The girl looked at the raccoon's silhouette against the small fire. They usually spent their evenings like this, sometimes she would carve and he would groom himself, and sometimes they would talk.
This was an abrupt start, and she was vaguely uneasy. "Everyone dies."
"Yes, they do. I may fall sick, or be eaten, or I may grow old and die. Even if it doesn't happen, we won't be together forever." The raccoon turned around. "Death is inescapable, parting equally so."
"Is there something I should know?"
"No," the raccoon lay his head on his paws, "I just wanted to talk."
Relieved, she sat back and pondered his words with a freer heart. "I, too, may die without warning," she said.
They considered each other in a long, contemplative silence. Death was a concept too distant, too alien for her to grasp, despite its presence in everyday life. She had seen it, and killed animals for food, but it could not be known to her while she still lived.
The raccoon closed his eyes, and they disappeared into the black tufted ovals on either side of his snout. "Knowing this, will you protect me to keep me safe? Shelter me?" He looked up at her, eyes dark and deep, almost warning. "Cage me?"
Breathless, she could not answer. What had put him in this enigmatic mood?
"No one can cage you," she replied finally. Into the waiting, expectant silence, she spoke slowly, "I can only accept that I have no hold over you - just like you have none over me - and you may disappear like a puff of air one day. And I have no control over that. But," she said softly, "that's so sad!"
Something like a chuckle rumbled in the raccoon's small body. "You're sad about that? Why?"
"I - I don't want to lose you!"
"You can't lose what you don't have," the raccoon said gently.
"I have your companionship. Your wisdom, friendship, and kindness."
"And if I die will you lose them?"
"I won't be able to have morbid conversations with you, for one."
"Don't worry," the raccoon said. "It's all the same."
"What do you mean?"
"What I say now, what I say in the future, it all has the same meaning in the end."
"You said it yourself. You have it already."
Shaking her head, she said, "I don't understand, but I do know that I treasure your small and irritating presence, wise one, more than the echoes of your phrases and their meanings."
"Good." The raccoon circled his spot, before curling round to sleep. "You shouldn't, of course, but that's still good. Since I'm not going anywhere."
Excerpt from Tales For Young Cubs, 6th Edition
The hour of departure has arrived, and we go our ways - I to die, and you to live. Which is better God only knows. --Socrates