singing canary

ASTRID WORKS at the hotel reception. She is on duty most of the week. She is polite, cleanly, well-dressed, informative, resourceful, peaceful, and, in general, an industrious, competent worker. Her hair is plain, either pulled back in a neat ponytail, or loose. She has a fine manicure and is restrained with her cosmetics. She looks and plays the part so well, it’s hard to believe this is her first hotel job. For the majority of her adult life, she has been employed as nothing. She met a wealthy older Catalan art dealer called Pablo as a youth and they eloped, his hot blood mingling with hers. She lived the well-coiffed life of a housewife with a strong, dominant man who limited her contact with her girlfriends, not to mention any other men. Her twin sons grew up to admire and idolize their patrician father Pablo, so that when this singing canary decided, at the age of 40, that she had enough of the caged-in life, and departed Barcelona ahead of the quarantine, they took their father’s side in the fight and relations are strayed. But she answers the phone dutifully and does not fear the night watch in an old Estonian hotel, widely rumored to be haunted. “The people you have to really fear in this life are the living,” says Astrid. “I’ve no trouble with the spirits. They can come and go as they like.” Sometimes I stop in and chat with Astrid. I order an espresso at the front desk when there is no one around and we talk. I am pleased to know a woman as fine as she is, as forthcoming as she is. She still has some will power left. My will is broken. I am sad inside, because I know the truth. Other people ignore the truth, or take different pieces of it, construct new narratives, apparatuses, but somehow, it doesn’t hang well, the material is limp, dead. How could it be? It was all stitched together from the truth, yet it’s not the real truth. That’s how it is then, my will, my heart, my soul — these are all broken. I’m a canary in a different kind of cage. I can no longer sing, I cannot muster a whistle. I wet my beak and all that comes out is silence. I rock back and forth, but I can’t even bother to find my way out. So this is what I ask Astrid about the next time we chat. How do you find your way out of a golden cage when you’ve been locked in there to sing? How to cease being somebody else’s singing canary? “I went to sleep with all kinds of awful thoughts,” she tells me. “Many nights I went to bed hoping that I wouldn’t wake up in the morning. Then one day, I just decided, this is going to end terribly one way or the other. I told him I was leaving. Then I packed my bags and left. Of course, it’s not over,” she says. “It’s still not over yet. I’m still getting all kinds of death threats. But Pablo can’t touch me here in this fine hotel,” she adds. “He’s far away, and he can’t come here and get me here. In the hotel I’m safe. And besides, we have cameras.” “Don’t worry,” I tell her. “Sooner or  later, he will give up. It takes time, but sooner or later we all give up. When our wills are at last broken.” “Well, as they say in Spain, reality is more disturbing than fantasy. All of these disturbing films and books are like fairy tales compared to what we must endure in life.” Maybe really, I think. Võibolla tõesti.

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