I'm looking for a short story which my brain advises was written by Joe Haldeman. I'm usually reasonably good at web-searching but have drawn a blank on this one.

The story is set in a dystopian future on a dreary edge-of-the universe planet where life is generally hard and most colonists are low paid & overworked and hope to be able to go elsewhere but have minimal hope of ever being able to do so. Humans work with natives who have human level intelligence and are multi limbed - I have am impression of something akin to a large 6 legged dog. The view point character/narrator is one such. He and his human friend work long hours in a mine.

But wait - it gets worse. Old aunt whats-her-name (or maybe grandma) has decided to blow her hard won retirement funds to pay for a one way ticket to this hell hole. She arrives midtale and her nephew/grandson /... is unimpressed that she has wasted her money thusly when she could have retired in comfort half a universe away. She tells bedtime stories to the children.

That should be enough to identify the story to anyone who has read it - whether by Joe H or another. If anyone can identify title and author I'd be most grateful.

  • 4
    If there is a twist at the end, you should describe it in your question (maybe in a spoiler block). Many readers are likely to remember the twist but not the setup.
    – user56
    May 15, 2015 at 12:16
  • @Gilles - Why? I came to ask a question. I wanted to provide enough information to allow any one who could and who wished to to answer. Anyone who knows the story will recognise it instantly from my description. It's not obvious to me, as a relative newcomer to this group, that providing the ending or whole content summary or other information set is an essential part of asking a question. It may be that some modes of behaviour have become common practice in this group, but I'd hope that each could decide what sat most comfortably with them on such non question related matters. May 15, 2015 at 14:39
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    Because someone might remember the twist and not the setup. Twists are more memorable than setups. When you ask for a story identification, you should always include everything you remember. Leaving out the most memorable part is a bad idea, it makes your question a lot less likely to be answered. I don't remember whether we have an official policy of “don't deliberately withhold information”, but it seems like common sense to me.
    – user56
    May 15, 2015 at 14:49
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    I should have been here before the comments were removed; this thread is very hard to read now.
    – Mr Lister
    May 15, 2015 at 17:14
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    I can't remember everything I've read over the 40(!) years I've been reading SF, but it's surprising how the key points of stories stay with you even after the plot has gone. If there's a surprising twist that might just be the thing to jog my memory, so I think it is worth including in your question. May 16, 2015 at 9:36

2 Answers 2


It's categorically not one of Joe's; I emailed him this morning and this was his response;

"It does sound like a Haldeman story, but not in this universe, I'm afraid. It has elements of "All My Sins Remembered" -- story and novel -- and a couple of the other stories I wrote set in the Confederacion universe. Please do let me know if you track it down!"

Sorry, folks :-(

  • 1
    Consider posting this as a comment, since it is not an answer to the question, although it provides useful added information. May 20, 2015 at 22:15
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    @OrganicMarble An answer saying what the title isn't is just as useful IMO.
    – Möoz
    May 20, 2015 at 22:26
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    @OrganicMarble I vote any answer from a renowned SF author is automatically on-topic, even if we wouldn't accept it from other people :)
    – Andres F.
    May 21, 2015 at 0:17
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    Russell thinks that that's a good enough answer to his question in this context, alas. His journey must continue, if even only until tomorrow, Dearie. May 21, 2015 at 0:51

It's "La Befana" by Gene Wolfe.

“La Befana.” An old woman comes to a hostile planet in search of redemption for her sins, committed long, long ago.

Some quotes from the story:

When Zozz, home from the pit, had licked his fur clean, he howled before John Bannano's door. John's wife, Teresa, opened it and let him in. She was a thin, stooped woman of thirty or thirty-five, her black hair shot with gray; she did not smile, but he felt somehow that she was glad to see him. She said, "He's not home yet. If you want to come in we've got a fire."


Bananas nodded. Maria said, "Daddy, how did Grandmother come here?"
"Same way we did."
Mark said, "You mean she signed a thing?"
"A labor contract? No, she's too old. She bought a ticket - you know, like you would buy something in a store."
Maria said, "That's what I mean."
"Shut up and play. Don't bother us."
Zozz said, "How'd things go at work?"
"So-so." Bananas looked toward the back room again. "She came into some money, but that's her busines - I didn't want to talk to the kids about it."
"She says she spent every dollar to get here - you know, they haven't used dollars even on Earth for fifty, sixty years, but she still says it, how do you like that?" He laughed, and Zozz laughed too. "I asked how she was going to get back, and she said she's not going back, she's going to die right here with us. What could I say?"


"She could have lived good for the rest of her life on what that ticket cost her." Bananas was silent for a moment. "She used to be a big, fat woman when I was a kid, you know? A great big woman with a loud voice. Look at her now - dried up and bent over; it's like she wasn't my mother at all. You know the only thing that's the same about her? That black dress. That's the only thing I recognize, the only thing that hasn't changed. She could be a stranger - she tells stories about me I don't remember at all."
Maria said, "She told us a story today."
Mark added: "Before you came home. About this witch."
Maria said: "That brings the presents to children. Her name is La Befana the Christmas Witch."
Zozz drew his lips back from his double canines and jiggled his head. "I like stories."

The twist, which the querent did not include, is:

Grandmother is implied to be "La Befana", doomed to walk the world seeking the Christ child, here even to other worlds, although the last line implies her journey is almost at an end. As Russel hinted in his comment, the last line is, "Not forever, dearest; only until tomorrow night."

  • THanks Ken. Yes, that's the story. I found it subsequently and should have updated this. I'm sorry to have put you to the trouble BUT I do hope you enjoyed the kick in the tail of the tail - an O'Henry ending. I did not see it coming even though the clues were provided. La Befana has been waiting / wandering since Christ was born on earth. Now he's about to be again-incarnated (re seems wrong there :-) ) in the room next door. May 30, 2018 at 15:02
  • No problem Russell; I can't remember the search string that brought me here but I decided to answer it despite the age of the question. Glad you had already found the answer, it's a good little story.
    – Ken Coble
    Jun 1, 2018 at 20:45

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