Story

Here is the short story Louisa Please Come Home. I strongly recommend you read it before you go to the other sections of the site, because in the other sections there are spoilers.


Louisa, Please Come Home

By Shirley Jackson



I listened to my mother’s voice over the radio. “Louisa,” she said, “please come home. It’s been three years since we saw you. We all miss you. We want you back again. Louisa, please come home.”

Once a year I heard that. On the anniversary of the day I ran away. I also read the newspaper stories. “Louisa Tether disappeared one year ago.” Or two years, or three. I used to wait for June 20 as if it were my birthday.

I was living in Chandler. It was a big enough city for me to hide in. It was also near my old home. So the papers always made a big fuss about my anniversary.

I didn’t decide to leave all of a sudden. I had been planning it for a long time. Everything had to go right. If it had gone wrong, I would have looked like an awful fool. My sister Carol would never let me forget that.

I planned it for the day before her wedding. The papers said they had the wedding anyway. Carol told a reporter that her sister Louisa would have wanted it that way.

“She would never have wanted to spoil my wedding,” Carol said. But she knew that was exactly what I’d wanted.

Anyway, everyone was running around the house, getting ready for the wedding. I just walked out the door and started off.

There was only one bad minute. Paul saw me. Paul always lived next door to us. Carol hates him more than she hates me. My mother can’t stand him, either.

Of course, he didn’t know I was running away. I told him what I had told my parents. I was going downtown to get away from all the noise. He wanted to come with me. But I ran for the bus and left him standing there.

I took the bus downtown and walked to the railroad station. I bought a round-trip ticket. That would make them think I was coming back. Then they wouldn’t start looking for me too quickly.

I knew they’d think I’d stay in Crain. That was the biggest city the train went to. So I stayed there only one day.

I bought a tan raincoat in a department store in Crain. I had left home wearing a new jacket. I just left it on a counter in the store. Someone probably bought it.

I was pretty sure of one thing. There must be thousands of 19-year-old girls, fair-haired, five feet four inches tall, weighing 126 pounds. And a lot of them would be wearing raincoats.

It’s funny how no one pays any attention to you. Hundreds of people saw me that day. But no one really saw me.

I took a train to Chandler. That’s where I’d been heading all along. I slept on the train.

When I got to Chandler, I bought a suitcase. I bought some stockings and a little clock. I put them in the suitcase. Then I was ready to get myself settled in Chandler. Nothing is hard to do unless you get upset or excited about it.

I decide who I was going to be. I was a 19-year-old girl named Lois Taylor. I had a nice family upstate. I had saved enough money to come to live in Chandler. When the summer was over, I would go to the business school there. I would need a job to pay for the school.

I stopped in a drugstore for breakfast and a paper. I read the ads for furnished rooms. It all looked so normal. Suitcase, raincoat, room for rent. When I asked the clerk how to get to Primrose Street, he never even looked at me.

I walked into Mrs. Peacock’s house on Primrose Street. Right away, I knew this was the perfect place. My room was nice. And Mrs. Peacock and I liked each other.

She was pleased that my mother wanted to find a clean room in a good neighborhood. She was pleased that I wanted to save money so I could send some home every week.

Within an hour, Mrs. Peacock knew all about my make-believe family. I told her my mother was a widow. My sister had just been married. And my younger brother Paul made my mother worry a lot. He didn’t want to settle down.

Mrs. Peacock wanted to take care of me. She told me about a job in a neighborhood stationery store. So there I was. I had been away from home for 24 hours. And I was a whole new person. I was Lois Taylor. I lived on Primrose Street and worked at the stationery store.

Mrs. Peacock and I would read the papers during breakfast. She’d ask my opinion about the girl who disappeared over in Rockville. I’d say she must be crazy to leave a nice home like that.

Once I picked up the paper and looked at the picture. “Do you think she looks like me? “ I asked Mrs. Peacock.

Mrs. Peacock said, “No. Her hair is longer, and her face is fatter.”

“I think she looks like me,” I said.

My pictures was in the Chandler papers a lot. But no one ever looked at me twice. I went to work. I shopped in the stores. I went to the movies and the beach with Mrs. Peacock. And no one recognized me. I had done a perfect job of changing my identity.

One morning, Mrs. Peacock was reading about my disappearance. “They’re saying now that she was kidnapped,” she said.

