A leg of lamb

Excerpt from Someone Like You by Roald Dahl

This is an excerpt from the book Someone Like You by Roald Dahl. As this is a collection of short stories, the quote comes from the story ‘Lamb to the Slaughter.’

I should note, Roald Dahl is a problematic author, there have been quite a few instances of discriminatory language and behaviour from him. In no way do I support or endorse any of those views. I do enjoy his work that I’ve read and some of his short stories got me back into reading. If you prefer to avoid all problematic authors, I completely understand.

The room was warm and clean, the curtains drawn, the two table lamps alight – hers and the one by the empty chair opposite. On the sideboard behind her, two tall glasses, soda water, whisky. Fresh ice cubes in the Thermos bucket.

Mary Maloney was waiting for her husband to come home from work.

Now and again she would glance up at the clock, but without anxiety, merely to please herself with the thought that each minute gone by made it nearer the time when he would come. There was a slow smiling air about her, and about everything she did. The drop of the head as she bent over her sewing was curiously tranquil. Her skin – for this was her sixth month with child – had acquired a wonderful translucent quality, the mouth was soft, and the eyes, with their new placid look seemed larger, darker than before.

When the clock said ten minutes to five, she began to listen and a few moments later, punctually as always, she heard the tyres on the gravel outside, and the car door slamming, the footsteps passing the window, the key turning in the lock. She laid aside her sewing, stood up, and went forward to kiss him as he came in.

‘Hullo, darling,’ she said.

‘Hullo,’ he answered.

She took his coat and hung it in the closet. Then she walked over and made the drinks, a strongish one for him, a weak one for herself; and soon she was back again in her chair with the sewing, and he in the other, opposite, holding the tall glass with both his hands, rocking it so the ice cubes tinkled against the side.

For her, this was always a blissful time of day. She knew he didn’t want to speak much until the first drink was finished, and she, on her side, was content to sit quietly, enjoying his company after the long hours alone in the house. She loved to luxuriate in the presence of this man, and to feel – almost as a sunbather feels the sun – that warm male glow that came out of him to her when they were alone together. She loved him for the way he sat loosely in a chair, for the way he came in a door, or moved slowly across the room with long strides. She loved the intent, far look in his eyes when they rested on her, the funny shape of the mouth, and especially the way he remained silent about his tiredness, sitting still with himself until the whisky had taken some of it away.

‘Tired, darling?’

‘Yes,’ he said. ‘I’m tired.’ And as he spoke he did and unusual thing. He lifted his glass and drained it in one swallow although there was still half of it, at least half of it, left. She wasn’t really watching him but she knew what he had done because she heard the ice cubes falling back against the bottom of the empty glass when he lowered his arm. He paused a moment, leaning forward in the chair, then he got up and went slowly over to fetch himself another.

‘I’ll get it!’ She cried, jumping up.

‘Sit down,’ he said.

When he came back, she noticed that the drink was dark amber with the quantity of whisky in it.

‘Darling, shall I get your slippers?’


She watched him as he began to sip the dark yellow drink, and she could see little oily swirls in the liquid because it was so strong.

‘I think it’s a shame,’ she said, ‘that when a policeman gets to be as senior as you, they keep him walking about on his feet all day long.’

He didn’t answer, so she bent her head again and went on with her sewing; but each time he lifted the drink to his lips, she heard the ice cubes clinking against the side of the glass.

‘Darling,’ she said. ‘Would you like me to get you some cheese? I haven’t made any supper because it’s Thursday.’

‘No,’ he said.

‘If you’re too tired to eat out,’ she went on, ‘it’s still not too late. There’s plenty of meat and stuff in the freezer, and you can have it right here and not even move out of the chair.’

Her eyes waited on him for an answer, a smile, a little nod, but he made no sign.

‘Anyway,’ she went on, ‘I’ll get you some cheese and crackers first.’

‘I don’t want it,’ he said.

She moved uneasily in her chair, the large eyes still watching his face. ‘But you must have supper. I can easily do it here. I’d like to do it. We can have lamp chops. Or pork. Anything you want. Everything’s in the freezer.’

‘Forget it,’ he said.

‘But darling, you must eat! I’ll fix it anyway, and then you can have it or not, as you like.’

She stood up and placed her sewing on the table by the lamp.

‘Sit down,’ he said. ‘Just for a minute, sit down.’

It wasn’t till then that she began to get frightened.

‘Go on,’ he said. ‘Sit down.’

She lowered herself back slowly into the chair, watching him all the time with those large, bewildered eyes. He has finished the second drink and was staring down into the glass frowning.

‘Listen,’ he said, ‘I’ve got something to tell you.’

‘What is it, darling? What’s the matter?’

He had become absolutely motionless, and he kept his head down so that the light form the lamp beside him fell across the upper part of his face, leaving the chin and mouth in shadow. She noticed there was a little muscle moving near the corner of his left eye.

‘This is going to be a bit of a shock to you, I’m afraid,’ he said. ‘But I’ve thought about it a good deal and I’ve decided the only thing to do is tell you right away. I hope you won’t blame me too much.’

And he told her. It didn’t take long, four or five minutes at most, and she sat very still through it all, watching him with a kind of dazed horror as he went further and further away from her with each word.

‘So there it is,’ he added. ‘And I know it’s kind of a bad time to be telling you, but there simply wasn’t any other way. Of course I’ll give you money and see you’re looked after. But there needn’t really be any fuss. I hope not anyways. It wouldn’t be very good for my job.’

Her first instinct was not to believe any of it, to reject it all. It occurred to her that perhaps he hadn’t even spoken, that she herself had imagined the whole thing. Maybe, if she went about her business and acted as though she hadn’t been listening, then later, when she sort of woke up again, she might find none of it had ever happened.

‘I’ll get the supper,’ she managed to whisper, and this time he didn’t stop her.

When she walked across the room she couldn’t feel her feet touching the floor. She couldn’t feel anything at all – except a slight nausea and a desire to vomit. Everything was automatic now – down the stairs to the cellar, the light switch, the deep freeze, then hand inside the cabinet taking hold of the first object it met. She lifted it out, and looked at it. It was wrapped in paper, so she took off the paper and looked at it again.

A leg of lamb.

All right then, they would have lamb for supper. She carried it upstairs, holding the thin bone=end of it with both her hands, and as she went through the living room, she saw him standing over by the window with his back to her, and she stopped.

‘For God’s sake,’ he said, hearing her, but not turning round, ‘Don’t make supper for me. I’m going out.’

At that point, Mary Maloney simply walked up behind him and without any pause she swung the big frozen leg of lamb high in the air and brought it down as hard as she could on the back of his head.

She might just as well have hit him with a steel club.

She stepped back a pace, waiting, and the funny thing was that he remained standing there for at least four of five seconds, gently swaying. Then he crashed to the carpet.

Have you read this book? I’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment below!

Someone Like You – Summary

Here is the book summary:

In Someone Like You are fifteen classic tales told by the grand master of the short story, Roald Dahl.

Here, in Roald Dahl’s first collection of his world famous dark and sinister adult stories, a wife serves a dish that baffles the police; a harmless bet suddenly becomes anything but; a curious machine reveals a horrifying truth about plants; and a man lies awake waiting to be bitten by the venomous snake asleep on his stomach.

Through vendettas and desperate quests, bitter memories and sordid fantasies, Roald Dahl’s stories portray the strange and unexpected, sending a shiver down the spine.

Copyright © 1953 by Roald Dahl.

You can find more details here on Goodreads and on StoryGraph.

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