Choosing a play

Issue 3/1981 | Archives online, Fiction, Prose

A short story from Leiri (‘The camp’). Introduction by Vesa Karonen

The local amateurs were having their theatre club meeting on a Friday evening in the main part of the parish hall. It was late August, the light was beginning to fade and no one had remembered to put the lights on. First the stage grew dark, then the floor, then the ceiling. The light lingered on the inside wall for the longest. There were creaks and groans from the rooms at the back and from the attic. The caretaker had been moving around in there about three in the afternoon, and his traces lingered, as they do in old buildings.

“Something of that sort but short, and it’s got to be bloody funny,” said the chairman, a carpenter called Ranta.

In the store cupboard there were 108 old scripts. Tammilehto, the secretary, hauled out about 30 scripts onto the table. His job was running a kiosk down the road.

“Nothing out of date,” said Ranta.

“There’s got to be a bit of love in it, I say,” said Mrs Ranta.

She had a taxi-driver’s cap on her head and was wearing a man’s grey summer jacket, a white shirt and a blue tie. Her car could be seen from the window. It was in the yard. She always parked her car so it could be seen from inside.

“Love’s out of date,” said Mr Ranta.

“Oh, is it,” said Mrs Ranta.

So far there hadn’t been a word from Mr Virta. He was new. He worked for a big country house as a sort of factotum and patrolled about with his pockets full of nuts and bolts, his hands full of spanners. He repaired the farm machines. When they worked, he drove them.

“I know a proper good one that no one’s ever put on before,” he suddenly announced.

“And why not?” asked Mrs Ranta.

“Well, it’s a bit racy. You see, there’s this fellow, and he’s in the habit of going round to see a woman when her husband’s out. One day, the husband comes home a bit early. Her fancy man hops off into the clothes-cupboard. The wife’s so scared she gets straight out of the house – says she’s going to fetch some rennet. So there’s the fancy man in the cupboard and the husband in the house. The husband knows the fellow, so the fellow begins to think what he can do so the husband won’t jump to who he is. Well, so he dresses himself up in the wife’s clothes and drops his own on the cupboard floor. The wife is a hefty one, she’s got such big clothes they’re quite big enough – I mean for the fellow – of course they were big enough for her, they were her clothes. Up on the shelf he spots a wig so he puts it on and fluffs it up a bit. The wife’s handbag is there as well and he uses what he finds in it to paint up his face. He even paints his eyebrows red with her lipstick. Then he puts so much powder on himself his red face won’t show, so he thinks.

Well, the husband’s taking his ease in an armchair and enjoying the peace and quiet. The fancy man thinks to himself he might even have dropped off, so he starts to tiptoe out of the cupboard ever so cautious-like. It’s only then he realises he doesn’t make much of a woman – he’s got no bosom. So he shoves his fists through the big armholes, under the dress, like this, so they stick out like breasts.

“Beg pardon, I think I must have come through the wrong door,” says the fancy man. “Is there someone here called … ” he’s so terrified he can’t think of any other name so he calls the wife by her real name. “I was supposed to fetch some rennet from her.” He’s in such a tizwoz he can’t cook up any excuses of his own. The husband’s so taken aback, seeing someone he doesn’t know come out of the clothes-cupboard, he just takes the excuse for granted. “She only went out just now to fetch it – where from I don’t know,” he says. “Why don’t you take a seat.” The wife meantime is just inside the woods, peeping out from behind a tree, waiting to see if one of the two will come out.

It’s getting so dark the husband isn’t able to see very much. All he thinks to himself is: that’s not a bad looking woman over there. “Well, it looks as though I’ve really got to be going,” says the stranger.

“Don’t go yet a while,” says the husband, putting his hand sort of reassuring-like on the stranger’s knee.

Then the door flies open. The wife bursts in.

“Well! The very moment I turn my back … “she begins to yell.

She chases the fancy man out of the house and then begins to let her husband have it good and proper. Then she flings open the window, pulls the fancy man’s clothes out of the cupboard and chucks them through the window, in a big heap.

“Look! There are your clothes – now you can go the same way,” she bawls at her husband.

“The husband’s doing everything he can to calm the wife down so he hasn’t got time to think about anything else. And so meanwhile, outside, the lover’s pulling his own clothes on and then he slopes off.”

“Yep, that’ll do nicely for us,” said Ranta.

“Just right,” said Tammilehto. “It’s great, a man in women’s clothes – all we have to do now is think up another bit where the woman’s wearing men’s clothes too and it’ll be bang-on. We’ll have them rolling in the aisles.”

“What’s funny about that – a woman putting on some men’s clothes?” asked Mrs Ranta.

Tammilehto took a look at her coat and shirt and tie.

“Er, nothing.”

“It’s vulgar and, besides, there’s nothing about love in it,” said Mrs Ranta, lighting up a cigarillo.

“Perhaps them two was in love,” ventured Mr Ranta.

Tammilehto got the rest of the scripts out of the cupboard and began to deal them out like cards. Each person got 27 plays.

Translated by Mary Lomas and Herbert Lomas

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