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AFTER.

“I am too young and loved you too much. I know I shouldn’t be telling you this, that it would be more dignified on my part simply to walk out of here; it would not be so insulting to you. But I am going far away and shall never come back. It is forever… […] Farewell. I do not want your hand. You’ve been tormenting me so consciously that I am unable to forgive you at the moment. Later I shall forgive you, but no hand now.”

 

Ivan Fyodorovich woke suddenly and alone in a dark room, his heart beating far too quickly. He did not understand where he was for several moments, and it was not till he noticed the silhouette of a shawl draped over a chair that he remembered, dimly, the voice of a woman stealing through his dreams, soft and gentle for the very first time.

The delirium had finally gone. Curiously, this did not make him happy – nor did the ministrations of Katerina Ivanovna, whose home he knew that he now inhabited, though he had not seen her nor heard her name spoken. Somehow the knowledge came to him as if he had thought of it himself; there was no individual aspect of the room that declared her presence, yet still he felt it as surely as if she were in front of him.

There was a bowl of water with a washcloth hanging over the edge on the nightstand beside him. It looked lately abandoned, as if the person attending him had only momentarily stepped out. Katya had been there, attending to him. The realization heightened  an already acute ache within his chest, until he nearly could not bear the sensation and threw off the covers to pace around the room.

“What can she mean by this?” he whispered furiously to himself. “Does she think I’ll forgive her like this? No… She tormented me out of vanity, because of her passion that she herself understood… It’s all strain! Just as Alyosha said!”

The door opened almost silently and a pale face lighted by a single candle peered inside.

“You’re awake,” said Katerina Ivanovna quietly.

Ivan Fyodorovich looked at her without speaking.

“Say something, Ivan. Don’t look at me like that.”

“How long have I been here?”

Katerina Ivanovna sighed and entered, closing the door behind her. She set her candle on the table, then took her shawl from the chair and pulled it tightly around her shoulders. “You’ve been here almost two weeks. Your fever broke this afternoon.”

Ivan Fyodorovich shook his head and resumed pacing. “Where is Dmitri?”

“He left for America four days ago.” When he was silent, she added, “He was here, you know. He said goodbye to you, and your eyes were open at the time, but you looked straight through him and refused to say a word.”

“So you didn’t leave with him,” Ivan Fyodorovich said bitterly.

“Don’t say that, you fool,” she said, but her usual sharpness was subdued. “How’s your head?”

“Better.” The ache in his chest was making it difficult to breathe.

Slowly, as if trying not to startle a wild animal, she approached him. Her eyes sought his – not asking permission, but offering an answer. Her hands were steady and warm as they clasped his, and when her gaze dipped to his knuckles, the crescents of her lashes against her cheeks could have made him weep.

“I won’t leave you again.”

Ivan Fyodorovich disentangled his hands from hers. “But I may still leave you, Katerina Ivanovna. For the last time.”

A bit of her old fire returned to her eyes then. Katerina Ivanovna threw him a glare over the flickering candlelight that reminded one of the sun on a winter morning, glacial and white-hot in its splendor.

“I have told you a thousand times that I love you, I have loved only you,” she whispered. “The charade with your Dmitri—you know it was just that, a charade. Why, I could say I loved him just once, and it would erase every word or gesture I ever offered to you—as if we were once again strangers.”

“So you say, as if you weren’t engaged to the monster!”

“And what kind of engagement was it? A farce, for both of us! I admit unreservedly that I was a proud, stupid girl. There, does that satisfy you? You were not any better, Ivan Fyodorovich, you insufferable sphinx! Why, why are you silent when I berate you, only to turn a mocking smile on me when I am finished? Do you think I pricked your jealousy merely to entertain myself? I could not stand your strange silences! You could have confided in me, you could have trusted me to bear your secrets—do not deny it!—for I would have listened , Ivan, and I would not have judged!”

To his surprise, her eyes were filled with tears.

“You needn’t carry on like that,” said Ivan Fyodorovich quietly, though he was shaken.

Katerina Ivanovna turned from him with an exasperated noise and went to the window.

“You Karamazov brothers are all the same,” she said with barely suppressed anger. “So eager to deny yourself the least bit of happiness.”

And you are the same as well , Ivan Fyodorovich thought to himself. Brimming with pride and dying to be a martyr.

But she moved to leave the room, and suddenly he could not bear the thought of being alone.