“I feel kind of sorry for her,” I said.

“You can’t ever tell,” she said. “Maybe she went willingly with the kidnapper.”

On the anniversary of my running away, I bought myself a new hat. When I got home, Mrs. Peacock was listening to the radio. I heard my mother’s voice, “Louisa,” she said, “please come home.”

“That poor woman,” Mrs. Peacock said. “Imagine how she must feel. She hasn’t given up hope of finding her little girl alive some day.”

I decided not to go to business school. The stationery store was branching out. I would probably be a manager soon. Mrs. Peacock and I agreed it would be foolish to give up such a good job.

By this time, I had some money in the bank. I was getting along fine. I never had a thought of going back. It was just plain bad luck that I had to meet Paul.

I didn’t stop to think when I saw him on the street. I yelled, “Paul!”

He turned around and stared at me. Then he said, “Is it possible?”

He said I had to go back. If I didn’t, he’d tell them where I was. He told me there was still a reward for anyone who found me. He said I could run away again after he got the reward.

Maybe I really wanted to go home. Maybe that’s why I yelled his name out on the street. Anyway, I decided to go with him.

I told Mrs. Peacock I was going to visit my family upstate. I thought that was funny. Paul sent a telegram to my parents.

When we got to Rockville, we took a taxi. I began to get nervous, looking out the window. I would have sworn that I hadn’t thought about Rockville for three years. But I remembered it all, as if I had never been away.

The taxi turned into my street. When I saw the house, I almost cried. “Everything looks just the same,” I said. I caught the bus right there on the corner.”

“If I had stopped you,” Paul said, “you probably wouldn’t have tried again.”

We walked up the driveway. I wondered if they were watching from the window. I wondered if I would have to ring the doorbell. I had never had to ring it before.

I was still wondering when Carol opened the door. “Carol!” I said. I was honestly glad to see her.

She looked at me hard. Then she stepped back, and I saw my mother and father. I was going to run to them. But I held myself back. I wasn’t sure if they were angry with me or happy that I was back.

I wasn’t sure of what to say. So I just stood there and said, “Mother?”

She put her hands on my shoulders. She looked at my face for a long time. She was crying, and she looked old and sad.

Then she turned to Paul and said, “How could you do this to me again?”

Paul looked scared. “Mrs. Tether – “

My mother asked me, “What is you name, dear?”

“Louisa Tether,” I said stupidly.

“ No, dear” she said very gently. “Your real name.”

Now I felt like crying. “Louisa Tether,” I said. That’s my name.”

Why don’t you people leave us alone?” Carol screamed. “We’ve spent years trying to find my sister. And people like you just try to cheat us out of the reward money.”

“Carol,” my father said, “you’re scaring the poor child. Young lady,” he said to me, “I don’t think you realized how cruel this would be to us. You look like a nice girl. Try to imagine your own mother if someone did this to her.”

I tried to imagine my own mother. I looked straight at her.

My father said, “I’m sure this young man didn’t tell you he’s done this twice before. He’s brought us girls who pretended to be our Louisa. The first time we were fooled for several days. The girl looked like our Louisa. She acted like our Louisa. She even knew about family things that only Louisa – or Paul – could know. But she was not our daughter. And my wife suffers more each time her hopes are raised.”

He put one arm around my mother and the other around Carol. They all stood there looking at me.

Paul started to argue with them. I realized that all I wanted was to stay here. But I couldn’t. They had their minds that I wasn’t Louisa.

“Paul,” I said, “can’t you see that you’re only making Mr. Tether angry?”

“Correct, young lady,” my father said.

“Paul,” I said, “these people don’t want us here.” Paul was about to argue again. Instead, he turned and walked out.

I turned to follow him. My father – I mean Mr. Tether – took my hand. “My daughter was younger than you, “ I hope someone will do as much for our Louisa.”

“Good-bye, my dear,” my mother said. “Good luck to you.”

“I hope your daughter comes back some day,” I told them. “Good-bye.”

I gave the money to Paul. He’d gone to a lot of trouble. And I still had my job at the stationery store.

My mother still takes me on the radio once a year. “Louisa,” she says, “please come home. We miss you so much. Your mother and father love you and we will never forget you. Louisa, please come home.”