Death of a Father

Short stories

   Laura and I kissed once at the start of high school. We held each other's hands across the table while sitting in the old university café, where tea cost 40 cents. We drank tea by the gallon, kissed and walked and kissed; but then those times suddenly ended. I was young and foolish, of course, and Laura was even younger. We weren't capable of caring for each other. We got into some stupid and embarrassing fight, and then everything was left at that. But for several years afterward, I still had the feeling as if something had been lost. I hadn't run into her for more than ten years – not on the street, nor in the theater, the shop; not even in the local bar, although I know that she has lived in the same city the entire time.  

   Now, in the droughty summer of two thousand and ten, Laura called. She said her father is dead and asked if I could lend her money. I always cramp up when someone wants to borrow money. A lump rises to my throat and even if I don't speak it, I immediately hear myself asking three things – how much, how long and for what? Laura answered me even before I could ask, however – as much as you have, until the beginning of next month, let's get together and I'll tell you.  

   She sat at a table on the café's patio, her hands on top of the table. She was just as enchanting as she used to be, although her eyes were bleary from crying. I tried to say something akin to my sympathies, and it came out as awkwardly as it always does. I ordered a glass of juice with a pile of ice – it was damned hot out. I finally asked Laura about her father, because I was aware that she didn't have a father. Laura had known that herself as well. When, as a child, she asked her mother about her father, her mother replied that she only had a mother and a grandmother and a great-grandmother. A while later, when her great-grandmother was no more, Laura's mother told her she was born of the holy spirit, and Laura liked that idea for some time. Yet while other children were told that fathers and mothers and children are like a family of bees, Laura's mother said she was a lone flower that sprouts in the middle of a field. Laura enjoyed that image also. Later on, when Laura already knew that he hadn't been born of the holy spirit, nor was she a lone flower in the middle of a field, her mother remained silent. She didn't say that Laura's father had gone away somewhere, she didn't say that he was dead – she said nothing. Simply began to cry, and that was it. Such it was every time that Laura asked about her father. I remember we even talked about it one time. I said to you –  

   "Maybe your mother has some kinds of important reasons for why she doesn't want to talk to you about your father. Maybe she wants to protect you." And you were astonished that time –  

   "Protect me? From my father?"  

   "Well, I don't know, but yeah – maybe she does." And you were so certain then, so unshaken, so unbudging –  

   "No matter whatever or whoever he might be; whether he has a hundred wives or is a murderer or is dead – no matter how he died, that truth is a thousand times better for me than to live in this torturous unknowingness. Or to hear my mother's cries and sobs as a reply – I want to know the truth a thousand times more than that." And now that truth had come, and her father had come too. I was served my juice and a heap of ice just as I had wanted, and found myself thinking quite improperly of what would happen if I took Laura's hands into mine on the table.  

   The ice melted on the table. Laura spoke. She began in a somehow roundabout way, talking in no particular order about some women and her mother, and was breaking down into tears again, but held herself back. I remember that Laura was so beautiful when she cried. Now, however, she collected herself and began again –  

   "I got a call from the police on Monday asking if I am so-and-so, and I replied "I am indeed," and was wondering why they were calling me; but then they said deeply regret to inform me or something, whatever they always say, and that your father Taisto Raasik is dead. And although I had felt, maybe had even imagined that it would happen like that some day, I naturally asked at first – are you sure? I don't know anyone by that name. But then they explained that Taisto Raasik is definitely my father: he had a DNA analysis done on himself some time back and ultimately, the police found a letter from my mother among his things and Taisto Raasik is without a doubt definitely my father. Or, was, that is, and as the investigation had taken some time and he had no other relatives, they had his body cremated. And could I now go to the Võru crematory to fetch his ashes. The tears were just flowing – I hung up and then straight away, without even thinking, I called my mother. Actually, I had thought very specifically about it – how I would call when I finally found out the identity of my father, how I would call my mother then and tell her that Taisto Raasik is dead. Sort of stonily, without any real sadness or accusations so that it would all have a sharper impact, like in Bergman films. That the criticism would be absolute and make those stories about the holy spirit and a lone flower even more ridiculous. So then I called, and said –  

