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EDITORIAL

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AABEL VIKERPUU, THE HAPPY DYING MAN
Mehis Heinsaar

TEAM

Aabel Vikerpuu, the happy dying man

We all have a trade or a vocation in this world, and sooner or later we will find out what it is. For Aabel Vikerpuu, a citizen of Antsla, it was dying. His vocation came to him during the most beautiful time of his life, at the age of seventeen. And so it happened that one beautiful morning Aabel announced to his mother and father:

"My dear parents, I am going to die now, as it is my greatest wish and desire in this world!"
And indeed. The very same day Aabel Vikerpuu's face started glowing, his head turned hot, and the boy was taken down by high temperature. Seeing this made his father and mother very sad and they were standing in tears at his bedside, but Aabel looked at them, smiling, and said:

"Do not cry, my dear parents! I too was sad when I was still strong and healthy, because I didn't know what my purpose in this life was. But you see – I am excited and happy, now that I have found my path."

Drawing: Aive Mets

And when his parents raised their crying faces to Aabel and noticed an angel-like smile on his face, they too were soothed surprisingly quickly.

From that day on Aabel Vikerpuu's life took a new turn.

In the morning, when all other youngsters of his age cheerfully woke up and went to school or college, Aabel too was swept along by blissful fever, and this cheered him up at once. Depending on the nature of his fever, he either started knitting sweaters with whales, making up witty verses about other villagers or target-throwing knives at the door post, and in all of these activities he was remarkably successful. Towards midmorning even greater changes appeared in Aabel Vikerpuu's mortal disease. Sweat started to exude from his underarms, smelling like lime blossom honey and attracting bumblebees, wagtails and chaffinches. Birds and insects flew in from doors and windows; they were buzzing around the boy, walking on top of his head and jumping about on the airplane-patterned blanket.

The closer to the midday, the more Aabel Vikerpuu's mortal disease flourished, until the agony in his eyes and his laughing spasms left no doubt about his approaching final hour. Indeed, exactly at midday, when the clock was striking twelve the young man closed his eyes and uttered a sigh of death. Aabel's heart stopped beating and his soul rose to his mouth in the form of a luminous ball. Three more times Aabel took his last breath in this life, the rumbling noise of death could be heard from within his chest and the air was filled with the pungent smell of angel wings... when totally unexpectedly, the breath of life returned to his body. Aabel's pulse picked up again, and within a few hours his fever had dropped to the level that he felt strong enough to get up from his death bed and go find some food from the fridge. In the evening he already sat in front of the TV with his father and mother who had arrived from work, and set out to watch news programmes and movies, feeling rightfully tired like a proper workman.

That way, centred around the peculiar illness, a new life began for Aabel Puu.

Various doctors came to study Aabel's mortal disease and were greatly astonished by the rare illness of the young man. All symptoms referred to the final stage of pulmonary tuberculosis, and yet the X-ray image clearly showed that there was nothing wrong with the boy's lungs. However, when one dignified doctor suggested Aabel to go to the hospital for additional tests, the young man refused categorically.

"Don't you really want to get well again, you silly boy?!" the doctor asked, surprised.

"I am a burden to myself, when I am well," Aabel replied and turned his back on the doctor.

Rumours about Aabel Vikerpuu, the happy dying man, quickly spread in the small town of Antsla. Many old people haunted by the fear of dying and even younger ones burdened by chronic illness came to visit Aabel, and looking at the cheerful young man on his death bed, cheeks flaming as if he were suffering from phthisis, with bees and chaffinches circling around his body, the spark of fascination kindled in them. With envy and reverence they saw how someone had managed to turn the day of leaving from this world into such a great celebration; how he said farewell to every single apple tree, wagtail and piece of grass around him before noon, until truthfully dying at midday, only to come back to life a few moments later, as truthfully. Witnessing this small miracle, many people were given new lust for life and several town citizens were completely healed.

In the afternoon, after the rebirth of the happy dying man, a cosy leisure atmosphere surrounded Aabel's bed. People made coffee, looked after the one who had turned back to life, made jokes about each other's diseases and fears, discussed the weather and politics, the problems of the county and even the destinations for family holidays. Many pressing problems that had been tackled with in family circles for years, found an unexpectedly simple solution beside Aabel's death bed.
"From this-this-this wood you mustn't steal a splintered stick!" chaffinches were chirping at the same on the bed spread of the happy dying man and the expressions of distressed people were embellished by hope and joy of life.

