- 03 Jun - 09 Jun, 2023
The morning was clear and sunny, with the fresh warmth of a full-summer day; the flowers were blossoming profusely and the grass was richly green. The people of the village began to gather in the square, between the post office and the bank, around ten o’clock; in some towns there were so many people that the lottery took two days and had to be started on June 26th, but in this village, where there were only about three hundred people, the whole lottery took only about two hours, so it could begin at ten o’clock in the morning and still be through in time to allow the villagers to get home for noon dinner.
Soon the men began to gather, surveying their own children, speaking of planting and rain, tractors and taxes. They stood together, away from the pile of stones in the corner, and their jokes were quiet and they smiled rather than laughed. The women, wearing faded house dresses and sweaters, came shortly after their menfolk. They greeted one another and exchanged bits of gossip as they went to join their husbands. Soon the women, standing by their husbands, began to call to their children, and the children came reluctantly, having to be called four or five times. Bobby Martin ducked under his mother’s grasping hand and ran, laughing, back to the pile of stones. His father spoke up sharply, and Bobby came quickly and took his place between his father and his oldest brother.
The original paraphernalia for the lottery had been lost long ago, and the black box now resting on the stool had been put into use even before Old Man Warner, the oldest man in town, was born. Mr Summers spoke frequently to the villagers about making a new box, but no one liked to upset even as much tradition as was represented by the black box. There was a story that the present box had been made with some pieces of the box that had preceded it, the one that had been constructed when the first people settled down to make a village here. Every year, after the lottery, Mr Summers began talking again about a new box, but every year the subject was allowed to fade off without anything’s being done. The black box grew shabbier each year; by now it was no longer completely black but splintered badly along one side to show the original wood color, and in some places faded or stained.
There was a great deal of fussing to be done before Mr Summers declared the lottery open. There were the lists to make up – of heads of families, heads of households in each family, members of each household in each family. There was the proper swearing-in of Mr Summers by the postmaster, as the official of the lottery; at one time, some people remembered, there had been a recital of some sort, performed by the official of the lottery, a perfunctory, tuneless chant that had been rattled off duly each year; some people believed that the official of the lottery used to stand just so when he said or sang it, others believed that he was supposed to walk among the people, but years and years ago this part of the ritual had been allowed to lapse. There had been, also, a ritual salute, which the official of the lottery had had to use in addressing each person who came up to draw from the box, but this also had changed with time, until now it was felt necessary only for the official to speak to each person approaching. Mr Summers was very good at all this; in his clean white shirt and blue jeans, with one hand resting carelessly on the black box, he seemed very proper and important as he talked interminably to Mr Graves and the Martins.
Mrs Hutchinson craned her neck to see through the crowd and found her husband and children standing near the front. She tapped Mrs Delacroix on the arm as a farewell and began to make her way through the crowd. The people separated good-humoredly to let her through; two or three people said, in voices just loud enough to be heard across the crowd, “Here comes your Mrs Hutchinson,” and “Bill, she made it after all.” Mrs Hutchinson reached her husband, and Mr Summers, who had been waiting, said cheerfully, “Thought we were going to have to get on without you, Tessie.” Mrs Hutchinson said, grinning, “Wouldn’t have me leave them dishes in the sink, now, would you, Joe?” and soft laughter ran through the crowd as the people stirred back into position after Mrs Hutchinson’s arrival.
“Right,” Mr Summers said. He made a note on the list he was holding. Then he asked, “Watson boy drawing this year?”
A tall boy in the crowd raised his hand. “Here,” he said. “I’m drawing for my mother and me.” He blinked his eyes nervously and ducked his head as several voices in the crowd said things like “Good fellow, Jack,” and “Glad to see your mother’s got a man to do it.”
“Well,” Mr Summers said, “guess that’s everyone. Old Man Warner make it?”
“Here,” a voice said, and Mr Summers nodded.
The people had done it so many times that they only half listened to the directions; most of them were quiet, wetting their lips, not looking around. Then Mr Summers raised one hand high and said, “Adams.” A man disengaged himself from the crowd and came forward. “Hi, Steve,” Mr Summers said, and Mr Adams said, “Hi, Joe.” They grinned at one another humourlessly and nervously. Then Mr Adams reached into the black box and took out a folded paper. He held it firmly by one corner as he turned and went hastily back to his place in the crowd, where he stood a little apart from his family, not looking down at his hand.
“Allen,” Mr Summers said. “Anderson. . . . Bentham.”
“Seems like there’s no time at all between lotteries anymore,” Mrs Delacroix said to Mrs Graves in the back row. “Seems like we got through with the last one only last week.”
“Time sure goes fast,” Mrs. Graves said.
“There goes my old man,” Mrs Delacroix said. She held her breath while her husband went forward.
“We’re next,” Mrs Graves said. She watched while Mr Graves came around from the side of the box, greeted Mr Summers gravely, and selected a slip of paper from the box. By now, all through the crowd there were men holding the small folded papers in their large hands, turning them over and over nervously. Mrs Dunbar and her two sons stood together, Mrs Dunbar holding the slip of paper.
