The Hallucination

Article excerpt

Joyce Carol Oates contributed "The Hallucination" to the Spring 1975 issue of Chicago Review. Often noted for her prolific outpouring of short fiction and novels, she is a frequent contributor to little magazines; with her husband, Raymond Smith, she edits the Ontario Review and the Ontario Review Press. She currently teaches at Princeton. Of this story, OATES writes,

I can say about "The Hallucination" that it was directly inspired by an incident in my personal life, probably in 1974; in Windsor, Ontario, Canada where my husband and I were living in a house not identical with the house described in the story but in circumstances roughly analogous. A hallucinating young man came to our door, banged and kicked at the door wanting entry in the middle of the night; eventually, he went away. The incident acquired for me a symbolic significance in the context of the much-publicized drug culture of the era.

I'd sent "The Hallucination" to Chicago Review because I admired the journal; it's even possible, for this sometimes happens, that an editor invited me to submit a story. It was subsequently reprinted in The Pushcart Prize 1976: The Best of the Small Presses but was never included in any story collection of my own. So thank you for resuscitating this story from out of the rapidly receding past, very like a hallucination itself.

Her husband's voice lifted through the floorboards of the old house.

She was awake, suddenly. She couldn't remember having fallen asleep what time was it? - she sat up, shivering, and heard now the voice from downstairs, familiar, but too loud, as if Alan were on the telephone. But it was too late for him to be talking to anyone: it was nearly two o'clock in the morning.

...she could hear her husband's voice but could not distinguish any words.

She got out of bed, slowly.

On the landing she heard the anger in his voice. And the pleading.

"...why don't you go home? ... go somewhere else?"

The lights were out downstairs. Alan stood at the front door, in the darkened hallway, talking to someone out on the porch. Joanne was fully awake now: she stared at her husband's shadowy figure, wondering if the frightened anger in his voice, in his tense body, would be enough to protect them. She could not see who was there - only a blurred form, on the porch, pushed in close in the space between the door and the screen door, which he had opened. They never bothered to latch the screen door.

"...why don't you go home? I'm not going to let you in. What do you want? Look, I can't help you," Alan was saying. He spoke quickly, yet gave to the final words of each sentence a peculiar dragging weight, almost a plea, the way one might speak to a child. "I said I can't help you... What do you want?"

Outside, a man's voice - high and thin - the words unintelligible. Then a burst of laughter.

Joanne was at the foot of the stairs now, and she could see the intruder more clearly - a head of long blond hair, a face in continual movement, youthful and creased, sunburned, the mouth contorted in a wide grin. He kept jerking his head from side to side, furiously. He was arguing with Alan through the door but his words were only plunges and leaps of noise. In Joanne's panic she seemed to see him as someone come back to reclaim the farm, the old farm-house she and Alan had just moved into - six miles outside Beulah, Vermont, and a quarter-mile from the interstate highway to the south - but that was because the boy was wearing denim jeans and a vest or jacket of denim, and because of the bleached, haylike look of his wild hair.

"Alan, who is it? What does he want?" Joanne said.

He turned to her, startled. His blond, greyish-blond hair looked disheveled: she had never seen him so distraught - tense, alarmed, yet irritable too, and a little embarrassed - as if she had come upon him when he had believed himself alone, totally alone. …