“Katya,” he said, and something in his voice made her look at him. His one hand was clutching his head, the other was gripping the edge of the table. He remembered, suddenly, that he had told Alyosha love for a woman was one of the things keeping him alive. Though he had not said it with her in mind, nevertheless he had seen her face when he had spoken the words. That handsome, resolute face, almost beautiful in the right light, had not ceased to torment his dreams since that moment. Even now, long after he had “broken with” her for the last time, she continued to be a source of pain, like the ache of a phantom limb.

Katerina Ivanovna came towards him, her fingers trembling as she took his arm. “Sit down, Vanya. It pains me to see you like this.”

Ivan Fyodorovich obeyed with a smile that belonged to a little boy, frightened and yet unaware of himself, and shockingly tender.

“I’m awfully tired, you know, Katya… It’s as if the last few months are a distant memory, even though… even though they seem, too, as if they have not yet happened. I can’t think what I have just been saying. I know it must have been something terribly unkind. Dmitri once called me a sphinx, though it was not to my face, I think, perhaps Alyosha told me sometime after… Well, I cannot rightly help it if they think of me like that! To be young and full of ill intent, that’s my malady. Brain fever is the symptom, not the cause… In any case, I may be mad, but—”

He broke off suddenly as Katerina Ivanovna took his face gently in her hands.

“Vanyushka,” she said. “For the last time, I love you.”

Ivan Fyodorovich did not say anything. He did not have to. At her touch, he leaned into her, his eyes closed, and breathed her in. The scratch of his unshaven cheek against her palm, the curve of her neck underneath his fingertips, the weight of their lips pressed together, were a music almost as lovely as silence.

“I know you do,” he said. “Perhaps, in the morning, I will deny that we ever spoke, and I truly won’t remember. So for now, I will give you my hand and say I forgive you, because it’s true—I do. There is no doubt in my mind at present that you love me, so I will say that I love you too.”

“You’re almost bearable like this,” said Katerina Ivanovna with a slight smile.

“As are you,” he said, and kissed her again.


BEFORE.

“Go after him! Catch up with him! Don’t leave him alone for a minute!” she whispered rapidly. “He’s mad. Did you know he’s gone mad? He has a fever, a nervous fever! The doctor told me. Go, run after him…”

 

Katerina Ivanovna looked up at the sound of the door being opened and heard the maid conversing with what could only be Ivan Fyodorovich. The sight of his proud eyes had been uncommon in the Verkhotsev house, for the young Karamazov made it a point never to allow his attentions to be obvious. Yet, lately, he had been coming to her quite often, perhaps because some unaccountable suffering weighed on his mind. She knew that his father, the late Fyodor Pavlovich, had been murdered, but this did not seem to be the cause of his grief. In fact, he seemed tormented by guilt, as if he himself had murdered his father, though she knew with absolute certainty that this was impossible.

She rose to meet him, her unfathomable Ivan. She had always thought his angular face a peculiar sort of beautiful, perhaps even handsome when he had the presence of mind to smile. It was never a happy smile. Often, it was mocking; sometimes, it was sad. Today, he had a crooked smile on his face, though he was exceptionally pale and looked as if he had not slept last night. She noted as he took off his hat that his hand shook, and his habit of looking over his interlocutor’s left shoulder while speaking to them was especially pronounced.

“Katerina Ivanovna,” he said, turning his uneven smile on her.

“Ivan Fyodorovich. Will you sit down?”

He turned his hat round and round in his fingers, sat down and immediately stood again.

“I’ve come to speak to you about Dmitri.”

“If you’re here to dissuade me from accusing your brother, you needn’t waste your time,” said Katerina Ivanovna. It was not the first time they had had this conversation. “Whatever you have come to tell me, I promise that I have already heard the same rumors, and they don’t mean a thing to me. I told you that I have mathematical proof of his guilt.”

Ivan Fyodorovich made a gesture as if to silence her, but stopped and flung his hat on the chair. “I won’t dissuade you from ruining the wretch. The truth is I don’t care what you do.”

“I can tell when you’re lying, Ivan Fyodorovich.”

His head snapped up and he frowned. “Don’t defend yourself with more accusations. You know you tell me I’m lying every time we meet?”

“Because you are always lying to me,” said Katerina Ivanovna, her eyes gleaming. “You twitch your head to the window as if you’re looking for someone in the snow.”

