Daddy dear

Issue 2/2004 | Archives online, Fiction, Prose

Extracts from the novel Vanikan palat (‘Pieces of crispbread’, Otava, 2004). Interview by Soila Lehtonen

Dad’s at the mess again. Comes back some time in the early hours. Clattering, blubbing, clinging to some poem, he collapses in the hall.

We pretend to sleep. It’s not a bad idea to take a little nap. After a quarter of an hour Dad wakes up. Comes to drag us from our beds. Crushes us four sobbing boys against his chest as if he were afraid that a creeping foe intended to steal us. We cry too, of course, but from pain. Four boys belted around a non-commissioned officer is too much. It hurts. And the grip only tightens. Dad whines:

‘Boys, I will never leave you. Dad will never give his boys away. There will be no one who can take you from me.’

The whining only grows. Five men in a fiery furnace. Or the Laocoon group: father and sons in a bundle bound together by snakes roll from the hall to the kitchen, from the kitchen to the living room, from the living room to Dad’s bedroom and from there to the lavatory. The bleating, jostling crowd tries to get Dad to throw up.

‘Dad, be sick. Be sick. Daddy dear. You’ll feel better.’

‘Shut your trap! He won’t throw up to order.’

Dad’s head is almost in the lavatory bowl. How can he still reach far enough to keep hold of all of us? His belt-grasp is so tight that it would be no use even if we were to let our pyjamas to be torn off us. And it would be no help anyway. Dad shouts more energetically than before into the echoing bowl:

‘Not so bad, boys. Old comrades, or what.’

Dad braces himself against the sides of the lavatory bowl and carries the entire bunch of children into the hall. All we brothers squeal as one, although we differ as to how Dad should be handled. There are those who just want to spit on the old shit. There are those who think he should be walked around and fed. A little voice from the sidelines suggests going to bed.

But Dad loves us, doesn’t he. This very evening, in this very place. Loves us so enormously that he does not want to let us go and the crushing continues. For the more sensitive among us, it is difficult to construe as caring. First we are begotten. Then we are hunted and branded with a burning spade. Then loved. Then not let go. But it was like this the night before last, too. And the day after tomorrow. Of course we won’t go anywhere. Where could we go? Who would take us? The radio requests programme? The child recycling van?

‘You motherless wains,’ Dad howls, although caring tonight is in our hands. ‘I am father to you and I am mother to you.’

His boys belted to his sides, the non-commissioned officer sways, raises his gaze as if he could, with his boiled eyes, see farther off. Clears his throat, burps and hiccoughs. Cheap NCO’s cologne mixes with liquor to form a sweet stench that can be found only inside a loaf of undercooked sourmilk bread. The smell announces to us: the night sermon is about to begin.

Fuelled by liquor, the sermon always follows the same pattern. It is sublimely emotional and inappropriately irritable. It has too much rhetorical fire. It takes less to break a night. Like the Pentecostalists, it uses ancient, already forgotten languages, expressions that combine ancient agricultural terminology with the remnants of misheard foreign words. In other circumstances a child might enjoy such a stream of language – might think it worth following it to its source. Now the strange words are just incomprehensible and horrible. They are intended to make comrades-in-arms cry in the field, in the barracks, in the trenches, in who knows what dugout. But not now, Daddy dear. Now it is peacetime. We are your sons. Now it is night-time in Oulu.

But no one stops Dad. Repetition is instructive, it is said, but does his steamy head imagine that we don’t already know the sermon off by heart? As if we didn’t already know that it begins with the words,

‘Boys, by the gaping lion, I will never abandon you! I may come from a tenant farm, but I will never leave you. I will even fatten you up. I promised your mother.’

In the middle of the sermon there is always a terrible double-headed knoll. Dad shouts so that the metal bands of the lamp clatter:

‘Those bloody arse-lickers!’

With these words Dad has once more conjured up into our little hallway a legion of lickers and another legion of arses to be licked. After this it is all dim downhill travel, tired raving. Then, suddenly, a tighter grip than before. The last, strong kick of the god of liquor. In a corybantian delirium, the following incomprehensible lines:

‘We don’t fawn upon cockroaches, we don’t wait on dung flies! Remem­ber that, boys. Keep it in mind.’

