BEF 2011/30 – Beyond the Window a Park is Dimming [Estonia]
Toomas Vint’s story ‘Beyond the Window a Park is Dimming’ opens with the closing of the day. Dusk is settling, the light is fading and Vilmer, “a relatively well-to-do businessman of fifty-eight” looks out from his apartment on a darkening park as he waits for his date to finish whatever she is doing in his bathroom. (She is certainly taking a long time.)
Vilmer is not long separated from his wife and the breakup of their marriage and his relationship with women in general is much on his mind. More, they seem to be the only thing on his mind. Women are the cause of Vilmer’s ills, the boot that has kicked him too many times.
For some years now, Vilmer hadn’t been thinking of women as women. His body was no longer in the habit of prompting him to indulge in wild fantasies. His fellow citizens had been retired to their assigned places, all taking on the same sane and balanced proportions. Women were women, they did their work and that was that. Women weren’t special anymore. This was important for Vilmer’s peace of mind.
Vilmer’s world is shrinking. His grandchildren live in Canada and his poor English distances them from him a little more each year. His relationship with his daughter is not without its barbs. He tries to convince himself that he can start again, live the life of a bachelor, at his leisure, with his wine collection in his park-side apartment, never to be stung by a woman again. (Where is his date? She’s been in that bathroom half an hour! Hasn’t she?) He need not commit himself to anything more than a movie and dinner once a month, say, or the occasional seaside sojourn. But before long his thoughts dive and dip back into their misogynistic font the source of which lies in the cracked bedrock of his broken marriage.
“Nothing I can do about it,” said Kristi, and it seemed that at that moment she was sincere and just a little bit unhappy – as if a cheap cup had fallen from her fingers and shattered into pieces.
“Kristi’s breaking up their marriage was nothing more than an offense to his pride,” Vilmer thinks. ”It didn’t mean anything more. And the wound would heal soon enough.” But it wouldn’t heal. He couldn’t let it heal, for what would he have left? He is like a dog worrying at a wounded leg – his constant gnawing is preventing the flesh from knitting and becoming whole again. He is a broken cup, yes, but the shards are all he has left and he can’t bear to sweep them into the rubbish. What does he do with nothing? Where does one go from nowhere? It is the bruising welter of choices that he fears, the flood that comes with the end of a life structured around the rules of a relationship.
There was very little left to keep Vilmer clinging to life. He had, without noticing it, played everything out – drawn a metaphorical curtain between himself and the world, just as he had done at his unmetaphorical window a short while before.
“But I have a visitor today, thought Vilmer. Who knows, she might just be the beginning of something good. The end need not be the end.” (Yes, you have a visitor. Where is she? Perhaps you should check on her…) Yes, I should check on her. He moves to the bathroom and calls through the door but gets no answer. There is blood on the floor, he notices. But he doesn’t panic. Though he has seen no body, Vilmer is convinced that the woman has killed herself in his bathroom. Unperturbed, he returns to his living room and retrieves a remote control from amongst the shards of a glass bottle and resumes watching television. Was there an accident or is this a sign of something more sinister? The reader by now has realised that Vilmer’s is a mind with deeper problems than the bitter recollection of a failed marriage. But it takes Vilmer a little longer to realise that, “in his confusion,” he may have done something “insane, irreparable.” He finds the bathroom empty, no body in the tub. There is something terrible, though, waiting for him in there.
Greasy, messy hair, a weak’s growth of beard, and a giant, obscene, yellowish-violet bruise under one eye. He was wearing a torn, wine-flecked shirt, and below it a filthy, stained pair of underpants. It was a horrible picture. The mirror wouldn’t let him wish it away.
So it seems there was some kind of struggle. Black-eyed, torn shirt and half-naked. Did he have a date? Vilmer casually reflected earlier that he had assumed he and his date would sleep together that night. Could he have tried to rape her? None of these questions are answered, nor need they be. It’s Vilmer’s confusion and his sudden awareness of it that is important here. Toomas Vint was careful not to play his hand too early. We see that Vilmer is an angry man, touched by bitterness but not, it seemed, dispossessed of his wits. He is lucid and detached enough to suggest he is not lost in his thoughts. When it comes, his shock is our shock. And now we recoil. Earlier we followed his thoughts, moving inward with him as he succumbed to them, and outward again when he reflected upon them. But the late revelation casts everything in doubt. His sanity is questioned, but ours remains sound. We recede to watch Vilmer wrestle with his thoughts and try to find his footing. But it is all a bit much and instead of facing it he finds comfort in wine and television. For this night at least he can keep reality at bay, but when the bottle is empty he will have to deal with the “feeling that he’d gotten stuck on the wrong side of the glass.”
‘Beyond the Window a Park is Dimming’ is translated from Estonian by Christopher Moseley
This is a review of a story from Best European Fiction 2011, an anthology edited by Aleksandar Hemon and published by Dalkey Archive Press. There will appear on this website just such a review until the entire book is done.