A woman was going to market.
“Why can’t I come with you?” her daughter complained as she watched her mother consult the pantry.
“Because the market is too far away,” the woman replied. “You’re not big enough to walk quickly and too big to carry.”
“But I’ll be all alone!”
The woman peered inside the squat, cantankerous icebox. “You’ve been alone before,” she said. “How about the time you played in the woods?”
“That was different! You told me to take a bath. You wanted to comb my hair! I ran to the woods so I could have fun.”
“You still need a bath,” her mother murmured.
The girl crossed her arms defiantly. “Let me come with you," she said. "I’ll walk very quickly. I’ll be so fast you’ll run to keep up.”
“What about the time I found you in the basement?” her mother reminded her. “You were there for hours and hours. I thought I’d have to deliver your meals.”
Prompted by this memory, she opened the door to the root cellar and walked halfway down the stairs, the sound of her footfalls echoing in the cramped space. The girl waited for her mother to return before providing her explanation.
“I was afraid! You said the doctor was coming to check my throat. I doesn’t count if I was hiding. Anyway, that was my choice -- I decided to be there. Please don’t make me stay. I’ll be so lonely without you.”
As she passed her daughter, the woman paused to give her a kiss on the cheek. Then she continued from the kitchen to the anteroom, where she pulled on her boots.
“We do not always get to decide,” she said, donning her coat and worming her fingers into her gloves. “Sometimes we’re alone because we need to be. I won’t be very long. The house is warm. You have your toys to distract you. When I get back, we’ll make dinner together, and maybe even wash your hair.”
She didn’t give her daughter the opportunity to speak. Twisting the knob, she stepped outside and pulled the door closed behind her. The woman waited until she heard the bolt in the lock before turning to face the woods ahead. The light was dim -- soon it would be dark. Her breath shrouded her face like a cowl. In her kitchen was nothing. There was nothing in the root cellar. Nothing.
Into the stark night she walked.