“The Witch” by Shirley Jackson
Card picked: 3♥
From: The Lottery, and other stories
Johnny is traveling by train with his mother and baby sister. Since the train car isn’t very full, Johnny is sitting on his own across the aisle. He says “Hi” to passersby and imagines seeing witches outside the window and telling them to go away. Johnny likes to tell the occasional fib (“What is your name?” “Jesus”), but surely that’s what four-year-olds do. His mother is enjoying some quiet reading time in between taking care of Johnny’s sister. All is well until a man with a cigar stays to chat with Johnny. “Shall I tell you about my little sister?” the man asks.
“I bought her a rocking-horse and a doll and a million lollipops,” the man said, “and then I took her and I put my hands around her neck and I pinched her and I pinched her until she was dead.”
Of course, this rattles Johnny’s mother. The man continues. Johnny is amused. Mother is appalled. Finally, she manages to shoo the man away. “He was teasing,” she tells Johnny.
And we’re left with another mother in a Shirley Jackson story who isn’t a bad mother, but we wonder if this happenstance (could it have been prevented?) will leave some terrible scar on her child. And what are we to think of Johnny’s lying? There is a very thick feeling of judgement in these stories even though nothing is explicitly stated.