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From Alexandria, with Love

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Dear Katerina,

I write to you to bear the news of my husband's passing. I sorrow; I grieve; I dare to bloom again. He travelled to the Bashkírs to trade for land and ran himself to death trying to pass their impossible trials; so the rumors say. I have seen his grave, so I know that much is true at least. We worked together so well, I thought, that there would never be an end to the bounty of our house, but now the source of the bounty of my life is gone, and I am as the desert without a spring.

And I write to you to apologize on this day of redemption, on Yom Kippur. I know we quarreled the last we met, and I—I was wrong. I admit it. I followed my love into the greatest future a farm-family could aspire to, and right at the flowering of a new triumph it has all come to ruin—all—everything. Oh, I know; don't say “I told you so” because I know. I trust you not to say it. But because it is true I am saying it myself; you told me so, that there is nothing worse about a the life of a townswoman compared to a farmer's wife. A bitter truth but an important one: utter and final loss is not limited by profession.

Simple pleasures maybe can be gained in simple times by simple virtues, but alas, we have had precious few simple times of late. And perhaps humanity is doomed to reach ever higher and in the end for that which cannot be, as if the moon and the stars could be plucked and strung on a necklace, and the result be no burden to the one who received it. Half the rumors say my husband destroyed himself in greed, his own unmaking; and while I refuse to admit it of him it is a terribly human story.

I have lived comfortably between now and the last time I saw you, as you would say—I know of what you spoke when you told me of fine clothing and good victuals. These small luxuries are not a thing I would willingly give up. Yet I grew up without them, without even the expectation or the desire of them, and perhaps that will give me strength for the hard times ahead of me. Or my experience may have given me something else impossible to strive for, as far out of reach as the stars. How much land does a woman need? Enough to live on, enough to love on—and little enough, perhaps, to give her something to hope for. For hope is also important, perhaps the most important thing.

But I have moralized to you enough. This is first and foremost a letter of information, and secondly a letter of apology. I have learned from you and become a better person by your presence; without you I never would have come to the conclusions I have—and so I suppose it becomes also a letter of thanks, third and last and most likely least for all that it is important. A meet end—

With thanks,