The Woman Who Went Out


  • First publication
    • Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, June 1985.

Publication History

This short story appeared in the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, June 1985 with the following note proceeding the story:

"Here is a self-contained tale from Gene Wolfe's upcoming novel, about an unhappy wife and her search for wealth."

The short story itself is the first section of chapter 15, in The Soldier of the Mist.


A woman laments to her Babylonian servant that her husband is a miser who never buys her so much as a comb. The servant knows of a spell to make a clay doll that the woman can place in the bed next to her husband at night, but they will need dirt from the grave of a woman who greatly enjoyed the company of men. They create the clay doll and the woman can then go out at night.

The clay doll eventually becomes pregnant because it has not been fired by a potter, a step the servant skipped because the woman had no money. They burry the doll back in the ground where they got the clay, under the apple tree in the garden.

The husband, previously happy that his wife was like the young lovers of his youth, is depressed that she is back to her old ways again. A rival business man tells him a spell he learned from his grandfather that will allow the husband to leave a limb from a flowering tree in the bed so he might go out at night unbeknownst to his wife. He has the gardener cut a limb from the now flowering apple tree.

The woman, surprised by her husband's desire each night, eventually lights a wick and finds a youth who smells like apple blossoms. The husband, after going out for a month, no longer feels as young as he once did and dislikes spending his money on parties, end up leaving the magic limb under the bed.

One night, the youth is back and tells the woman (whom he calls "step-mom"), that he can care for her. She asks him to do so, thinking his means he will kill her husband and she will inherit his wealth.

In the morning the servants find both the woman and the husband hanged from the apple tree. It is ruled a double suicide and they are both buried under the apple tree.