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HERE ARE a few things Id

like to get straight. Born to the largest man in


our village, I was never what youd call little.
My name is Lotta. And my riding-cape was
brown.

Its true that Mama did not


want me to walk alone
through the forest that day.
She pointed from the kitchen
window to dark clouds
hanging low. Snow looked
imminent. Lambert needs his
foot seen to, she said, and
the journey to Grans would
take so long if you walked.
I thought of a few things that
might reassure my anxious
mother: I would be taking the
unpopulated route. Less
chance of meeting against
foul, so I reasoned. Besides, I
had reached my full height
that summer. With my long
hair concealed beneath the
hood of Papas riding-cape,
anyone who glimpsed me
from a distance would assume
from my heft that I was a
hunter, and therefore armed.
My only concern was that my
toes had started pushing
against the end of my boots.
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Every small thing felt significant in those days. If


Mama should not grant me freedom that very morn,
with Gran in urgent need of care and Mama herself
occupied with horse business, then I would remain
housebound until marriage, whenever that might
be. I longed to leave our single-room cottage, to
stretch my magnificent limbs every which way, to
leap over creeks and swing on low-hanging
branches, testing the endurance of my newly adult
body.

At least you wont dawdle, Mama said eventually,


familiar with my long, swift stride. I grabbed Grans
basket of goodies with glee and about knocked
Mama o her feet with my bearhug. Mama would
be sure to catch me up, she said, embarking upon
horseback just as soon as the farrier had finished
with our gelding.

Wicker receptacles filled me with joy back then:


Gingham-lined baskets were the enduring prop
of picnics with friends, or of evening bonfires.
The basket smelt of medicinal herbs. Id made the
bread rolls myself, proud of their rise. Mama had
stewed the most tender portions of varmint,
binding the pasty inside layer upon layer of cloth
so as not to attract predators. Mama had also
baked a fruit cake which turned out dry, as usual.
But Gran could moisten it suciently with a few
dregs of wine.
Im to take the wine? Really, Mama? I never did
enjoy the taste of toddy and Mama refused to
drink alone. And she was always alone, now that
Papa had gone. I had assumed Mama would
always keep his pretty bottle on our mantle as a
remembrance.
That wine might spoil. In any case, Gran can
keep the vessel as a vase.
Thats when I decided to collect a posy of flowers
along my journey. In fact, it may have been
Mamas idea.
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Id been wearing Papas leather riding-cape since last spring. I


loved every scued inch of it. And when I wrapped his scrim
net scarf around my head I could enjoy his lingering scent. I
was terrified a shower of rain would wash Papas smell clean
away. I would have to beat the snowfall. And if I didnt beat
the snowfall, Id have to beat the melt. I remember kissing
Mama goodbye and striding out the door, just as Papa would
have done. His riding-cape billowed as I rounded the corner
at the foot of our property and for a moment I felt as large and
as powerful as hed once been.
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I wasnt as wary as I had promised Id be, more intent on scanning the ground for those tiny blue
flowers that grow throughout winter despite the frost. I picked the most perfect specimens for a posy,
thinking all the time about my grandmother and how she, too, always managed to delight in the
small things. Despite her ailment, I was sure shed be grateful for flowers.

The woodland was crisp and still,


punctured occasionally by an
unidentified creature scrabbling in
the undergrowth. I strode along the
path. I have always enjoyed any
opportunity to crane my neck
upwards, and I did so now,
marveling at the height of the ash
trees.

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As my boots felt tighter and tighter, I focused on


the steady crunch of my footsteps. I had not yet
lost my childhood sense of wonder and mimicry.
I saw my own breath pu and dissipate in the
chill air, so found a short stick about the size of a
pipe. How manly and powerful I would look
from a distance, with a pipe between my teeth! I
imagined I could smell Papas tobacco.

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I could definitely smell tobacco. Not the


inoensive, floating-past kind, but the heavy,
acrid kind that clings to your lungs. Id smelt
that somewhere before, but not on Papa.

I stood still for a moment, scanning the forest


all around. There was nothing but darkness
in there. So I continued on, quickening my
pace. I soon reached a clearing. The tobacco
smell intermingled with the aroma of
sawdust. These logs had not fallen; they had
been felled. I sat on a stump for a few
moments, heart quickened, inexplicably
frightened by the solitude. I told myself that I
was simply on the recent trail of a friendly
huntsman, or perhaps of a merry family
collecting kindling before the snow set in. On
reflection, it was the silence that unsettled
me. I heard no footsteps, no childlike
laughter, no felling of trees.

