Extracts from the novel Juoksuhaudantie (‘The Trench Road’, WSOY, 2002)
I belonged to that small group of men who were the first in this country to dedicate themselves to the home front and to women’s emancipation. I feel I can say this without boasting and without causing any bickering between the sexes.
A home veteran looks after all the housework and understands women. Throughout our marriage I have done everything that our fathers did not. I did the laundry, cooked the food, cleaned the flat, I gave her time to herself and protected the family from society. For hours on end I listened to her work problems, her emotional ups and downs and her hopes for more varied displays of affection. I implemented comprehensive strategies to free her from the cooker. I was always ready with provisions when she got home exhausted after a day at work.
After going through the same steps every day I gradually developed from an apprentice into a master. I could bend down and pick a crust of bread off the floor with Sini sitting on one arm. My ears got used to the whingeing and my central nervous system barely flinched at the loudest of screams. I read her a bedtime story every night. For four years. That makes almost 1,500 stories, on average about four pages a night. How many pages of the adventures of Martha the Mouse and other creatures does that make? Someone else can count it up.
In particularly difficult situations, when Helena was away on business or had a headache, I was able to make enough food for two days, do all the washing up, feed the family and all this – and this I can swear right into the stony eyes of any family therapist – all this I did without getting remotely pissed off.
I listened, I understood, I caressed, I foreplayed and kept the mood going after intercourse. I had had no education in any of this, nor was there any kind of example for me to follow. I was just a boy when I had to face the terror and the maelstrom of women’s war of emancipation. I remember looking into the overwhelming darkness of that black triangle and being convinced that, if I ever stuck my head in there, I would never return into the light.
Well, I did stick my head in there and I have returned. I learnt about the secrets of sex the hard way, doggedly, hitting my head against a brick wall. I eventually overcame my fears and my shyness, but the job at hand and the pressure to succeed gnawed away at my stomach and took part of the pleasure out of the whole thing. Still, the languid look on Helena’s face was thanks enough for me to carry on my pioneering work.
Over the last ten years I took one-hundred per cent care of everything to do with the housekeeping. That’s why I was quite offended when Timo Jutila, then captain of the Finnish ice hockey team, announced that he did everything one-hundred-and-ten per cent. How could he have said something like that? Living in foreign hotels on a daily wage with a group of blokes, all he needed to worry about was himself and making sure that he and the other boys got on the rink on time so they could chase a small object round the ice. While that’s going on, I had to take care of the catering, the child care, woman’s welfare and maintaining a generally pleasant working environment.
I did everything I could and a little bit more. Being nice and dedicating myself to the job had become a burden. Helena had noticed there was something wrong and had suggested that I get in touch with a discussion group for men, where I could go and talk about myself. I refused in no uncertain terms and was annoyed at her ongoing insinuations that our day-to-day life had begun to swing back and forth between arguments and making up.
We finally ended up in a bitter stand-off, with me sulking silently on the living room sofa and her crying on the bathroom floor.
Our stand-off ended up being irresolvable. The thunder of the cannons died down, the spruces shot to pieces stood there inconsolable, smoke rose up from the quagmire. The silence on the front was merely an illusion. The two camps stared at each other, things flaring up after half a word, waiting for someone to make the decisive move.
Helena did it.
She thinks I did it.
When I hit her.
But who said so?
But you just cannot say something like that to me, not after everything I have done for her and for the good of this family.
She said, I can’t remember word for word, that I was a pathetic cook, that I was an unambitious loser who just stayed at home all day sitting on my arse simmering away like old soup, why don’t you stop hanging around like a bad smell, listening to rock music, go and join a men’s group! Go and join some front or other!
Much more than that would have come out of her mouth, but I didn’t let it. The plan was to hit her straight on the mouth, but I missed. My fist struck her just between her temple and her cheekbone, she staggered, hit her head against the edge of a cupboard and fell to the floor.
That blow was cutting me up. I wasn’t a habitual wife-beater, just a rank-and-file man who had made a single mistake. It had only taken a hundredth of a second for my hand to turn into a fist and fly on a trajectory through the flat. As I was completely unaccustomed to violence I ended up hitting her too hard and imprecisely. An innocent little slap on the cheek would have made the point.
If only she had hit me back. If only I hadn’t hit her. If only she had chosen different words. If only I had ignored those black spots, which were burning in my eyes. If, if, if.
In an empty flat, too much iffing can gnaw away at a person.
To what extent is it acceptable to show your emotions? This is one interpellation the opposition never makes.