   "Hi, mom. Taisto Raasik is dead." And I waited. My mother didn't say anything. I didn't even hear her breathing, but I waited for her to say something herself in reply. And the first thing she said, or actually she didn't really say, but – well, emitted, was a sigh. And I don't even remember what else she said – what else could she say –, but that sigh somehow kept ringing in my ears so clearly. I heard that sigh that came from my mother the entire way driving to Võru, and the sigh hadn't been the kind that was some sort of burden made up of guilt, silence and secrecy and a pile of bricks and all other kinds of crap along with it loaded upon your shoulders; so much that you couldn't bear it any longer. It absolutely wasn't that sort of sigh – just the opposite. It was something like when you've cleaned the cellar half of the day and then you emerge, straighten and stretch your back, squint your eyes and sigh. It was that exact kind of a sigh, and I don't even remember anything else from the call with my mother anymore. Although, yes – I do remember one thing. I said I was going to drive to the Võru crematory to pick up my father now and asked whether she wanted to come along with me, and she replied that she didn't and was amazed by why I was going. I didn't start telling her that someone has to go, that he had no one, but I did say to my mother –  

   "I'm going to meet my father!" I ended the call with that dramatic statement and started driving, but my mother's sigh still echoed in my ear. And I was so angry about how she could sigh like that, about what right she had to sigh in that way!"  

   Laura picked a cube of half-melted ice out of the cup, put it in her mouth, chomped on it and continued.  

   "They didn't say anything to me there at the Võru crematory – simply handed me the urn, asked if I wanted a funeral as well and I said that yes, I want one, but it'll take some more time. They gave me a bill for the cremation and the urn. The urn itself already cost over a thousand kroons – all it was, was a stupid box with a cross on it. I would've wanted to just dump it out into a three-liter bottle if I could. They said at the crematory that I could get Taisto Raasik's death certificate from the forensics specialist, and so I did. But when I drove there and asked what he died of, they weren't able to tell me anything. It was written on some piece of paper that the cause of death was unknown. I asked – how could it be unknown? What does that mean? –  

   "When a person dies, then there must be some kind of cause for it too." And that undertaker, wearing a green apron and a silver chain with a silver cross around his neck, said –  

   "Not always, there doesn't. You could say that his heart stopped, but whatever the reason was for it – that we don't know. It wasn't a stroke, it wasn't a heart attack; this deceased had none of those. He was brought here to us from the hospital – maybe you can go and ask there. His things were supposed to be there, too." I held back my tears, and that man with the silver chain and cross could see it –  

   "You're his daughter, yes?"  


   "Unfortunate, of course; he was in good shape otherwise, could have lived for several more years. Nothing you can do, I suppose – we all have to go some day, when our last grain of sand falls. Just a question of how and when." The man with the cross left and shut the heavy iron door behind him.  

   I drove on to the hospital. I didn't know where to keep the urn – I didn't want to put it on the floor, so I put it next to me on the passenger seat. And I put the seat belt around it so it wouldn't tip over. Did you know that that ash is really heavy?"  

   "No," I shook my head. I really didn't know, but Laura did now, poor girl.  

   "It's several times heavier than the ash that you take out of the fireplace. Strange. I'd never thought of it before. But for some reason, I like the thought that a person's ash is heavier than the ash from wood."  

   I imagined Laura driving in her car, her father's ashes belted in on the passenger seat. I would've wanted to see the expression on the face of a police officer that might have stuck his or her head halfway through the window and checked to see whether all the passengers were wearing their seat belts.  

   Laura took another cube of nearly melted ice.  

   "At the hospital, they gave me my father's wallet containing ten kroons, some ten scratched-off lottery tickets – none of them winners –, a library card and a supermarket card and that was it. They also gave me an old pocket radio and Dumas' "The Three Musketeers". The first thought in my head was – who was my father? Did he imagine himself as being d'Artagnan, Athos or Porthos, or perhaps as Aramis? Who would you imagine yourself to be?"  

   "I really don't know, I've never thought of myself as a musketeer before. Although, Milady was attractive in the Russian version of the film, of course, and I naturally imagined myself being there in place of d'Artagnan. But not as d'Artagnan, obviously – still as myself. However, I saw the actor that had played d'Artagnan at a Russian film festival about five years ago, and he certainly had the appearance that he imagined himself to be d'Artagnan. The sort of old Russian d'Artagnan in black leather and wearing a tricorne." Laura didn't appear to be listening – it was as if her eyes were focused in on themselves, and she continued telling the story about her father as if she hadn't asked me anything and I hadn't responded.  

