The Reconstruction

Novels

I didn't know when I began, but I do now: I do not want to accuse anyone or anything, or if I do, then only myself. Yet, I needed clarity. I don't want to condemn, I want to understand – if I can manage it.

            The last six months of my life have been special. I have reconsidered a great many things that had no bearing on me whatsoever before. When the doctor told me that, yes, I have a piece of bad news for you, but it can't be helped, it truly is cancer – then I actually already knew. He didn't give me any great hope, saying that I have to decide on my own whether I want to have the operation – the likelihood that it will go well, he said, is nevertheless relatively low in my case. And on top of that, there is no certainty that the tumor will not start to flourish again a short while later. Without the operation, he gave me six months to a year.

            I knew what I have to use that time for – to complete what I have put off for too long already. I did this out of nothing other than cowardice; than doubt over whether I would be able to live with the knowledge, which I must seek. And without which I likewise cannot live.

            The six months are now over, but I hope that there is still just enough time for me to manage to organize the notes, which I have written down after my conversations in the evenings, while everything is still fresh in my memory and the pain allows it. In the meantime, I have been able to speak with dozens of people, to traverse the greater part of Estonia, and even visit France. With some people, it has been apparent that they do not wish to speak with me, while with others, it's as if they have long been awaiting my appearance, so that they may finally get off of their chests all of the things that have troubled them for years. And they have even allowed me to record us, so I have been able to return to their conversations over and over again; to allow the intonations to conjure before me the moments, in which I found out about many difficult things; and to search for significant meanings behind the slight waverings in their voice, which for whatever reason had gone unnoticed until then. I have received everything that I have been capable of coaxing out of them, and now, I know almost everything; or at least as much as is at all conceivable. And what I don't know and actually wouldn't even have been able to find out – that, I somehow know, regardless. I would never have thought that there is a writer hidden within me as well, but I'll admit straight away (not that it doesn't show, anyway) that if I were to choose whether to either leave gaps and holes amid the dry facts and interpreted impressions in every part, where it isn't possible for me to be specific, or to allow my inner feelings to sweep me along and envision how it could have been, then for the most part, I have given into temptation. Furthermore, it doesn't alter the big picture. The big picture remains just how it is. And what I do not know, no one does any more.

            Sometimes, it certainly feels that I am in a race against time, ready to drop. The nights that I do not vomit are becoming ever rarer, and my painkillers are becoming ever stronger. Still, occasionally even they are of no help, and my pains are then such, that I am unable to concentrate on anything for several days; but then, however, a clear day comes again – there have even been a few, in which the disease has receded to the back of my mind for a brief stretch of time. But from here on, I will try not to bother you with my own health problems. This story doesn't speak of me.

            Perhaps you remember a piece of sad news that momentarily flashed through the papers five years ago: a story about an accident in the country, in which four young persons died in a fire. They had been living somewhat at a distance from other settlements – on a lone farm, which didn't exactly have the best reputation among the locals. It wasn't any sort of drunkards' den in the very least; oh, no – those youth had rather been living there relatively quietly, especially the last year before the accident. They were simply somewhat strange themselves. And the house they were in was old, wooden – once a fire has already broken out, it is hard to contain it in such buildings.

            As one of the deceased was the son of a rising politician, not much more really made it into the papers. The locals spoke a little more, of course, but that's what they always do; even the pointless death of young persons is unable to restrain sensation-hungry blabbermouths' manner of speaking. Soon after the end of the Soviet period, Birchback (that was the name of the burned farm) had been returned to its pre-Soviet owner, whose son – a young artist and a bohemian – had moved there. Since that time, all sorts of hippies and eccentrics, UFO-sighters and Buddhists, up through aura-observers of every stripe had gathered there. So, there they were and lived; they didn't drink more than the remaining country folk, in any case, and didn't cause others any trouble when they perhaps sometimes ran naked to the lake or organized a picnic in a meadow. Well, maybe they smoked a little weed in private – who knows. But at some point, the house was visited by more and more... well, confused types: people who were seemingly a little religious, and seemingly a little out of the ordinary.

            And then that story happened. That accident, about which I needed to find out as much as humanly possible before my time is up. To see the entire chain of events that led up to it. Because things were actually different, of course. The fire had just begun when it was noticed by chance, and they managed to put out the flames quite quickly. Nothing at all should have hindered the residents from running out the door to continue living.

            Aside of the fact that they were already dead by the time the fire started. They were lying side-by-side on the second floor of the house, in the master bedroom, in cramped poses, and each one of them had a small, packed suitcase and a letter squeezed in their first: I, so-and-so, have settled all of my debts in this world, and can go before God with a clean heart. And what's more: found in another room on the first floor were a further fifth suitcase, as well as a fifth short letter on the floor next to it. Yet, I will discuss that later – it isn't worth rushing ahead of the course of events.

