The kinzhal’s edge

I wonder if Ibrahim’s palms were damp as he walked his son to the summit. Did he tell him they were going on a hike? Did he take water? I think he must have glared at the knife until his reflection was part of the blade. I think relief must have replaced his horror when he unsheathed his knife and recognized his face. He must have known that what he was to do was of such significance it had already become who he was, and so he offered both his son and himself to the kinzhal’s edge.”

Khassan’s head bobbed. He scooped two palmfuls of snow and pressed them to his eyes. Melting rivulets circled his wrists. “Ibrahim’s willingness to sacrifice his son isn’t hard to believe. His son was an innocent. It’s so much harder when you know what your son would do to you if he survived. When you know just what would happen if an angel was to grab the knife from your hand.”

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra


When they finished, he peeled off his latex gloves and massaged the pink soreness of his right palm, where the skin between his thumb and forefinger had swollen from the handle’s pinch. Sonja noticed, smiled, and when she raised her right hand he wanted to be back in bed with Ula, where he could pull the covers over their heads and in the humidity of their stale breaths hold the one person who believed he was knowing, capable, and strong.
Calluses covered Sonja’s palm.

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra

Your birthday on a Monday for 13 years

The weeks stacked into months that were flipped from the Red Cross calendar hanging behind the waiting-room reception desk; the calendar was from 1993 and would be reused until 2006 and for those thirteen years her birthday would always fall on a Monday.

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra

An incompetent doctor but a decent man


He was an incompetent doctor but a decent man, he believed, compensating for his professional limitations with his empathy for the patient, his understanding of pain.

Sonja, on Akhmed:

She had to harden him, to teach him that saving a life and nurturing a life are different processes, and that to succeed in the former one must dispense with the pathos of the latter.

Sonja on Akhmed

As the saw teeth caught on the bone, she had performed a second surgery, one less bloody but no less brutal, excising from his heart the impulse to run, to cower, to let the man bleed to death rather than face the horror of saving him. The amputation had left both patients lighter.

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra

Questions as accusations

Havaa and Akhmed:

“But you don’t know?” It wasn’t an accusation, but he took it as one.

Laina to Sonja

“Who are you?” the woman asked, with enough suspicion to flatten the question to an accusation.

Ula to Akhmed:

“Where were you?” she asked. Divorced from tone, the three words still suggested accusation, and he hoped his silence would extinguish her question, as it often did. “Where were you?” she asked again. Her head barely indented the pillow.

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra

A pair of hands to share the excess

My mom would often share excess hand cream with me when I was a kid.

After crossing herself, she lay back on the divan and squirted a cool puddle of hand lotion from the bottle she’d brought from London. Invariably she would apply too much, and her hands would be slick and shiny in the candlelight as she asked for another pair with which to share the excess.

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra