HEIDI AND KLAUS were children of the Brezhnev era. They came one after another to a young couple at the peak of the great stagnation. Beautiful northern children with light hair, chubby faces, and rosy cheeks. Heidi, the older child, was a free spirit who liked to play with her dolls and pick berries in the forest. Klaus was passionate, industrious, and at times argumentative with the other little boys. He won all the arm wrestling matches at the local community center.
This all happened in the deep Soviet time, as the Estonians call the end of Brezhnev’s rule, as if the whole of the country was frozen beneath pancaked layers of blue Antarctic ice. There were cold winters and hot summers that lingered, and the amenities of their country house still looked new. In winter, the foyer was engulfed in tiny mittens and boots, which Heidi and Klaus’s young mother Agnes set out to dry before the hearth. In the mornings, she pulled them to preschool on a sled. In autumn, Agnes would take her children mushrooming. That’s how it was. Then one day their mother disappeared.
The reason she left is still a guarded family secret, but it was rooted in some kind of Soviet bureaucratic inconvenience that got too quickly out of hand. It wasn’t until Heidi’s grandfather Sass was admitted to a hospital in Tallinn for a routine procedure three decades later that he discovered that one of the nurses was his runaway daughter-in-law Agnes. They did not discuss the situation, though the information was relayed to her adult children. From the hospital, Heidi and Klaus managed to get their mother’s number and one evening gathered together to call. She didn’t pick up though and they didn’t try again.
I know this story because Heidi shared it with me one morning over coffee at the cafe. Life post-quarantine has continued, and the warm late spring weather has renewed an almost forgotten vitality in the local people. One of our friends at the cafe tables is a woman who ran away from Australia. She will not comment on the nature of her work there, only to say that it was very dangerous and she is lucky she escaped with her life. I imagine it involved pearl diving. “You can imagine anything you want,” says the woman sipping her latte, but she will comment no further. Heidi wears sunglasses and reads the newspaper and drinks her lattes. Sometimes she gives me updates on Klaus, who has built a huge estate in the countryside and is getting a divorce. We share other thoughts. I tell her how I still dream of one Estonian woman from the north coast who ran away to Polynesia. A voluptuous, mischievous, hurricane of a woman, the kind I attract and that always attracts me. In my dreams she is there, swimming in azure waters, covered in tropical flowers, and then she makes love to her boyfriend beneath a waterfall. Then she tells me not to worry about her anymore. “I am in good hands now,” she says. “Don’t worry.” As if that is supposed to make it any better.
“But what is it about her that you miss the most?” asks Heidi.
This is a difficult question to answer. It takes me some time, and I mull over the question and move the froth of my drink around in the sun. “Something about her just felt right. You know that feeling you get when you wake up early and you can almost feel another person there with you? That’s how I feel about her. It’s as if she’s there, but when I awake, she’s already gone.”
“I understand completely,” says Heidi.
“Is that how you feel about your mother?” I ask.
“No, not at all. But I had a dream about that actor Matthew McConaughey recently and it was the same experience. I woke up and he was there beside me, holding me so tight in bed. Why him? I don’t know! I guess it was something a teenager would dream. But if you see some Estonian who looks like Matthew McConaughey, tell me. I will be there in five seconds flat.”
“It really can haunt you, can’t it?”
“Of course,” Heidi says. “I felt his embrace for days after that. It lingered and lingered. But if I were you, I wouldn’t worry about your tropical girl. That dream is revealing something.”
“It reveals that you are still capable of love.”