I must keep the words in mind. I will run from sage to sage. Dad will die. And I too will die before the riddle of the fawning upon the cockroaches can be solved. But now. Exhaustion takes the upper hand. Dad’s arms loosen. Four boys fall to the floor, rattling weakly.

‘Boys! Do you want a woman, I mean mother. I will bring you one straight away if you want one. They coo when they see a pair of military trousers. Coo and then churn. Do you want one? Good, I’ll get you one,’ says Dad, swaying.

Seen from the floor, Dad’s swaying is more impressive than that of a great mast. His boots keep him on deck, but the rest of him is at the mercy of his drunkenness. Nevertheless there is something soldierly about his swaying. His hands are in fists against his thighs and crush the bulging thigh-bags of his trousers and the red braid. His gaze is directed upward, as if on parade. Just as if the top cupboard of the hallway contained not our tattered winter clothes, but some high-ranking officer, some contra-admiral, or an archimandrite. What Dad sees we cannot even guess at. In any case, tears have been flowing from his nose and eyes for a longtime. His face is red. On close examination, one can see that a few surface veins are broken. This makes his cheeks glow even redder. The raspberry is ripe.

I am sure Dad must be hot inside his NCO’s coat. The collar button is tightly closed. The last does not change size however much the leather sweats. The quartermaster mumbles something toward an unseen box. Tears flow into the grey cloth of his collar.

Now our moment has come. Now our prey is suitably emotional and tired, suitably numb. If we do not strike now, we will never get Dad to bed. Some scout is already placing the sick bucket beside Dad’s bed. We others take a firm hold of his belt. We set off to take the night sermoniser, surging in his tears, to bed. Each step is as long as the Winter War and always a small victory. The oldest of us brothers does not lose the tenderness of the home front even in this transport and mutters:

‘Dad, don’t cry. You shouldn’t cry. Otherwise we will all soon be blubbing. Or cry if you have to.’ I, however, sever all emotion. The NCO’s child’s guide forbids the support of weeping. I hiss:

‘Shut your cakehole! Otherwise he’ll start all over again.’

It is true that the danger exists. Often the front line has had to be redrawn back in the hall. Dad just has to be able to imagine that a relatively strong cloud is carrying him. These are not children. These are the wings of poetry. We are travelling toward morning.

When Dad is at last in bed, has been sick a couple of times and begins to snore in a way that we find satisfactory, someone dares to open the tightest buttons of his collar. We don’t dare touch all the buttons. Who knows what kind of drunken officer is concealed inside the unconscious NCO. We creep back to our bunks. We try to go to sleep. But sleep does not come. Our bodies are overheated. The buttons of his coat, the size of a child’s fist, have burned them. And the impressions of our brothers on our own skins. We have to touch ourselves to realise that we are separated from the others. But my own dreams do not come even yet. Were they meant for all of us?

 

I begin by drawing an elongated oval, like a lightbulb. A strange certainty has come to my hand, and it does not hesitate in drawing the shape. There is no margin for hesitation. In order that the lightbulb should look like a human head, I draw free-flowing hair at the top. I suppose I should look at my model, but somehow I feel that the image is better in my memory than before my eyes. The absolute image of Aune Kääntä is in my head, it must be, while here in front of me is a moving psychological entity whose examination while drawing fragments and unravels the otherwise complete portrait into perceptions and thoughts.

Aune Kääntä sits still and smiles. I have been given the break between two lessons, and although I know that I can go on tomorrow, I intend to complete the picture in no time. Both my enthusiasm for the portrait and that of my model will only lessen if it is chopped up over many days.

