I often wonder whether Howard is getting as much out of his music as he should.”

  “Harriet,” Mrs. Lennon said to the little girl, “won’t you play for Mrs. Kator? Play one of your own little tunes.”

  “I don’t know any,” the little girl said.

  “Of course you do, dear,” her grandmother said.

  “I’d like very much to hear a little tune you made up yourself, Harriet,” Mrs. Kator said.

  “I don’t know any,” the little girl said.

  Mrs. Lennon looked at Mrs. Kator and shrugged. Mrs. Kator nodded, mouthing “Shy,” and turned to look proudly at Howard.

  The little girl’s grandmother set her lips firmly in a tight, sweet smile. “Harriet dear,” she said, “even if we don’t want to play our little tunes, I think we ought to tell Mrs. Kator that music is not our forte. I think we ought to show her our really fine achievements in another line. Harriet,” she continued, turning to Mrs. Kator, “has written some poems. I’m going to ask her to recite them to you, because I feel, even though I may be prejudiced”—she laughed modestly—“even though I probably am prejudiced, that they show real merit.”

  “Well, for heaven’s sake!” Mrs. Kator said. She looked at Harriet, pleased. “Why, dear, I didn’t know you could do anything like that! I’d really love to hear them.”

  “Recite one of your poems for Mrs. Kator, Harriet.”

  The little girl looked at her grandmother, at the sweet smile, and at Mrs. Kator, leaning forward, and at Howard, sitting with his mouth open and a great delight growing in his eyes. “Don’t know any,” she said.

  “Harriet,” her grandmother said, “even if you don’t remember any of your poems, you have some written down. I’m sure Mrs. Kator won’t mind if you read them to her.”

  The huge merriment that had been gradually taking hold of Howard suddenly overwhelmed him. “Poems,” he said, doubling up with laughter on the couch. “Harriet writes poems.” He’ll tell all the kids on the block, the little girl thought.

  “I do believe Howard’s jealous,” Mrs. Kator said.

  “Aw,” Howard said. “I wouldn’t write a poem. Bet you couldn’t make me write a poem if you tried.”

  “You couldn’t make me, either,” the little girl said. “That’s all a lie about the poems.”

  There was a long silence. Then “Why, Harriet!” the little girl’s grandmother said in a sad voice. “What a thing to say about your grandmother!” Mrs. Kator said. “I think you’d better apologize, Harriet,” the little girl’s grandmother said. Mrs. Kator said, “Why, you certainly had better.”

  “I didn’t do anything,” the little girl muttered. “I’m sorry.”

  The grandmother’s voice was stern. “Now bring your poems out and read them to Mrs. Kator.”

  “I don’t have any, honestly, Grandma,” the little girl said desperately. “Honestly, I don’t have any of those poems.”

  “Well, J have,” the grandmother said. “Bring them to me from the top desk drawer.”

  The little girl hesitated for a minute, watching her grandmother’s straight mouth and frowning eyes.

  “Howard will get them for you, Mrs. Lennon,” Mrs. Kator said.

  “Sure,” Howard said. He jumped up and ran over to the desk, pulling open the drawer. “What do they look like?” he shouted.

  “In an envelope,” the grandmother said tightly. “In a brown envelope with ‘Harriet’s poetry’ written on the front.”

  “Here it is,” Howard said. He pulled some papers out of the envelope and studied them a moment. “Look,” he said. “Harriet’s poems—about stars.” He ran to his mother, giggling and holding out the papers. “Look, Mother, Harriet’s poetry’s about stars!”

  “Give them to Mrs. Lennon, dear,” Howard’s mother said. “It was very rude to open the envelope first.”

  Mrs. Lennon took the envelope and the papers and held them out to Harriet. “Will you read them or shall I?” she asked kindly. Harriet shook her head. The grandmother sighed at Mrs. Kator and took up the first sheet of paper. Mrs. Kator leaned forward eagerly and Howard settled down at her feet, hugging his knees and putting his face against his leg to keep from laughing. The grandmother cleared her throat, smiled at Harriet, and began to read.

  “‘The Evening Star,’” she announced.

  “When evening shadows are falling,

  And dark gathers closely around,

  And all the night creatures are calling,

  And the wind makes a lonesome sound,

  “I wait for the first star to come out,

  And look for its silvery beams,

  When the blue and
green twilight is all about,

  And grandly a lone star gleams.”

