Hotel for the living

Issue 2/1984 | Archives online, Fiction, Prose

An extract from Hotelli eläville (‘Hotel for the living’, 1983). Introduction by Markku Huotari

Raisa and Pertti are a married couple with three children, Katrieli­na, Aripertti and Artomikko. When she discovers she is to have another, whom she names Katjaraisa, Raisa decides to have an abortion, because another child, even if welcome, would now jeopardise her career – she has been offered a job with an international company at the very top of the advertising world. Raisa is the successful entrepreneur of the novel – on the one hand coldly calculating, without feeling, on the other superficially sentimental, perhaps the most startlingly ironic of the characters in Jalonen’s novel. His image of the brave new woman?

During her lunch hour Raisa took a walk via the laboratory, asked reception for the envelope and thrust it unregarded into her handbag. She was aware of her already knowing, but short of the envelope, there would as yet be no restrictions, nor were there any decisions that would have to be made. She had called Tom Eriksson, discussed yet again the same points and particulars, and ended tracing a finger over the two beautiful pictures on her wall. ‘The loveliest of seas has yet to be sailed’ and ‘I am life! For Life’s sake.’

She thought of Katjaraisa, her features, the palms the breadth of two fingers, just as Katrielina’s had been, and the same button-eyed gazing look as Katrielina.

Only then, after returning to her office and removing her rain-dampened outdoor clothes and hanging them on the closet door, did she open the envelope. Written across the face in longhand was her own name, Raisa Lassila. Impassively, she read through the entire page, from top to final sentence, and the affirmatively checked passage once again. Having looked in the mirror to see if the pregnancy were visible in her eyes as she had been able to see it in the days of Katrielina, Artomikko and Aripertti, as old women had seen it, she felt it wasn’t she herself who cried. She saw herself cry without crying, the tears merely welling slowly, brimming at the lower lids and spilling over, stirring the mascara into splotches on her cheeks; and by no means did she feel either the tug or the ache of tears in her throat; nor did she herself cry, the crying came from within. It was then she was certain that, after all, the greatest of seas was still to be sailed and the most beautiful of children still somewhere far away. She thought of herself as sitting on a windy shore, secure within three walls, one behind her, one shielding her on either side; and no longer having to be concerned with these directions allowed you to gaze seaward, the better to see.

She knew, and remembered of old her knowing, that now she had become different; and this she didn’t like, since it made for a restiveness. If you were restive it was difficult to remember: the Self is Free. ‘You are meant to look back down on us as well,’ but it had taken the deaths to release her from this, only then had the advice and counsel begun to pay off.

Raisa dabbed at the tattered mascara and tear streaks with a tissue and then went into the front hall and the bathroom, washed her face with cold water, and managed, outside of herself and all the others and those behind her, to think of herself as already approaching that step which would bring her, finally, to rejecting and accepting.

She called Tom Eriksson for the second time that day and arranged to meet him Wednesday evening. He was appreciative and Raisa knew him to be satisfied and knew from this that she was already one up on him as well.

She managed to concentrate on her work and to shut out other thoughts, quit only half an hour earlier than usual, and having put on her outdoor clothes, sat again at her desk and ran her fingers over the beautiful bronze-colored faces and dark eyes of the poster, stroked the girl’s black wiry-looking hair. Turning away, she recalled as if having read: ‘I am life! For Life’s sake.’

After stopping off to buy a bottle of spumante, she took the bus home, put the bottle away and fixed supper. Katrielina went off to her badminton session and Raisa drove Artomikko and Aripertti to Irkku’s. She thought she would arrange it all as if she were in a forwarding agency. When you did everything yourself, you knew it would all get done right.

She placed the bottle and the Russian goblets in readiness by the fireplace, got Pertti and took him by the hand, led him like a child, and seated him on the sofa with his face in the light and her own in shadow.

‘What is this?’

‘We have something to discuss.’

‘Well?’

He looked suspicious, as if skittish and uncertain. Raisa dawdled undoing the metal wire and slowly began drawing out the cork. Her dawdling was deliberate and she didn’t reply to the question.

‘To happiness and the future,’ she said. Pertti raised his glass, sipped from the rim and sat waiting.

‘There are two of us,’ Raisa said, watching. His eyes narrowed, he groped for something to do with his hands, nervously embraced a cushion, and a smile slowly spread to the corners of his mouth, to his lips and his eyes.

‘Really?’

