1 May, 2024: The First of May set in Tartu, Estonia

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It is Kevadpüha. It is the first day of spring, a day of great festivity and warmth for the Estonian people. Had Mother not had her mother-in-law at home, she would be spending the entire night with her sister, Eha, and her nephew, Jaan, out on the streets of Tartu, celebrating the Walpurgis Night to the fireworks above the town hall building. Of course things are different this year for many reasons. Her nephew is growing to become a teenager and wants to spend less time with the uncool adults who helped raise him. And Mother has been so busy being a second mother to her mother-in-law that she has little time to meet her sister. She hasn’t met her in months and has no idea what is going on in her life, which is why she decided to call her some days ago and invite herself over, to the house she used to visit regularly, in an attempt to celebrate the first day of spring like they used to.

It is Kevadpüha. Mother didn’t come the evening before because there was no way she could have spent a whole night without sleeping after taking care of her mother-in-law all day. Mother comes at seven in the morning, the hour during which Eha readies herself for work. It is in theory the start of spring, but the weather is still incredibly cold. The morning’s temperature is right about zero, and it is hard to bear because of Mother’s lack of fat on her bones and the lack of sunlight above to warm her in its glow. Eha has a beautiful backyard with ample space for a garden and an apple tree, but all that one can see in this hour is the dead, dry, blacked-out branches, the frosted wooden planks of the fence, and the snow. Mother finds the key Eha hides under a doormat—some things never change—and uses it with the fence that will lead to the back of Eha’s home.

Indoors, Mother is greeted by the heat. She takes off all of her outerwear, hangs them in the closet, sits herself at the table in the kitchen, and lets the hot air from the heater blow right over her back.

Just as planned, Mother’s arrival coincides with Eha finishing her shower. She comes downstairs with her blond hair wrapped in a towel. She is looking wet from the shower but also from the excess make-up and lip balm that she cakes on her face. She is wearing a tight black dress that cover her legs but shows off her cleavage. Mother notices the stretch marks and wrinkles around her breasts. She looks like a mess, Mother thinks in the back of her head. Mother feels like she should admonish her for wearing clothes that show off her body in unflattering way, particularly since Eha is aging, but she chooses not to. Her sister will fight with her if she says it.

,, Good morning, Jelena,” Eha says, looking downwards to mind her steps but also connecting her gaze with Mother’s eyes. Her eyes are warm and expressive because of the full shape of her eyelids, but they are icy blue, which make even her casual glance a little piercing.  ,, How was your trip to the house?”

,, Good morning, Eha,” Mother says. ,, My trip was good. Normal. I am a regular, after all.”

Mother laughs and puts her hand on the table, showing off her confidence.

Eha doesn’t respond but focuses on her steps, as if she is having trouble with the dimness of the lights and the shadows being cast by the stair planks.

,,Why are you taking so long to come down?” Mother asks, a light boastfulness in her voice. ,, Are you having trouble? Don’t tell me, you are becoming old like me.”

Again, Eha doesn’t retort. She reaches the end of the bannister and tells Mother, ,, Age is a funny thing, yes. It affects us all, whether it is today or someday.”

Mother curls her fingers on the table. She is used to Eha being snappy, willing to get into an argument over whatever Mother says. But today she is being quite self-effacing, slow, and contemplative.

Did something change over the first few months of the year that Mother did not know about?

Eha opens the fridge, takes out a bunch of food, readies some plates and pans. She seems to be making pancakes, as is the tradition of her house. Mother stands up to help her, but as she grabs at the eggs, Eha slaps her hands away.

,, You have some morning coffee,” she says, and she pours some from the kettle, probably made an hour earlier. Eha has the habit of leaving the stove flame on while the coffee brews during her shower so that it will be piping hot for breakfast. Eha thrusts a cup into Mother’s hand, singeing it. Mother retreats quickly to the table to put it down.

,, Let me help you with the breakfast,” Mother says as she flicks her hand in the air to soothe the burn.

,, You sit, and you wait for your food,” Eha says. ,, It has been too long since you had any of my food.”

Yes, it has, Mother thinks to herself, which is why she wants to help with the breakfast. When Mother helps with the breakfast, she feels like a part of the kitchen. But today she is being served like a guest, which makes her feel even more removed. It doesn’t help that the house looks different. Generally, Eha’s house is decorated like any other traditional house, with brown wooden walls and the smell of wheat almost staining the air, but in the last few months someone has hung up a number of pop art pictures here or there. Mother is tempted to ask if Jaan is suddenly getting interested in Andy Warhol, or contemporary art.

,, Will Jaan come down soon?” Mother asks. Eha is meticulously whisking batter and pouring jams into small little plates.

,, He will come when he comes,” is all she says. Then she follows it up with:. ,, By the way, his style has changed. You will be surprised.”

How? Mother wants to ask. Eha’s comment is the type of thing one says when one wants to invite more questions. Mother feels like her sister has purposefully said it to get a rise out of her. She remembers the last time she tried to pry into Jaan’s life. She had forced herself into his room when he was supposed to be coming down for breakfast and caught him masturbating. She still feels the shame in seeing what she saw, and in the lack of conversation she should have had with him. As that shame returns to her body, the questions in Mother’s mind still, and she finds herself wanting to change the subject.

,, Is your husband joining us for breakfast?” Mother asks.

Eha puts a pancake on the pan and readies another, but instead of answering Mother, she responds with her own question. ,, How is life at home going? How is Kaspar?”

,, Kaspar is fine,” Mother says. ,, But now, there is also the question of Kaspar’s mother.”

Mother puts a dry smile onto her face, but really she is getting worried. There is a lot on Mother’s mind that goes unsaid. Father was kind enough to hire a nurse to take care of her for a few hours, but Mother can’t help but think the worst of things. Will this nurse abuse her mother-in-law while no one is there to observe her? Will she do the work that is expected of her, or will she sit there and watch TV, waiting for Mother to return to get her hands dirty? Was it a good idea to take time off like this? Is it worth it, too, if Mother and her sister are simply going to be sitting here, having breakfast, like they used to in the past before Mother became so busy?

Mother looks up. Eha is looking directly at Mother this time. It is not a casual look. It’s like Eha is looking into Mother, prying something out of her, and taking the time to examine it, without Mother’s consent. Mother feels vulnerable. She winces, wondering what Eha sees.

Is Eha about to say something? It has to be something that is going to hurt.

Eha says: ,, I am proud of you, you know that?”

,, What?” Mother says, actually aloud. She clarifies: ,, What is there to be proud of?”

,, You are thinking a lot about your mother-in-law. It is not how you normally behave.”

Mother scoffs. ,, I do a lot for my family. Don’t you remember how much I did for you and your son? Or now that I am rarely here, are you forgetting?”

Eha ignores Mother and continues. ,, It is nice, all that you are doing for your husband. It’s a big sacrifice you are taking on. I don’t think I would be able to change my lifestyle like you have done. And you genuinely care for her. I know you want to complain, but I see it in your eyes. You genuinely care.”

Mother lets out a sigh. She cannot help it. She did not even know she had a sigh inside of her. She was not expecting Eha to say any of these nice things. It is like she has been punched in the stomach, but in a positive way. Her eyes are watering.

It’s been months, and everyone has gotten busy and grown apart, pulled in all the different directions that life is taking them.

But Eha, of all people, had taken the time to appreciate Mother. It makes Mother feel like all of the hard work she has done for her mother-in-law has made a difference, just like all the other times she has made sacrifices for the people she loves and cares for. Suddenly, it all feels like time and effort well spent. The clarity that only distance provides means that, for once, she is being seen by her sister. It is a distance that is worth it.

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