The summer of 1965

Issue 2/1995 | Archives online, Fiction, Prose

From Underbara kvinnor vid vatten (‘Wonderful Women by the Sea’, Söderströms, 1994; Finnish translation lhanat naiset rannalla, Otava, 1995). Introduction by Michel Ekman

The summer of 1965; this summer people go waterskiing. They go waterskiing behind the Lindberghs’ shining mahogany sportsboat, and from midsummer onwards they go water-skiing behind Gabbe’s outboard motorboat, an Evinrude bought second-hand from Robin Lindbergh. Now Bella and Rosa are skiing: Tupsu Lindbergh’s face is covered in freckles if you look at her close to, and it’s not particularly becoming, her fair hair is super-peroxided and she is as thin as a skeleton and everyone knows that it’s because she is so thin and ugly and not because she has a cold that she says she can’t take part in any watersports. There is something nervous about Tupsu Lindbergh. At Bella’s party at the beginning of the summer Tupsu Lindbergh sits on the white villa’s veranda, on the white villa’s lawn on a camping chair, on the white villa’s beach while Bella and Rosa go waterskiing and talk about Tupperware. Not Tupperware all the time, but Tupperware is the collective description.

Now Rosa explains to Bella that Tupsu Lindbergh is just made for Tupperware. The dream of the perfect housewife.

‘The dream of the perfect housewife,’ says Rosa. It’s one of the first things she has said this summer. ‘Tupperware, Bella. There’s a big market in it. But who cares, Bella? Because it’s boring. Boring. Boring. Boring.’ And she turns over on her stomach and dozes off in the sun. And when she wakes up a few minutes later and discovers Bella again as if for the first time, she smiles in recognition and says loudly and clearly:

‘I want something else, Bella,’ says Rosa Angel, as the trees rustle. ‘I want a different life.’

So Rosa is back. But she doesn’t come and fetch you out to the fine day as she did two years earlier. She doesn’t stand smilingly and expectantly in the doorway while you eat your eternal breakfast. No, you must spoon down your own yoghourt and then go to the beach by yourself and pick her up there. She lies on the beach rock in white bathrobe and pink bikini and sunglasses. What can be seen of her body is tensed, patined, dark skin, but mostly at the beginning of the summer, for it is predominantly last year’s suntan that still remains. And this year the skin will grow pale, for it is going to start raining. It is going to rain and rain and rain, for a large part of June, July and August. And the suntan, Bella’s, Rosa’s, is going to gently wear away instead of deepen.

So Rosa is asleep in the sun when you come down, and what catches your eye is the way she is lying. On her side right on top of the rock without a beach blanket under her. She has wrapped herself neatly in her bathrobe, drawn her knees up to her stomach, sort of in the astronaut position as it was called two years ago when you were small and played spaceships. But a capsized astronaut, kind of tipped over on his side. Very early in June the astronaut Edward White walked in space. What did Ed White think about as he floated free in space – until his enthusiasm grew so strong that he didn’t think of anything at all? If Rosa were an astronaut in space and not a beachgirl firmly fixed to the rock, would Thomas be able to reply of her that she was thinking, where is my spaceship? Has it left without me?

And although Rosa has a bathing suit and bathrobe on she looks sort of naked.

But when you come down Rosa always wakes up after a bit and sits up wide awake.

Looks around her, the hair tousled above her head, catches sight of Thomas and starts talking English.

‘Rosa’s back again,’ she says and laughs. And lies down, stretches out on the rock and falls asleep again.

With Thomas’s help Bella carefully pokes an end of her blanket under Rosa. Rosa moves in her sleep and her head is suddenly in Bella’s lap who has also settled down on the rock with all her beach things. And in that position they remain, the Beachgirls, Bella and Rosa, until a few minutes later the miraculous happens. The Lindberghs’ shining mahogany sportsboat comes hissing across the bay. But it isn’t steering towards the Johanssons’ and Gabbe’s and Rosa’s shared pontoon, neither does it tum suddenly and veer off into the channel and vanish there. No, it continues straight forward, towards Bella on the rock beside the white villa’s beach, towards the white villa’s short jetty where it has never stopped before. Bella is the only person who sees it, gets a bit nervous, what is she to say, what is she to do? She tries to wake Rosa up. But Rosa is fast asleep and pays no attention. And then Bella has to run down to the jetty herself and exchange small-talk with Robin and Tupsu completely off her own bat in order to prevent them seeing that Mrs Gabriel Angel is lying, dead drunk, on the rock. But when the Lindberghs tum back, Bella wakes Rosa with a smack on the cheek and says that there is a party at the white villa on Saturday and that the Lindberghs are also invited, as they happened to be passing while Rosa was asleep.

‘I want to have fun,’ says Bella. ‘I want something to happen now.’

And that is, strictly speaking, the first thing Bella has said to Rosa this summer.