‘Katjaraisa.’

‘Fine,’ he said and sighed, sighed in a manner of true contentment, even happiness.

‘Around mid-summer.’

‘A good thing you don’t have to be pregnant the whole summer,’ he said and began to reminisce about the Artomikko summer, but Raisa cut him short.

‘It won’t be born. Not yet.’

He became frightened and incapable of any questions at all.

‘Katjaraisa won’t be born next year because she can’t be. Since there isn’t time. Which isn’t why I bought the champagne. I’ve found a better job and I’m leaving for Rio de Janeiro the middle of next summer,’ Raisa said quietly.

‘What in hell?’ he managed to say.

‘I’m changing jobs and I’m to be an executive. Isn’t that wonderful?’

‘But what does that have to do with this?’

‘I’m not going to Rio de Janeiro pregnant. It will have to come out.’

‘That is not for you to decide.’

‘Here I am and what is inside of me is mine,’ Raisa said loudly and just as she had rehearsed it.

He got to his feet without looking up and rushed out. Raisa ran after him.

‘Because we’re in no hurry. Since we have time.’

He laced up his shoes and left without looking at her. For as long as she could, Raisa watched him from the window, to see if he would put his hands to his face, if he would cry, but the whole time he kept his hands in his jacket pockets and hurried farther away.

Raisa returned to the fireplace and added some wood. With Pertti gone, it felt as if Katjaraisa were already out. Making another aware rid you of a big share of the awareness. If it had never gotten said, it would have built up, larger and larger, just as Katjaraisa would have grown herself inside. She knew he was running the slopes of the slick lighted pathway and walking the other stretches and thinking: Katjaraisa or high summer in Rio de Janeiro. For him to think such thoughts was wrong, and as she was acutely aware of her own thoughts and wishes, she would have to tell him, so that he would understand properly. She lay down on her back and placed her hands on her stomach, slipping her hands beneath her clothing and stroking the skin as Pertti or anyone else at all should have. Within, Katjaraisa generated arms and feet, like buds. She lay a long while with her hands on her stomach and stared at the skylights that rose to the roof and through which there poured in the evening and at night, instead of free light, sheer darkness. The fire began to die out on the left side of the hearth and it grew cold. She thought everything through again and became certain and knew that life would go well; and Katjaraisa would be born one day and even unborn she was already loveliest by far. She would go to a doctor, to an acquaintance, to a friend actually, right away, so that Katjaraisa would no longer need to generate more of herself, like buds, but would instead, for yet another summer, gather her strength and then grow, and once born she would have Katrielina’s dark button-eyed gaze.

She marshalled her strength and then went out to fetch Artomikko and Aripertti by car, spent a moment chatting so cheerfully with Irkku about all manner of things that a moment later she remembered nothing. Meanwhile, Katrielina had come back from her round of badminton.

She herself wanted to read Brogren that evening and she managed to persuade the children as well. With them huddled around in their pajamas, side by side and right up close, it seemed to Raisa as if she herself were the same age and still small.

‘In the end you were all allowed to come home to bed, each and every one. And between the crosses our joyful dreams of youth played out their moth-light, vanishing games. And through this city of silence, ever as broad and mightly, flows the river, and with its ponderous waters the years flow by,’ she read and, the reading finished, gently carried Aripertti to his crib. Katrielina and Artomikko went to their own rooms, and Raisa went to both to see for sure that all was well and to say good-night.

‘Where’s Pertti?’ Katrielina asked.

‘Out, adjusting to the new times.’

‘Everything that fell today melted,’ Katrielina said. Raisa nodded and, going out, switched off the ceiling light.

She read on in Brogren until all had fallen soundly asleep and then went downstairs to wait for Pertti to return, though she knew it would be late or morning before he came back. Offended, he had taken the jogging path to the shopping mall and from there had gone off somewhere by taxi, or had called from a phone booth to some friend or acquaintance, some man or woman, and had gone there. This she knew he would do, since she knew she herself would do the same. If you went to someone else’s, it was as if you had gotten away from it all for a moment; and this he hoped, so that everything bad and unpleasant would pass by without touching him. Raisa knew she herself stood above it all and was able to pass it by, to pass the good and the bad, with both barely ever touching her any longer.

