How's life, Ann?

by Aidi Vallik

How’s life, Ann?
Chapter 13


I was sitting on the steps outside the shop chewing on a blade of grass. Rita came and asked what was wrong. Nothing, I answered and cadged a cigarette. She handed me the whole pack, sat next to me and waited for me to say something. I didn’t. We sat in silence and smoked, until the boys came out of the shop.
We went to the beach. There were other people there besides us, but not that many, maybe ten or so, all young. We put on our swimming things, the boys opened some beers and made a start on the evening. We girls went to check out the water. Ohh! It was still ice cold. It was only the beginning of June and the weather hadn’t been warm for long enough but even so, some crazy people were swimming. Rita ran straight in, shrieking and squealing, and called Jussi to come in––the water’s really warm! Even Evelyn had managed to get in. Only Kristel and I were still splashing around up to our thighs. Since there had to be some justification for coming to the beach, I closed my eyes and quickly crouched down till I was up to my neck in the water, it was really cold, my first feeling was like being under a cold water tap. But after a bit it wasn’t so bad, I swam a few strokes and then Rita and I just fooled around. We then heard shouts from the shore––showing off as they came, our boys were coming into the water too. Naturally, they just had to come and ‘drown’ us and splash us, so it was quite fun. Of course we didn’t manage to stay in very long. Soon we were all blue and shivering on the beach and cursing that we hadn’t brought any towels with us. But with our dry clothes on we were soon warm and a few swigs of beer helped too.
Just as we were deciding to start back, three suspiciously familiar figures turned down towards the beach. I felt like my heart was going to stop beating. Timo! Timo! On noticing it was us, they stopped for a minute, exchanged a few words and then started walking our direction. Yes! They were coming towards us and they were greeting us. I only had eyes for Timo. He seemed even more attractive and mysterious than before, more good looking and somehow better in every way. But he didn’t look at me, he spoke to Anti and Jussi. I caught every word that he said and heard how Anti was inviting him to our place that evening. I waited nervously, he wasn’t going to say no, was he?  But he looked at Siim and Artur and when they nodded in agreement, then he said three magical words, "Okay, we’ll come."
Could it be because of me? The day was now three times more beautiful than before. They came with us and when I walked in front with the girls my feet felt so light. I could feel Timo’s eyes on my back and how his thoughts were drawn to me. I was like a changed person, my melancholy had disappeared somewhere into the alder scrub on the side of the road, the world had become lovely and colourful once again, and life was full of hope. I am not alone, I have Timo, was how I felt and this made me really happy.
At home we fried up another large pan of potatoes, we ate, then moved outside with the bags of drinks and enjoyed the sun. It was still daytime and Timo hadn’t sought me out yet. I knew that in the light we were both reticent to show our feelings so I was impatiently waiting for nightfall, when the twilight would deepen, the shadows become longer and when the drink would take away our shyness and reserve. I barely noticed what anyone said or did that night, all I knew was that I talked non stop and really loudly and about those things which I wanted Timo to know about me. So what if I talked the whole time with everyone else and not with him. I danced, I sang, I laughed out loud, fooled around with the girls, so that even they looked at me in surprise. I teased Timo by talking animatedly to every boy but him, and when Villem arrived I ran to greet him and joyfully hugged him.  Villem only said,
"Hang on, don’t knock me over", and went over to the boys, taking a bottle of beer from the inside pocket of his jacket as he went.
One thing was really strange. Timo hardly paid any attention to me, even when I positioned myself right between him and Siim and started talking with Siim about some film. He took no notice of me and instead talked to Oleg about cars. When my discussion with Siim came to an end and a little embarrassed pause developed, he didn’t do anything to keep me there but instead just stood up and went to talk with Evelyn and Kristel. It was like being stabbed in the chest. But maybe he’s self-conscious, that someone might notice his feelings towards me and that’s why he’s too afraid to talk to me? Maybe he’s afraid of Villem? Villem follows me everywhere and its obvious that he looks after me. Maybe he’s jealous of Villem and doesn’t know that we’re just good friends.