“That’s not—” He stopped abruptly again and put his head in his hands. After a moment, he looked at her darkly and said, “I’m not looking for anyone… Anyway, you know why I came here.”

“You’ve come to ask me who killed your father.”

Ivan Fyodorovich had deep circles underneath his eyes, and when his lips pulled back in a grimace, they were almost as colorless as the rest of his face. He did not look well; when he glanced again at the window behind her, he looked even mad, as if he were unable to understand what he was seeing.

“This is tiresome, Ivan Fyodorovich!” Katerina Ivanovna stood with eyes flashing. “This is very like monomania, obsession… I tell you that I simply don’t understand it. Why does the matter of guilt torment you so? Was it not impossible for you to have killed your father that night, being versts away and embroiled in business that you were sent there to carry out according to your father’s expressed desire —and I emphasize this particularly—having no reason to believe that he would be murdered in your absence? For God’s sake, let my doctor attend to you. You need to rest…”

“And what of my expressed desire ?” rejoined Ivan Fyodorovich, as if he had not heard her recommendation. “What of my decision to turn away… the final word I offered to the louse Smerdyakov, which was not a word at all… maybe a frown… I did not agree to it with words, and yet I ran away! I knew he was a scoundrel of the basest kind, that he was capable of murder with his bare hands, and yet I went away .”

“So that is tantamount to murder?” demanded Katerina Ivanovna. “You’re tormenting yourself over such a detail… Come now, can a rational man like you really be so superstitious?”

Ivan Fyodorovich looked at her with such helpless desperation that she felt frightened.

“Vanya, listen to me,” she said in a whisper, glancing behind her to make sure no one was near. “I will tell Dr Herzenstube to come this time tomorrow. Promise you will come too! Please, promise me! I know you must have some kind of fever, you’re positively trembling… I only wish you would speak to him…”

“Spare me the theatrics, Katya. You know I’m no fool—only Dmitri is willing to play such a pathetic role for you.”

“So that’s why you came.” Her eyes glowed with fury, and she added, “You must hate me, Ivan Fyodorovich, to speak to me this way.”

“On the contrary,” said Ivan Fyodorovich. Though Katerina Ivanovna looked at him expectantly, he did not elaborate. Instead, he rose to his feet, took his hat up, and started for the door.

“What, are you leaving already?” she cried after him angrily. Her anger dissipated when he lost his balance and staggered against the doorframe. “Ivan Fyodorovich, sit down a moment! Good heavens, be careful—are you alright? You look pale… Where are you going?”

“That is none of your concern.” He recovered from his stumble and went to the door, but upon reaching it turned as if he had just come in and saw her for the first time. He regarded her strangely and said, “Just so. When you forget yourself, there is something quite beautiful about you… Still, as I am a proud man, I understand what it must be like for a proud woman… Strain, strain! We are like two hungry dogs… Never mind. I suppose some things must be like that. Adieu, Katerina Ivanovna—I hope we won’t have cause to meet again.”

“What could you possibly mean—Ivan Fyodorovich—Ivan! Won’t you listen to reason? What do you mean by leaving so suddenly?”

“Let go of me!” said Ivan Fyodorovich angrily, jerking his hand away. The flash of irritation disappeared as quickly as it had come, and he now smiled at her with a hint of sarcasm. “I’m sure Alyosha will be along soon, and then you can bemoan my sphinxlike character all you want. Goodbye, Katerina Ivanovna.”

He turned and went down the stairs, and indeed not five minutes had passed after he left when Katerina Ivanovna heard his voice again, speaking to his brother, the incorrigible Alexei Fyodorovich.

“Are you coming to see her?” Ivan Fyodorovich was saying.

“Yes.”

“I don’t recommend it; she’s ‘agitated,’ and you will upset her even more.”

Katerina Ivanovna rushed to the stairwell and cried, “No, no! Alexei Fyodorovich, are you coming from him?”

“Yes,” came the young Alyosha’s voice from downstairs. “I was just there.”

“Did he ask you to tell me anything? Come in, Alyosha, and you, Ivan Fyodorovich, you must, must come back. Do you hear me!”

Though she could not herself understand it, when Katerina Ivanovna heard their footsteps ascending the stairs, she thought she had never loved Ivan so well as now.


 

AFTER.

“Ach, Vanka's gone to Petersburg;
                  I won't wait till he comes back.”

