Scenes from a life
Extracts from Muistelmat (‘Memoirs’, Otava, 2004). Introduction by Soila Lehtonen
The shot put circle
Great Grandma knew a lot. She could look over to the neighbor’s yard two kilometers away and told us she could see a broom there leaning against the door. I was practicing the shot-put with the boys by the gable end of the barn. The shot flew three meters. Great Grandma walked past: ‘So what are you boys up to?’ I stared at the ground and said: ‘We don’t know yet.’
The people in the neighboring car
Reeds rustled against the sides of the boat. The car stood in the sun. We drove into town. At the end of the trip, traffic slowed. I sat in the back seat and got a good view of the people in the car next to us. When we started moving again, I knew I would never see them again. After thirty seconds, they were there, right next to us.
The relationship was romantic. We wore more summery clothes than anyone else, watched more artistic movies, ate more exotic foods. I saw myself through the eyes of people passing us as I was walking from the movie theater to the restaurant, wearing only a light jacket in the freezing March wind. After a month, my fiancée found out about our affair. We remained affianced. The next time I met the other woman, I had to introduce myself all over again.
I stood by the window of my former room and watched my father. He was grilling Mother’s Day lunch down there on the lawn. I leaned against the window pane and watched him closely. The smell of frying cutlets wafted in through the transom. It mingled with the scent of dust on the wall-to-wall carpeting. ‘Might as well be gone,’ I heard him say to my mother. I pulled back behind the curtain and tried to hear more. Until I realised what he had said: ‘I think these are well done.’
The tissue box
On the desk between us stood a tissue box. I looked at it while the therapist was talking and wondered how many tears had been shed here. When it was my turn to talk, I stared at the arm rests of the chair, worn by many sweaty palms. Afterwards, in the street, people kept coming toward me looking hurried, as if nothing had changed.
The fake dead
That fall I scrutinised the dead closely. In Westerns they lay in the sand, in cop shows on steel tables, in drama serials in splendid coffins surrounded by grieving relatives. The actor lay there, motionless. I stared at him. I thought about how he had risen out of the coffin, how the team had gone on with their work, people had talked and laughed, moved sets around, brought in things, taken things away. I studied every single motionless trait of the actor’s face and thought that he would nevertheless get up soon, have a cup of coffee, sit by the studio wall pondering his next takes, not remembering his death at all.
Old zip codes
I picked up the biggest pieces by hand. Then I used the vacuum cleaner to pick up the powdered glass. It made a nice rattling sound in the vacuum cleaner tube. I slept on the couch. In the morning I looked at the quiet room. Old zip codes and bits of my former telephone numbers popped into my mind.
The girl’s chest rose and fell, numbers changed on the digital gauge of the oxygen tent. Outside it was winter, men stood next to the hospital door, cigarettes between their lips and phones in their hands. Three months later, in May, I woke up with the girl resting in my armpit. The coffee maker prattled in the kitchen. A lawnmower clattered somewhere in the distance. The world was running, and we were allowed to wake up into it.
Moments with uncle
I heard the story at the Finnair gate in the airport. The man on the row of seats across from me was telling it to his buddies. One warm afternoon he had been walking along the Via Appia. At the end of a long straight stretch there had been an inviting taverna. He had entered. His son, who should have been in Helsinki, stood leaning against the bar and asked him: ‘Quo vadis?’ ‘I was amazed that he knew Latin, and even more amazed that I understood what he was saying,’ the man said. On the plane, I thought about his story. I remembered a book with a red back that I had seen as a child in the country, the eponymous novel, the uncle with whom we would repeat that name and other sayings we would repeat, long drives, the uncle’s old Peugeots, my own first Peugeots, friendship, the loosening of that bond, life twists and turns, and how strained it now felt when we met at family gatherings. On arrival at Helsinki airport I saw the Via Appia man in the crowded arrivals hall. Among all those strangers he walked out through the automatic doors. I followed him with my gaze as long as I could.
I woke up in the middle of the night, feeling ashamed. I got up and went into the kitchen. In the lamp light, actions and words from the day came to mind again. I went back to bed and tried to think about lasting things, facts: pines, floor boards, protozoa. I reached for a pen on the bedside table and wrote a note. In the morning I ate and read the paper and made two long phone calls and stretched out on the bed and thought about the day’s tasks. I noticed a piece of paper on the bedside table. On it, in shaky, large letters it said: PINES, BOARDS, PROTOZOA.
As an adult one may drive the same road for a decade without ever learning it. Of a childhood road, one remembers the sand on the shoulder, the sorrel leaves, the strawberries in the strawberry patch and the seeds on their sides, every single thing.
In that house I spent a lot of time lying on the couch next to the window. Now and again I closed my eyes for long stretches. When I opened them again, things started happening right away: a fly visited the cornice, a bird flew past, clouds came and went.
Translated by Anselm Hollo
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