            Perhaps why I know all of this interests you. But this is because the relatives of the deceased had the right to find out. And one of those four, whose path ended there in that house, was Anni-Reelika Padrik. My daughter, my only child. My princess.

            Or, to tell the truth – that, which was left of her.

 

 

//

 

 

I don't know why exactly I decided to look up that girl in a wheelchair. In any case, it wasn't very difficult. For some reason, the sectarian manning the information line did not become suspicious at all over why someone was attempting to find that particular girl without knowing her name, and they gave me her address and home telephone number without further ado. She would hardly have been just as helpful if I had said I was looking for a blonde with big tits. But fair enough.

            As soon as I saw Kelly, I realized what connects me to her. There's not the slightest doubt. It's not about the ability (or inability) to accept an accident that has happened to you, it is something completely different: when something that cannot be undone has happened, and you know it is simply the way that things are now – that it isn't simply a bolt of fate that hit you, but rather the sort of trouble, which from now on is only yours personally and defines you as a person, from both within and without, because your opportunities are no longer open; oh, no – not just anything can happen to you any more. Something already has, and so it will stay. You see, that – that is unbearable, that is precisely what wakes you in the middle of the night or jabs you on an otherwise mild evening, when you have already managed to almost forget the why and how.

            Her mother extended a smile to me upon opening the apartment door; apparently, she didn't have a single ounce of that distrust for strangers, which tends rather to be the norm these days. Or else she wanted me to think so. For some reason, I had donned a tie when getting ready to go to their place, and had bought some kind of cake to bring along just in case; the mother accepted it and asked whether I would like coffee or tea. I said she could make whatever is easier (because I hadn't come to visit them to be entertained, mind you), but no – she demanded quietly but firmly that I state my preference clearly, and furthermore had me select a tea out of several other kinds before she led me to Kelly's room.

            Kelly barely turned her head upon my arrival. I took a seat on the open chair and didn't say anything, simply inhaling her room and her loneliness. The furniture here was simple, the books on the shelf not so much.

            "Well, out with it already," Kelly said. "Time's ticking."

            Later, when we had already been conversing for some time, I realized that she had been expecting the next subsequent man of God, and had even lightly prepared to counter me by watching Hitchens and Dawkins on YouTube. When she grasped that I had no ambition at all of absolving her, we got talking relatively easily; however, it nevertheless did not definitively dispel her surliness. Probably nothing was capable of that. In any case, she was quite different than what I had assumed when coming. And, let's say, much more memorable. But let's be honest: when you have been crippled by a motorcycle accident six years earlier and not by your own fault in the slightest, and you are living with your mother, in whose opinion you yourself are fending off the simple solution to all of your problems, then a certain sense of surliness is also fairly understandable.

            For the way things somehow went was that her accident impacted her mother's world almost just as determinedly as it had her own. Specifically, her mother decided that rather she herself was being punished in that manner. At first, the punisher was abstract fate, because her mother had never had any relationship with faith before. But for a period of time, one of her distant relatives came to help them out until Kelly had more or less learned to cope again with her inevitable movement needs, within the boundaries of her new possibilities. That relative herself had recently become acquainted with Jesus and did not tire of speaking of it, until even her mother allowed herself to be pulled along, and after a while, discovered a new life for herself as well.

            "For her, the fact that things are the way they are with me is because of her sins, you see," Kelly explained. "And I'm only the instrument for delivering the message. Can you even imagine more solid logic than that?"

            Namely, a little while before Kelly's accident and after some long fights, her parents divorced. Indirectly, it could of course have had a small connection to her speeding around on a motorcycle, because Kelly had loved her father very much and did not at all approve of her mother's decision to show him the door.

            "I believe," she informed me, "that a marriage cannot be divorced, and a home cannot be sold. If you have that kind of a thought, then it consequently wasn't a marriage, but an economic contract. If you have that kind of a thought, then it consequently wasn't a home, but a real-estate object."

            "People have their own ways of going about things," I tried to argue.

            "So, you're apparently like that, too?" She saw straight through me. "A right family expert I've got here."

            However, her mother had gotten her personal life in order again quite quickly, and perhaps that so much as had it's own part in her religious awakening. All of those years, a sectarian teacher had been sleeping over at their house: his wife had run off with some Australian evangelist, but without getting a divorce, so his intercourse with Kelly's mother could not be made official. Furthermore, her mother explained, that relationship was foremost spiritual.

            "Spiritual my ass," Kelly said. "We have paper-thin walls."