  Howard could contain himself no longer. “Harriet writes poems about stars!”

  “Why, it’s lovely, Harriet dear!” Mrs. Kator said. “I think it’s really lovely, honestly. I don’t see what you’re so shy about it for.”

  “There, you see, Harriet?” Mrs. Lennon said. “Mrs. Kator thinks your poetry is very nice. Now aren’t you sorry you made such a fuss about such a little thing?”

  He’ll tell all the kids on the block, Harriet thought. “I didn’t write it,” she said.

  “Why, Harriet!” Her grandmother laughed. “You don’t need to be so modest, child. You write very nice poems.”

  “I copied it out of a book,” Harriet said. “I found it in a book and I copied it and gave it to my old grandmother and said I wrote it.”

  “I don’t believe you’d do anything like that, Harriet,” Mrs. Kator said, puzzled.

  “I did so,” Harriet maintained stubbornly. “I copied it right out of a book.”

  “Harriet, I don’t believe you,” her grandmother said.

  Harriet looked at Howard, who was staring at her in admiration. “I copied it out of a book,” she said to him. “I found the book in the library one day.”

  “I can’t imagine her saying she did such a thing,” Mrs. Lennon said to Mrs. Kator. Mrs. Kator shook her head.

  “It was a book called”—Harriet thought a moment—“called The Home Book of Verse,” she said. “That’s what it was. And I copied every single word. I didn’t make up one.”

  “Harriet, is this true?” her grandmother said. She turned to Mrs. Kator. “I’m afraid I must apologize for Harriet and for reading you the poem under false pretenses. I never dreamed she’d deceive me.”

  “Oh, they do,” Mrs. Kator said deprecatingly. “They want attention and praise and sometimes they’ll do almost anything. I’m sure Harriet didn’t mean to be—well, dishonest.”

  “I did so,” Harriet said. “I wanted everyone to think I wrote it. I said I wrote it on purpose.” She went over and took the papers out of her grandmother’s unresisting hand. “And you can’t look at them any more, either,” she said, and held them in back of her, away from everyone.

  Flower Garden

  AFTER LIVING in an old Vermont manor house together for almost eleven years, the two Mrs. Winnings, mother and daughter-in-law, had grown to look a good deal alike, as women will who live intimately together, and work in the same kitchen and get things done around the house in the same manner. Although young Mrs. Winning had been a Talbot, and had dark hair which she wore cut short, she was now officially a Winning, a member of the oldest family in town and her hair was beginning to grey where her mother-in-law’s hair had greyed first, at the temples; they both had thin sharp-featured faces and eloquent hands, and sometimes when they were washing dishes or shelling peas or polishing silverware together, their hands, moving so quickly and similarly, communicated more easily and sympathetically than their minds ever could. Young Mrs. Winning thought sometimes, when she sat at the breakfast table next to her mother-in-law, with her baby girl in the high-chair close by, that they must resemble some stylized block print for a New England wallpaper; mother, daughter, and granddaughter, with perhaps Plymouth Rock or Concord Bridge in the background.

  On this, as on other cold mornings, they lingered over their coffee, unwilling to leave the big kitchen with the coal stove and the pleasant atmosphere of food and cleanliness, and they sat together silently sometimes until the baby had long finished her breakfast and was playing quietly in the special baby corner, where uncounted Winning children had played with almost identical toys from the same heavy wooden box.

  “It seems as though spring would never come,” young Mrs. Winning said. “I get so tired of the cold.”

  “Got to be cold some of the time,” her mother-in-law said. She began to move suddenly and quickly, stacking plates, indicating that the time for sitting was over and the time for working had begun. Young Mrs. Winning, rising immediately to help, thought for the thousandth time that her mother-in-law would never relinquish the position of authority in her own house until she was too old to move before anyone else.

  “And I wish someone would move into the old cottage,” young Mrs. Winning added. She stopped halfway to the pantry with the table napkins and said longingly, “If only someone would move in before spring.” Young Mrs. Winning had wanted, long ago, to buy the cottage herself, for her husband to make with his own hands into a home where they could live with their children, but now, accustomed as she was to the big old house at the top of the hill where her husband’s family had lived for generations, she had only a great kindness left toward the little cottage, and a wistful anxiety to see some happy young people living there. When she heard it was sold, as all the old houses were being sold in these days when no one could seem to find a newer place to live, she had allowed herself to watch daily for a sign that someone new was coming; every morning she glanced down from the back porch to see if there was smoke coming out of the cottage chimney, and every day going down the hill on her way to the store she hesitated past the cottage, watching carefully for the least movement within. The cottage had been sold in January and now, nearly two months later, even though it seemed prettier and less worn with the snow gently covering the overgrown garden and icicles in front of the blank windows, it was still forlorn and empty, despised since the day long ago when Mrs. Winning had given up all hope of ever living there.

