Once upon a time there was a girl who woke up to discover she had no parents. She had, she thought, had parents yesterday who had woken her up and had fed her and had dropped her off at school and had later brought her home from school and had fed her again and had put her to bed (too early, always too early) and then, she assumed, had stayed up late into the night doing the sort of very boring and top secret things adults did when their daughters were asleep.

But come morning, they were not there.

It wasn’t that they had left. It seemed more like they’d never been there to begin with. A house that used to be full was now empty. Rooms that used to belong to the grown ups were no longer anywhere to be found in the house. On opening her bedroom door, the girl found herself standing in a hallway that led to a bathroom, a kitchen sink, and a bowl of cereal. Nothing else.

She went to school on the day that she woke up with no parents. Other parents were there dropping off other children, so she knew that not all parents had disappeared like hers had overnight. She considered telling one of them, but didn’t feel like answering awkward questions she had no answers to. She considered telling her teacher, but when she stood in the hallway looking in through the classroom door, she saw him at his desk writing down important things very quickly, and knew better than to interrupt a grown up who was working. Even if they stopped to hear you they’d never remember what you said, so it was better not to bother. She considered telling her best friend from 3rd grade, but she was sitting near the bars with Rachel Shelly who she didn’t like at at all (the feeling was mutual), so she didn’t go over to their bench and she didn’t say anything.

She walked herself home at 3:15. Once there, she ate some cheerios. She told herself she wasn’t allowed to watch tv until her her homework was done, so she sat down and did her homework. She told herself to go to bed too early, and went to bed. She did not fall asleep.

Instead, she looked up at the ceiling in the dark and wondered why she was not sad.

If I had parents, didn’t I love them? And if I did and now they’re gone, shouldn’t I miss them? Is the fact of my non-sadness proof that they were never here? But even so, you could still be sad about things you’d never had and therefore never lost. Like not having a puppy. And not having been to the moon yet. And not having friends who really understood you like you hoped they might.

If she’d had parents, maybe they had looked like her. If she’d never had any, how was it possible she even existed? Didn’t you need parents to exist?

Maybe I do not exist, she thought. Maybe I am not really here. Maybe my hand is not really a hand and my teeth aren’t really teeth. Maybe my thoughts aren’t really in my head at all, I just think they are. If I start to think that maybe I don’t exist, do I stop existing?

She tested it.

I do not exist. I do not exist. It is quite possible that I do not actually exist.

And after a minute or two of thinking it, she was right.

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