Sunday, January 11, 2015

Deal Me In, Week 2: "The Broomstick on the Porch" by Frieda Arkin

This week's story, thanks to the four of spades, comes from The Best American Short Stories 1964 -- a strange little tale of a young woman's influence on the family she works for.

First, though: I was unfamiliar with the author of this story, Frieda Arkin, so I decided to do some background research. She has not written very much fiction -- her works are more along the lines of non-fiction books on gardening and cooking. Her first novel was published in 1969 and then she did not publish another novel for 35 more years.

Louella has just turned 18 and she travels in from the country to work for the Austin family as a nanny for their two children, Robbie and Cynthia. She is kind-hearted and means well, but she has a decidedly dark look on life, and unwittingly transmits this to Robbie in particular, mainly by telling him horrible stories about people that have died and lost legs and things like that. In fact, the title of the story comes from a spooky tale she tells Robbie on the very day she's interviewing for the position.

Not surprisingly, Robbie begins to have nightmares, and his mother wonders if it's something that Louella is doing to him, or telling him. It IS, of course, but Louella seems genuinely perplexed about why he would be having all this trouble, and puts it down to his age.

One day Louella gets a letter about a friend back home, Charlie Ryder, who has died. She's saddest about missing his funeral (another piece of evidence showing her dark mindset) but for some reason she begins to think that Charlie is affecting the family from beyond the grave, especially Mr. Austin. He reminds Louella of Charlie, and when he suddenly gets sick, she begins telling Charlie to knock it off, basically. However, she also begins preparing for his death. She does this in a caring way, which is what makes me think she doesn't really realize how much her psyche turns naturally towards the dark side -- after all, as she tells Robbie on one occasion, "I got seven aunts dead." She's a girl well-acquainted with death.

This is one of the stranger little stories I have read recently, and I ended up reading it a couple of times to get all the nuances out of it. However, it was a good story, and the resolution of the story was genuine and satisfying.

The Deal Me In short story challenge is hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.


  1. Sounds sufficiently creepy for me to enjoy it. :-) The Top Ten Tuesday folks ought to have a TTT for 'creepy nannys, housekeepers, and governesses in literature... I can think of a few others almost immediately.

    Ursula Monckton from The Ocean at the End of the Lane would be a contemporary contender...

    1. I agree! But Louella can't hold a candle to Ursula. Or a broomstick. :-)

  2. Sounds very creepy for an author of books on gardening and cooking. I had not heard of Arkin, either, but this seems like it could be good.

    1. Yes! Arkin is a good writer, so I am interested in reading more of her stuff -- even the gardening books. :-)