from The Lottery and Other Stories, by Shirley Jackson
This was another of the more disturbing tales, quickly morphing from a mundane story about a normal woman traveling overnight to have a painful tooth removed into something much more frightening. It's up for debate, what's real and what's not-- but there is no happy, cheerful explanation for these events.
-- Jim (James Harris again) mysteriously popping into the story and even more mysteriously, effortlessly following Clara through the city (like the spirit creature he is).
-- All the weird snippets of things he says to her... Wooing her away from this life.
-- Clara's palpable exhaustion and her resultant helplessness. She's so tired and drugged up-- can barely keep herself conscious. She's at the mercy of the world-- and of course that's when James Harris comes along and takes charge. That woozy description of the little string of faint lights in the ceiling of the bus being all that's connecting her to the bus driver and the other passengers up front... Shivery.
-- Clara's odd idea that her tooth she's about to have removed is the only part of her that is important to the dentist, oral surgeon, and nurses-- the only part with an identity. She's a mere vehicle for the tooth.
-- "'Why did you pull me back?' she said, and her mouth was full of blood. 'I wanted to go on.'" Yeah, that's a creepy thing to say when you're emerging from anesthesia.
-- And then she tops herself and says this to the nurse: "God has given me blood to drink." Um, oh-kay... ~shudder shudder shudder~
-- Perhaps most shuddery of all... When she stands in a public restroom with a small group of other women, looks into the mirror (where they're all reflected) and can't tell which reflection is her own. WOW, that's creepy. It's like those times when you've looked in the mirror too long... or just at an odd moment... and suddenly wondered... What if that's not really my reflection? What if that's not me? What if she/it starts moving of her/its own accord, out of sync with my own motions? Only about a hundred times worse, because even at those times, you know that it's really you. You're just playing an eerie game with yourself. But to look in the mirror and legitimately not know yourself-- how awful!
-- When she starts throwing away her belongings-- the barrette engraved with her name (which she doesn't recognize) and the plastic pin with her initial ("C"). She's throwing away her old life-- her old identity-- her marriage and her children and everything she might have been or done.
-- And of course, this list wouldn't be complete without Clara's delusion at the end, as she walks along a busy city sidewalk, that she's running barefoot through hot sand, holding hands with good ol' Jim.