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Faces: Epilogue

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Vasily and Irina moved to Yalta that March. Irina's parents settled everything with their old apartment, and with their savings they made the long trip with their belongings south, to the Crimean coastline. Yalta was a common destination for the sick, especially those with Vasily's illness. When they got there, it was considerably more humid and warm, which was perfect treatment.

Over the course of 6 years, Vasily wrote some of his finest compositions in Yalta, and provided a small sum of money for Irina and himself. His first symphony was considered his masterpiece which was performed in several cities. Vasily did come to Moscow on occasion, but only in the summers. As much as Yalta preserved him, Vasily was very frail, and he and Irina remained in poverty. Yet Vasily made sure to meet with Ilya his young brother-in-law and share what musical techniques he could. Ilya turned out to be a marvelous bassoon player, bent on a career in performance. But visits north ended when Vasily began to deteriorate rapidly in his 7th year in Yalta. Medicine had stopped working for him as the illness developed, and so began a long asphyxiation.
Irina and Vasily became closer than ever in the last year. They both knew that his end was near, but how long they would be together was unknown. Thus they treated everyday like their last.
On a September evening, they were walking by the shoreline together. Although it was warm, Vasily had his thickest jacket on, and a scarf over his mouth. Irina linked her arm with his. The sun was setting in the west over the sea, a bright orange disc. Vasily seemed particularly sad that evening, lost in thought.
Finally he spoke up.
"Irina, you know how isolated we've been here. I really miss Moscow, and Oryol too, my hometown. Now I am sure I will not see them again," he spoke quietly and very deliberately. Whenever he breathed it was very heavy.
"I know," Irina frowned. "It has been lonely here. But we've had each other, and that's what matters."
"Yes," Vasily smiled. "And... my memories are still with me."
"Yes, what can you remember?" Irina urged him on, seeing it cheered him up.
"I remember faces. I still remember my parents, you know, and my brother Boris. I've not seen them in so long, but I remember how they were when they last saw me. It was at our wedding. And they were so happy, all of them! (cough, cough, cough) Ah, I can see them still smiling."
"Yes, now I remember them too. How dear they were to me when I first met them."
"And I remember your parents too, and Ilya. Ilya is now so grown up, such a fine young man. I knew he would be. He takes after you I think."
Irina smiled. "He will never forget your kindness to him. Nor will I..." she pressed his hand.
The sun had now set, and a red-orange glow settled on the horizon.
"Irina," he turned his face to her, and lowered his scarf. "Right now, will you promise me something?"
"Yes. What is it?"
"Right now as you see me... will you remember me?" his eyes pierced her own.
"I will never forget your face, Vasya," she said gravely. "I will remember you in better times."
"No, not just then... I am my own pain too. God has loved me, but He also has given me great suffering. And I don't understand it fully. But he has given me my countenance as well... My pain has done me a good deed."
Irina teared up and embraced him.
"I'm still not at peace though..." his voice drifted away. "I feel... worthless... like I have no purpose anymore."
"Oh, that's not true, Vasya!" Irina clung to his shoulder. "God still loves you, you said so yourself! He had great purposes for you, and there is still more ahead. All you need is faith!"
"But what's left for me, Irina? Nothing!" he cried in anguish, and began a coughing fit again.
"No, Vasya. Everything is ahead..."
He remained silent, and put on his scarf again.
As Vasily's despair took over him, so did his illness in the following months. All Irina could do was watch and wait for the end.
In the first days of January, he complete his last composition, a elegy for voice and piano that held his farewell message:

"Who once knew happiness, now I do not know happiness.
For a brief moment Bliss is given to us:
From youth and evil sensuality,
One will remain depressed..."
Consumed with such thoughts, Vasily was silent in his last days, but Irina never left his side.

It was mid-January in Yalta, and 2 days before Vasily's birthday. It was early morning, and Vasily was sleeping fitfully and breathing with much difficulty. Irina was sitting nearby, reading her Bible in the morning sunlight. The room was warm, and the sky heralded calm weather for the day.
Suddenly, Vasily jumped from his sleep.
Startled, Irina looked up immediately.
Vasily was sitting up, staring straight ahead of him with a surprised look on his gaunt, pale face.
"How did I ever forget?" he whispered, but immediately went into another terrible coughing spell. With tears coming into her eyes, Irina got up and embraced him.
It's what she prayed for all along.
Vasily laid down again, his shining eyes fixed on the ceiling, and the beyond...

Within the hour, Vasily was home.