The hair is ready and place. I leave its colouring until later. I attach my teacher’s skilfully crocheted lace collar to the neck of the lightbulb, just its outlines, and notice to my good fortune how the utility object is gradually beginning to transform itself into a human head. The face is still, of course, empty, but no to worry. As I look at my model I must once again seek in my basic memory the correct nature of the human face and find the correspondences. Two eyes, a nose and a mouth, possibly eyelashes or eyebrows or some other little thing. That’s all. The most important is the positioning of the important elements and their distance from one another. If the eyes are too close together, the bridge of the nose will not fit between them. If, on the other hand, they are too far away from each other, the result is a monster. I draw eye-shaped strips, pointed at both ends. The distance between the eyes seems right to me, although in their raw state they look like beetroots. Quickly I draw eyelashes on the beets, but their beetrootness only increases. Courage, I say to myself. It’s not the end of the world. This is part of real life, of reality. It is obvious that the gaze wanders when one has no eyes. What sort of eyes might I have in my store? Let’s take those round ones, the colour can come later, and let’s position them so that their edges slightly overlaps the outlines intended for the eyes. Well then, here’s the beginning of a person. I can draw breath.

I raise my gaze from the paper and, to my surprise, note that Aune Kääntä is no longer looking at me, but has turned her gaze to the classroom windows. What she can find of interest there I cannot even guess. Although I do not directly need my teacher’s face in order to immortalise it, it is still important to me that we should be present in the situation. On the other hand, her new pose gives me the opportunity to examine her face from a different angle. Her profile reveals a completely different person. The side view of a person who is somehow more uncertain, less triumphal, altogether melancholy. I grow worried. What should I do to get her to turn her gaze back? I am quite horrified by the idea that I should paint Aune Kääntä in profile, create an image that does not look at me, but at something completely different.

The clatter of my brush against the water mug awakens my model from her reverie, for she too is interested in how I am going to deploy my colours. In the previous break, I carefully cleaned all six watercolour tablets in my cardboard folder and they gleam promisingly. I can trust them. Blue, red, yellow, brown, green and black, and in my memory Aune Kääntä’s advice as to how, by combining the colours of the tablets, one can create endless new ones. Yellow-green, for example, is a child of blue and yellow who has inherited more of her mother yellow’s characteristics.

I decide to colour the hair first. My instinct tells me that I will be able to free my hand to use colour best if I start with something dramatic. My brush licks the brown colour tablet as if it were Easter porridge, and my first stroke, too, is a bit porridge-like, until I realise that I can submerge my brush from time to time in the water glass and thus increase transparency. I deal with the hair, not in detail but following its direction of movement. First, I sort of twist my model’s hair round large rollers and then unroll them with my brush, so that an impression of naturally curly hair is born of itself. The hair is cleanly in place, but I notice how the water in my glass already looks dirty and begin to doubt the purity of my blues and reds to come. I would run to the washbasin in the corridor to change the water, but I am afraid I will lose valuable moments. No! I must just wet my brush in just the surface of the water and let the muck sink to the bottom of the glass. Just as I am beginning to paint the mouth, I hear Aune Kääntä saying:

‘When I was your age, I visited Haukiputaa church with my parents. That’s where Toppelius’’s “Daniel kills the lion” is. That face has engraved itself on my mind forever. Those heroic eyes, filled with anger and belief, and achieved with such simple strokes! Famously, of course, Toppelius painted very few landscapes. I wonder if it was because there were no real picture sources?’

I can’t answer the question, and in any case I feel it to be inappropriate for my model to speak just as I am painting her mouth in what I feel to be the most heroic possible red. My teacher falls silent, and I notice that her concentration improves as she sees how her lips are sealed with juicy red. I use a weaker red for her cheeks, which I rub rather than paint with my brush. Now a light wash over the whole face, whose colour is my inner will, not the result of any colour theory. Step by step, stroke by stroke, a human being makes its appearance.