I admit that I should not have shouted and lashed out like that, but if you’ve trained yourself to express your feelings as much as possible then overstepping the mark always lurks round the corner. She didn’t listen to this explanation; instead, she took Sini and locked herself in the bedroom.
Expressing our emotions has been an essential part of the lives of men my age and so it felt unjust to think that the authorities had a precise way of measuring when these expressions are acceptable and when they cross the line.
I was ready for a ceasefire, but she didn’t give me the chance. As soon as she had left, she went to the authorities to show them the bruise on her forehead, and informed me over the telephone that I could keep all our belongings, she would keep the child. I clenched the receiver in my hand so hard that it rattled.
I wasn’t remotely comforted by the fact that, after the legal reforms of 1988, divorce seemed to have become the national hobby. According to the new law, you could wave goodbye to your marriage after only a six-month reconciliation period. In the years immediately after the war there were on average 3,500 divorces a year; in 1985 this had grown to 9,000 and by 1995 it was over 14,000.
During the boom years at the end of the 80s and the depression in the early 90s divorce became a part of everyday life; society had built a protective net around it. The two parties could fall into this net without losing any respect socially or feeling any shame. I was disgusted at the thought that I too was helping to make the statistics worse.
Statistics are just cold numbers; they only become warm once you separate them into individual lives. In order to get the real figures you have to use your heart, not a calculator.
14,000 divorces actually means 28,000 separations, because after every divorce there are two sets of unexploded charges left in the area, plus a child or children. Since the average Finnish family has two children we can add another two little people to divorce statistics. Divorces therefore affect four people. And it doesn’t stop there. In addition to the parties immediately concerned, there are numerous people involved in clearing up the mess after a divorce: the authorities, social workers, lawyers, the police, staff in shelters, psychologists and friends and relatives.
A hasty divorce cobbled together in a one-bedroom flat affects a whole apartment block full of people.
Studying statistics did not however bring me any closer to Helena and Sini….
During the Winter War and the Continuation War a total of 85,000 people lost their lives, around 3,400 disappeared and 189,000 were left wounded and stayed to help rebuild the country.
As a result of the Second World War, Finland was forced to surrender the areas around Karelia and Petsamo to the Soviet Union. The land amounted to 12 per cent of the country’s total land-mass. Over 420,000 people had to be evacuated from the area. In 1945, one of the most ingenious and effective laws in our history was passed: the Land Acquisition Act. The new law meant that 45,000 new farms and 56,000 plots of land were created. This provided housing for evacuees and veterans, including Taisto Oksanen.
He had been given a second chance after the war, a plot of land and a set of plans for a standard prefab house.
I had been given a state education and had been guided out of my small town into an apartment block in the city.
His war was something everyone should know about, my war was something no one ever spoke of.
He had a wood stove, I had central heating.
He had a Mrs, I had a wife.
He had been through the school of life, I had been through high school.
He had a stick, I had a carrot.
He had a fuck, I had foreplay.
If he was an evacuee, he would have had to leave his home because of the war.
My village emptied before my very eyes and I was shown the big city. Or Sweden.
Thinking about this brought my pulse up to over 160. I was too impatient to have a shower, so I poured water over my head straight out of the can.
One and a half floors. A fireplace in the middle, a kitchen next to it, a bedroom and a living room, another two smaller bedrooms upstairs for the children. After the war about 75,000 houses just like this sprang up. Once only in the history of this country, architects with an expensive education were commissioned to design little houses for the people. Only a very few of them are still in their original condition, without any extensions or new inhabitants.
One of them was though.
And it belonged to me.
My pulse went straight up to 130.
I put a new heading in my notebook: House.
Jarmo Kesämaa, estate agent, Home Front Ltd.
Ah’ll tell ye, ma wee mammy’d have had a fair fright if she’d set her eyes on that aul dump. Up north in Ylistaro where she lives you only keep places like that standing out of pity. It was like something out of Chernobyl, with all the added extras you can imagine. And by that I mean the old guy, Oksanen.
By God, it was some job getting it on the market. I didn’t know if my nerves could handle it. But they did. It’s a question of choosing the right profession. These days you get all kinds of kids flooding into the profession straight out of high school, they’ve got plenty of high hopes and no common sense, they go to pieces the first time they get a nasty client and start jabbering away like folk back home.
It’s a mistake nobody ever puts right.
They think this is easy, sit-on-your-backside work. On day one they should be made to sell a few houses that have really had it, then they’d know. Anybody can sell a two-bedroom flat in the posh end of town to the upper middle class, but that doesn’t mean you’ll be able to take the real pressure.
