Shura returned that night to find him slumped in his chair, his head buried in one hand, a telegram in the other.
"Mikhail," she said, “whatever is the matter?”
But it was clear to her—only one thing could cause her husband to bury his head so. Mikhail remained motionless, unable to rise to her question and so, allowed her to take the telegram from his hands herself, read it and know for certain: Gershom, wrote Rabbi Syme, was dead. His estate and entire amassed and untouched fortune, left solely to his nephew Mikhail, awaiting him, where his name still hung above the door.
Shura folded the telegram and placed it on the desk.
"Mikhail," she said, kneeling before him and placing her hands upon his lap in consolation, "what would you say to one another now? After everything?”
"My uncle would only ask whether I made money or not,” Mikhail replied, eyes fixed on the telegram now laying upon the desk, “That is all he'd want to know."
"Come now, I'm serious."
Mikhail sighed and closed his eyes, not wanting to snap at her, but unable to utter everything swelling within him in a single explanation; the wicked, pulsing shadows of all that had occurred between him and his uncle Gershom.
"When I first met you," he answered, "what I had done—far more than attempting to teach or proselytize or even simply survive—what I was truly doing was nothing greater than running away from home..." He blinked heavily, "...like a common, petulant child. I disappeared into the night on a steam train that carried cargo freight never to be heard from again.”
She beheld her husband and her heart roared. She scarcely recognized him— so contorted was his person with the recollections of a shattered youth. Not even labor and cold and exile burdened him more greatly than the memory of his uncle and all that had, and perhaps more crucially, had not, passed between them.
“According to that” he indicated to the folded telegram “Gershom looked for me for months. But I am certain that is all he would want to know if I ever returned."
He stood and moved toward the desk, his shoulders encumbered with pondering, and he absently piled and covered papers (as he often did to protect Shura from the knowledge of his work), returning again and again to the telegram itself detesting every rush of feeling surging through him.
“Money conjured up a fog around my uncle. It can do that to men. Some men. My uncle applied himself so—” his voice caught here, his words either being deliberately selected or stuck within his throat, “So passionately, I suppose, to the acquisition of money, that he quite forgot me.” Mikhail snatched his eyes from the telegram, and looked upward and out the window. “If the thought of me ever burst through that fog, then another thought crept with it: that I, his nephew, was merely an imposition.” Mikhail shrugged his shoulders, which silently told her things were better this way. “—And now I plot the extinction of private property and Gershom leaves me his entire fortune. Funny, isn't it? That. Neither one of us out of spite.”
She sensed her limitations and her insides wrenched. Goodness, Shura thought, acceptance is so broad a thing. She believed his peace.
Still, she noted how quietly he wore and wore a groove into the desk with his thumb.