I know that painting the eyes will be tough. It is with the eyes that the portrait will either fall or come alive. I know that I am running out of time and my water is as dirty as in the Laanaoja ditch. Of course, the blue that I coax from the tablet is not as clean and deep as I had intended, but on the other hand it has the advantage that, containing both dirt and purity, it brings light and shade to the eyes, even a kind of glint. What else is missing? Good heavens! The nose! The only real prominence of the human face. Quickly, the right and left side of the nose and the tiny nostrils, but carefully, so that the result does not look like the snout of a gas mask. There it is! Aune Kääntä’s portrait. It looks at me as kindly as my model, and although in comparing the work and the model I note some exaggeration, errors of proportion, particularly in the hair and the mouth, I am rather satisfied. I rise to my feet to look at the portrait from a little farther off. From this, my teacher understands that the work is, if not completely finished, then at least at a decisive turning point. She steps down from the rostrum, comes up to my desk, looks at my work upside down at first, turns her head, then comes up beside me and sets her beautiful forefinger on the side of the paper. Her red lacquered nail is nothing short of painful, it is so overpowering. Although I am perfectly certain of the truth to reality of my work, so sure that I will really never be surer, I am still afraid of my teacher’s judgement.

First a long, tender laugh rings out; I interpret it as at least partial approval. She is laughing because she recognises herself, this is what I say to myself. I don’t, at any rate, hear any mockery in her laughter. When three or four different laughs have followed, my teacher says:

‘Oh Antero! But you’ve shown me a side of myself that even I don’t know yet. You flatter me by underlining, how should I say it to you, something wild, something untamed, and I thank you for it. You have taken some liberties, but a portrait is always an interpretation. We’re going to pin this picture to the back wall, and in a minute when the class comes back we shall hear the public opinion as whether it’s a good likeness.’

Just as the teacher is about to pick up the portrait, she starts, I hear the heels of her shoes clatter against the floor and in her slightly lowered voice I think I sense disappointment:

‘But the collar! Antero! Where is the collar? It is of course appropriate, sometimes even desirable, to leave the work as a sketch, but in respect of this collar our opinions differ sharply. A white lace collar against a black background. Didn’t you notice it? No portrait-painter would leave such a little delicacy unused. Some time later you will see the portraits of the old masters, you will admire the skilfully painted lace collars on which light plays. Then you will say to yourself: why didn’t I begin painting the collars when I should have done? Of course, the portrait is acceptable as it is, but consider this matter of the collar a little more.’

I slump back in my chair. I knew that something essential was missing. Something inside me had already said that I should have started on the collar, which I eyed with admiration every day, at the very beginning. Although I am hunched up, partly over my still damp portrait, I manage to stammer,

‘I don’t know how to paint a collar yet. I don’t know how to paint the black underneath a white collar. Since there isn’t a white colour tablet.’

‘In that case you have to paint a lace collar back to front. Don’t you remember that the paper is white. The collar lace is already there, like a hidden image.’

Without even giving herself time to finish her sentence, my teacher takes the warm brush from my burning hand, and dipping just the point of the brush first in the water, then touching it to the black colour tablet, simultaneously conjures up the lace flowers of her collar and the velvet jacket beneath. Every single dot is like a magic spell, an order for the lace flowers to come out of hiding.

Two great emotions seize me, and I don’t know which to give more space. On the one hand shame seeks to invade me, the fact that I didn’t think of painting that black reverse image all by myself, and on the other the astonished delight that the portrait of my teacher is now a complete work which combines our efforts and that in the future there will be more of them. Perhaps she will return the favour by painting a portrait of me and allow me to finish some part of myself that I know better. I give the latter emotion more room inside myself, and immediately I feel better and dare fill my lungs.

The half-dry portrait is pinned to the cork notice board at the back of the class. Then we both step backwards away from it. I don’t know what Aune Kääntä sees; I see only the collar.

I would, in fact, like to start the next sitting immediately to show that I have now grasped the collar business, but the bell rings for the end of break and the crowd is already stomping and pushing into the classroom, soiling our recent devotions. Because the portrait I have painted as at the moment the only decoration in the classroom, everyone’s attention is fixed on it. There follows, of course, first sniggering, rude gestures, ogling and other things that have always been provoked by new works of art, then nevertheless quiet.

