Autumn

by Mart Kivastik

Jaanus stood on one leg without losing balance. The concrete surround of the burial plot was exactly the same width as his sandal. When he stretched out his arms he was able to stand steady, without even wobbling. If he put his arms down, he might fall. The surround was not particularly high but you could still fall off. Jaanus stretched out his arms palms downwards and he did not fall. Now he was a stork.
     "Leena, I'm putting my arms out so that I don't fall."

     Leena was pottering about with a rake, she stooped down and, sniffing, scraped away at the leaves. The leaves were yellow and red. Leena's scarf was the same colour, just not so yellowed. As soon as the leaves were heaped up in a pile, they would start flying all over the place - the wind blew them right back to the space Leena had just cleared, and she started raking all over again.

     Jaanus jumped off the surround, bending his knees so that he would not make any noise. Then he walked round the grave with his hands in his pockets. If Leena did not see him, he could stick his hands in his pockets. He stopped just behind Leena and watched - the middle bit was the most important, right there where Leena was raking. It was his grandmother's grave, Granny was the most important. She had lived before Jaanus was born, at the same time as Leena because Leena remembered her. Granny was dead but Leena was alive. Now Leena was scraping the leaves off Granny's grave. If Granny had lived longer than Leena, she would have had to clear the leaves off Leena's grave.

     "Leena, whose is that cross?" Jaanus came over beside Leena and picked up the leaves that slipped through the rake.
     "You're getting your hands dirty," said Leena.
     Jaanus wiped his hands on his trousers. If Leena was not watching, he could just as easily put his hands in his pockets as rub them on his trousers. But Leena was too busy to watch right now.
     "Leena, whose is that crooked cross?"
     Leena was short of breath from working with the rake. Her breath came in gasps in time with the rake, she leaned her left hand on her knee and reached forward as far as she could. The wind was scattering most of the leaves that she had raked together.
     "That's your grandfather's," said Leena.
     "The one who was Granny's husband?"
     "No, not that one."
     Although it was not that grandfather, everyone here was still a relative. No strangers were buried here. These were his and Leena's relatives. This was their very own grave. His grandfather's cross was crooked and rusted. It had tilted so much to one side that it was touching the path.
     Now the surface of the sand had to be raked into smooth lines - like on the other graves - then it would be just right. Once the sand had been raked smooth, they had to fetch water to put the flowers in.
     "Is the other grandfather on the other side?"
     Leena had raked lines onto Granny's grave and now she was fixing her scarf. Or else the wind would blow it off. Leena had grey hair. If the wind whipped her scarf off, you could see it. If the scarf flew off, you would not be able to find it again. It was the same colour as the leaves.
     "Your uncle's on the other side."

     Jaanus already knew about his uncle. He could remember everyone. On the left, under the old rusty cross, was the grandfather who was not Granny's husband, in the middle - Granny, the most important one, who had lived at the same time as Leena. His uncle did not have a cross, just a white stone plaque with gold lettering. Jaanus's uncle was a year younger than him - only four. When he was four he had climbed onto a chair and fallen off onto his head. He had a white stone plaque with his name in gold lettering. But on his uncle's right was a patch of completely empty ground. There was space for more than two crosses and one grave.

     Jaanus fished some bubble gum out of his pocket, two pieces together - far better than one on its own. First he made pops, then bubbles. Leena was too busy to notice - she was carting leaves over to a big rubbish pile from where the wind was blowing them all over the graveyard. Jaanus measured in strides the ground that lay between the lettered plaque and the path: "For Leena, Uncle Julius, Harold ..." Not enough for everyone. There were too many relatives. He did not know for sure if they were all relatives. He could have asked Leena but she was too busy. Leena managed to stop the leaves from flying out of the rubbish bin. Jaanus measured the ground again.

     He blew two bubbles and made one pop. It was not a very good pop. He tried again - the bubble gum stuck to his chin.
     "Leena, how old are you?"
     Leena had got rid of all the leaves. She leaned the rake against a tree and took a water jar out of her bag.
     "How old are you, Leena?"
     "Go and get some water."
     Jaanus ran to the pump and put the jar down exactly where the water came out. When the jar was half full, his foot was still under the spout - wet. If he had kept dry, it would have been the first time and he could have told Leena. Last time he got both feet wet. His sandal squelched.
     Leena arranged the flowers nicely. Granny got one kind of flower, his uncle another. Then she sat down on the bench and sighed deeply.
     Now the whole grave was smooth and lined - really lovely it was, nicer than the ones next to it. Jaanus sat down beside Leena. Jackdaws were cawing overhead.
     He showed Leena the empty space between his uncle and the path: "There really is still room here."
     Leena nodded. Jaanus blew a bubble - a better one this time.


Translated by Miriam McIlfatrick-Ksenofontov