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I had made it through the clearing now, and reluctantly entered the dark woods on the other side. I could no longer
see any sky. I started to wish for that snowfall, which might at least lighten the landscape. A movement caught my
eye. It might have been a black deer, or else my imagination. Oh, but another one. Closer this time, I was certain.
Then I remembered about wolves, and the hunter who had returned with a pelt just three months prior, and this
after swearing wolves had been hounded out of the area. If I was now caught on the scent-draught of a wolf, she
might be stalking me from any direction. There may even be a pack of them. Thats when I started to run.
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Youthful fancies ran away on me. I remembered tales of


wild beasts of witches and werewolves retold around
campfires by village elders. Those tales were certainly
exaggerated for the frisson, or to frighten us into blind
obedience.

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Above the sound of my own boots pounding against peat, I listened in vain for Mama, who had promised
to join me on horseback. I had traversed this very wood many a time, but never alone. The trees looked so
dierent now. Every slender branch, graceful and delicate just moments ago, now resembled the muzzle of
some leaping predator, ready to sink its teeth into my ample flesh.
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Faster and faster I ran. I considered ditching the heavy wicker basket, thud-thud-thudding against one
thigh. Perhaps my pack of stalkers would make do with the stew and I would live another day.

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And then, at last, with my chest burning, the path widened and the trees thinned out. I had
reached the edge of that terrible, wicked wood Id been warned against since birth.

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Outside the dark of the forest, I found it had


been snowing for some time. Grandmas rear
field, even with the cherry morello naked for
winter, had never looked so inviting. I
considered sprinting across the white,
propelling myself over the picket fence, and
bursting in through Grans back door. But I
didnt. I decided to catch my breath. I wanted
to show Gran that I had walked calmly through
the forest alone, and could be trusted with any
sort of adult responsibility. I would enquire
after her health, peck her on the cheek, and
insist on completing the days chores.
In my calmer state, I noticed the lack of
shimmer above Grans chimney. Her hearth
would need attention. I decided to collect an
armful of kindling before going inside.

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Again, the smell of a pipe, both familiar and


strange.
Little Lotta, he said, emerging from behind the
woodshed.

I could not tell you his name these days, or if I ever knew it.
He had delivered a load of kindling for Gran. Hed been a
frequent visitor to our own cottage, on the same business. Id
oft-times seen him emerge from the village tavern and once,
soon after Papa had gone, he insisted on walking me home
from church. My mother followed close behind, and I own
that I enjoyed the bulk of him ambling along beside me a
reminder that there are, indeed, marriageable men in the
world who match me in height and exceed me in girth. He
was the only man who could call me Little without irony.
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He said hed spied me, running through the


woods. He told me about the huntsman and
the wolf pelt, though Id heard the story
already. He embellished the details
somewhat, and I laughed at his hyperbolic
ferocity.

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But he wasnt making any joke. You


should be careful, he said, lowering his
voice despite our solitude. You might
wear the riding-cape of a man, and that
military weave as camouflage, but you
can never disguise your womanly
opulence.

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I wished now for a smaller woodcutter,


and one without an axe.

He stepped forward, lifted one


flap of my basket, let it fall. He
swung the splitting axe before him
-- between us -- impressing upon
me his danger and skill.
The axe dropped; his hand caught
my wrist. I had always felt strong,
but until that moment I did not
know the meaning of brute
strength.

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I watch as the axe lies helpless against the ground.


I have dropped Grans basket of goodies, and I
know the bottle of wine has fractured, because a
trickle of brownish-red stains the pure white snow.
Then I squeeze my eyes shut.

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Footsteps retreat.

Snowflakes melt on my cheeks and chin. I think only


of the snow, and how it will cover his tracks. If his
tracks can disappear, and eventually the snow,
perhaps I can imagine that he, too, has evaporated
into the ether.
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Lotta? Oh, Lotta! Mother appears above me. Thinking of


nothing at all, I had not heard her approach.

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I remember sitting wedged between Mama and Gran in front of a blazing fire. Poorly as Gran was, I saw a
healthy fury that day, behind her wolflike eyes.

I should have listened


to those terrible tales.
From now on, I shall
never venture out
alone.

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That was the winter Gran grew worse. As


her eyesight weakened, arthritic fingers
sewed for me a double-milled scarlet
chaperon. Mama helped with the
embroidery.
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I wear it still, patching


and mending as needed.

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Perhaps youve noticed me, in the decades since passed, traversing the woods without
fear. I will not become invisible. The forest is dark, but I am a red blaze against it.
All the better to see me with, my dear.

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