   "I finally found my father's doctor, too, who acquainted me with Taisto Raadik's medical history. I got the feeling then that my father was somehow burdened and fatigued, and the doctor – who was the kind that is nice and delicate and doesn't want to say a thing – nevertheless told me that perhaps life itself had wearied my father.  

   "What does that mean – life had wearied him?" I asked directly, and in order to somewhat throw the fine doctor-gentleman off balance, I added – "That isn't exactly a very medical term." But the doctor still stuck to that vague manner –  

   "I suppose people and their lives are different. Just like candles, you know: some burn more brightly and quickly; others softly and with a more stable flame, but more slowly." And then I lost it –  

   "Can't you just say what it was, not talk to me about some candles!" Then that vague and delicate doctor grew serious –  

   "So what would you like to hear? That people should eat more healthily, drink less alcohol, sleep regularly, do sports? He was your father, perhaps you should know better of how he lived." What fluffy, vague shit! I just walked away holding a bag with the radio, his wallet and the musketeers. An old cleaning lady came after me, however, and caught up with me on the stairs.  

   "Excuse me, please, I certainly didn't know your father and I'm very sorry that he's dead now – he was a very interesting person. No matter what he was, he was still very nice to have here around our hospital. Alone, of course. I heard you talking with the doctor before, and you asked the reason for the death of that father of yours, and I heard they weren't able to tell you anything here or down at the morgue either. And I ain't a doctor or a nurse, I'm just a cleaner; but if you'd allow me to say, then to me, it felt as if he died of sadness."  

   "Of sadness?" The woman wiped her hand on her smock in unease.  

   "Well, yeah; they didn't find anything for why he was sick, but he was ... he was somehow so alone. And I asked whether he had no one, a wife or child, and he said he has a daughter in Tartu, but he hadn't worked up the courage to look her up, 'cause who'd want for herself the kind of father that hadn't accomplished anything in his life and can't even manage to take care of himself. But the fact that he had a daughter was so important to him, and he wanted to have that DNA analysis so that it would all be clear – so that there would at least be someone or something left after he was gone, because he felt that he didn't have much longer left to live. And I thought it was only the sort of thing a lonely person would say, but soon enough – that was it. Really too bad." Then the woman searched for something in her pocket. "Could you put this candle on his grave for me during his funeral?"  

   "Yes, certainly, thanks." I put the candle in the bag with the book and the radio and walked quickly out of the building to my car, then I just cried like a crazy person.  

   Afterwards, I also went and visited the house where my father had last lived. It was an old wooden building with an outhouse and running water in the courtyard. He rented one room in the house. And it was as if the landlord lady there had already been waiting for my arrival – she popped out right away. Started apologizing for everything there being in the state it was, said her husband was dead and she hadn't been able to renovate in a long time; that the roof leaks, but she won't go crawling up there herself –  

   "Yah, before that father of yours went off to the hospital, he promised to put up a new roof tile – I have a hammer and nails all ready and got the tile too, I've had it for years, you know; but then Taisto went off to the hospital and I just kept waiting for when he would come back and put up the new tile before the autumn rains start falling, but I suppose it'll just be left as is for now, 'cause it isn't as if I can afford to start ordering some kind of a company to come and do it, and who'll come out just to put up just a single tile anyway; and I suppose it's not as if so much is leaking through now that it ain't worth waiting." The old woman just kept on talking, speedily and with an apologetic tone and wanted to tell me everything she could right away, but I wanted to ask about my father. I wanted to find out something, I don't know what – whatever would have characterized him, even a single detail of what he was like, so that I might also get some justification for what I am like, or why, or, well – something. So I cut off that old lady's babbling –  

   "Look – I didn't know my father, I've never seen him before and he was always a secret to me. Could you say what he was like?" The old woman looked at me amazedly, was even taken aback –  

   "What do you mean, what he was like?"  

   "I mean as a person – maybe you can say something about him?"  

   "Suppose I could, 'course, yah... But I didn't really know him, you know? He was my renter and everything was certainly fine in that sense, didn't bring any visitors to the house and if there were any, then he went out himself, but didn't bring anyone into the house. Not that I would have forbidden him from doing so, certainly not; but he didn't bring any in himself."       

   "Where did he spend his time?"  