            The man had left Kelly alone following a couple of attempts to call her to his flock; however, her mother had not lost hope, and invited one soul-seeker after another to show Kelly the true light. It was understandable that she had regarded me as one of them at first, also. Yet later, it no longer felt as if she was waiting for me to leave at all. It was only when I talked to her about Anni's death that she pursed her lips into a narrow line and did not say anything for some time, so it already appeared as if I had broken the connection between us. But that was not the case.

            For she remembered Anni well. The entire camp as a whole had been a relatively depressing experience in her opinion, because she couldn't find anyone around, with whom she could chat. This was with a couple of exceptions, and Anni was one of them. Not that their worldviews matched, by any means. However, when Kelly had made atheistic quips to Anni on a couple of occasions and the latter hadn't started rolling her eyes at them, it left an impression on Kelly. Furthermore, there wasn't anyone there to talk to, anyway.

            "Not that I might have agreed with her, right," she explained. "But she wasn't any religious schizo, either. She told me about the categorical imperative. You do know what that is, right? I got it completely, only in my opinion, there's nothing divine about it. Why do we believe that if people themselves have agreed upon something, then it can always be changed? But if some god has put his signature on it with a gold pen, then his law is holy and inviolable?"

            "For some, it's certainly easier to be a good person that way," I shrugged.

        "Well, maybe they could talk about for whom it's easier to be a bad person that way then, too?" Kelly replied. "I definitely believe that there are, like, tons more atrocities done in the name of god, all the same. Starting with the Crusades and the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre, and ending with all kinds of fucked-up human relationships. Don't even start explaining human goodness to me here, right – I've already been there."

            "Maybe you could talk more about Anni," I said.

            The more they were there, the more time they had spent together. Anni had pushed Kelly's wheelchair to the beach and sat on a rock next to her, where they watched the sea together and sometimes talked, sometimes were silent.

            "Sometimes, I no longer even understood which one of us was the sick one," Kelly added. "She had gotten hurt really bad somewhere, you know. But she was very strong, and that's why it didn't show. Well, some kind of an unhappy love or something."

            I believe that if I had already known at that time, then perhaps I would have told her. But perhaps I wouldn't have, either.

            "Those people get so little about it," Kelly continued. "That there's no such thing as unhappy love. That if there's love, then it's happy, too; just that there are all sorts of happiness. And if there is no love, well, then there isn't."

            Upon her saying that, Kelly's mother knocked and entered the room. She held a tray carrying a teapot, a plate with the cake I had brought, a sugar bowl, and two awful-looking pink mugs with chubby angels flying on the sides.

            "Everything is still alright for you here, I hope?" she asked without directly addressing anyone.

            Kelly lifted her head and glowered at her mother, who placed the tray on the table and stood waiting for a response.

            "The door," Kelly said curtly. "Shut it."

            I was unable to expect that in the slightest. With a look in her eyes that was almost apologetic to me, her mother retreated through the door and closed it swiftly behind her. However, Kelly had already caught the shocked disapproval on my face.

            "You know, I really don't give a shit what that slut of the lord thinks about world affairs," she said.

            "Hey, are you really sure a person can talk about their mother like that?" I asked.

            She shrugged.

            "Accepting presents from your lover without hope that the relationship will last forever is a form of prostitution."

            I wasn't unable to come back to that with anything. Or was I.

            "You know," I said, "life is sometimes remarkably more complicated than it seems, but when you finally understand it, there's no longer anything you can do about it."

            "Then don't have it be," she responded. "When I finally do understand it. I mean, I just don't have a single square centimeter in common with her world."

            "So this world is better then, huh?" I pointed the Dale Carnegie book How to Win Friends and Influence People sticking out of the stack on her desk.

            She started laughing.

            "What, do you think I read that for real? Hello, it's just for self-defense. So that when any of those guys come at me with the wisdom they memorized from somewhere, I can be ready for it."

        "Uh-huh."

            "For example, I found out from it why they call me by name all the time. You know, like – Kelly, do you know, Kelly, that's how things are, Kelly. That geezer namely think that people like it. That their name is the most beautiful word in the world to them. And if you repeat it to them, then they'll buy it better. Fucking retard. He apparently wasn't named after some brainless chick his parents saw on some brainless TV show."

            At that moment, I couldn't help but remember the arguments we had when naming Anni, and therefore, I was quite defenseless for what she said to me next:

            "You know, Anni and I were like each other's reflections in a way. Or more like the same photo, only that one was the positive and the other the negative. One picture, only that everything was the opposite. And that's why it is that while she died, I have to live."

            The next times that I went to visit her, we did not speak about Anni any more; or if we did, then very briefly. But I hope that I also had my own little role in her beginning to come to terms with her mother over time.

Translated by Adam Cullen


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