A Wedding Dance

Issue 1/1977 | Archives online, Fiction, Prose

An extract from the novel Kivenpyörittäjän kylä (‘The stoneroller’s village’). Introduction by Hannes Sihvo

Pölönen got up and went over to his accordion, which he had dumped beside the juke-box. He walked with his stocky trunk thrust forward, his hands dangling; the wallet he had crammed into his hip-pocket, constrained to follow the curve of his fat buttock, made an unsightly bulge suggestive of some kind of excrescence. With a vigorous shoulder movement he hoisted the instrument into position. At once the neck of the bottle in his inside pocket came into view, emitting spurts of foam, and it was some time before he noticed it and managed to nudge it back so that it would lean the other way. Scarlet in the face and streaming with sweat, glaring angrily and doing his utmost to avoid looking in the direction of the assembled company, Pölönen drew some air into the bellows and tried out various notes and chords, fingering the keyboard with an airy nonchalance intended to suggest that he was a complete master of his instrument. All eyes were turned upon this podgy, fair-haired man, with the suit that was far too tight across the shoulders and under the armpits, the very small and rather crumpled tie, the tapering trouser legs with shiny bulges at the knees. The warming-up process continued for what seemed an unconscionably long time, and a certain amount of shuffling and coughing began to be audible; old Nestori Pölönen gazed stiffly down at his shoes, and Saara’s movements, as she busied herself behind the coffee-table, became more and more fidgety.

At length the accordion emitted a sudden squeal, and after a few random snatches of melody and a series of heavily emphasized chords, the well­ known strains of the Wedding Waltz became discernible. Leevi was on the point of standing up, but was seen to hesitate, as though expecting Pölönen to break off again at any moment. Something between a smile and a sneer passed across Pölönen’s face; beads of sweat glistened on his fat red cheeks, and whenever a slip of the fingers elicited a wolf-like howl from the treble or a threatening growl from the bass, he glared angrily at his instrument as though trying to shift the blame. Gradually his playing became more confident; the tune, after various painful modulations, emerged in the right key, and Pölönen’s mouth took on the peculiar slant it always had when he was riding his motor cycle or driving the combine. As the rhythm of the waltz established itself he began to beat time with his foot, which had been crammed into a shoe so narrowly pointed at the toe that the sides had been forced completely out of shape. Saara, as befitted the grand lady of the village, let her cackling laugh sing out confidently; and Nestori, still seated with the older men, looked on with greater composure. Pölönen was leaning over to one side in a peculiar twisted attitude, and appeared uncertain whether to smile or to look serious, whether to look at the audience or at his instrument, or simply to gaze into the middle distance. Even the fact that his playing was now going reasonably well, and most of the notes coming out right, seemed to be causing him embarrassment.

Almost all the people Unelma had ever met had been Jerusalemites, so that everything about them – their appearance, their voices, their manner of speaking – had become completely familiar to her; they seemed more like a single large family whose members happened to live in a number of different places. Even so, as the moment for her wedding dance came nearer, she felt her heart beginning to beat violently. The couples whose weddings she herself had attended had all seemed so much more dignified and grown up, so much more worthy to serve as the focus of a ceremonial occasion, so much easier to associate with the summery nostalgia of the old-fashioned waltz tunes. She knew that most of the villagers were aware of the operation she had undergone, but nevertheless it had hurt when the usual half-joking references to the ‘patter of tiny feet’ and ‘all their troubles being little ones’ had been tactfully omitted by their otherwise sincere and cordial well-wishers. She had seen that Leevi, too, had noticed this, and, deep down inside, she felt ashamed that innocent outsiders should be obliged, on her account, to occupy their minds with thoughts so acutely painful.

Thus when Leevi rose to his feet, bowed, and politely drew back her chair just as if it had been any ordinary village dance, Unelma felt herself go weak at the knees and knew that her cheeks were burning. The candle flames guttered in the draught caused by their movements, as they went down, one on either side of the table, to meet again on the empty dance floor. Unelma, almost reluctantly, allowed herself to be led by Leevi towards the centre, fearful lest at any moment she might trip over the hem of her skirt, or slip on the waxed floor. Leevi walked with his usual deliberate, high-stepping gait, slapping down his heels even more emphatically than usual, as though enjoying the rhythmical click they made as he crossed the floor. The company looked on with kindly smiles or earnestly benevolent expressions. Unelma had realized in advance what this moment would be like, so that in spite of her nervousness she showed no reaction when she saw Arttu’s mocking grin or the contemptuous expression on the face of Inka Rapamäki, whom she disliked anyway. She knew intuitively that most of the villagers wished her well, and this knowledge, helped by a little gust of pride that now swept over her, had gone far towards increasing her self-confidence when a sudden shock brought her up sharply: it was all she could do to prevent herself from bursting into hysterical tears and dashing away in panic. There, at one of the desks, sat their former neighbour Pekka Kattilaniemi, the boy who had gone away to Sweden. What was more, he was spluttering audibly, his shoulders shaking with laughter, his head buried in his hands in a vain effort to hide his encrimsoned face.

Supported by Leevi, she somehow managed to regain control of herself. Leevi had already succeeded in working himself into the proper mood, and had fallen into a sort of trance, in which, as Unelma realized, he was quite oblivious of the outside world. She felt the pressure of his hand at the back of her waist; he took her right hand in his left and held it up vertically so that it was level with their heads. She became conscious of the odd feel of Leevi’s mutilated hand as it pressed her sweating palm; catching his eye at that moment she observed his solemn, earnest expression, and felt those three fingers give her hand a brief squeeze of encouragement. Her sense of pride began to reassert itself. She felt a stab of conscience at having set out for her wedding dance feeling ashamed not only of herself but also, secretly, of the husband to whom she had just been married in the little Lumivaara chapel, and whose responses to the minister’s questions had been given in such a clear and confident voice. From behind her bouquet, she glanced through her veil at Pekka Kattilaniemi, trying to make her features and her deportment reflect a natural dignity which nothing on earth could shake – no, not if a hundred leering ex-neighbours should arrive from Sweden in their fine motor cars to mock her on her wedding day.

Translated by David Barrett

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