   "Of that, young lady, I certainly don't have a clue. Naturally, he didn't say and I didn't start asking myself, of course, where a full-grown man goes and what he does. We all have our own lives. Some have it one way and others have it another, but everyone still has their own life..." I grasped that I wasn't going to get anything there, so I asked about my father's things, because he had to have left some items behind. And I asked if I could see the room where he lived."  

   "Yes, of course – Taisto's things. But I do actually have a person living in the room already, and there isn't really much to see there – just a regular old room, needs to be renovated, but I'm not a big fixer-upper and 'course it isn't so bad either; should change the wallpaper, but otherwise it's all fine."  

   "But those things?" I asked, demanding my inheritance. The old woman scuttled into the house and came back out right away, holding a banana crate.  

   "Here are Taisto's things. I already threw out some old newspapers and a couple of old shirts that were already ripped, but the rest of the items are all here. Didn't have much, really." I opened the box. It contained a pair of old pants, a pillow – the old and nasty kind (I took them out immediately) – a steel cigarette case – that sort of dented, old-school cigarette case –, then a shaving razor, a shaving brush, a bar of soap, a towel, and that was it. At first, I thought that old lady was lying; that she'd set some things aside. I wanted to see even just a single photo of my father to see whether we have any resemblance. Can a person live with things that fit into a banana crate?  

   "Is this really everything?" I demanded suggestively and with an astonished look. The old woman grasped what I was thinking and startled.  

   "I threw away a few newspapers and a shirt, but they truly were old and dirty, and the shirts were unraveling at the seams..." I could see that the old lady wasn't lying. "I've never pilfered even a pin from another person in my whole life."  

   "Yes, of course, I believe you – please, please don't think – naturally. But didn't he have a photo album or something? Letters, even a single picture of himself?"  

   "That I don't know – didn't see a single album or anything of the sort there in his room. And he'd lost his passport, too. And he'd only been living here at my house for eight years, you see." The landlady suddenly became thoughtful. "Yes, a person's life is a strange thing indeed. You live here alongside other people, right, but no one knows a thing about you. And then you die and not a thing is left behind of you. Our life's a secret, it is," the old woman concluded in a contemplative and mournful voice, and a tear appeared in the corner of her eye. I said goodbye to her and thanked her, put the things back into the banana crate and started to head for my car. Yet the landlady remained standing out in the yard, looking as if she was undecided over whether to speak up about something or not. I went back up to her –  

   "You wanted to say something else?"  

   "No," the old lady contradicted herself.  

   "All the best to you, then." But the landlady started to speak under her breath, or rather mutter  –  

   "No, nothing else, except that, well, it's really nothing now, 'course, he's dead and yah – let him be, I've got a tiny bit more spirit left in me and can make it through those days... But Taisto didn't pay his last rent." Of course – I should've thought of that myself. Now the old woman was mumbling and humiliating herself.  

   "I'll pay you the rent."  

   "Oh, come now – why you?" the old woman dismissed me with a wave.  

   "Who else, then?"  

   "Well, yes – but it wasn't one month's rent, you see."  "How many months was it?" The old lady was already speaking at full volume.  

   "Four months. He paid for February. But March and April and May and June are unpaid, and let that July payment be; he was already in the hospital by then, I don't want that money anymore."  

   "So that comes out to five months. I'll pay you."  

   "Young lady, I told you – I won't take any money for July!" The old woman was even growing angry now.

   "Fine. I'll pay you for four months. What monthly rent did you charge?"  

   "Three hundred kroons a month." The old woman apparently felt that I took her as a leech and added – "because I sweep and mop the stairway myself and in winter, I shovel snow and I pay for the hallway and cellar electricity on my own, too." I thought – when I go out somewhere, can I bet by with three hundred kroons in one night? I somehow started to feel bad about myself. Felt that I'm not thankful for my life and for what I have. So I promised myself to be more thankful from then on. I paid the old woman for the rent and electricity and put the banana crate in my car and drove off. But the pants and pillow stunk like must and cigarette smoke, so I parked the car downtown and stuck them both into a trash bin."  

   I was at a loss for words again. We sat silently for a few moments, and then Laura continued. I thought – I wonder whether she has already told someone this story, or if she's thought through everything so methodically and meticulously that she is retelling it all so very vividly and fluently now. I didn't remember Laura having been such a good storyteller back in old times. She spoke on, saying that she started arranging the funeral affairs and put an obituary in the newspaper. The national daily Postimees and regional Võrumaa Teataja.  