Now that Timo was standing near the group of girls I also made my way there. I sneaked a look to see what Villem was doing. He was following me with his eyes. Could I be mistaken?  Maybe…no, I don’t believe it. But then why is he looking at me like that? Maybe Villem is in love with me? I started to laugh at the thought. But why not? Why else would he come here everyday. It couldn’t be because of Reena or Kätlin because Villem comes even when they’re not here. And he doesn’t watch Kristel or Evelyn like this, and its obvious that he doesn’t like Rita.
The others were looking at me strangely, even Timo. I’d probably laughed at an inappropriate part in their conversation. 
    "No, sorry! I was laughing about something else entirely, my thoughts were elsewhere," I tried to wriggle out of it, still with a big smile on my face.
    "Are you drunk already?" asked Rita.
"No, just…" I couldn’t explain myself.
Timo went away again. This time, to the other side of the house, to where the boys had dragged some crates and were now playing cards. I was still feeling restless. I threw my empty bottle into the bushes and let Villem open another beer for me (my third already, and Villem asked if I wasn’t overdoing it?), and with it I went over to the card players and Timo. So it wouldn’t look too obvious, I spoke a few words with Anti and Kristel who were sitting on the steps of the house, then I made it look like I was just wandering aimlessly before I made my way to the card table. Just before I got there I heard Villem say quietly,
"See you don’t make a fool of yourself by being too pushy".
Now I got angry. Who does he think he is? Tailing me like a private eye and then lecturing me as well. A person can’t be that jealous.
"You jealous are you? Stalking me all the time!" I called out loudly, not caring if the others heard. Let them hear. And let Timo see that others were interested and that I wasn’t some wallflower.
Oh boy, that infuriated Villem. He didn’t say a word to me, but spun on his heels and went back to the front of the house. I saw him look around and then start to busy himself with something.
I sat on the edge of a crate next to Artur, and drank my beer even though I was already quite pissed. The restlessness in me increased and I felt unbearably uptight. What’s going on? Why isn’t he taking any notice of me? Can’t he see that I’m willing to do anything for him? If he’s jealous of Villem, then he must have seen that I couldn’t give a stuff about him.  As before, Timo made it look like he was engrossed in the card game, and didn’t even cast a glance at me.  Surely its dark enough and secretive enough that we could go somewhere together on our own, so that no one would see and make fun of us. We could go somewhere, where we could just be and talk, just be close to each other. I wanted to be near him, press myself against him, listen to his breathing. I wanted him to kiss me and hug me, so that I could feel that he cares and loves me.
I stood up and said out loud,
"How about we make a fire? It’ll soon be dark and it’ll be nice and bright sitting by a campfire. Who’ll come and get the firewood with me?"
Without glancing back I headed straight for the shed. I pulled the door open and began stacking logs onto my arm. My legs felt weak and I felt dizzy. Am I drunk? I leant against the wall for a moment and closed my eyes. The shed door didn’t open. No one had followed me. What had I hoped for? That history would repeat itself?
Then I pulled myself together, with my free hand I wiped my eyes and with my load of firewood stepped outside. I almost bumped into Artur, who apparently also had reason to come to the shed.
"Does it matter where I take them from?" he asked.
"No," I stammered.
Villem had already gathered kindling and was encouraging them to light. We piled on larger logs and soon we had a pretty big fire. The time was right, it was around midnight and deep twilight. We sat by the fire and someone had the idea of putting potatoes in the coals. A good idea, I thought and drank some more beer.
"Hey girl! Be careful." warned Villem, sitting next to me, " Do you want to get completed plastered or what?”
I didn’t care. I was already drunk and it hadn’t made me any happier. We sat, some talk was going on, someone chased someone around the house, it was probably fun-––but it had nothing to do with me. Timo had completely disappeared somewhere, without a word, like a stranger, as if last time we hadn’t…I didn’t want to think about it. And then Villem, with his stupid desire to talk.
"Hey girl, I’d like you to get one thing straight," he said to me. " If I am a little worried about your spiritual wellbeing and your health, and I try to help you a little, it doesn’t yet mean that I’m madly in love with you. Just get that idea out of your head".
Yeah right! But then, in some way I was even a little disappointed. Oh, how stupid I had been. Of course, Villem, is just a friend. How could he fall in love with a girl so much younger than him? But then… it was nice to contemplate it, it made me feel better about myself, it was exciting. My thoughts were scattered like school notes in a drawer. I couldn’t understand them or make head or tail of them. Only one thing bothered me. It kept coming back again and again, like it was permanently chained to me––Timo. Where was he? Surely he hadn’t gone home?
With a little difficulty I stood up and looked around carefully. No, he wasn’t here, at least, not outside. But Artur, and Siim too, were sitting just here. It wasn’t likely that he’d gone to Võsu without them. So then where was he? Maybe he went inside to lie down. He too, had drunk a fair bit.
I went inside. Again Villem watched me go but this time he did not come after me. Fortunately the others didn’t notice me go inside. The kitchen was empty, my room also, Rita’s room and the big room too. But when I stopped outside the back room I heard whispering from inside. I listened for a bit. It was impossible to be mistaken––there were two people in there. I couldn’t discern who they were, but there were definitely two voices. Who? My heart suspected the worst, but carefully I opened the door anyway. In the darkened room two people lay close together on the divan. Some suppressed laughter, the rustling of bed linen, a clunk against the floor––something had fallen. The figure closer to me moved and was feeling for something next to the divan. I recognised the face but I refused to believe what I saw. I must have moved accidentally or maybe the door moved, anyway this person turned towards me and now there was no doubt. It was clearly Timo, who through the dark looked me straight in the eye with a look, as strange and unfamiliar––as never before.
     "What is it?" a quiet voice from behind his back asked and sat up. Hastily I pulled the door to and fled through the house to the kitchen. Gasping, I rested my hands on the edge of the slops bucket and threw up.  The kitchen spun, the faces I’d just seen spun, the entire world went round and around before my eyes. I cried and vomited up everything, that I’d felt, seen and drunk that evening.  Fortunately no one came, so I didn’t need to think up excuses for my completely dumb behaviour.
With a shaking hand I took the dipper, scooped clean water into the wash basin and put my face, up to my ears, into the cold water. I held my breath, but the tears continued to come and I became afraid that this would never pass. Maybe everything would always be like this. Maybe this incredible pain would stay with me forever. How would it be possible to live like this?  Oh, Mum, Mum, Mum––how did you cope with this?

