Last Updated on May 10, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 486
On a winter day, Joseph, a youngster of four, nonchalantly mentions to his mother that he wants to go down to the creek near the house. The family lives in a mountainous area, where, during the winter, hunters abound, making it somewhat dangerous for young children to play in the woods. The mother, busy at household tasks, puts off her son briefly before acknowledging his request. She gives in, but only grudgingly, making sure that he is dressed warmly in a jacket that marks him out for hunters so that he will not be mistaken for a target. Additionally, she recites a litany of “dos” and “don’ts” for the boy, which he bears patiently.
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When her son is gone, the mother reflects on her behavior toward him. Sorry that her son does not realize that she, too, was once young, the mother begins to realize how little time she has given to communicating with Joseph. In her fussing over details, she has “missed the important things.” However, suddenly, she realizes that this day marks a week since the boy had been put on new medicine for his epilepsy. Though the doctor had assured her that there would be no ill effects, the mother nevertheless has spent the past seven days waiting for the moment when a seizure would strike. Now, her son gone off to wander in a dangerous environment, she fantasizes how he might fall into the creek and suffer a sudden seizure and drown. The mental anguish becomes too much, and she rushes out of the house to find him.
Outside, she searches for the trail that her son has taken. Carefully she picks her way over the mountain, trying to go quietly so as not to let her son know that she is after him. Finally, she spots his turquoise jacket. Trying to remain unobserved, she stalks after him, noting with indignation that he is wandering from the route that he told her he would take. In the distance, the sounds of the hunters are discernible. For a moment, the boy disappears from view, and the mother is again seized with a vision of horror. Then she spies him beside the creek. Suddenly, she realizes that she is intruding on his privacy, spying on him. For his part, the boy remains oblivious to his mother’s presence. He begins to talk to the rocks across the creek, challenging them as if they were animate creatures. “You’re not so tough,” he shouts; he tells them that he will learn all about them, and therefore be master of them when he is old enough for school, but that they will never know about him. The outburst, delivered in a tone that the mother recognizes as one she herself uses, makes her retreat quietly to let her son engage this “world of rape and murder” alone, as he must in order to grow up.