And this guy is definitely from the worst end of the scale.
I even had to tell him that the houseowner is not supposed to be present during the showing. Out of my own home, he complained. Sometimes clients can be absolutely impossible. They think they should be allowed to sit in their rocking chairs watching from a ringside seat whilst I try to clinch a deal. Thankfully I got him to put his name on the dotted line. I tried to call a few anxious couples from the car to let them know about the new property, but none of them were in.
It was time to get rid of all my bad feelings and fatigue and start thinking up the right kind of sales argument for the house. The first showing was in two weeks’ time.
I was twisting a Biro in my mouth and nibbling the end of it, but I’d forgot-ten that the end of the pen was already broken. Blue ink ran into my mouth, in a panic I wiped it on my light summer trousers. I dashed into the bathroom and tried to wipe the ink off with a wet cloth. By now the trousers were beyond use, but I still had to do something about cleaning my mouth. I grabbed the first bottle I could find in the cleaning cupboard, dabbed it on to a piece of toilet roll and smeared it over my mouth. My nose was instantly filled with a bitter smell. I took a closer look at the bottle. Bleach, for Christ’s sake.
I looked in the mirror. On the left hand side, about half an inch below the side of my mouth, there was a dark stripe to remind me of the incident. Hopefully the clients wouldn’t notice it.
The trouser situation was quite tricky. I would have to take the green ones, which I should never have bought in the first place. When you’re in a hurry you always end up buying things which are the wrong shade or far too fashionable.
I tried on the green trousers with the yellow jacket. The effect was contrived, but I didn’t really have any choice. If you wear jeans, the tone always becomes too informal and the client will think that the property can’t be all that fantastic if the estate agent can’t even be bothered to put on a pair of pressed trousers.
I had to compromise.
I put on the jeans with a blue shirt and tie, so as to give the impression that I’d thought about the colour co-ordination, then I could have the yellow jacket draped across my arm, as if to say what a bonny day the Lord’s bestowed upon us, I even had to take my jacket off.
That was good.
All this messing about had tired me out, so I decided, instead of writing it all down, I would dictate my sales strategy and some of the points I was going to put to the estate agents’ autumn conference on the cruise ship.
The veteran house case: in original condition, largest potential target group: nostalgics. Look at the list of clients, in particular those born after the war. Their children may have flown the nest and there may be a gaping void at the heart of their emotional lives, something which could be filled with a house, a small garden, some earth, some borders, their own carrots, onions and basil plants.
If the client starts sniffing around the cellar, hit them with certification from the surveyors.
If someone starts thinking about the price, take them aside and encourage them to make an offer, the estate holders are willing to knock the price down a few thousand for a quick sale.
If the client has two children, as they normally do, make a feature of the upstairs rooms. Small change will cover the repairs.
If the client is expecting, don’t bring this up. It’s intrusive. But remember to mention in passing that it really does matter in what kind of environment children spend the first years of their lives.
If the client is sporty, stress the endless facilities offered by the nearby city park.
Warm the client up on a low heat, start slowly so as not to scare them off. Sense them gradually warming up, then strike.
I stopped dictating. I was knackered. I could hear the bustle of the main road from the patio. The sky was blue and white, but not high enough. Only the end of the sky ever reached Helsinki, the middle was up in Ylistaro. In the winter there’s no sky in Helsinki at all, the glare of the city lights hides the stars and studded winter tyres scrape against the asphalt….
Sairanen next door started up his lawn-mower two metres away across the fence. It felt like the sound of the mower was going straight inside my head and crushing everything that was still intact.
I poured myself a drink and started dictating some more material.
Pay attention to the details and to the unit as a whole. The unit is the family, the details are the members of the family. Split the client into pieces and put the different parts together to clinch the deal. Proceed a little at a time, don’t jump at them. Bring together common sense and emotion. Wrong. Bring together emotion and common sense. Emotion is paramount, it is a rose. What makes up a rose? The petals. Each petal is a different image.
Collect all the details and store them in your mind. What kind of wife does the client have, how many children, do they have a dog? If it’s winter, is there a box of skis on the roof rack, if it’s summer, is there a skateboard in the porch or a surf board on top of the car? Remember these things, don’t make light of them. Clients are people and people are weak.
Now you have the details. Choose one of them, this is a match with which you can light a roaring fire. Violin lessons. You remember this and you also remember the daughter’s name: Jenny.
