Decent people

30 December 1998 | Fiction, Prose

The former newspaper reporter Jari Tervo (born 1959), now a successful novelist and quiz-show celebrity, writes about the seamier side of life. His subjects are mostly petty criminals and losers, but his crisp language is always a winner. And he can find a story even in a pork chop…. A short story from Taksirengin rakkaus (‘The love of the taxi-driver’, WSOY, 1998). Introduction by Suvi Ahola

The shopkeeper ran after the thief and caught him. The people in the parking lot of the S-Market made a fuss. The thief took fright when he found himself grasped by the scruff of the neck by a man the size of a baseball player. The shopkeeper removed the thief’s stomach. It turned out to be a packet of pork chops. They were not on special offer.

The thief stammered. The shopkeeper just had time to think that was the worst thing after snivelling when the thief started to snivel. The shopkeeper began to feel infuriatingly sorry for the thief’s arm, which was in a sling. Even his clothes were ugly. He let the thief go with a kick. I’m too good to be a shopkeeper, the shopkeeper thought delightedly, thanked the onlookers for their applause and put the packet of chops back on the shelf, where it was bought by a housewife.

The housewife was visited by her mother. There was a thick strip of fat on the chops. The housewife did not like it, but her mother did, a great deal. The housewife fried all the chops and only then remembered her mother’s boyfriend’s manners. The pig had lived a colourful life. The boyfriend had the nerve to take some more. He ate only a mouthful of his second chop. The housewife wrapped the half-eaten chop in aluminium foil because her mother asked her to. The housewife thought her mother’s boyfriend sly and young. He tried to deceive her by bringing flowers.

In the bus the mother sank into a bad mood because the chiropodist was wearing a skirt that was indecent. The mother suspected that her boyfriend was only going out with her because of her money. The chop smelled. The boyfriend pressed the mother’s head against his shoulder. He stroked the mother’s hair and praised her shoes and her personality. Both were marvellous. At the same time he looked at the chiropodist’s thighs. In winter thighs were rare. As they got off the bus, the mother took the boyfriend by the hand. And so the chop was forgotten. The boyfriend had to eat tinned asparagus for supper. The chiropodist picked up the chop at the end-stop. The driver came up to her. The chiropodist had to give it to the driver. Someone forgot this, she said. The driver said he would pass it on. Who to, snapped the chiropodist. The official channels, the driver said, remembering the phrase from the news. Your ears are burning, said the chiropodist.

The driver’s shift ended. In the locker-room he changed into his civvies. The chop was left behind in his uniform jacket pocket, where it was found by the cleaner. She put the chop in her handbag. She planned to heat it up in the microwave, season it strongly with soya and garlic. After that, her fat and unfaithful husband would not be able to taste the washing soda. Her husband would roll around on the partly fitted carpet of their two-roomed apartment in great pain. Outside their apartment block the cleaner fumbled for her keys. Out of her bag she pulled the chop, which was grabbed by a high-leaping Finnish spitz.

It bit through the foil to the chop and ran away from the screaming old bag. The still-warm fat stimulated its appetite. It sprinted through the cheap part of the suburb to the area where the privately owned houses were. It was born to wander. It had never settled down. In a peaceful garden it stopped and began to turn the chop packet over with its muzzle. When it got it open, the chop was snatched away. It was taken by a German shepherd dog, Lauri. It was on a leash, but was just able to steal the chop. The spitz howled a little at its loss, but then ran away.

Lauri devoured the chop. It growled for good measure, to eliminate any possible uncertainty about who the chop belonged to. When the chop was finished, Lauri was disappointed. It was a big eater, and even fell asleep in shows. Nothing was enough for it. It put its muzzle on its paws and stared at the bone, licking it from time to time. It looked melancholy. It wanted to be a martyr. In this state it was seen by a man who almost walked by. Tender-hearted, he went to ask the dog if it had run out of food. Lauri whimpered. The man took a packet of frankfurters from his carrying strap, ripped it open and gave the dog five of them.

The shopkeeper looked out of his living-room window, listened to Vivaldi’s spring and saw, in the frosty darkness, the figure of a man feeding frankfurters to his dog, lit by the garage light. That afternoon the unit director had refused him an extra loan. The rage that had caused softened to an ache.

There are still decent people in the world, the shopkeeper exclaimed aloud. His wife did not comment.

Translated by Hildi Hawkins


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