 

In the morning, he awoke to the sound of birds outside his window. Strange , he thought, still half-asleep, I was almost certain it was still winter, and yet their singing makes me believe that spring is come . He noticed Katya asleep at his bedside with her head on her arms and lifted his arm slowly so as not to disturb her. With a trembling hand, he reached out to brush back her hair. It was long and dark and tangled, a gnarled underbrush that nevertheless shone in the pale blue light of dawn. He had never seen her with her hair down, certainly never in such a disarray, as such a thing would be horribly indecent for so proud a character, so if she was asleep beside him, it could only mean that she was truly exhausted.

“Infernal woman,” he murmured, stroking her hair. “You make it hard for a man to leave you.”

When he next opened his eyes, it was somehow midday. He could not discern whether he had dreamt his encounter with Katerina Ivanovna, both this morning and the evening prior. Perhaps he did not really want to know, and it would be better if he could pretend such fantasies really took place, as he would soon be gone anyway, and it would be the loveliest of all memories to take with him, to the next life… but he would not think of that.

Ivan Fyodorovich dressed quietly and gathered his strength, then went downstairs. A young serving girl paused in her dusting to appraise him, and nervously informed him that Katerina Ivanovna would not be back for quite some time.

“There’s no need to send for her,” he said, and the girl looked relieved.

“Might I ask where the gentleman is going?” she asked, but he only offered her a vague smile.

He would go to St. Petersburg. He needed the torrential noise of clattering wheels, syncopated footsteps, commingled conversations. He did not understand why the city came to mind now, insistent as a root, seizing upon his every thought. It had been years since he lived there, and he had been a young student then, bent not on changing the world but on changing people’s beliefs—and that was infinitely more difficult. The city did not love him when he surged implacable through its streets. Ivan Fyodorovich , the Neva said susurrously to him whenever he crossed it, we can hear the tempest in your heart. It pleaseth not the Lord.

“So it shall be that even in death I will displease the Lord,” said Ivan Fyodorovich, with a bitter smile. “Perhaps even Alyosha will not be able to forgive me for this… Certainly, Katya will go mad with grief, but that is her way. She does nothing by halves.” It seemed he had forgotten (or decided to forget) their sweeter overtures. “As for the rest of them… I don’t care what they think! Why should it be any business of theirs whether or not I ‘return the ticket’?”

So saying, he stepped out into the brisk winter air—for spring had not yet come—and started for the train station.


BEFORE.

“I believed only you, my dear!” she went on, still addressing Ivan Fyodorovich. The latter smiled as if with difficulty. Alyosha was startled to hear this “my dear.” He would not even have suspected they were on such terms.

 

The day after the trial was a blur. Katerina Ivanovna was tormented by specters as she paced in the parlor, her fingers twisting at her skirt involuntarily. The clock had just struck six; a bed had been made up as quickly as possible for Ivan Fyodorovich, and the sick man had been lying more or less unconscious for eighteen hours now.

“How is he?” she asked with a note of hysteria, seizing her maid the next time she exited the room.

“No different since last you asked,” said the maid with some exasperation. “You’re free to go in yourself; the doctor has already gone.”

Katerina Ivanovna shook her head impatiently. “I’m expecting Alexei Fyodorovich at any moment.”

“I can receive him if you’d like.”

Katerina Ivanovna glanced at his door and just as quickly looked away again. She wanted very much to go to him, to press her lips to his forehead and smooth back his hair. Ivan never looked so peaceful, so at ease with her when he was awake; he was always on the verge of starting a row with her, picking exactly at the sorest spots of her pride. Why could he never let her alone? Why did he scrutinize her so, like a raven with intelligent eyes, waiting for her to fail? Considering his eccentric nature, it was surely very near flattery, but she did not feel flattered. She was unsettled by his perfect eyes.

“Go wait by the door,” said Katerina Ivanovna, and, without hearing a response, went to Ivan’s room.

Ivan Fyodorovich opened his eyes as she entered, though he did not look in her direction. Aside from the flutter of eyelids, in fact, he was remarkably still. Katerina Ivanovna went to his side and sat down. Even without his eyes on her, she felt as if she were laid bare in front of him, guilty and lacking.