  Mrs. Winning deposited the napkins in the pantry and turned to tear the leaf off the kitchen calendar before selecting a dish towel and joining her mother-in-law at the sink. “March already,” she said despondently.

  “They did tell me down at the store yesterday,” her mother-in-law said, “that they were going to start painting the cottage this week.”

  “Then that must mean someone’s coming!”

  “Can’t take more than a couple of weeks to paint inside that little house,” old Mrs. Winning said.

  It was almost April, however, before the new people moved in. The snow had almost melted and was running down the street in icy, half-solid rivers. The ground was slushy and miserable to walk on, the skies grey and dull. In another month the first amazing green would start in the trees and on the ground, but for the better part of April there would be cold rain and perhaps more snow. The cottage had been painted inside, and new paper put on the walls. The front steps had been repaired and new glass put into the broken windows. In spite of the grey sky and the patches of dirty snow the cottage looked neater and firmer, and the painters were coming back to do the outside when the weather cleared. Mrs. Winning, standing at the foot of the cottage walk, tried to picture the cottage as it stood now, against the picture of the cottage she had made years ago, when she had hoped to live there herself. She had wanted roses by the porch; that could be done, and the neat colorful garden she had planned. She would have painted the outside white, and that too might still be done. Since the cottage had been sold she had not gone inside, but she remembered the little rooms, with the windows over the garden that could be so bright with gay curtains and window boxes, the small kitchen she would have painted yellow, the two bedrooms upstairs with slanting ceilings under the eaves. Mrs. Winning looked at the cottage for a long time, standing on the wet walk, and then went slowly on down to the store.

  The first news she had of the new people came, at last, from the grocer a few days later. As he was tieing the string around the three pounds of hamburger the large Winning family would consume in one meal, he asked cheerfully, “Seen your new neighbors yet?”

  “Have they moved in?” Mrs. Winning asked. “The people in the cottage?”

  “Lady in here this morning,” the grocer said. “Lady and a little boy, seem like nice people. They say her husband’s dead. Nice-looking lady.”

  Mrs. Winning had been born in the town and the grocer’s father had given her jawbreakers and licorice in
the grocery store while the present grocer was still in high school. For a while, when she was twelve and the grocer’s son was twenty, Mrs. Winning had hoped secretly that he would want to marry her. He was fleshy now, and middle-aged, and although he still called her Helen and she still called him Tom, she belonged now to the Winning family and had to speak critically to him, no matter how unwillingly, if the meat were tough or the butter price too high. She knew that when he spoke of the new neighbor as a “lady” he meant something different than if he had spoken of her as a “woman” or a “person.” Mrs. Winning knew that he spoke of the two Mrs. Winnings to his other customers as “ladies.” She hesitated and then asked, “Have they really moved in to stay?”

  “She’ll have to stay for a while,” the grocer said drily. “Bought a week’s worth of groceries.”

  Going back up the hill with her package Mrs. Winning watched all the way to detect some sign of the new people in the cottage. When she reached the cottage walk she slowed down and tried to watch not too obviously. There was no smoke coming from the chimney, and no sign of furniture near the house, as there might have been if people were still moving in, but there was a middle-aged car parked in the street before the cottage and Mrs. Winning thought she could see figures moving past the windows. On a sudden irresistible impulse she turned and went up the walk to the front porch, and then, after debating for a moment, on up the steps to the door. She knocked, holding her bag of groceries in one arm, and then the door opened and she looked down on a little boy, about the same age, she thought happily, as her own son.

  “Hello,” Mrs. Winning said.

  “Hello,” the boy said. He regarded her soberly.

  “Is your mother here?” Mrs. Winning asked. “I came to see if I could help her move in.”

  “We’re all moved in,” the boy said. He was about to close the door, but a woman’s voice said from somewhere in the house, “Davey? Are you talking to someone?”

 
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