   "But that whole thing was a mess too, of course. I mean, what to write. Naturally, I'd put that Taisto Raasik's funeral is wherever and at what time. But I thought that maybe someone can't come or isn't free, or else simply doesn't go to funerals. Personally, I usually don't go if I can get around it. I thought that if someone wants to maybe tell me something about my father but can't come to the funeral, then I'll be deprived of that. Then I saw that telephone numbers are written below the obituaries. So I put my own number down, too. The obituary was printed in Võrumaa Teataja and Eesti Päevaleht."  

   I realized that everything preceding now, everything that Laura had told me, was just an introduction and the essence of why we were meeting and why she was telling me all of this was just coming now. The sun was scorching, sweat glistened on my brow. Laura's dress was sticking to her stomach and thighs. Although it wouldn't have been proper, I would've wanted to take her hands at that very moment and kiss her. Her hand, her lips, her stomach, her thighs. But I didn't. Laura continued.  

   "That obituary was printed on Wednesday. Today is Friday, and I switched my phone on for a minute yesterday so I could call you. Someone from Võru Library phoned me first thing on Wednesday morning. It was a woman; I imagine she's a middle-aged, plump blond, who definitely has the sort of short, timid husband that fears his huge wife deep down. That woman lit into me right away, saying, "why, oh why do we have to track down our borrowers like this". In short, my father was a borrower at Võru Library and I fathomed that there was some issue with this. When I said, however, that the man was my father and he's dead notwithstanding, she let off somewhat; but soon enough, she started ratcheting it back up again and I figured out what the case was, because that plump blond explained:  

   "You see – your father, Taisto Raasik, I've very sorry indeed, my sympathies, but every year, we lose over three hundred books. However, our Võru County Central Library has to serve readers across the entire county. Books simply aren't returned, and the police don't do anything about it; or else they're stolen straight off of the open shelves and no one ever finds out who took them. And I'm sorry, of course, that one of our borrowers has perished, but every copy is dear to us and every overdue book is an overdue book." There was a pause as the librarian-woman inhaled, and I was able to interrupt to ask –  

   "Did my father then fail to return some book to you?" The plump blond had already taken in a sufficient amount of oxygen and shot back –  

   "I wouldn't call you for no reason in your grief, you know. He never returned "The Three Musketeers"." I told her – that's great; I have possession of the book and I can return it to them.  

   "You can certainly return it, but that copy is already depreciated and has been removed from the library records and we've already gotten a new one to replace it." I started to get ticked off –

   "Is the point of your call that you want me to pay the cost of that book?" Now the plump blonde sighed as if she had battled the worst imbecile possible, who had finally wrapped their head around something.  

   "That's right. In addition to the overdue charge. That makes three thousand, six hundred and eighteen kroons and twenty-four cents." I asked again just to make sure, and the old lady repeated without skipping a beat –  

   "Three thousand, six hundred and eighteen kroons and twenty-four cents. Because, you see, that overdue charge isn't to the Võru County Central Library, nor is it to the Võru Central Library, which was the name of our library from the years eighty-nine until ninety-four; but rather, the book was borrowed from Juhan Smuuli Library on the twentieth of March in the year nineteen eighty-one." I was getting another call and the whole thing was already ridiculous to me, so I asked her to send me a bill. She wanted to explain something else to me, probably in apology, about how books disappear and how the state funds them so poorly, but even to my own surprise, I said –  

   "All for one, one for all!" and hung up on the plump blond. I don't know; you could probably write a radio drama about it, the characters were so damn good. Even too literary and maybe they have too artistic of an effect. But the person that called next was some geezer from Vastseliina Church. The sort of respectable old guy that has never been in a rush to do anything and remains distinguished in every situation – no matter that the collar of his black dress jacket is covered in dandruff –  

   "Am I speaking with a friend or relative of Taisto Raasik?" I introduced myself, and then the old man did so in return. "My name is August Kõiv and I fulfill the duties of Vastseliina Parish Secretary. I must say that we feel great sadness over the loss of your father and I am very glad that we acquired your contact information in order to speak with you, because we were unable to find your father anywhere."  

   "You were looking for him?" I became very businesslike immediately because I was afraid the old man would otherwise simply run my phone battery dry with his relaxed manner.  

