The last lap

Issue 2/2001 | Archives online, Fiction, Prose

A short story from Ilmatasku (‘Air pocket’, Otava, 2000). Introduction by Soila Lehtonen

Father arrived by taxi with his black suitcases.

He stood in the hallway, casting a glance over father’s shoes, his trouser-legs. Under his arm was a folded newspaper; it fell to the ground when father bent to undo his shoelaces.

The newspaper was written in strange letters. It felt as if the saliva would not leave his mouth however hard he swallowed. Mother jumped back and forth; mother’s mouth chattered. He scratched the wall with his nail; it was scored with pencil lines recording how much he had grown.

When father straightened up, he filled the whole room.

He woke up just as the bear came out from under the bed and slammed its paw on the duvet. When he snuggled under his quilt, his tummy felt hot, but the smell forced itself in through his nostrils. The floor creaked. Mother was sleeping curled up against father. He pulled his mother by the toe until she raised her head.

‘I did it.’

‘What, again?’

‘Yes.’

Mother got up and staggered though the house, pulled the sheet off the bed and took a new pair of pyjama bottoms from the cupboard. They had puppies on them.

‘Take those off and put these on.’

Lassies swarmed before his eyes. Häkkinen saw the signal and raised his foot off the gas pedal.

‘Mum?’

‘Yeah.’

‘Where’s it been put?’

Mother stared into the darkness and sighed. The car screamed into the pit, and petrol began to flow from the pipe into the tank. Häkkinen counted the seconds and gripped the steering wheel.

‘Will you go to sleep then?’

‘I will.’

Mother disappeared into the kitchen and returned a moment later.

‘Let’s not tell Daddy.’

Mother slipped what she had brought into his palm. Häkkinen made it to the track in time and stayed in the lead.

In the morning, mother gave him some chocolate biscuits. From the bathroom the roar of the shower could be heard. On his mug were his name and the picture of a heart, which had faded with washing.

‘Daddy has a big surprise for you.’

‘What kind of surprise?’

‘You’re going on a day out.’

He mixed his drink, the spoon clattered against the sides; he speeded up so much that the cocoa splattered, but mother did not say anything.

‘What kind of day out?’

‘To the beach.’

‘When?’

‘Today.’

The spoon froze.

‘The Formula 1 race is on today.’

‘Well, before that. Right away.’

‘Why aren’t you coming?’

‘It’s your trip.’

‘Why?’

‘It just is.’

Father gargled and spat, gargled and spat.

‘When’s he going away again?’

‘Tomorrow. When he comes back he’s never going away again. We’re going to start over.’

Mother’s voice was breathless. He spooned up the cocoa as fast as he could. With new tyres, it would be easy for Häkkinen to increase his lead. The next car was a length behind.

There was no one else at the beach. A wave reared up but did not reach them. He looked at the hole; it was the deepest one he had ever dug. He was sweaty and thirsty. His father was sitting on a rock, smoking a cigarette; father’s eyes were always turned toward him.

‘All right?’ his father shouted. He threw the spade away. The carburettor roared at the bend; Häkkinen’s car swerved to one side. Father got up and came to have a look.

‘Dig a little deeper.’

Father handed him back the yellow spade. Häkkinen returned to the track and set off in pursuit. The team leader ordered Häkkinen to keep a cool head. He dredged the bottom of the hole a couple of times and stuck the spade in the sand. The team leader shouted, but Häkkinen did not care. Father bent down and searched his coat pocket. Häkkinen forgot to look at the car in front’s back bumper. The collision was only a graze, but metal flew on to the track.

‘This will stay here, won’t it?’

He stared at father’s palm. The car jerked; there were only two laps left. He took the dummy and dropped it in the hole; it disappeared under a couple of spadefuls of wet sand.

Father looked at him and smiled. The terns were shrieking. The car stalled and came to a halt on the penultimate bend. Häkkinen jumped out and kicked the tyre.

‘Let’s not tell Mummy,’ father said.

When he woke up, it was already too late.

He lay in the hot bed for a moment before getting up and creeping across the kitchen. The bedroom door was shut; mother was growling softly. In a corner of the hall lay father’s two suitcases, ready packed.

He pulled the damp sheet off the bed and twisted it into a bundle. The locks on the suitcase would not open, but the smaller bag had a zip, and room in it. He stuffed the sheet into the bag, fetched another one from the cupboard and spread it on the bed as he had seen his mother do.

The formula racing cars lay on the floor, and he kicked them into a corner with his foot. ‘Häkkinen is shit,’ he whispered, curled up under the covers as in a nest. The bear was breathing under the bed, one eye open.

Translated by Hildi Hawkins

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