The Blinking Doll

Issue 2/1988 | Archives online, Fiction, Prose

A short story from Metsästys joulun alla (‘The hunt before Christmas’, 1982). Introduction by Erkka Lehtola

There was a strong bond between Juutinen and Multikka: both their lives, from their beginnings, had been fragmented and scattered, lacking any solid, reliable points of support. Even their marriages had come and gone; they had left no residue worth remembering. As in the old parable, their lives resembled the trail a skier leaves in fresh snow in a blizzard: behind him, it disappears in a few moments without a trace, and ahead and on either side there is only pristine density and no one or nothing one might follow.

At twenty-seven, they already were tacitum, unsmiling men, just as now at age forty. An outsider might have imagined that they were constantly preoccupied by some difficult problem. However, they mostly weren’t thinking about anything at all, except for just now when they both felt drawn to – or, to put it bluntly: infatuated with the dream object of their student days, a woman whom they had called ‘The Blinking Doll,’ even back then. She was a beauty, and her face brought to mind a post­-World War II doll such as those that had been sent in treasure trove packages, by the shipload, from the far shores of the Atlantic to the ruins of Europe. ‘The Blinking Doll’ inhabited both their imaginations almost twenty-four hours a day. Contrary to reasonable assumption, this did not damage their life-long friendship, but strengthened it to the point where they had solemnly sworn to each other that they would under no circumstances renege on their pact of friendship and mutual assistance.

They were both employed by the same law firm whose staff ‘The Blinking Doll’ had recently joined. They took care of all manner of things: divorces, civil and criminal cases, various near-criminal corporate affairs, wills and estates. They defended, they prosecuted… The work had become routine, and neither of them felt passionate about his profession. Both were given to daydreams about some almost-absurd task in life, such as being a lighthouse keeper on the shores of the Black Sea, a gardener in an Italian convent, or simply a genius who would finally provide mankind with the means to fly like a bird, not necessarily like a swift but at least like a crow.

They had spent a couple of days dealing with minor felony cases in one of the charming towns on the coast of the Gulf of Bothnia. The hotel in which they were staying was located some distance from the center of town, and its enormous size and ugliness were more apparent at this time of year, after the end of the tourist and bathing season – which had, in fact, ended two months ago. With their own eyes they were able to verify the proposition that ‘in late October or early November, at the sixty-third parallel, visitors in seaside hotels can more easily be found in works of the British mystery genre.’

There had been nine patrons in the night club, seven of them males; at breakfast, served in the dining room with tables set for hundreds, Juutinen and Multikka had been the only ones present.

After eating slowly and copiously while reading their newspapers – both of them regarded the first meal of the day as the major one – they decided to go for a walk on the long empty beach, on which water and wind had long erased the hundreds and thousands of footprints left by the summer visitors. In their pinstripe suits, ties, pocket handkerchiefs and shiny shoes they stood out as fairly peculiar apparitions against the backdrop of the sea. Some viewer, relatively young and respectful of his own intelligence, would have had no difficulty in arriving at the observation ‘Just like in an Italian film!’ – then perhaps pursuing it with some enthusiasm: ‘Is it not remarkable that while all the greatest masters of nineteenth century literature were Russian, as we all know, from Pushkin to Chekhov, the great film directors of at least the latter half of our century, as far as original and truly impressive genius is concerned, are the Italians: Antonioni, Bertolucci, Fellini, Olmi, Pasolini, Petri, Rosi, Rossellini, de Sica, Visconti…’

The weather was cloudy and barely warm enough for them not to bother with overcoats. Both were carrying folded newspapers and smoking, their walking pace was exactly the same, they walked in step, they did not look to the side nor did they glance over their shoulders; they even were of the same height, the color of their neatly cut hair was brown…; had someone observed their progress into the distance, he might have thought: ‘Just like twins, those two walking there. There’s something contagiously melancholic about them. I really don’t think I’d care for their company!’

‘How unspeakably depressing,’ sighed Juutinen. ‘It feels like big frosty rails being pushed through the heart, even though the heart is filled with them already, and with other heavy stuff.’

‘A drink after breakfast might have been a good idea,’ Multikka said regretfully. ‘A snifter of brandy or two does lighten one’s spirits.’

‘It certainly does. We know that. Only too well. It’s beginning to show.’

‘Nothing’s going to show for at least another ten years. But it is too bad we took the car. We’ll be getting out of here today, won’t we? No point staying here? Besides, we can’t stay. Why didn’t we take the plane? A nice long Finnair DC9? I know at least four stewardesses and three skippers. I would have introduced you to them on the spot, if any of them had been on the same kite.’

‘Kite…’ Juutinen mused. ‘Or flyer… When I was little, I tried to build this flying model, “Tricksy Number Two” it was called. But it took too long to put it together, so I broke it into little pieces and stuffed them in the stove. They burned well, too, dry wood, who knows what kind it was…’

‘What possessed us to take the car?’ Multikka was still irritated. ‘To drive hundreds of kilometers, in a never-ending rush hour! I know for a fact that there’s an early evening flight to Helsinki. We could spend the whole day improving our outlook a little… bandage our wounds… the bar would be quiet and peaceful, at that… And round about nine, we’d land in Seutula… early enough to check out who knows what…’

‘Well, yes. Although, on the other hand, I can’t think of one place I’d enjoy going to, except of course if…’

‘Well… That’s true…’

A couple of terns swooped and screeched at them. On the shore side, the gigantic smoke stack of some factory was belching dense and pitch-black smoke into the air. The waves were pushing beer cans ashore and then taking them back again, pushing and taking pushing and taking… Out on the water, quite some distance away, a ship lay at anchor – an ugly one, as most vessels these days. They noticed it at the same time.