Our teacher steps up beside the portrait so that the similarity can be noted, and although there is little of it except in the lace collar, my jurors nevertheless approve it. I feel I have won at least a little more living space and safety….

Here comes the stepmothers’ procession! They are all dead, but appear exceptionally on these pages.

The first is wearing a skirt, or should I say caftan, made from the very first Marimekko fabric. It does not emphasise any shape, it just rustles. Under her left arm she carries a record player. We are probably about to listen to In A Persian Market and In A Monastery Garden and, as an encore, Schubert’s Ave Maria, sung by Marian Anderson. The bundle under her other arm would seem to be some kind of baby clothes. These she will certainly not be needing. She has a miscarriage, and everything else miscarries too. Although she does marry my father. Doesn’t wear a veil at the wedding, but a swan’s breast-feather.

In other ways, too, she is a harbinger of modernism in our house which, since Mum died, has been turned upside down by very old-fashioned folk. The plastic table-cloth is thrown out. The kitchen table is soon covered with a new cloth with abstracted flowers the size of puddles. The boys’ table with its long benches will also soon be given the boot. Over a few weeks our Old Boys’ Home goes through such a rejuvenation that you can’t find your comfort blanket any more.

And what about the fruits of the table. Pure progress. Toward better and purer food. The old cabin kitchen and rookie grub are buried without tears. In their place come a large, glass salad bowl and large salad servers. And with the salad bowl, salad. And salad dressing. Our stepmother makes salad dressing, emulsifying opposites together until the entire block of flats shakes. The result is a jelly-like, arrogant sauce which will not consent to mix with the lettuce leaves, but waits for each of us to dip into it on their own plates. Posh, in other words.

We brothers nod as we see the lettuce and the sauce, just as if we knew what lettuce was. Tortoises, apparently, eat lettuce. So we’re tortoises and we’ll make good tortoise soup. This is extraordinarily healthy, so here goes. The cold, big leaves in the sharp sauce are picked straight from the corolla of modernism. These leaves would certainly not be eaten in the other homes in the barracks. But what is that to us. Let them suffocate on their own rösti potatoes, since they can’t be bothered to open the windows. After the salad, oranges fly on to the table, straight from some dependency of our stepmother’s. These magic bullets are certainly not eaten. They are just rolled about in the hands. What hard peel, says the hand. Our teeth don’t really want to make a start on these peels. As well as a sergeant-major, our father is also a dentist and a barber. A real jack-of-all-trades, but in a hurry he doesn’t always distinguish between a fringe and front teeth, and it shows. So orange-eating is left for the future. Oranges will be eaten when our stepmother has sat us all in front of dentists and barbers with qualifications.

The number of innovations is so large and they come at such a fast pace that we can’t swallow them all at once. Nettles, for instance. The whole family, Dad with his new wife and his mended children, had set out to gather the leaves of young nettles. Now that was posh, if anything was. On a Sunday, with a glove on one hand, a basket in the other. May. The bird-cherry in flower and our family gathering nettles. You’d have to look a long way to find posher folk.

When our stepmother goes on to make a kind of ultra-modern mush out of the seed leaves, some kind of conservatism overcomes us. We absolutely refuse to eat the novelty. Even adding nutmeg to the mush does not help. The ingredients of civil war are in the air.

Dad would like to tack between modernism and the fundamentalism that preceded the stepmother. No obligation, in other words. But there is no middle way. Father can’t, after all, support modernism on the one hand while on the other secretly wolfing down off our plates the mush that is intended to promote our health.

The nettle mush becomes an insuperable threshold. Wounded, our stepmother retreats to the bedroom. Dad just can’t get her out of there. Not even by getting down on his hands and knees in the doorway and pretending to be a goat. It does not amuse our stepmother. We just hear her pretty little voice:

‘Eat what you want! I won’t come out until you’ve eaten, and then I’ll go away. In any case you’re going to fall over my soured milk! That I don’t want to see.’

I do a quick mental analysis. I realise that this storm-attack modernism will not take root if it is not immediately supported with old-fashioned foot-soldiers. From the beginning, she should have mixed in proper grub, the barracks’s hard-as-stone sausage, and then little by little added something that had fallen off the back of a flying saucer. And of course more love than cardamom.

