It was another fine late August day. Unseasonably warm for a land known for being so cold. Naplinski heard the clang of the metal on the mailbox outside, caught a glimpse of the young, fair-haired postiljon filling it up. Her head turned slightly in his direction when he opened the front door, as if she was aware of his presence, but her eyes did not focus in on him. Rather they seemed to look beyond him, as if he was some inanimate object. Or, Naplinski shrugged, maybe she was just blind.
Either way, rather than hand Naplinski the mail directly, she put it through the correct slot. After she left, Naplinski unlocked the box and retrieved the day’s delivery. Most of the mail was junk — bilingual advertisements for grills and patio swings, the conservative party’s magazine with the bearded, cock-headed prime minister Märt Pärt standing beneath an emblazoned Cross of Liberty, the symbol of his party, Fatherland. Pärt had cross country skis in one hand, and a copy of Forbes magazine in the other. Beside his iconic squint was the caption, “Let’s Make Estonia One of the Two Richest Countries in Europe.”
Beneath the political magazine was a plain white envelope addressed the Härra Naplinski. He opened it and tugged the letter forth. It read in black ink:
“With your Kükita, you, Jaak Naplinski, got your appropriate treatment. Yes, yes, your fellow Estonians are cold, inhuman, wrote a novel about it. All, 100 per cent are cold and inhumane, wrote even five novels about it.”
Naplinski blinked a bit, trying to recall if he had written even one novel like that. But, whatever, he pushed his spectacles up his nose and read on:
“There are some nice, cordial and warm Estonians, too. My parents taught me goodness, warmness — they traits they themselves have. They are more warmer than your French Existentialists! But you never ever write such Estonians because it is not interesting. Because you have a stereotype Estonian must be non human and weird. You write all your existentialist works from that stereotype point of view. Unfortunately, there are many of our countrymen who enjoy such masochism and agree with you.”
He had no idea why another Estonian would write to him in English. He did recall how he heard teenagers in Tallinn speaking English to each other on the beach earlier that summer because they thought it was cooler to speak English. Perhaps this was a continuation of that pitiful trend.
“You write only about your churlish Viljandi types and want to prove all Estonians are like those. Yes, yes, right you are, all are inhumane, angry, negative enjoy now that.”
The letter was unsigned. He turned it over. An address in Viimsi Vald. And it was that word “churlish” that got him. In all the poems and plays he had written, Naplinski had never used that word. Yet it seemed to capture the very essence of what he was suffering through these days. Churlish. Churlishness. Naplinski fetched his dictionary to look it up and there it was, “Rude and mean-spirited in a surly way.”
Naplinski recalled how he had walked to the playground with his granddaughters, watched them play innocently on the swings. It was a sweet stunning scene, backed by the lake and the tufts of white clouds and pretty dark trees that rimmed it. For the first time in a good while Naplinski had felt content. Until a band of teenage ruffians descended, two of them leaping into the big, black tire swing, chugging beers and conversing loudly. He remembered how his younger granddaughter had walked toward the big violently swinging swing, how he had run and scooped her out of harm’s way while the youths drank and played on, oblivious to everything else.
“Churlish,” Naplinski underlined the word three times. “A fine word, indeed. I must use it more often.”