‘Can’t help being reminded, every moment, that all beauty seems to have disappeared,’ Juutinen noted. ‘Take architecture. Is it no longer the art of building, as it was in the past?’

‘Maybe it’s those goddamn modular elements that have made it deteriorate so terribly,’ Multikka suggested.

‘But what causes the overall deterioriation? What did the ship designer think when he “came up with” that ghostly gloating coffin – it resembles a ship about as much as masturbating resembles coition? And it always used to be ships that competed with women and horses, in terms of beauty…’

‘Don’t forget grand pianos, and Italian women’s shoes.’

‘Why is most of what’s meant to be progress, the most sinister regression?’

‘Well, maybe the underlying idea is that everybody should, without hesitation, accept – for instance – ugliness as beauty.’

‘The corollary of that kind of thinking would be to call a house fire an “event providing heat and light” and an automobile accident “the intimate rendezvous of two motor vehicles”.’

The men glanced at the ship once more; fortunately, it was impossible to read its name at this distance: how degrading if that name had been that of a woman or a celestial body!

‘Lately, I’ve often had the feeling that I may be overtaken, without warning, by some kind of lethal fit,’ Multikka confessed. ‘Alone at night I get to thinking – what if I’d break up all the furniture and piled it up in a great pyre in the middle of the living room and started roasting sausages and telling myself, while congratulating myself without cease, that I had arrived at a unique and revolutionary solution of the leisure time problem, one of general usefulness, perhaps even to be patented… And yesterday, when we finally got out of those depressing judicial halls, I thought what if, and it seemed quite the sensible thing to do, what if I said “Excuse me, gentlemen, could you please wait a moment” and then scrambled up the church steeple like a monkey, having noticed the enticing ladder leading up there, and then threw myself at your feet from on high, with some aphorism reminiscent of biblical quotations on my lips…’

‘What tempts me, quite voluptuously, would be a jump off the Finnjet into the Baltic at night, say – even better, of course, of some bigger and possibly more beautiful vessel into the Pacific, right where its depth is around eleven kilometers,’ Juutinen revealed.

‘And right after that I’ll sit down with some graph paper and spend hours figuring out how I could kill women and children, in cold blood, even ‘The Blinking Doll’ with her daughter and son, and how then, right after…’

‘Forgive me for interrupting, but what’s the graph paper for?’

‘I draw corridors on it, windows, doors, stairs, trap-doors and other things I’ll crawl through – and then get away.’

‘I see… well, well… I never thought about that aspect.’

‘Well, that’s it. But after those dastardly deeds I sense immediately that I’ll end up in the torture chambers of African or South American dictatorships. Thousands and again thousands of times I’ve felt how my spine gets smashed with a sledgehammer and how I fly through the air and splash down into a river teeming with crocodiles. Not to mention all the things they’re doing to me in South America where torture is an appreciated and varied art form, starting with water up your nostrils, electric shocks to the genitals, molten lead in your ears…’

‘Let me tell you, now that we’re talking along these lines again: I get these uncontrollable weeping fits. In our time, and at this age, there are thousands of reasons for tears, that goes without saying. Nevertheless, and I’m sure you won’t find it hard to believe, I don’t intend to burst into tears at any given moment – and yet, my eyes brim over, I sob, sometimes I even bawl out loud! It gets on my nerves. It has even happened during working hours, although I don’t think you’ve ever happened to be there. Well, I always rush off to the men’s room to hide.’

‘How can it be that some people become this isolated? What’s the purpose of all this isolation in the midst of everything? Why am I haunted by a few thoughts that depress me without effort, weigh more heavily than prison? Why do I always fall in love with people who can never reciprocate? Why do religions, isms and ideas leave me indifferent and cold, or else irritate me and force me to say something insulting, degrading, really low…? And this happens, incomprehensibly, despite the fact that they have found supporters among millions of good citizens in all regions of the globe. I regard myself as a “good citizen”, albeit one who is considerably wiser and more unhappy than all the others. It’s becoming more and more painful to realise that I haven’t, to this day, found some kind of starting line from which I could perceive on the horizon, or even beyond it, a goal. I feel a bit like that horrendous ship out there in the roads: I’m not on my way any more, but I haven’t reached port, either.’

‘Yesterday, we imposed fines, imprisonment, probation on a few I should say comparatively innocent “cabbage thieves”. Today, it is fitting that we sit in judgment on ourselves. And the most severe sentence is loneliness – everybody has known that for thousands of years. It is more exhausting than the hottest desert, and colder than any soulless island cliff in the Antarctic Ocean. There’s no sense or order to loneliness, either – while there is order even in prison, or at least ought to be, and in cemeteries, and dark alleys of illicit business in the wee hours.’

‘Fortunately, the generally chaotic nature of life does prepare one a little for that lack or order in loneliness. I’d like to make that observation, from my own, naggingly long experience. But it is love that is the most painful thing to me’.

‘The lack of love is what does it to me.’

‘Well, that is what I meant to say, of course.’

The men walked at exactly the same speed, in step, without looking to the side or over their shoulders. The gigantic smokestack of some factory on the shore had flooded a huge area of the sky with dense, pitch-black smoke. On their left, three or so meters away, the waves pushed beer cans onto the sand and carried them off again, pushed and carried, pushed and carried… Now and again, a brittle sea-shell crunched under their polished shoes. And the visually appalling vessel lay at anchor in the roads, quite far away.

Multikka and Juutinen put an end to their strange confessions. They suffered in silence, unsmiling. They had kilometers of vacant beach ahead of them. No one was there to observe that there was something contagiously melancholic about their progress. And they were both thinking about ‘The Blinking Doll’ who, despite her forty years, still looked like a young woman and not decidedly middle-aged like themselves, as they sighed in unison, almost inaudibly, and slowly disappeared from sight.

Translated by Anselm Hollo

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