Of course we too would have been the first to back Venetian blinds and oppose velvet curtains. But nettle mush, just like that, without a word of warning. To be expected to eat burning nettles, hardly cooked.

The kitchen is divided in two. Our stepmother eats her own progressive crumbs alone. We, on the other hand, are in the soup queue, fetching some kind of old-fashioned mash from the kettle. Our teeth begin to come loose in our mouths again, our fringes swim in our soup. We have fallen from the spacecraft back into the stone age, a dark cave.

Soon the sun really dims. The oranges turn black. We see our first modern wedded quarrel. The salad bowl is broken. Our stepmother calls our father some highly scientific names. Dad doesn’t appear to understand them and gets even crosser.

‘Slut,’ says Dad, a little lamely, since he can’t think of anything better. But grabs her. Grabs the shapeless caftan. What does this woman mean to him crotch any more? For us, she is our first stepmother; for him, already his third wife. You would think he would know how to handle a caftan. There is rapid movement from the kitchen to the bedroom and back. Everything culminates in our stepmother throwing a potty, full to overflowing, at Dad. Its contents, which are not mushroom salad, land on Dad. The unbroken potty falls, clattering enormously, to the floor. We run to see who will be proclaimed the victor, the Old Boys’ Home or the slut.

You can guess the rest. Pastor Paakinaho comes and separates these young people whom he has joined.

A car comes to take our stepmother away. With her go the record player, the records and a few kitchen appliances. And the Marimekko fabrics and Swimming for everyone. The biggest loss, for me, are the few English-language words our stepmother had taught me, but whose play in a sentence will now remain obscure, as ‘mummy’ is already sitting in the car. It is unlikely she will ever come back to explain to me the correct use of the word please. No way. No. Our stepmother nods to the driver, the driver starts his Bedford. The car sets off toward the water tower and the city. The barracks is one stepmother the poorer.

One goes, another comes. This is a procession, after all. How is a stepmother chosen? What qualifications must they have? Is it the barracks that chooses them, or the city? How do we know that Dad is on the lookout for a wife again? This is easy to answer. We know it when Dad comes into our bedroom without any official business, just comes to visit, apparently. Tells a couple of tame jokes and executes a clumsy pirouette or two. Is unnaturally soft. The intention isn’t to woo us, but some woman who is no doubt already waiting by the railway bridge….

The Mormoness comes and stays for a while. A sweet person. She tries to drawthe family toward the dancing congregation of the Mormons, the Oulu Mormons. Since we have heard that there’s dancing after the Sunday service, we are prepared to convert. We children, at least. Dad wants more guarantees of eternal life. We see photographs of the biggest congregations of the biggest Mormon churches of the state of Ohio, churches, which, at the single touch of a button, become dance halls. Oh those immoderate hoop skirts. How many children fit into their hems! The glowing, synthetic colours of the dance skirts in the slightly retouched photographs beckon us across the ocean. If you’re not willing, I shall use my Power!

I lose myself in the fitted carpets of the Salt Lake City churches, deeper than a woman’s heel, until I am awakened to reality. Dad and the Mormoness are running, hand-in-hand, over me. I see both of them from below, the crotch of his military trousers and her modest clothes, which waft over me. They seem to be holding hands, but their grip is weak. Why can’t Dad decide? Can’t the Oulu mormoness dance after all? She’s quite plump, for a Mormon. She’d get into a sweat. It looked to me as if there were only wasp waists in the Mormon church’s leaflets.

I immediately begin to project a Mormon future for myself. I take many wives. My teeth are like a plump row of pearls. I eat cornflakes. I don’t wear a cowboy hat or boots. I am more stylish. I replace the rosette and tie with the leather braid imitated by the Boy Scouts, which is threaded under the collar and tightened in a manly way in a knot matching the rest of the outfit. The metal tips of the braid swing carelessly against the collar. My new name is Andrew White. I am a popular Mormon artist. My subjects the meeting of Jesus and the Indians, the conversion of the Speaking Drum and christening. I cultivate a visible holiness in all things. My truck is covered with wood veneer. Heaven blesses it all. Before I manage to acquire a Polygamy Mobile Home, the stepmother candidate, for one reason or another, gives up and disappears. Perhaps her toes didn’t like the narrow dancing shoes, shoes for Dad, Dad got the boot and became a free-thinker once more.