Now call the client.
Hi, this is Jarmo Kesämaa from Home Front Ltd. I’m calling about the house on Plasterer’s Road, yes, the one whose charming garden we met in last week. Quite. Yes. Absolutely. Perhaps you’ve had a chance to think about what impression you had of the house. Quite. Yes. Absolutely. And how are Jenny’s violin lessons coming along? That is nice to hear. It must require a lot of concentration form such a young girl. My cousin gave up, he just didn’t have enough enthusiasm. So, do you think you’ll be spending Christmas in your new house? Quite. Yes. But of course we can negotiate a range of payment options, why, as you know the bank stands firmly behind our company.
Just like that.
I’ve put the details in italics. Pay particular attention to the second line in italics. This is where I get into the same boat as the client, and together we row out on the open sea with no oars into a storm that only another family man would understand.
At a preliminary showing you have chatted to a couple with no children. You remember the wife’s profession, she’s a nurse. When you next call them, strike this match.
Hellooooo again, this is Jarmo Kesämaa from Home Front Ltd. I’m calling about the terraced house on Bell Road, where we met at the showing last Sunday. Absolutely, last Sunday, when your wife had to rush off to her night shift, isn’t that right? Well, people have rather taken to the place, so much so that I’ve even had a few offers, but just between you and me they’re not all that great. Quite. Yes. So that, if you decide to make a go of it, well, I’d suggest that now is the time. Absolutely. Yes. And the peace and quiet in a terrace, someone working on a shift will certainly appreciate that. My brother-in-law bought a place right by the Vantaa River, what a lovely place to heat up your own sauna, especially as he does three-shift work at the printers too. Yes, absolutely, come along to a private showing, we can go over the place once more then all you have to do is put in a reasonable offer, he who dares, absolutely. Thank you. Yes, yes, the mobile’s on round the clock, feel free to call any time. Byeeee….
I decided to go and get to know my new house once again before making the final offer.
Taisto Oksanen and his friend Reino would be playing the slot machines in the shopping centre for an hour, after that he would go and buy some ready meals and then he would come home. I calculated that this would give me about an hour and a half to become acquainted with my house.
I took the key from under the steps and opened the door.
I removed my shoes in the hallway and walked into the kitchen. On the table there were some dishes which hadn’t been washed up and a pipe. I had a smell, he had smoked it this morning. There was an old cardigan on the arm of the chair, judging by the colour it must have belonged to his late wife. A lukewarm pot of coffee stood on the stove next to a frying pan with the remnants of a fried egg round the edges.
I moved into the living room. Every object and piece of furniture was at least fifty years old. I sat down in a chair, it creaked. A battered old television sat on a shelf in the dark bookcase, next to it was a wedding photograph, Taisto and Martta looking serious and ready to rebuild the country.
I stood up from the chair and walked towards the window. I drew the curtains, the clips resisted and made an unpleasant noise. I imagined how they must have discussed this a hundred times, but Taisto had never managed to fix it. I chuckled. That was how I wanted to grow old with Helena, nagging each other about the little things, though we had agreed on more serious matters a long time ago.
I went into the bedroom. Hanging above the bed was a faded aerial photo-graph of the house. People don’t take photographs like that any more. The house was exactly the same as at the time of the photograph some forty years ago….
I came down into the hallway, where a set of stairs led down into the basement.
Two old bicycles, hammers, nails, an axe, a trestle, three pairs of wooden skis, an armchair, chopped firewood stacked up to the ceiling. I stepped over a collection of unidentified objects into the changing room of his small sauna. A three-seater bench, a round table with a floral cloth on it. A basket made of bark hanging on the wall, inside it a sponge, soap and a pair of nail scissors.
The sauna was still warm. I touched the stones on the stove, they were only slightly warm, he had bathed here yesterday. I opened the stove’s hatch. I almost felt like pulling some bark off a tree, stuffing it into the darkness of the stove and blowing.
I had a look at my watch: no chance. There would only have been enough time for a quick half hour in there.
I climbed back up the stairs and sat at the kitchen table. From the window I could see straight out on to the road. This is where I’ll sit and watch my little girl come back from school. This is where I’ll sit and decide to finish my studies. This is where I’ll grow old and this is the chair I’ll fall from one day and collapse on the floor. I got out my notebook and made a list of things that needed to be fixed. There weren’t very many. I wasn’t going to change the building structurally, I wasn’t going to move walls or rip up the floors. This country has already had all its structures changed, its walls moved and its floors ripped up….