She built small fires of kindling on each of the four hearths of the fireplace and settled into the reclining chair, drew her legs up beneath her and filled her glass from the still-open bottle. The goblet reminded her of Moscow and though it pleased her to be left alone, all the same, she would have preferred not having to be alone just then. If Pertti had returned promptly – in other words, at once – she could have feigned offense and left in the car and phoned Kalervo she was coming, had he been home or alone. She knew she was better off on her own, but she also knew she didn’t want it so; and it didn’t feel comfortable, being at such odds, for it prevented your being absolutely sure of yourself: above yourself as well.

Recalling the tale of ‘The Honey Moon,’ she looked up the book and browsed through it. The illustrations were images of wild, unbridled imagination, nights of blue and violet and gold: beyond the flourishes of forest, dipping toward the earth, there gleamed and shone the immense Honey Moon. The pictures without the Honey Moon’s shine and gleam were oppressively still and lonely and full of deep blue and violet.

Written in ink inside the front cover of the storybook was ‘June 24, 1958.’ In those days she had still known herself to be Laita, had known because she had heard it time and time again, Raisa Laita, dark-eyed and timid in a crowd, just as Katjaraisa would be. She got a pen and next to the date and her name wrote a new date and ‘To Katjaraisa, years beforehand.’ Then she felt again of the naked skin beneath her blouse and saw herself as sentimental and silly, but was able to explain it to herself as all proceeding from within. As she returned the book to the shelf, the inscription already began to embarrass and amuse her. She quickly drank two glasses of wine, emptying the bottle, undressed and went into the frosted-glass bathroom, adjusted the shower to the proper warmth, the pressure on hard, wet her skin from the shoulders down and then sprayed inside herself a long time, leaned against the frosted glass and thought once more of Moscow, of one particular moment with Andrey, over and over again.

Having dried off, she felt herself to be calm and in possession; and though Pertti was still out, instead of minding, she thought it only right of him. And it was better not having to bicker back and forth over the same things. Not until two days later would he have his next opportunity, for it would run late on Wednesday evening with Tom Eriksson, hashing out the terms and discussing the salary and all the benefits. By then the referral would be ready, a time at the hospital reserved, and a private room, a room provided with a writing stand or where it would at least be possible to read. She could arrange with Tom Eriksson to postpone the starting day a week, time enough to allow her to finish up the backlog at the department.

She went to see how all her children slept. Aripertti snored lightly, his face hard against the bottom sheet, Artomikko held his earlobe with his right hand, and Katrielina slept serenely, her face as innocent as an angel’s, as if, despite her being the oldest, she were the youngest of them all. She looked at Katrielina the longest, for it seemed to her then as if she were looking at herself; and for Katrielina’s sake and her own, she managed to wish for a moment that, despite everything, Katjaraisa had gotten started at a more favorable moment and at a better time. Which is why she wished she could have gotten to see herself as a child again sooner. And Katrielina would have seen something of herself and would have learned to understand herself better.

When Pertti returned some time around dawn, she turned away and didn’t open her eyes. She was aware, upon waking, of the foul odor of cigarette smoke brought into the room by Pertti in his clothing, he himself didn’t smoke. He lay on his back in bed looking sick and didn’t wake up even when Raisa kicked the smoke-fouled clothes he had left on the floor out onto the terrace.

As yet, no one in the department knew of her resignation, nor did she wish to make it known until the contract had been signed and everything agreed. She accomplished more that day than even she herself would have supposed possible. In between times she made an appointment with the doctor, a friend, explaining it on the phone, and right afterwards reserved a time at the hospital, just to be sure, without the referral.

She was able to choose what she would do in the final weeks and she chose to do only that which would be of immediate benefit to her in the new job. During the period of the project she had come to have so much deeper an understanding of messages and advertisements that she felt as if she understood them thoroughly; and with this understanding, they could be given a deeper rendering on the side of the producer as well. Only then were youth and beauty and sexuality and happiness and status and prominence on the other side, objectives; and rejuvenation and proto-aesthetic enchantment and sexualization and disconfliction and identification and the reification of coquetry, these you could set as objectives. She knew she had long since come to understand the most fundamental aspect of the field. Without of all these; and through this she was enabled to make the right decisions and to order others to carry them out, with this she would see who knew how and who would need re-educating. She would accept and reject, and only then would there be kindled in the high dark skies images resembling objects, sense-like states. There they would be available to everyone.

All day she worked while at the same time studying what of her own work would be of benefit when she was in a position to turn it upside down. There everything was to be reversed. She found this thought exciting, because then nothing she had done would have been in vain. It could all be put to another use, everything scientific could be commercialized. If some aspect had been skimmed over, the same defects would also be reproduced in reverse.