   "Yes, we were searching for him because all of our church's feast day notices and Christmas cards were returned from his old place of residence. We still send them these days, for in our minds, it is a nice custom – there are a great many older persons in our congregation that are alone, and it is a big deal for them to receive a card from their congregation at Christmastime." To put it short, my father was listed on the church directory, had been confirmed there and now the old man wanted to know whether I wanted their congregation's teacher to speak at his grave. So I thought – why not? – even though I had already gotten a secular minister for the funeral and had signed a contract and paid. As that geezer seemed to be the cheerful type, I thought I would ask him about my father – about what he was like.  

   "Yes, you see – your father, when he took classes for confirmation, he went probably two or three times and when he was confirmed, I was in the hospital for a thyroid problem. Although, I even visited him once at home – when we still had his address." I was very interested in why he went to see my father at home –  

   "Why did you go to visit him, if I may ask?"  

   "Yes, I wouldn't have gone otherwise, but he hadn't responded to my letters and so I thought – well, it isn't far at all, I'll go and have a look to see if everything is still correct, that maybe he simply hadn't received our letters. And it was a very good thing that I went, because your father said he hadn't received those letters. Specifically, what happened was that he hadn't paid the church fee, and if it is left unpaid for two years already, or even five years at that, then that person is no longer counted among the congregation. But I always want to be certain beforehand that it isn't simply some mistake, that the person hasn't just forgotten, because there are so many goings-on in our lives of all sorts, aren't there? And that time, the problem was indeed just a mix-up and your father thanked me and promised that he would certainly pay the fee."  

   "And did he?" I asked right away.  

   "Actually, he did not. But he never had the chance. I suppose each of us has our own cross to bear, and whether that cross is in a church tower or on our back or our shoulders or in our thoughts and our soul isn't important." The old man blessed me, we agreed on the funeral arrangements and then he started to hang up and hadn't even asked me about the money for the church fee. Yet all of a sudden, I felt that I wanted to pay off the cost of that fee myself, so that my father could be at peace. I asked the old man for the church's bank account number and promised to make a symbolic one-thousand-kroon donation to the church. He didn't have anything against that, of course; he became choked up and even onerous and gave me another blessing. I made the bank transfer and remembered that he hadn't actually said what my father was like; but my telephone rang again immediately. Once more, a completely unknown number. It was a timid woman named Eve or something like that, just as those women's names always are. When she had emotionally, but nevertheless restrainedly expressed her condolences, she introduced herself.  

   "I'm Taisto's classmate. We attended school, primary school and grade school in Võru together. I've been living in Tallinn now for already thirty years and when we had our class reunion – that was ten years ago already – I was on a business trip and couldn't go and I'm very sorry for that, because already several people from our class have perished. It's somehow unfortunate and makes you downhearted to read obituaries for your friends and classmates in the morning paper. And when one goes, and then another, and a third and a fourth and all of them are just going one after another like that, then you start to wonder when your own time will come and whether you'll be ready in that moment; whether you've completed everything in life that you've wanted to do. And I don't know how it was with Taisto. But a person can hardly be prepared for it like in those old stories, where an old man sits at the window and a little birdie comes and taps on it and the man understands from this that now is his time to die, goes and stretches out on his bed, says to his old wife completely calmly and quietly before he does that his time has now come, and that's it. Something is always left incomplete, and no doubt it was the same for Taisto." I started getting another call on the line again. I tried to hurry the woman up.  

   "Could you tell me what my father was like?"  

   "Now that I think about it, I didn't attend the last reunion myself; but before that, I don't remember that – no, Taisto certainly hadn't been there. I think I saw him for a split second once when I was visiting my parents in Võru, but it was so brief that I'm not even sure whether it was him or not. The last time I definitely remember seeing him was at our grade school graduation. After that, I think Taisto went to the technical college to become a bog engineer."  

   "A bog engineer?"  

   "Or was it agronomy? Did your father study agronomy?"  

   "Look – I never saw him when he was still living and I don't know whether or not he studied agronomy." I sensed that the woman was somewhat shocked by the idea of a daughter never having seen her father alive.  