12.17: Matti Virtanen
Oksanen looks afraid, even though there’s no reason to be.
I walk towards him as calmly as possible.
‘A very good day to you. I’m Matti Virtanen, I’m sure you remember.’
‘What do you think you’re doing?’
‘I’ve come to finalise the sale with you. I’ve got a contract here and a hundred thousand marks in cash. Let’s go inside.’
‘The showing isn’t until later….’
‘I know what I’m buying.’
‘I don’t know….’
‘Yes you do. Let’s go inside, then we can get down to business.’
‘I’m not going anywhere. I’m calling the police.’
Unfortunately I have to take hold of Oksanen under the shoulders, push him up the steps and into the house. We go through into the kitchen. I sit him down on the chair.
‘I haven’t done anything to you, go away.’
‘Please don’t start all that again. Selling a house isn’t all that difficult. I’ve got all the documents ready for you.’
I take the papers out of my bag and put them on the table. To make him feel a bit better and to get things moving I produce the wad of notes from my pocket and place them next to the papers.
‘There’s a hundred thousand marks as a deposit. You can have the other eight hundred thousand tomorrow when the banks are open.’
‘The price is one million two hundred thousand.’
‘It’s nine hundred thousand. That’s a home veteran’s price for a veteran house.’
‘A home veteran. I’m a home veteran. After the war you were given this piece of land and the plans for this house. I know my history. No one ever gave me the opportunity to live in a small house on the edge of town, even though I’ve given the best years of my adult life to the home and to women. Read the contract carefully, you’ll see.’
Oksanen picks up the contract and squints at it. I hand him his reading glasses from the table.
There’s no need to raise my voice. Once Oksanen has read through the papers carefully, everything will be sorted out….
12.21: Matti Virtanen
I listen to the roaring in my head, to the joy racing about restlessly.
Oksanen is reading the contract, his hands shaking, I can’t understand why. His eyes are all wet with tears, surely he can’t be crying on this happy day?
‘What do you think? These are marvellous conditions, aren’t they?’
‘I don’t… go away. You can have the clock and the money.’
‘No need to get things all mixed up. Have you read the contract prop-erly?’
‘Take the money and anything else you want…’
Now he really has misunderstood. Have I written it out too small? I pick up the contract and read it aloud to him.
‘The buyer hereby agrees to the following: the owner Taisto Oksanen may live in his house for the rest of his life. He will have the upstairs bedroom, his son’s former room. The buyer hereby agrees to cook Oksanen two hot meals per day on every day of the year. Oksanen shall have the same rights in this house as the buyer and his family. Well, what do you think? This is a legally binding contract, I’ve even made two copies. All it needs now is the names. So would you please sign it down there?’
I hold the contract out to Oksanen.
He is beginning to sob….
12.23: Matti Virtanen
I know how to comfort Sini, but not an old man. If Sini starts crying, I just take her into my arms and say: There there Sini, Daddy’s here.
Can he really not understand what an excellent deal I’m offering him? He won’t have to pay Kesämaa any fee and he gets to stay in his own house, just like people used to do in the countryside. This is the transition of two generations. And the restoration of peace. It is also essentially an act of rebuilding.
‘Just sign down there, then we can be done with all the formalities.’
He doesn’t say a thing.
Am I going to have to hold his hand and do it for him? It would be quite humiliating, he has after all fought at the front and built this house with his own hands.
‘Oksanen, sign it there please!’
‘It’s one million two hundred….’
‘It’s nine hundred thousand, that’s what it says there, because that’s how I’ve worked it out, for Christ’s sake!’
‘Don’t you understand, you old sod? I haven’t got any more than that. This is a home veteran’s price! If I borrowed another three hundred thousand from the bank, I’d be your age before I’d paid it all off and that’s just not going to happen. Just think about how old you were when you’d finally paid off your mortgage!’
I’d rather not shout, he’s not my enemy. He’s my brother in arms. But I just can’t seem to make him understand the simplest thing.
12.45: Jarmo Kesämaa
The showing’s not until half past, but I can’t go home.
I decide to drive down to Maununneva, even though what I really feel like doing is driving up to Ylistaro and standing under the sky. Seeing the old place might calm me down a bit.
I pull into Oksanen’s quiet little garden and walk up to the door; oddly, it’s shut.
I ring the doorbell.
No one answers, strange. He has after all been threatening us with being in the house during the showing. Maybe he’s gone over to his friend’s place. I sit down on the garden swing and light a cigarette.
The door opens.