With such thoughts in mind she went to meet Tom Eriksson in the private dining room of a small expensive restaurant. She preferred not to speak English because it would have put her at a disadvantage from the start, and she wanted instead to stand above him.

‘The consumer doesn’t buy merely a product, but feelings and ambiences,’ Tom Eriksson began to explain once the waiter had left the room and was out of earshot. When he spoke Finnish he spoke gently, with faulty emphasis, and was forced to search for words.

‘I’m aware of that,’ Raisa said and knew that her knowledge of the entire field was superior to Eriksson’s.

‘It’s important to see it like this.’

‘Now we differentiate. We do creative work.’

‘It is in the mind of the consumer that our innovation differentiates the product.’

‘So viewed from this side, the word is product personality,’ Raisa concurred. He nodded enthusiastically and expressed his appreciation. He asked if she would be able to apply her knowledge and free herself from the limitations of research work.

‘A critical approach is of benefit in any job,’ Raisa said.

‘Yes, of course, so it should be,’ he said.

‘It’s a question of knowing how to put knowledge to work and of knowing how to see.’

‘This is a world-wide organization. You are aware, of course, of the opportunities for advancement.’

‘I am,’ Raisa said.

He showed her a draft contract in which a blank had been left for the salary, and elsewhere as well.

‘The Rio de Janeiro meeting is extremely important. Which is why I have to be certain of this.’

‘No problem,’ Raisa said. ‘I’ll be there.’

‘A half-year period of preparation will be set aside for you, as much of an assistant workforce as you need, from Europe or America. That’s where the four-year campaign profiles are to be produced, and in a year’s time Femattera will spread from Rio de Janeiro to every free country, and to every woman, in the world. It involves thousands of products, from cars and fur coats to flower pots and dishwashing liquid. Now we create Femattera and only after the total profiles will we innovate image totalities, and from image totalities, product personalities; and only then do we take into account national differences and variations in women’s attitudes. This is to be entirely on a scientific basis and that’s where you come in.’

Raisa listened attentively and became more convinced all the time that she had made the right choice, she already knew now what she would do, and in half a year her position would be solid. Then she would accept and reject, and Tom Eriksson would underwrite it, and only to this extent would he be of any use, but to this extent nonetheless, she thought; and she knew that she was thinking as she would have thought of laundry, or a lavatory sink. Once you had washed your hands in it, it was of no further interest.

She smiled as he asked her to dance, and as they danced, she conversed lightly and in English. He spoke of his business trips to Paris and Prague and Los Angeles that fall, and he said that in the spring he was to go to Portugal and Venice.

‘Lisbon must be beautiful in the springtime.’

‘You should also get acquainted with the various other sides of our organization,’ he said, inviting her along.

It wasn’t until after dessert that he introduced the subject of wages, as if it were some unpleasant matter that had to be gotten out of the way as quickly as possible.

‘As far as we are concerned, it doesn’t matter, as such, not at this level.

Say, three times your present gross salary?’

Raisa counted it up to herself, told him, and listed some further benefits that would not be reduced in any way by taxation. He wrote in the sum without considering it and accepted everything. Raisa signed her name.

She got home late, her mind, drunk on fine drink, going round and round: it was as if at one stroke she had fulfilled the promise, as if she had risen up a step, to see from a greater distance, and her understanding were complete. She would go next morning to the department contented, would make known her resignation and her new employer and her new title, and they would all remain revolving in the same rut, the same round.

Pertti woke up when she arrived, or else had stayed up and waited.

‘I signed it, then.’

‘What?’

‘Nordic Regional Director of Research and Development.’

‘At what price?’

Raisa explained the company car benefits and the travelling and the discount privileges and the long extra vacations.

‘But at what price?’ he asked angrily, making Raisa mad.

‘Look at yourself and stop preaching!’

Angry, he was as childish as a child and might say anything at all and resort to bitter language. What angered and annoyed her more was that right from the start all the joy had gone out of the telling and that he hadn’t understood properly and realized how far she had risen; but there was no point in even teaching anyone incapable of understanding. She became immersed in her own thoughts and disregarded his nagging. In the instant of falling asleep Raisa was suddenly overcome with grief for the dead. If they had been alive, she could have gone to Turku to tell them, sat on the blue kitchen stool and run her fingers over the cool leaves of the aspidistra and rubber tree, and told them. They would have been proud, Father would have said: You are meant to look back down on us as well; and she would have replied: I already am, from this stool.