   "It was either bog engineering or agronomy – definitely one of the two. Or, no – or did he actually go to become a locksmith? In any sense, it was something similar." I wonder what could unite bog engineering, agronomy and locksmithing? However, I didn't say anything; even though that lady annoyed me the very most out of all the callers with her idiotic, delicate tone. "And you know, I remember Taisto well from after our grade school graduation, from the party we had. Although, you know what's interesting is that I started looking around, too, just now to see what Taisto looked like, and I looked through all of our class photos – and he isn't in a single one of them. Not in any random picture, nor even in the class photograph."  

   "Where was he, then?"  "I don't know; I think it's strange indeed that he's not in a single picture, and it confuses me so very much now, because I can't picture his face even though I remember him well from the graduation party. I don't know whether or not I should tell you this at all, but the party was at my house. We had just finished building a new home and I wanted show off the fact that we had such a large, new house, so I said the graduation party could be at our place. My mother and father started shouting at me when they heard; but in the end, they just went to our summer cabin. The party itself was just as they always are – the boys drank vodka, we danced and kissed; an ordinary party. But the next morning, my father started looking for his cigarette case – he had one just the same as they usually were; shiny and made of metal – but he couldn't find it anywhere. Some friend had given it to him as a gift, so my father got angry and said it was the last time anything would be held at that house. He never brought it up again, but the cigarette case never surfaced. I asked other people that were at the party in a delicate oh-by-the-way sort of manner, saying, "huh, my father's cigarette case disappeared; no one has happened to have seen it, have they?" No one knew anything about it. And then I remember that when Taisto went to the technical college, I saw him with some other boys in town, maybe agronomists or locksmiths from the same school. Why can't I remember what Taisto studied? But I remember it because Taisto saw me on the street and came away from the boys to talk with me and said where he was studying now; but I couldn't listen to him or think of anything else other than how I'd seen him take a cigarette case out of his pocket just a couple minutes before and offer the boys a smoke and then snap it shut again, and I knew it was my father's cigarette case. I haven't seen him at all since then and when I read that in the paper this morning I wondered why I hadn't spoken to him about it. Maybe it wasn't my father's cigarette case all the same, because I did see it from quite far away and might have just thought it all up. And maybe everything would have gone differently if I had talked to Taisto about it, because I liked him and we always danced together at parties and he was a very good kisser, and we kissed together in my parent's bed at that graduation party; but afterward, I wasn't able to think of anything else than that Taisto took my father's cigarette case – although maybe he didn't take it anyway. Maybe it's lying around God-knows-where even now; forgive me just as I've forgiven Taisto, even if he took it, but if he didn't take it, then I hope he forgives me for having thought of him in that way. Forgive me." The woman wasn't able to say anything more than that; she obviously started crying, and she was obviously unhappy and all mixed up. The call broke off so suddenly that I didn't even have time to ask whether or not she was coming to the funeral. I don't even know why I didn't rush to tell her that her father's cigarette case is sitting in a bag in my room. And I didn't want to call her back either.  

   New calls kept coming in, one more absurd than the other. I got nothing that I would have wanted to know about my father from them; although, I don't really know what that 'something' should have been. Yet my father had been in debt to every one of them somehow, and none of the callers could or wanted to come to the funeral. You could certainly use the two most ludicrous calls in one of your stories. One was some woman that had somehow by chance – although exactly how, she couldn't remember any more – met Taisto. My father spent the night at the woman's place and something probably happened between them as well, but in any case, her wig disappeared the next morning. It was the kind with long brunette curls that the woman – she was singer at the Estonian National Opera – used somewhere in a performance. The second most ridiculous call was from a man, who had the voice of an absolutely ordinary middle-aged man, who stood together with my father in the Baltic Chain. They stood there side by side and held hands, and regardless of the fact that everyone held one another's hands the entire time, this man's watch disappeared from his wrist. The man emphasized that it was a Seiko watch; he had just bought it at the market and during the time that they stood there hand-in-hand, the watch disappeared. Those calls kept coming all the way up until evening and every one of them wanted something, so finally I couldn't handle it anymore and when the telephone rang again and someone asked if I'm Taisto Raadik's daughter, I replied:  

   "No, I'm not his daughter. You have the wrong number." And I plopped down to lay on the couch. When I woke up sometime during the night – I don't know if I even slept at all –, I remembered that I had seen my father. He was just like that same Russian actor that played d'Artagnan – a cigarette case in his pocket and curly, brunette hair, smiling at me. For me, that Russian actor was the only person that clicked with my father. That's when I woke up. I was so worked up that I went and pried open my father's urn with a kitchen knife and just stood staring at the ashes."  