25. 7. 1985 I haven’t written for a long time, not that anything life-changing has happened. I met a nice boy, an artist, who would be quite talented if he could be bothered to work at it. His pictures are quite good. He’s living with me at the moment, before that he was at the art institute student rooms, but he had some problem there, so he had to leave, & since, by this time we were getting along quite nicely, I let him come here. Company for me too. As it is, my life seems so lonely. And I don’t have the energy to live a social life all the time, and after all what sort of a social life is it anyway. At times it seems our group is starting to fall apart, one after the other terrible things seem to be happening, things that I don’t really want to talk about. For example, the fact that Palle died after all, even though he was much better for a while. At his funeral & once after that I saw Jaan––we talked about this and that, but not what, which still now, lies heavy on my heart. And it will remain that way. Its not likely that anything will come of that half-finished thing. What else? ––Martsa drowned in the Emajõgi. He wasn’t a great friend of mine, but still. He was in our group & more often than not. None of us is yet twenty & how is it possible that we die and die? Maybe that’s precisely why, because no one wants do things together any more. There are too many stories with dead people. Mia hasn’t come back either. There’s some vague story going around, that someone had seen her in Moscow & it probably was Mia, but they didn’t talk or even say hello. So I don’t know. She, at least, could still be alive.
I finally managed to finish that damned evening secondary school. It was a big hassle but I’m now in university. I would never have believed it. I went to the entrance exams more for fun & to keep Anne company. Anne was preparing to go & talked me into coming too––she’d be lonely on her own. So I studied like mad for a week, I didn’t go out anywhere. I worked through all the secondary school Estonian grammar & literature & to top it all off I got in to everything. I was really amazed & sorry for all the girls for whom it was a matter of life & death & who were left to sadly scour the lists pinned to the notice board. But well, since Anne also got in, we probably have five exciting years ahead of us.
Kristjan, the artist boy, is a really great guy. I could fall in love with him, but I don’t know why but it’s not happening. We’re just flat mates even though we sometimes go out together––friends are already talking. At least there is someone nearby when things are bad & all kinds of thoughts try to climb into my head & and when they do, then Kristjan turns it all into a joke & everything is fine again. Actually, its touching how he looks after me. Seems as though he wants a deeper relationship, but I don’t know. I feel so wasted & empty.
 