A man I have never seen before comes out and sits on the steps with a piece of paper in his hand.
‘Good afternoon, Kesämaa, you’re half an hour too late.’
He’s waving the piece of paper about. I walk up closer, I still don’t know him at all.
‘This is sales contract. Oksanen sold me this property a moment ago.’
‘That’s an illegal document. Our office has a contract for the sale of this property. The showing is at half past two…. That piece of paper is worthless.’
‘It is not.’
‘You have to pay me the agent’s fee.’
‘No I don’t, because I didn’t find out about this property through your company. I found this myself and negotiated the price with the owner.’
‘Well I’ll just have to wake him up. That’s not the way to do business.’
‘You will not wake him up. We reached a deal after long negotiations. Let the old man have a moment’s peace.’
‘This just won’t do.’
‘This’ll do very nicely. Give my regards to your wife.’
I’m not a violent person, I’ve never hit anyone, I haven’t even shoved anyone. I’m certainly not going to make an exception to the rule this time either, so I just walk back to the car. I’ve got to eat something quickly. Got to sit down. How do you call off a showing? Can it be done? Advertised in the paper and everything. One of my father’s work mates was once struck by lightning. He said it was as if the Lord above had run o’er a stane and now he was rattling along wi’ gammy wheels. I too have just been struck by lightning. The world seems like a great ravine, I’m in free fall towards the bottom, breaking my hands and feet against the sides of the ravine, and all the time I’m falling there’s nothing I could do to help. The sky above Ylistaro is beginning to shrink away like a giant piece of plastic shrivelled in the wind….
13.04: Matti Virtanen
They’re going to spoil everything. They don’t even care or understand. They don’t have a clue about any of this. They think I’ve come here with bad intentions.
Now the macaroni’s boiling over.
I run upstairs into the kitchen, move the pot off the hotplate slightly and drain the water. The macaroni has been boiling slightly too long. How am I supposed to concentrate on anything with all this going on? I quickly grease the oven dish, mix the ingredients together, pour in the egg mixture and sprinkle some cheese on the top. I put the dish in the oven and look out of the window. There’s a man in a blue uniform standing by the row of hawthorns talking into his shoulder.
I go down into the basement and let Oksanen know that dinner will be ready in about forty minutes. He grunts and points at the glass of juice. I hand it over to him. This time he manages to get it all in his mouth. Everything’s going to be fine.
I tell him that macaroni bake is only one of many dishes in my repertoire. Living with us, he’ll get a full selection of healthy Finnish food.
We’ve just got to stop them spoiling everything.
13.05: the Police
A woman and a little girl have just appeared at the gate. The woman claims to be Matti Virtanen’s wife.
I walk up to them, introduce myself and tell them what I knew. The woman starts to cry. The little girl holds firmly on to her mother’s leg. We agree that they should go and sit in the back of the patrol car. I try to calm her down and tell her we’ve got the situation under control.
‘We’ll ask for you if necessary.’
One of the men is going to stay in the car with the woman and the girl, I get the megaphone and stand in front of one of the small windows.
‘This is still Chief Inspector Marita Kalliolahti. Matti Virtanen, walk calmly out of the house. I know what this is all about. I’ve got your notebook! Did you hear, you’ll get off very lightly.’
13.06: Matti Virtanen
She’s been reading my notes, she’s stolen months of work.
How dare she!
I stand on tip toe and open the window slightly.
‘Go away! This is a simple transaction, nothing more!’
‘You are holding an old man hostage!’
‘He’s not a hostage, he’s going to carry on living here. We have a contract to prove it, get off my garden!’
‘We cannot. Either you come out or we’ll have to come in!’
‘You can’t. This is my house!’
I grab a chair and stand on it to look out of the window and see who was shouting. There’s no one there, I can see the lawn, a blue car and in through the car’s window.
Helena and Sini.
They ‘re sitting there waiting for me.
My love. My loves.
They’ve arrived early.
It doesn’t matter. The bake’s almost ready.
I tell Oksanen I’m going to fetch Helena and Sini. He’s shaking, I wonder whether he’s cold, I’ll have to cover him better.
‘I’ll be back in a moment, then we can eat.’
I go up the stairs into the hall and open the door into the brightness. The sun shines into my eyes, I can’t make out any of the details in the garden, I raise both my hands to shade my eyes.
They grab my wrists.
Twist my hands.
I can hear a click.
The branch of a great birch tree blows in the wind and momentarily obscures the sun, and I can see them.
Translated by David Hackston
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