But Rosa looks at Bella with wide-open eyes. Suddenly it as though she has remembered something else, all the things that felt unreal last summer, that she was in some way afraid of, so afraid that she had to dress in blue-and-white sailing clothes every day and leave the summer paradise and go out on the refreshing sea with Tupsu Lindbergh.

Yes. She is in space now.

But being in space. That is also, in part, a wonderful, weightless feeling.

And she runs out into the water and swims far out and ducks her head under the water several times.

‘Now I want to have a clear head,’ she shouts to Bella, who is still on the beach. ‘More awake than ever before in all my life. Is there any coffee in your thermos?’


But the sun goes behind the clouds and it starts to rain and Rosa and Bella have to take their coffee indoors, up to Bella’s studio. And they gather their things into baskets and bags and they run along the avenue to the white villa and up the attic staircase and close the door behind them. In Bella’s studio they end up, Bella and Rosa. And there they stay, for days, weeks, hours and minutes. Behind a closed door it is not forbidden to open but is still in some way impassable, a boundary.

Thomas doesn’t know if he thinks it is a good or a bad thing. He sits about in the attic alcove on the other side of the wall. Some days, not always. Sometimes when he is in the attic alcove he looks up and discovers someone who has come in without him hearing the footsteps. Sometimes it is Erkki Johansson, sometimes someone else. Someone who doesn’t exist but acquires a name: Viviann. Sometimes Renée. But usually not.


There, up in Bella’s studio, starts the song that is everywhere this summer. A tune almost without words, to be hummed. Which spreads and billows out over the summer paradise.

Bella Rosa, Bella Rosa, it goes.


‘I’m Bond, James Bond,’ Gabbe shouts to everyone all this year. All the women who come his way are his BOND-brides. ‘Who is that gorgeous girl?‘ Gabbe shouts from the highest point on the rock when he sees Maj Johansson coming out of the Johanssons’ sauna and go out on to the jetty in a blue-striped monokini that only comes up to her navel.

A monokini; that’s nothing nowadays. Everyone goes swimming in a monokini. In the newspaper there was even an article that said that a German scientist, basing his findings on his own research at a pilot beach in Baden-Baden, claims that women ought, for medical reasons alone, to sunbathe naked.

Bella and Rosa don’t undress any more. Precisely because everyone else undresses they wear skirts and bras. Or one-piece bathing suits.

‘Bella-Rosa, Bella-Rosa,’ Gabbe drums on the arm of his chair up there on his rock, on the highest point where one has a view of the whole summer paradise. He has taken his private easy chair up there. The chair is called the Bond-chair, since Gabbe is James Bond this year.

‘Bella-Rosa, Bella-Rosa,’ Gabbe hums. ‘One of them is a steak with good red wine, Thomas. The steak and the red wine.’

‘The other flutters like a butterfly.’

‘I have many weaknesses, Thomas.’

‘One of my weaknesses is good food.’

‘A boeuf saignant and a full-bodied wine. It doesn’t need to be vintage wine.’

‘Though I also like butterflies, Thomas. Butterflies in my stomach. Like on a roller-coaster. The funfair, Thomas. You like riding the roller-coaster, don’t you?’

Thomas nods. He has to admit that he, like any another child, has no objection to riding the roller-coaster.


Renée goes yacht-racing at the yachting club. At first she is called ‘the calm sea whizzer’ because she is a girl who turns up from nowhere and starts winning or placing herself among the leaders in her dinghy class, and people are inclined to think that her successes are a fluke that can be explained by certain peculiarities in the boat’s hull and by the fact that there is so little wind at the beginning of the summer. Though after that there is suddenly something approaching a gale and a lot of boats drop out or capsize or go aground and then she wins just as much because of that. And with an ease and nonchalance that tease the daylights out of her rivals.

Långben is becoming more and more Renée’s boat. Thomas doesn’t mind, though

Kajus says several times that Thomas ought to stick up for himself and assert his rights. Rights are all very well; Thomas’s attitude to sailing is quite a different one. Though there’s no point in even trying to explain to Kajus or Gabbe or even Bella, they wouldn’t understand. Bella has never even been to sea, Gabbe and Kajus just chat or read books and then go around dispensing good advice in high-flown phrases.

Thomas knows now, this summer for the first time he knows for certain that it is possible to have a different attitude. During the autumn and the winter, Thomas has been active as a member of the BalooBaloo scout troop, though he would rather belong to the other troop which is called ShereKaan, because its name is better. He has been on the autumn sailing trip and stood the middle watch with vice corps leader Buster Kronlund on the first night and Buster Kronlund was pleased and said ‘perfect course’. He has taken care of five cubs below deck the following night when Dennis Kronlund, Buster’s brother and troop leader of ShereKaan, stood middle watch and made a mistake in the navigation and steered straight into a beacon and it took several minutes of pushing and prising in the raw, cold autumn air before Thomas realised it had not been his fault.

