“The Daemon Lover” by Shirley Jackson
Card picked: Five of Spades
From: The Lottery and Other Stories
“Dearest Anne, by the time you get this I will be married. Doesn’t it sound funny? I can hardly believe it myself, but when I tell you how it happened, you’ll see it’s even stranger than that…”
Unfortunately, we never hear about how it happened. Our protagonist, another female character that I don’t recall Shirley Jackson naming, begins this letter to her sister as she’s waiting for her fiancé, Jamie, to come for her so they can elope. She is nervous and wants everything to be perfect. Is her comfortable blue dress too severe? The alternative is an old ruffled print that seems too young for her. She is thirty-four years old, after all. No spring chicken, but she’s sure Jamie sees all her good qualities. Unfortunately, Jamie Harris never shows up. When he’s sufficiently late, our protagonist goes to where he says he lives (she’d never been to his place). She finds that he was a sublet tenant (maybe) who moved out the day (hours?) before. But she’s certain he’d been there that morning and tried to track his progress to to her apartment. He stopped to get his shoes shined. He stopped to buy chrysanthemums for her (an odd choice for his bride). But then, he went to another house, to a room in the attic, and will not answer the door…
This story can be read two ways and neither of them is comfortable. Since we, the readers, have never meet Jamie (he just left before we meet our protagonist), and no one our protagonist talks to ever quite knows who she’s talking about, it’s possible that this old maid (but with skills and talents and a nice apartment!) has made him up. Or maybe…everyone is humoring our protagonist. Or making fun of her. A thirty-four year-old woman in a ruffled print dress that is too young for her chasing down a some man in a blue suit? Well…haven’t you ever wondered if the people around you are just humoring you, or maybe even making fun of you, but you can’t tell for sure because maybe they really are telling the truth? And I wonder, is this a particularly female feeling? Or only the feeling of someone who has never really been “cool” or popular? (Am I tipping my cards too much to say that maybe this story isn’t comfortable to me because I still feel this way sometimes?)
After googling “The Daemon Lover” (sometimes called “James Harris”), I find that this is also the name of Scottish ballad about the Devil who lures away the wife of a carpenter after being away for seven years. Maybe our protagonist will meet Jamie again in her forties. Or maybe it’s all just been a devil’s trick.