It even carried over into her dreams. In the morning she remembered one in which Mother had come up the brick steps, carefully leading the only just recently walking Katrielina. A heavy black rain had started to fall. She had shut the windows, removed the screens, latched the windows tight and gone into the hallway to hustle them in from the stoop. Katrielina had scampered and stumbled and fallen and gotten up and scampered again and, falling again, had laughed and called out, Mother, loudly, Mother. She had taken her into her arms and looked at her face, and she was even more like herself, like a face familiar from a photograph.

‘Time to put on soda-pop clothes, Father always used to say.’

‘Yeh,’ Pertti answered. He looked on from bed as she dressed herself up and applied heavy make-up.

‘Whenever you get fired, ask for a raise, or leave the firm,’ Raisa recalled.

‘So it’s already been decided, then?’

‘Yes.’

‘Everything?’

‘It’s better this way, as I see it,’ she said and left.

She went during the morning to the doctor’s, he talked all the while about old times. In addition he explained what his position required and explained the obtaining and the principles of an abortion. It wasn’t until he asked her to undress and get up on the examination table and he performed a thorough gynecological examination that Raisa lost her composure. Lying there with her legs spread in the stirrups, Raisa said she had thought it would all be easier and without any waste of time. Not in these matters, he said and probed for the age of the fetus. Raisa left with a referral, relieved. By then it felt again as if all she had been doing was toying around with purely technical procedures.

As a private patient she jumped to the head of the line and got into the hospital quickly. The examining physician was young and indifferent. In the middle of it all, beyond the divider, a stretcher was brought in with a young girl who had made an attempt with an overdose of quinine and had fainted in the hot steam on the upper bench of a sauna. Raisa realized that the doctor considered her just another such case, the same as this young girl, and hence his indifference. As she lay there during a long wait, she felt her face reddening, from the waiting and the fact that anyone should imagine such a thing.

Raisa had to wait that evening and the following morning, unable after all to concentrate on working or even reading. An older woman came to shave her and syringe an enema into her bowels. Raisa was made to spend most of the night rushing into the corridor and a toilet reeking of disinfectant. It felt as if she were being prepared for sacrifice or slaughter. She tried to sleep but couldn’t, and all night long she wished she had asked Pertti to stop by in the evening, even on his own, but she had strictly forbidden it and told him to tell the children that Mother was far away, on a trip. In forbidding it, she had thought being alone was what she wanted and would be granted.

She was taken in bed to a passage from which a door led to the operating room. At that point the drugs began to take effect and she thought she could be anyone else or any object at all, nothing at all would be felt and no pain would touch her. She didn’t want to look and kept her eyes closed the whole time.

In the room feeling gradually began to return. Pain shot through her lower parts and within, and she was terribly thirsty.

Some other doctor came into the room, felt her pulse without saying anything.

‘How did it go?’ Raisa managed to say despite the thirst’s drying her voice to a rasp.

‘The fetus is aborted. Isn’t that the main thing?’ he said and immediately turned and went out.

Raisa thought about this for a long while. She realized they all considered her just another of the same and she would have liked for them to understand that it wasn’t so, this was something else entirely, she wasn’t like the rest, and this wasn’t just any case and some output statistic. She reached for the mirror in her handbag and, having to stretch for it, nearly vomited. She looked at herself and saw her face against the white pillow and the mussy wiry black hair, she looked out at the mirror and saw herself as tired and haughty and slovenly as if she had been drinking for days and had woken up in a strange bed.

She put the mirror aside without turning her head, thought of herself as alone and empty, as if left empty by the drugs and the enemas and the bright and slashing instruments, and it was there she thought Katjaraisa had stopped living her life. For the first time she missed Katjaraisa, as if it were Katrielina or herself she had lost. She put her hand beneath the over-sized hospital gown and would have twirled a finger in her pubic hair, as she had as a little girl, like a rosary, she had thought, each time making herself calm and relaxed; but now the skin was shaven smooth, like after delivery or else like Katrielina’s, and she cried a little, mostly for not having gotten herself a sister. She cried over it late into the night, though she knew this was as it should be; otherwise much of her life would have been left unlearned, ever lonelier and lonelier it would become, and so it had to be.

Translated by Tim Steffa

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