“After You, My Dear Alphonse” by Shirley Jackson
Card picked: 5♥
Despite her horror credentials, Shirley Jackson is the queen of the painfully awkward moment, often moments that only the reader is witness to.
The phrase “After You, My Dear Alphonse” is (and I had to look this up) a catchphrase based on an early 20th century newspaper comic strip. In the case of this story, it’s a bit of nonsense being repeated by Johnny and his new friend Boyd.
Each boy says it as they come in for lunch, politely refusing to enter before the other. “After you, My Dear Alphonse.” “No, after you, My Dear Alphonse.” Jackson doesn’t give them any dialog attribution when they enter.
Boyd is “a Negro boy, smaller than Johnny but about the same age.” Mrs. Wilson immediately becomes concerned about everything. Johnny shouldn’t let Boyd carry all the wood kindling—that Boyd has collected and means to take home. Does Boyd’s father work? Yes, at a factory—as a foreman. What about his mother, what does his mother do? She stays home with the kids—just like Mrs. Wilson does, Johnny points out. Mrs. Wilson has lots of Johnny’s old clothes and a few old dresses, would Boyd’s mother like them? …”But I have plenty of cloths, thank you,” Boyd informs her. “Thank you very much, though.”
And after that, Mrs. Wilson becomes a little indignant; mainly, because she’s made fool out herself by continuing to follow her stereotyped notions. She takes out her embarrassment on the boys and withholds dessert. The thing is? The kids are oblivious. Johnny shrugs it off as his mother is “screwy sometimes,” and they continue on with their day.
“After you, My Dear Alphonse…”