Even sleep was a nightmare. I slept with Mum’s notebook under my cheek, I awoke and started to cry until I fell asleep again, and it continued like this many times. Outside it was almost light, when I awoke again, crying. I felt completed drained. Then someone came into the room and sat on the edge of my bed. I didn’t even look to see who it was, but turned my face into the pillow and cried as quietly as possible. Then I felt someone’s hand stroking my back and shoulder, someone lay down next to me on their side and pressed themselves against me, as if to comfort me. What’s the point in being comforted, everything is terrible, a hug won’t fix it. Even so, I was thankful and even calmed down a little. Then I ventured a peek at my comforter and saw Artur with a foolish but kind-hearted smile.
"You know, I’m completely exhausted," I muttered to him and wiped my eyes.
He didn’t answer, but as before, ran his hand over my shoulder and back, and pulled the blanket over himself as well. Maybe its good to have someone here, I thought and sighed. Only does it have to be Timo’s friend. It’d be awful if Timo had told him something about us. At this I hid my face in the pillow and started to cry again.
But then something really weird happened. Against my bare thighs I felt something, which at this moment should not have been there. He slid his arm under my shoulder, pulling me onto my side and stroked my breast. I felt his hand slipping under my t-shirt. It was no longer possible to interpret the situation any other way. I sat bolt upright, still crying, pushed his hand away, quickly climbed over him onto the floor and grabbed my jeans from the table. Hastily I pulled them on. I felt dizzy, my legs felt horribly weak, I was afraid that he’d grab me or something.
"Where are you running to? Stuck-up bitch are you?"
When all he received in answer was the sound of my zipper, he too sat up, did his pants up and complained,
"It was all right with Timo. How am I any different?"
This stopped me in my tracks, so much so, that I even stopped crying.
"Give me a cigarette," I said suddenly and angrily. He gave me one, and lit it too.
"No," I said when I’d taken a drag. " I’m not that kind of girl." I marched out the door, slamming it with a bang as I went. Then I remembered something, went back into the room, took from the bed the green notebook and left once again and this time went in to the garden. I was breathing heavily, like a steam train, from the effort of trying to stop myself from crying again. Some people were still sitting outside. I didn’t even look to see who they were and went around the corner of the house, waded through nettles and goutweed, climbed over the fence and then like a mad thing rushed into the forest. I ran and ran so that no one would come after me. When I had finally gone far enough I let myself drop to the ground. My eyes were dry and felt like wood, they stung madly, and I wasn’t crying anymore. But I couldn’t say whether I felt better or worse than before. It was as if I was made up of lots of little bloody pieces. I didn’t want anything. I didn’t think anything. I just lay on the damp grass. Birds were singing with a thousand voices but that was someplace else. I could hear voices in the distance but it sounded like a television. The sun rose.

24. 9. 1985 Yesterday Elis, Raul and Karl visited. We drank a couple of bottles of wine & just sat round. We stoked the stove, talked about life & people. Elis also got into university, but she’s going to Tartu. Raul had recorded some of his poems onto a cassette & combined it with music to make a piece. He writes well. I hadn’t read or heard his work before, so it was a bit of a shock. The piece was called "All things pass". There were maybe ten to fifteen poems in it. Beautiful. Raul is talented. Why doesn’t he do something with it?
I should get off to bed now. Kristjan has already been fast asleep for 2 hours. I’m the kind of idiot who wants to stay up all night even though at the moment I’m dead tired. Its hot inside & and in bed next to Kristjan its probably even hotter & I keep thinking sad thoughts. I’d like to die of hunger or set houses on fire or become a whore. I’d like to do something really crazy. The routine is killing me, like hitting my head against a wall. Kristjan has become somehow too sensible––work (he got some job as a guard) & food & money & woman––he doesn’t seem to need more. Sometimes this gets on my nerves. He seems to be convinced that our relationship is going somewhere. I’m not so sure if it is though, and so what if my mother really likes him.
I’d like to have a child, who could love simply & unconditionally. Then I could learn how to love simply & unconditionally again. Of course, I’d love my child in that way. And Kristjan too, who hasn’t done anything to deserve my prickliness. After all, he is trying to be the man you’d normally want to stay with.