farther south

KATA DOESN’T KNOW who her father is. Whenever she asks her mother, she gets silence as an answer. She gets this answer in the third floor of an apartment house in a dusty southern town where the sand lies white beneath the dark pines. She gets this answer down the way from the old village, the old church, the old graveyard, and the old grocery store. On the second floor of the building lives Mati. He has a father but he’s in prison, but only for stealing cars, “not too bad.” This is how they talk about Mati’s father. He may be in jail, but at least he didn’t kill anybody. Across the way, there is a playground and a park. Here can be found on most days an older gentleman who never speaks, but derives pleasure in watching the children play though none of them are his own. He is not from the village though — he’s a drifter who has drifted into town. Across the street, a young woman in tight shorts goes about the business of mopping out the stairs to the apartment. She looks happy as she works. Nearby, the old buildings of the collective farm rot in the heat. The head of the local museum is a witch, I’m told, and denies anything to do with Christ. On certain days, she meets with other witches and they eat porridge cooked in a smoke sauna cauldron, then go out and take advantage of the local men. Outside the houses, the old and young men gather and smoke. When my car arrives, all the heads turn, because they’ve never seen this make and model before in these parts. “Who is that over there?” one gestures with a cigarette. “It looks like Saareküla Kusta’s old car?” “No, that’s not Saareküla Kusta,” another man says. “It’s got to be someone else. Maybe Uustalu Mats?” “That’s not Uustalu Mats,” says a third. “Doesn’t even look local. Must be a foreigner. Yes, a foreigner, I reckon.”

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