The Robin, that wheedler, flutters into the barracks again. Not really in the business of moving in, but just for fun. Her perm has burnt her hair. Dad, however, blushes with enthusiasm, as if he had won his beloved singer Militza Korjus in a raffle. And what about us? We’re just in the way of their duet. How far into the background can you push a child without making it part of the scenery? All these stories are repetitions of the well-known folk tale in which an empress becomes a shepherdess. Nothing comes of it, of course. The empress cannot tell the difference between children and goats. Whips the children to force them to eat grass and dresses the goats in their Sunday best to go to church. The children almost die of colic and the goats eat all the hymn-books! Nothing comes of it, but neither can the empress be sacked. The same with us. Whenever anyone seems to be in the offing, and at the Boys’ Home we are preparing the wedding with all our might and main, something that offends the candidate’s values happens. It turns out that the oldest of the flock is at the level of a two-year-old turnip. It turns out that the second-oldest is already a hooligan, and probably already drinking some kind of children’s vodka. The third does his number twos in his pants on weekdays and Sundays. Only the youngest is anything near something you would want to have on your lap. At least for a moment, for a photograph.

From modernism and Mormonism we move on, with the help of heaters and coolers, to a subsequent period or a backward state, or whatever one might call a state of being in which everything one has learnt evaporates. The last stepmother represents a return to the source, not in a primitive sense but with reference to sweet buns, gravy and revivalism.

All periods flourish in her projects. Head and shoulders Anglo-Irish rural rococo, and laugh ringing. Middle torso Rubens dressed in the jacket of Calvinism. Feet spotted with corns and plasters. And a particular love of revivalism. Keeping company with the Lord. All activity centres on organising garden gatherings. That’s certainly hard work, as we don’t really have a garden, or it is shared with everyone else. Well, chairs are found somewhere. At these gatherings, people sit still until their arses are numb. Pouring rain is disregarded and umbrellas are not opened on any account. Rain comes from heaven, after all. The tea-cosy becomes shapeless in the rain and is really no longer the fine coat of which the religious brother so enthusiastically speaks. The long baroque bun is drenched during the speech and is transformed, by some miracle, into rubber. It makes brilliant modeling clay for me. But I should hide the obscenities which I make out of the wet bun. I don’t hide them; instead, I hold my creations on the palm of my hand and let the rain rinse them away. The congregation finds my gesture sublime. The child is timeless, they say.

You would think that, after Iittala’s clear glass and Kaj Franck, there would be no return to pot-bellied Czech cut-price porcelain. You would think that children who had grown accustomed to lemon-squeezers and Maija Isola’s heroic Marimekko textile patterns would never again adopt a stepmother who brought with her a dowry of a shabby table runner that covered the entire radio and plaited buns. But this is not, after all, the first time humankind has been forced to repeat a class. The plastic table-cloth returns to its former place. Modern godlessness is replaced with energetic gatherings.

During the course of one childhood one can live through great historical transitions. Live through the different Egyptian periods at home, see the shift from monotheism to pantheism and how the priestly caste regains power. And Dad his last wife.

For the last time Pastor Paakinaho raises his snuffling jackdaw voice:

‘In the Letter of Paul to the Corinthians we read: it bears all, it suffers all.’

Instead of looking at those who are to be wed, the couple-maker directs an accusatory glance at us all. But is it our fault that his previous seam didn’t hold? We just shrug our shoulders. Is it our fault that Dad has gone down with satyriasis? Our fault that the parade of wives and wife-candidates is a long one?

Translated by Hildi Hawkins

Tags:

No comments for this entry yet

Leave a comment