Outside it had been dark as dark can be for several months now. The woman felt like a greenhouse plant that is still alive only thanks to powerful daylight lamps. She felt that she wouldn’t be able to deceive herself in this city much longer. Soon she would need something that was real. And she would need a lot of it.
On coming home in the evening the man took his shoes off, and treading softly went to the bedroom and switched the computer on. The computer game, the same one again. Peering over his shoulder at the monitor, the woman saw simplistic tanks, planes and explosions on a big green battlefield. She also saw a white horse.
A white horse… she exclaimed. Who rides it? You?
In answer the screen was lit up again by a flaming explosion and the white horse was thrown up in the air.
No, that was some outmoded enemy’s horse, the man explained.
Who are you then? asked the woman.
The Americans, answered the man.
All of them? asked the woman.
The American army.
And who are you conquering?
The Solomon Islands, muttered the man.
The woman thought about the people armies are made up of. The ones who ride white horses, sit in tanks or at computers. She thought of the men of today who after work don’t go home when they step through their front door, but to war. They take their shoes off, change their socks and open the laptop. To shoot, defeat their enemies, and conquer. To take possession of the Solomon Islands, whatever that might mean. To be everything, for the moment. To be the power. Well, and why not in hard times like these, she thought, trying to justify her husband.
The woman sat on the bed and started to massage the soles of her feet. They hurt, especially somewhere in the middle, between the heel and the ball of the foot. It was gone nine o’clock. She lay down with her head on the pillow and rested, closed her eyes and opened them again. She saw the man’s broad back, heard the sound of firing, and imagined how, with every movement of the man’s fingers a white horse died in the Solomon Islands—the only being she had liked in this game.
Surely a person has to be able to live out his fantasies, surely this game releases energy that grown-up, civilised men can’t use up in the course of the day, she thought, trying to understand. But even in that light she didn’t like the fact that when the man came home he was really going to war and she had to stay behind and wait for him. She didn’t like the fact that he killed, be it only in a computer game, a virtual world, but nevertheless here in their home. Really. It wasn’t the something real the woman was craving. Times were hard, but after all perhaps not as hard as they used to be. She undid her plaits and combed her long hair for a long time. Men used to really go to war—for ten or even twenty-five years, she thought, to die or come home again—crippled and grey-haired, with a few kopecks in their pockets. To come home when their mothers were already dead, and their sisters and beloveds had grown old. The women hardly knew the old cripple who hobbled up to their gate one evening. They helped the man, or more precisely what was left of the man, from his horse, and washed the war off him before they allowed him into the house, the place so long yearned for. And the first thing they asked was, did he often think of them when he was away at war? And did he desperately want to come home? ‘I wanted a better sword, a miraculous healer and an armoured immortal horse,’ the man mumbled. And the women shrank back, unable to understand the coldness of this answer from the man only just returned from war. The answer that draws a remorseless line between men and women, sisters and brothers, mothers and sons.
It is the very same line that the woman now does not know how to cross in this dusky bedroom. She looks at the man’s broad back and feels how little this back is together with her. Or perhaps nevertheless… Isn’t it good in some way to be behind this back, opposite the screen, and not to watch the fiery death of white horses and… Isn’t it a reason to be happy, that the front line doesn’t go through her, but two metres away between the man and the computer? Isn’t it good to know that even if the Solomon Islands’ gory battlefield begins two metres away, she is lying here on her grandmother’s rosy blanket? And even though the man has been away at war for an unbearably long time—so long that she has started to sigh and wring her hands—there is still hope that he won’t come back after decades as a cripple, but this evening, perhaps just a little bit blinder and more stooped from sitting at the computer.
And finally he does come, with no idea of what she has been thinking and feeling during his absence, what game she has been playing behind his back in her imagination—so far and yet so close to the perils of the front line. He switches off the computer and the lamp, and lies down on the bed next to the woman to rest a bit after the gruelling battle. She is already fast asleep, for otherwise she would murmur the questions left on her lips before drifting off—Did you think of me when you were away at war? Did you desperately want to come home?
Translated from the Estonian by Ilmar Lehtpere