“Can you hear me, Ivan?” She took his hand. It was very warm. “I know you will be angry with me, my dear… In truth, I don’t believe I can bear your anger at the moment, which is why I came when I thought you were asleep. Your eyes are hard to bear, did you know that? I’m certain you do, and that is why you look at me that way. It feels like being taken apart, like a puzzle box coming undone. You must know that the sensation is unpleasant, Ivan Fyodorovich—it makes me afraid. You make me afraid. Well, I will tell you the truth, lest I lose all courage and run away … I know that I have made you very unhappy! I am a disgraceful wretch, to torment you this way, I know, I can’t help it! It’s all because… I am not used to being seen, and you see so much through, it is like the eyes of God on my back—and they are not kind eyes, either, but honest ones, filled with contempt for my playacting. You said you could not sit next to a strain like me, you told me I was not like that , and it’s true, I am not. Perhaps it was only my education…”

She smiled tentatively. “No, it was not that. I know it was not that. Do you remember, Ivan, when you kissed me? It was so unexpected that I thought you had aimed for my cheek and missed your mark. We had been arguing about something trivial, I believe… I can’t remember now. But you accused me of being a tyrant and I told you I had much rather be a tyrant than a coward. You fixed your eye on me as if you could hear a distant music, you had your head tilted just so, and then you pulled me close suddenly I almost lost my balance.

“My soul has not known peace since then, Ivan. I have always wanted to ask you: why did you kiss me? Why did you look at me that way? Your gaze was a fire, my dear, and it burned me clean through. Yet… you won’t look at me now, will you? Say something, Ivan… My soul depends on it…”

Ivan Fyodorovich looked at her with plaintive eyes. “Do you really love me, Katya?”

Katerina Ivanovna paled and then flushed, then lifted her chin proudly. “So you were listening, Ivan Fyodorovich.”

But he did not respond, merely stared at her with such introspective sobriety that she felt ashamed like this before him, and desired very much to leave.

“Please, won’t you stay a moment?” he said, sensing her disquiet. Once he was sure she would not leave, he continued, “You ask me why I look at you in this manner… In truth, I myself don’t know. I have been trying to understand you for quite some time now, and sometimes I think I have seen to the bottom of you, but there is always something just beyond that that I somehow neglected the first time… From the first I thought you were a proud woman. The difference is that before I thought you were simply that and nothing more. Now, however, I see there is some intentional self-slander in your martyrdom. You thought I would not notice? You dote on my brother for the act of throwing himself off a cliff, but your eyes say you are doing the same. Your eyes said you needed my help, and I did not know how to help, but I wanted you very much. You wanted an explanation, well, now I have told you.”

“This is no explanation at all,” said Katerina Ivanovna, trembling.

Ivan Fyodorovich considered her for several long seconds.

“You won’t be satisfied unless I say it, will you?” said he. “I love you madly, deeply, impossibly. I have loved you since you turned your scornful tongue on me and I will love you till you go silent with resentment. I love you because you confound me; I love you for no reason at all. It has driven me mad, Katya. Sometimes I wish I had never met you. But it’s a strange sort of suffering that brings me back to you…”

“You love me, do you?” She did not know why she was whispering, only that if she raised her voice she would break the spell and ruin everything. “Say it again, so I can be sure!”

“Saying it once was torment enough,” said Ivan Fyodorovich, reddening. “And you have not answered my question.”

“Do I love you?” Katerina Ivanovna echoed. “Yes, yes, for God’s sake, yes! I have loved you ever since the moment… You were prepared to give up your entire life for your brother, for nothing! For… an idea! What kind of man would do that but you?”

“You would have done it, were you in my place.” Ivan Fyodorovich laughed—it was a remarkably sunny laugh for one so somber. “I am certain you, too, would have done such a senseless thing. You would have lit the flame to burn yourself at the stake and called it a victory. It’s in our nature, Katya—that’s why I like you. It’s in our nature to be obstinate and foolish. You did not recognize it till I went upon the witness stand and declared my guilt.”

“I did not,” she whispered. “No, I didn’t know you until then… I didn’t know myself!”

“I didn’t either,” he said fiercely. “But how clear it now seems!”

Without thinking, Katerina Ivanovna took his face in her hands and kissed him on the lips. He froze under her touch momentarily, but then his hands were around her, pulling her closer. She buried her fingers in his hair, enjoying the shudder that ran through him, her cross very nearly brushing the hollow of his neck as she leaned forward. So close to him, she realized he smelled faintly sweet. It was a scent that reminded her of childhood, of cherry preserves, which she had not eaten in a long time.