And when spring arrived with flowers blossoming everywhere, Aabel Vikerpuu had his death bed be carried to the garden underneath the cherry trees already in the morning, and hot sun was heating up his death-blossomed mind so that he stood up and started giving out orders to the great crowd of elderly people around his bed. He had them dig up the grass and plant dill, peas and beans, so that he was finally surrounded by a labyrinth of vegetable garden. This went on until three sighs of death passed from Aabel's lips at midday, his heart stopped beating and the old people around his bed stood up for a moment of silence...

Having woken back to life, Aabel started receiving blessings, smiling faintly on his pillows. A couple of hours later he stood up on his bed again and started performing witty, fast-paced ballads, so that the ill and old could dance chirpily around him, as if he were a pagan god.

Yet, there were days when all vital signs of Aabel Vikerpuu were fine, so that it didn't even seem appropriate for him anymore to lie on his death bed. The elderly adherents and admirers among housewives were then looking at Aabel with rather disapproving faces and left him, eyes filled with disappointment. Aabel too was uneasy and perplexed at that time, not knowing what to do with himself. He kept kneading his useless hands, was staring blankly out of the window, stomping from one room to another, yawning every now and then and becoming a burden to himself and his entire family.

"Pull yourself together, son," admonished his mother and father, who had grown used to profiting from their son's illness, "you can do this, you always could!"

Other people in the borough too were impatiently waiting for better news and in one or two week's time they always came. Aabel Vikerpuu wouldn't have been Aabel Vikerpuu, if he would have been taken over by life so easily. And again, joys and hopes became great in Antsla!

And so the years passed; the fame of the happy dying man increased and other people too besides the old and the crippled started paying visits to Aabel Puu. Even young and healthy ones came to see him, especially pretty women with blossoming minds and bodies, demonstrating their physical charms to the happy dying man. They even didn't shy away from flirting with him before the jealous eyes of oldsters. People arrived not only from New Antsla, but Anstla itself and Old Antsla too, as well as from Kobela, Valga and Otepää. There were middle-aged housewives affected by frigidity secretly reaching out their hands through the bees and birds to touch the member of the happy dying man under the blanket and feeling their sex drive returning. And so it finally happened what could be secretly feared: a cheerful woman called Kai was so impressed by the skilful target-throwing of knives, chirpy songs and honey-flavoured sweat of the happy dying man that she fell in love with Aabel, gave herself to him at one forgetful moment and became pregnant.
That, however, already posed a dangerous challenge to life.

The fact that Aabel was about to become a father stirred up the bride's family like a wasp's nest and the parents of the young woman came to scold Aabel for being a loafer and sham, doing it with such relentlessness and perseverance that the young man started to doubt in his talent of dying indeed. And so it occurred that more and more often Aabel woke up without fever and more and more often he was gloomily staring at the ceiling as a perfectly healthy man, thus scaring off the last of his admirers. And the longer he stayed healthy, the more receptive he became to other people's opinions. With endless nursing, health courses and pills prescribed by doctors he kept killing and numbing the happy dying man in him until he was irreversibly cured.

Out of old habit he lay sprawling on his beloved death bed for another month or two, until his wife who already started to wake from her daze of love told him to stop fooling around and go looking for work.

As Aabel Vikerpuu was known and remembered as the greatest talent in happy dying, he soon found a job in Tartu as a funeral parlour cosmetician and maker of funeral ribbons, but he performed his duties clumsily and had constant problems with the dead. Sometimes they prematurely decomposed in his hands, sometimes they scared the hell out of him and one body went missing altogether.

There is nothing much to talk about Aabel's subsequent life. It was like any other, only even more boring. He took good care of his wife Kai and their children, was a dutiable family man, cooked well and even managed to cope with his work somehow, but that was still not his vocation. Every now and then, in silent desperation he would secretly lie down on his beloved death bed that had been banished in the storage room among old junk, measured his temperature and held his breath for as long as he could. But that pathetic little simulation had nothing to do with his former splendour.
Aabel Vikerpuu died of double pneumonia at the age of fifty six after a short period of high fever, and it is said that during the last week of his life, when he was lying in his death bed, flute melodies and happy laughter could be heard from his room again. However, there is reason to doubt in the credibility of this information, as the only witnesses beside his death bed were his wife and children whose statements might be biased.

Yet, of course, it is nice to remember the passing away of the master like this.

Mehis Heinsaar
is a Southern Estonian writer, the author of five books. See also his texts from the previous issues of Epifanio.