She began walking home, and as she approached her house, a neighbor called to her from his porch, asking to borrow an extra blanket. When she got closer, she could see that he was holding his newborn son. The child was healthy, but even in the darkness, she saw his tiny lips quivering, bundled though he was, from the cold.
Immediately, the woman’s thoughts darted to the matches she held. One stroke of one of these small wooden sticks and this young family’s life would be altogether different.
But just as she took the breath to speak, she stopped short.
What if she lit the match and wasn’t able to make a fire? What if a gust of wind blew just as the match ignited and promptly snuffed it out? What then? Her supply would be diminished by a full third. Fear gripped her heart like a vise. “No,” she thought. “Better to wait. Better not to risk losing a precious match just yet.”
She went to bed that night with the matches under her pillow, feeling a peace that she’d not felt before, secure in the potential of her new-found resource. She pulled her many blankets up to her chin, shivered, and closed her eyes.
The next morning, she woke to a knock at the door. Throwing on a robe, she made her way carefully through the dark house to find her mother standing outside on one leg, clutching her other foot and crying out in pain. She had stepped on a large piece of glass and was bleeding profusely. “Mother!” the woman said. “I didn’t see it,” was all her mother could manage before breaking into tears.
The woman brought her mother inside and the two huddled together on the couch, trying to stop the bleeding and find any glass left inside the wound. This, of course, was hard to do in the dark—but wait! She had almost forgotten about the matches! She ran back to her bedroom, pulled the velvet purse from beneath her pillow, and stopped.
This wound was serious, yes, …but was this really the time to take measures as drastic as using one of the matches? And she was inexperienced at making fires—who was to say she’d even be successful. Much better to have the matches than to lose them. Sure—the man had assured her that the warm, bright, colorful fires they produced could produce more fires….but what if he was wrong? Who was to say that’s how it worked?
She carefully placed them back on her bed.
Satisfied with her cautious prudence, she went back to help her mother, doing the best she could, both women shaking from the cold.
A week later, the woman had begun to feel a certain kinship with the matches. She’d taken to carrying the velvet bag in her pocket with her at all times, touching it every so often to ensure it was still there, both reassured and nervous every time she felt it.
This continued for an entire month, when finally the woman decided it was dangerous for her to be carrying around such a valuable resource.
Determined to protect what was hers, the woman made her way to the woods at the edge of the town. And there, at noon, in the thick darkness, her fingers trembling from the chilly air, next to a black tree in the black ground, she dug a deep hole, and buried the matches.
“Now,” she thought to herself, “they will be safe.”