Ivan Fyodorovich broke off first. His breath was hot against her cheek.

“Green,” he murmured. “Like the first flowers of spring.”

Just then, the maid came to tell them that Alyosha had come, and the two exchanged a curious smile, as if agreeing to keep their conversation secret, and go on before the youngest Karamazov in the usual manner.


 

AFTER.

“I want to live, and I do live, even if it be against logic. Though I do not believe in the order of things, still the sticky little leaves that come out in the spring are dear to me, the blue sky is dear to me, some people are dear to me, whom one loves sometimes, would you believe it, without even knowing why…”

 

It was afternoon when next he opened his eyes. He was in a wholly unfamiliar place, propped haphazardly on a bench, and realized with a shiver that he had no coat or hat on him. Had he forgotten to put them on, or were they stolen from him? His memory was a haze, offering nothing but a confusing array of images. There had been a horse, a whip that rained blows on him, and an angry voice. He supposed he must have crossed the street without looking, but who could tell… The sun was sweeping low in the sky; soon it would be night. He could not shake the red from his eyes even when he closed them, and the bubbling yellow sky became still more restless as he stood and walked towards a grand staircase which ascended straight to the eye of heaven. It was narrow and wooden and he was so very tired that each step seemed to take all his strength. He realized that it was the staircase that led to his apartments, even the very notch in the end of the railing. Yet somehow this did not strike him as strange, and he knew that in spite of it all he must reach the top.

Now that his mind was upon other things, he no longer felt the cold. In fact, he felt so hot all over it was as if his flesh was burning; he desired to have it all off. But surpassing even this was the exhaustion of thinking about it, of staring into the peerless sky, a sky that seemed almost to welcome him into its expansive arms. He wanted to sleep. To sleep, perchance to dream…

Echoes deep like the sea pressed on him from each side. They should have been soothing, for was death not soothing? But they disturbed him, rocked him as a boat in a strong gale, pushed him under and lifted him up until he was gasping for air. He was a leaf lost to the insuperable waves, his soul was caught in eternal sufferance. The echoes grew louder and sharper, until he could just make out the semblance of words, and the words became his name, repeated like a prayer.

For there she was.

Ivan , she was saying. Ivan, Ivan, Ivan.

And the world turned upside down, the staircase threw him heels-up into the air until he was falling—no, he was being lifted—and he saw not the eye of heaven but the eyes of a woman, and a nose pink with cold, and lips red with biting.

Yes , he tried to say, but he began coughing and shivering, and she cried out in alarm. The cold was seeping into him now, until a cloak was draped over him – that was hers, he realized – and a hat pressed onto his head.

“Ivan,” said Katerina Ivanovna desperately, warming his cheeks in her hands. “Are you alright?”

He nodded and pulled the cloak tightly around him.

“The maid told me everything. You’re really such a fool, I can hardly bear it…”

“I—swore one day to return the ticket—”

“And you swore that you would not leave!”

“He said I must go to Petersburg… I must go…”

“Who said?” she asked. “Who said you must go?”

“The devil,” he said, but the moment he named it he knew it was false. The snow was terribly real, and so were her bright gray eyes, bright and clean and wide like the sky…

“How could you leave?” Katya cried. He was surprised to find that she was sobbing in earnest, her usually immaculate curls plastered to her face with melting snow. She brushed at her eyes impatiently and took him by the shoulders, her grip tight enough to hurt. “After everything… Vanya, after all that we spoke of! I thought we finally understood one another; I thought you had decided!”

“Decided what?” said Ivan Fyodorovich. “I decided to go to St. Petersburg; that’s all.”

She shook her head. “You were not thinking about St. Petersburg at all. Do not lie. Your question has always been whether or not you should live, and hitherto you have chosen not to. But it isn’t a question that can be answered once! It’s a question you must answer every day.” Katya relinquished him but the fire in her gaze only doubled in intensity. “And I am leaving you only one answer now, Karamazov. You must live, live, live! I will not accept any other answer!”

Ivan looked into her eyes and this time saw something greater than the reflection of himself. He saw an indomitable spirit and a heart full of kindness, which he could not begin to deserve, but that extended to him an onion. He did not look away as she pulled him to his feet, and though he felt heavier than the entire world, he knew that her salvation was also his, and that they would climb together, one step at a time.

And indeed, even when she lifted him to his feet, the stem did not break.