Thomas doesn’t go to the yachting pavilion with the others to cheer on Renée from the shore or from an accompanying boat. He pretends to be, and in a way also is, completely uninterested in Renée’s competition successes. He puts on his diving mask and frog-feet, sticks the snorkel in his mouth, goes out into the water and vanishes into the silent world. Intermittently they have a diving club this summer, the bay’s underwater research association; Erkki Johansson, Thomas and Renée. All three of them have alter ego-identities. Erkki is Jacques Cousteau, who wrote the book that Thomas has read, Renée is called Tailliez, but because it’s so hard to pronounce you just say ‘Renée’, and Thomas is Frédéric Dumas – Didi, the person who best and most completely personifies the association’s motto, which is to give one’s life entirely to the research of life in the silent world. That involves among other things not having any earthly ties that are stronger than one’s tie to the silent world. As distinct, for example, from Jacques Cousteau who sometimes has to take his whole family under the water with him (‘The author with his wife and children on his customary Sunday underwater outing at his home in Sanary-sur-Mer’: in the photo, taken with an underwater camera, three pale, jelly-like creatures are visible: two large, one smaller in the middle, and they hold hands as they sink down into the green depths).


‘Dumas catching a stingray at a depth of 36 metres off the island of Porquerolle.’

Tailliez trying to catch a sea perch with a knife. It is raising its dorsal fins in defence.’

‘Here Frédéric Dumas is discovering that a sea perch can yawn so violently that its mouth becomes as large as its body’s circumference.’

‘An irritated squid that doesn’t want to dance with Dumas runs away, releasing a cloud of ink.’

‘Dumas tickling a pei-qua, the lumpsucker of the Mediterranean, on the stomach.’

‘On a remote beach in French West Africa Dumas and Tailliez find a colony of monk-seals. This species of seal was thought to have died out in the 1690s. Here Dumas and Tailliez are crawling up the shore and introducing themselves to the seals.’

Thomas tries to be obsessed by the life of the green world. He dives under the surface of the water. Without the face mask he can see mud and with the face mask slightly clearer mud formations and seaweed on the bottom. It is both beautiful and fascinating. But it’s no good, he is the first to start to feel cold. Erkki Johansson is able to stay in the water longest. As long as he likes, to be more precise.


The summer of 1965, what else?

Thomas finds a knife in Ruti Forest. It is suddenly lying there shining in front of him under some ferns. Long-bladed, not at all rusty. Who can have lost it? Who would go round Ruti Forest with a knife? Later it turns out that the knife’s presence in the forest has a natural explanation. Johan Wikblad was out gathering fresh twigs of greenery to put in a steel vase that Ann-Christine found at an auction. Thomas hides the knife inside his sweater.  He takes it to the attic alcove, puts it under a plank in the floor. He doesn’t say anything when a little later Johan Wikblad comes asking if anyone has seen his precious new puukko-knife. He doesn’t know why. The knife just stays there in the attic alcove. Until some time later it vanishes. Who has taken it? It is not hard to guess.


And the Johanssons go on a long journey.

‘Now it’s the turn of the Johansson family,’ says May Johansson, ‘to go out and take at the world.’

‘Mä en lähe täältä mihinkään mun hullun mutsin ja faijan kanssa (I’m not going anywhere with my crazy mum and dad),’ says Maggi to Nina in the Johanssons’ sauna. Maggi and Nina are talking Finnish to each other this summer.


And Kajus’s radio stops working. In the middle of the weather report.

But Isabella in the sun just before it goes behind the clouds. One morning there is a party in the white villa. She has come out on to the veranda stairs, in her yellow dress,

laughing in her pink summer lipstick, smelling of sunoil and scent, Blue Grass, for although she switched brands long ago, for Kajus Blue Grass is the collective description for all the brands of scent that Bella sprays herself with, ‘it’s just like her, Thomas, sort of topsy-turvy, for grass is green and not blue but if Bella says that grass is blue then it’s blue,’ and people look at her of course. It is the intention that people should look at her, everyone in the courtyard will look up when she stands there with a tray of rainbow drinks in one hand and slowly, with steps that seem artificially unsteady, makes her way down the stairs so that the tray wobbles and if one had a cine camera to film the filmstar with as she comes down the stairs in the sunshine her laughing face would come nearer and nearer and at last be so near that it would lose its contours and dissolve in the lens. But there is no camera, this is not a film, it’s reality. The last summer in the white villa of 1965, the second summer with Rosa, and she really is Isabella-the-Mermaid now, Thomas’s mother, Rosa’s friend, a good steak with red wine, the steak and the red wine, Jazz-Kajus’s dream like the rest of the time that begins after this summer ends up locked away in a wardrobe in an ordinary city apartment in a suburb to the east of town, and a lot of other things, all sorts of things, Thomas! And she is down there in the courtyard now, walking about among her guests, laughing, completely real, you can touch her, stretching out the tray, saying ALMOST HEAVEN now, and offering it round.

Translated by David McDuff


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