‘Special Meal’ by Josh Malerman

Having started with Shirley Jackson, I’ll finish with a choice from an anthology of Jackson-inspired stories, edited by Ellen Datlow. In ‘Special Meal’, Amy and her family are having dinner and awaiting visitors, men who will test her to see if she knows maths. “How many of us were there? I don’t want to say.” Knowing maths is not allowed: people can be turned in and taken away for knowing numbers, for understanding counting and amounts. Time is a grey area; there is anxious consideration of what is allowed: “Is it okay to know what late means?” “He was older than Dad. Is that math?” I love this story’s sense of pleasure, and its poignancy. Amy is eating her favourite dinner: “It was like a birthday dinner but of course I couldn’t be sure when my birthday was.” She has a favourite place, between the kitchen and the living room, “where a wall might’ve been, but wasn’t.” And Amy loves maths.

First published in When Things Get Dark: Stories Inspired by Shirley Jackson, Titan Books, 2021

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