   Laura couldn't hold back any longer and broke down into tears. I hugged her, feeling her breasts pressed against me. She sobbed, my darling Laura. I dried her tears, just as I always did. Laura's lips were only a few centimeters away from mine.  

   "I'm sorry, I'm completely at my wit's end."  

   "Everything will be fine. Don't worry, really." I kissed her on the forehead.  

   "That same night, when I wanted to see my father so very much that I stared at his ashes, I just lost it – I sped off in the night to my mother's place. I don't know what time it might have been at; there wasn't a single person on the streets and yellow lights blinked in the traffic signals. My mother got up, came to the door in her nightgown and asked who was there from the other side. I replied – it's me, Laura; and she fumbled with the lock and opened the door. I was thinking that she no longer had the right to remain silent. So I demanded:  

   "Mother, you have to tell me who my father was – who was Taisto Raasik?" But my mother started crying again, although no longer in the sort of bleating way that she usually did; rather, completely beside herself. And I thought – something's wrong here, I've never seen her crying like that before. I calmed her down, stroked her hair and then she finally started speaking:

   "Darling daughter, what I'd wish for over anything else is to be able to tell you something."   

   "But tell me, mother – no matter what it might be." My mother then started to cry again, and through the sobbing emerged lone words, by which I pieced together that she and my father had met only once and my mother doesn't remember anything about him. They never looked for each other ever again and my mother isn't even able to recall his face now. After a while, she stopped crying and started talking about a handkerchief. Back then, my mother had had a white silk handkerchief with her initials embroidered upon it, and she couldn't find that handkerchief anymore after their encounter. She began crying again like a crazy person, asked that I forgive her and I told her it's really nothing, everything is alright. But actually, nothing is alright."  

   Laura still hadn't let go of me. We stood in the middle of Town Hall Square, our arms wrapped around each other.  "Over the last few days, I've contemplated all sorts of things – what we're even doing here in life, where we're going and before we go, what will be left of us. And whether my father was really just a poor Gascon, whose dream was to become a musketeer, who came to the city but perhaps wasn't given a horse or money or a sword or a testimonial by his father, and nothing ever came to be. And I think to myself – what will become of me, and I think of you – of what might have become of us. That's why I asked you out, Urmas. After I went back home from my mother's place and screwed the top back on my father's urn, I decided that I don't want to end my life that way – with a pillow and a stolen cigarette case and an overdue copy of "The Three Musketeers" in a banana crate. And you immediately came to mind. We were such idiots when we broke up. I know, I imagine you'll say now that I'm under the influence of those events and am just looking for someone, for someone's company, so that I won't be alone."  

   "No, Laura, I don't think that."  

   "I want to be with you and only you, for our lives to not simply go to waste and for us to not lose each other and ourselves... Although, I don't even know – maybe you already have someone, maybe you have..." I closed her mouth.  Holding each other's hands, we walked along the riverbank down to the marsh and afterwards, we came back to the market hall in town because the ATM on Town Hall Square was closed.  

   I had to be in Tallinn on the day of Laura's father's burial, but I could imagine her there in Võru Cemetery, where she would have had two ministers – a secular and a church one – and Laura herself and not a single other person to pay their last respects. It would have been raining and the church minister would recite the Our Father prayer about how God forgives our debts just as we forgive our debtors. And poor lovely Laura would stand in the rain, her hair dripping, holding a candle given to her by a cleaning woman in a hospital.  

   That's how I imagined her standing there in the cemetery, because I am, in essence, a writer, whose job it is to imagine things. Yet naturally, I wasn't able to take into account the fantasy of fatherless daughters, which can bring such pictures before your eyes that you listen with your mouth and your heart agape, and only realize to shut your jaw when Milady has exited with her blond hair waving in the breeze, having emptied out your debit card and your heart.

    P.S. I hope that cultural monthly Vikerkaar publishes my short story "Death of a Father", and that I get back even part of the money I gave to Laura. At the same time, I wouldn't be surprised if Laura has, for example, mesmerized the writers Kivastik or Pilv or Heinsaar with her tale and they beat me to it. It is for this reason that some signs of hurried writing may be found in my story.

Translated by Adam Cullen

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