“Get up there, Bill,” Mrs Hutchinson said, and the people near her laughed.
“They do say,” Mr Adams said to Old Man Warner, who stood next to him, “that over in the north village they’re talking of giving up the lottery.”
Old Man Warner snorted. “Pack of crazy fools,” he said. “Listening to the young folks, nothing’s good enough for them. Next thing you know, they’ll be wanting to go back to living in caves, nobody work anymore, live that way for a while. Used to be a saying about ‘Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon.’ First thing you know, we’d all be eating stewed chickweed and acorns. There’s always been a lottery,” he added petulantly. “Bad enough to see young Joe Summers up there joking with everybody.”
After that, there was a long pause, a breathless pause, until Mr Summers, holding his slip of paper in the air, said, “All right, fellows.” For a minute, no one moved, and then all the slips of paper were opened. Suddenly, all the women began to speak at once, saying, “Who is it?” “Who’s got it?” “Is it the Dunbars?” “Is it the Watsons?” Then the voices began to say, “It’s Hutchinson. It’s Bill,” “Bill Hutchinson’s got it.”
People began to look around to see the Hutchinsons. Bill Hutchinson was standing quiet, staring down at the paper in his hand. Suddenly, Tessie Hutchinson shouted to Mr Summers, “You didn’t give him time enough to take any paper he wanted. I saw you.
It wasn’t fair!”
“Be a good sport, Tessie,” Mrs Delacroix called, and Mrs Graves said, “All of us took the same chance.”
“Shut up, Tessie,” Bill Hutchinson said.
“Well, everyone,” Mr Summers said, “that was done pretty fast, and now we’ve got to be hurrying a little more to get done in time.” He consulted his next list. “Bill,” he said, “you draw for the Hutchinson family. You got any other households in the Hutchinsons?”
“There’s Don and Eva,” Mrs Hutchinson yelled. “Make them take their chance!”
“Daughters draw with their husbands’ families, Tessie,” Mr Summers said gently. “You know that as well as anyone else.”
“It wasn’t fair,” Tessie said.
“I guess not, Joe,” Bill Hutchinson said regretfully. “My daughter draws with her husband’s family, that’s only fair. And I’ve got no other family except the kids.”
Mr Graves had selected the five slips and put them in the box, and he dropped all the papers but those onto the ground, where the breeze caught them and lifted them off.
“Remember,” Mr Summers said, “take the slips and keep them folded until each person has taken one. Harry, you help little Dave.” Mr Graves took the hand of the little boy, who came willingly with him up to the box. “Take a paper out of the box, Davy,” Mr Summers said. Davy put his hand into the box and laughed. “Take just one paper,” Mr Summers said. “Harry, you hold it for him.” Mr Graves took the child’s hand and removed the folded paper from the tight fist and held it while little Dave stood next to him and looked up at him wonderingly.
“Nancy next,” Mr Summers said. Nancy was twelve, and her school friends breathed heavily as she went forward, switching her skirt, and took a slip daintily from the box. “Bill, Jr,” Mr Summers said, and Billy, his face red and his feet overlarge, nearly knocked the box over as he got a paper out. “Tessie,” Mr Summers said. She hesitated for a minute, looking around defiantly, and then set her lips and went up to the box. She snatched a paper out and held it behind her.
“All right,” Mr Summers said. “Open the papers. Harry, you open little Dave’s.”
Mr Graves opened the slip of paper and there was a general sigh through the crowd as he held it up and everyone could see that it was blank. Nancy and Bill, Jr., opened theirs at the same time, and both beamed and laughed, turning around to the crowd and holding their slips of paper above their heads.
“Tessie,” Mr Summers said. There was a pause, and then Mr Summers looked at Bill Hutchinson, and Bill unfolded his paper and showed it. It was blank.
Bill Hutchinson went over to his wife and forced the slip of paper out of her hand. It had a black spot on it, the black spot Mr Summers had made the night before with the heavy pencil in the coal-company office. Bill Hutchinson held it up, and there was a stir in the crowd.
“All right, folks,” Mr Summers said. “Let’s finish quickly.”
Although the villagers had forgotten the ritual and lost the original black box, they still remembered to use stones. The pile of stones the boys had made earlier was ready; there were stones on the ground with the blowing scraps of paper that had come out of the box. Mrs Delacroix selected a stone so large she had to pick it up with both hands and turned to Mrs Dunbar. “Come on,” she said. “Hurry up.”
Mrs Dunbar had small stones in both hands, and she said, gasping for breath. “I can’t run at all. You’ll have to go ahead and I’ll catch up with you.”
The children had stones already, and someone gave little Davy Hutchinson a few pebbles.
Tessie Hutchinson was in the centre of a cleared space by now, and she held her hands out desperately as the villagers moved in on her. “It isn’t fair,” she said. A stone hit her on the side of the head.
Old Man Warner was saying, “Come on, come on, everyone.” Steve Adams was in the front of the crowd of villagers, with Mrs Graves beside him.
“It isn’t fair, it isn’t right,” Mrs Hutchinson screamed, and then they were upon her.