JLS (jlsjlsjls) wrote,

Another even-day reading treat

Thought I'd throw another not-well-known-but-fun-to-read autobiography at you. Most people know of Shirley Jackson because of her short story "The Lottery" (frequently part of high school reading lists) and/or her novel The Haunting (though I once again find that people are more likely to have seen the movie than to have read the book ... we shall pretend the dreadful remake that missed the entire point of the story was never made, okay?)

Ahem. Anyway, Jackson tends to be remembered for writing disturbing stuff. However she did have a quirky side and wicked sense of humour that came out her autobiographical writing, helped along by her family's ability to attract, say and act the ludicrous (I still call annoying people "you bad bad webbis" inside my head because of her; a giggle in the brain helps prevent homicide, y'know). From "Life Among the Savages":
So it was not more than a week later that Ninki gave the air gun another chance. It was a cool evening, and I was lying on the couch with a blanket over me, reading a mystery story; my husband was sitting quietly in his chair reading the newspaper. We had just congratulated one another on the fact that it was now too late for casual guests to drop in, and my husband had mentioned three or four times that he thought he might like some of that pot roast in a sandwich before he went to bed. Then we heard Ninki's unmistakably triumphant mighty-hunter howl from the dining room.
"Look," I said apprehensively, "Ninki's got something, a mouse or something. Make her take it outside."
"She'll get it out by herself."
"But she'll chase it around and around and around the dining room and kill it there and--" I gulped unhappily "--eat it. Get it out now while it's still alive."
"She won't--" my husband began, when Ninki's triumphant wail broke off with a muffled oath and Ninki herself came hurriedly to the dining room door and stared compellingly at my husband.
"Do you always need help?" he asked her crossly. "Seems to me a great big cat like you--"
I shrieked. Ninki lifted her head resignedly, as one whose bitterest views of fate have been confirmed; my husband gasped. Ninki's supper, a full-grown and horribly active bat, was sweeping magnificently down the length of the living room. For a minute I watched it with my mouth open and then, still yelling, buried my head under the blanket.
"My gun," I heard my husband shouting at Ninki, "where is my gun?"
Even under the blanket I could hear the flap of the bat's wings as it raced up and down the living room; I put my knees under my chin and my arms over my head and huddled under the blanket. Outside, they were stalking the bat; I could hear my husband tiptoeing warily down the room, with Ninki apparently right behind him, because he was saying, "Don't hurry, for heaven's sake, give me a chance to aim."
A hideous thought came to me. "Is it on me?" I said through my teeth, "just tell me once, is it on me, on the blanket? Ninki, is it? Is it?"
"Now you just stay perfectly still," my husband said reassuringly. "Those things never stay in one place for very long. Why, only the other day I was reading in the paper about a woman who--"
"Is it on the blanket?" I insisted hysterically, "on me?"
"Listen," my husband siad crossly, "if you keep on shaking like that, I'll never be able to hit it. Hold still, and I'm sure to miss you."
I do not know what the official world's record might be for getting out from under a blanket, flying across a room, opening a door and a screen door, and getting outside onto a porch with both doors closed behind you, but if it is more than about four seconds I broke it. I thought the bat was chasing me, for one thing. And I knew that, if the bat were chasing me, my husband was aiming that gun at it, wherever it was. Outside on the porch, I leaned my head against the middle pillar and breathed hard.
Inside, there was a series of crashes. I recognized the first as the report of the air gun. The second sounded irresistably like a lamp going over, which is what it turned out to be. The third I could not identify from the porch, but my husband said later that it was Ninki trying to get out of the way of the air gun and knocking over the andirons. Then my husband spoke angrily to Ninki, and Ninki snarled. Each of them, it seemed, thought the other one had frightened the bat, which had left the blanket when I did, although not half so fast, and was now circling gaily around the chandelier.
"Come on in," my husband said through the door; he tried to open it but I was hanging on from the outside; "Come on in, it won't hurt you. I promise it won't."
"I'll stay out here," I said.
"It's just as frightened as you are," he said.
"It is not," I said.
Then he apparently spoke to Ninki again, because he said excitedly, "It's landing; keep away now, you'll be hurt."
There was a great noise of rushing and snarling and shooting, then a long silence. Finally I asked softly, "Are you all right?"
Another silence. "Are you all right?" I said.
Another silence. I opened the door a crack and peered in cautiously. My husband was sitting on the couch, beating his hands on his knees. The air gun was on the floor. Ninki and the bat were gone.
"Is it all right to come in?" I asked.
"I don't know," my husband said, looking at me bitterly, "have you got a ticket?"
"I mean," I said, "where's the bat?"
"She's taken it into the dining room," my husband said.
There was a nick in the wallpaper over the couch. In the dining room Ninki was growling pleasurably, deep in her throat. "She went faster than the pellet, is all," my husband said reasonably. "I was just getting ready to aim and she passed me and passed the pellet and hit the bat just as the pellet hit the wall."
"Hadn't you better get it out of the dining room?" I asked.
He began to beat his knees again. I went back to the couch, shook the blanket thoroughly to make sure there had been only one bat on it and that one was gone, and settle down in my chair with my mystery story. After a while Ninki came out of the dining room, nodded contemptuously at my husband, glanced at me and, with a grin at the air gun, got onto my husband's chair and went to sleep on his paper.
I took the gun and put it on the top shelf of the pantry, where I believe it still is. Now and then it occurs to me that in case of burglars I can take it down to protect the house, but I really think one of the kitchen knives would be safer, if Ninki is not around to take care of me.

The two volumes of Shirley Jackon's autobiography are, in order:
Life Among the Savages
Raising Demons
Tags: bookseries: shirleyjackson, reading

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