Man’s Last Song Chapter 2-3: isä’s ASHES
Alone in a frenziedly beeping airport, embroiled in foreign noises that droned without meaning, not even a rhythm, Laina felt dizzy.
Why am I doing this? she asked herself, travelling so far away from her cosy apartment, the comfort of familiarity, from Heikki, to be stuck in the sticky time-zone of this clamorous terminal.
All for Sari, she thinks.
Her daughter was trapped by love at the end of the planet, in a dot of a place without dark rye bread. She had never been anywhere that didn’t have some form of ruisleipä. She couldn’t imagine. Help; her girl evidently needed help although she had no idea what on. And if Sari knew of her secretly helpful intentions . . . Alas.
Her baby girl was turning twenty-five in a few months, stolen by time, intoxicated with love, she was afraid. Afraid of what? Wasn’t that what she once searched? Why then was she worried? And Sari was twenty-five.
So parlous: Still young, but threatened by age; still hopeful, but desperately tired. One day, it feels the exciting beginning of a new chapter. Next day, it feels the hasty ending of an unfinished book. What a critical turning point. So brutal. Better be there for her one and only daughter, her dearest person in this world, just in case.
When Laina turned twenty-five, life was yet to begin. Quarter of a century had slipped by. Not much had happened. What was that something big she had been preparing for, while the body and spirit quietly started to wilt? A young and zestful girl woke up one morning to discover the shadow of an old woman in the mirror. Hidden; but she saw it. The realisation was abrupt, nearly shocking, and cruel. At twenty-five, she was only young in the eyes of those who didn’t matter. When exactly does middle-age start? The little girl lost grip of her dream.
Dream? What dream?
She couldn’t say. Did she have one? Most certainly yes. It was here a moment ago, yet . . . With each passing day, she became less sure that she’d ever had one. Her dreams had vanished like the soap bubbles her mother blew at her when she was little. So many, each with a rainbow on its skin. But she had never caught one. Blip. They never existed. She giggled.
What good is a young woman without dreams? Her surefooted steps to become somebody, achieve something or, perhaps, something else, never existed. Intoxicating love never existed. In their place loomed an uncompromising urgency. Hanging emptily.
How did I live in a vacuum for so long without the smallest alarm? She was mortified. It was about time. Yes.
She married Sari’s father the following year.
They grew up in the same neighbourhood. He had been in love ever since she could walk, and himself only a few years older. Evidently an infatuation carried over from a previous life. With drained blue eyes, he watched her drift in and out of his life over the years like the tides, unstoppable both ways, eroding his fragile heart.
He had been her storm shelter. On a nice day, she would set sail and disappear beyond the horizon, frolicking into the bright blue sky cheerfully without a compass or destination. When it turned dark and windy, she’d rush back whimpering. He’d be there - still there - staring at the horizon, waiting. It’s Ok. Here, take the towel, dry yourself; have some warm coffee. She knew she could count on that much in life.
He was a book-keeper with the local supermarket. Steady, loyal and honest. Sensitive to others, everything, especially her. Never opinionated when he opened his mouth on rare occasions. Put all his attributes on a piece of paper, and you have a perfectly nice guy. “Too nice,” she’d said to her girlfriends. She was a salesgirl at the music store, envisaging a career in some kind of art. “A good match,” their friends said, but never elaborated why.
His reticence deepened after they married. A year later, just after Sari was born, he came down with postnatal depression in her stead. His love and hurt could not escape through words. Only vodka could release them through tears. The blue in his eyes started to run, and became more pale. He drank more and cried louder.
The first Saturday after Sari’s fifth birthday was a beautiful and crispy early autumn day. The weather wasn’t to blame. He spent the afternoon drinking at home, weeping on and off, and condemning himself for that. The kitchen was saturated with sad vibes and the fume of alcohol. After putting Sari to bed, Laina leaned over his shoulders and whispered: “Pathetic” before going to bed, putting her head between pillows. He woke her up early next morning with a severe fit of cough, and died in the hospital fifteen hours later. The doctor said it was a particularly spontaneous and fatal strain of pneumonia.
Even back then, it was pneumonia.
Laina decided to scatter her husband’s pulverised remains at the lake where his parents’ cottage was. “That’s what he’d have wanted. I know. I was his wife,” she wrote in his Facebook memorial.
It was cold and sunny. The wind was up. She took Sari out to the middle of the lake in the paddle boat. Their faces were numbed by the slashing wind. The wooden box provided by the crematorium sat heavily on her lap, giving the feeling of stability and contentment. She emptied the ashes into the wind without ceremony. Most of the sand-like remnants of the man who loved her under any circumstances got blown away in a hurry. She thought it ironic that after a lifetime of waiting and dithering, his last days had been hasty in every respect. A few heavier particles, probably dental fillings, made silent and negligible splashes.
On the drive up, she had visualised his final ripples waning softly in his beloved lake, gently nudging up to her. It was to be her poetic farewell to his unconditional love, unmitigated melancholy, and pathetic sadness. Instead, everything rushed off with the wind, and denied her the last opportunity to have one romantic moment in their deceased marriage posthumously.
“Say good-bye to your father,” she turned to her daughter, almost commanding.
Sari was sitting beside her, stiffened by the lifejacket, frozen. She knew what this was all about, yet didn’t quite know what this was all about.
“Moi moi isä,” she complied.
Laina flung the empty box off. It spun like a rectangular frisbee, landed with a crash.
“Äiti, can we go now? I’m cold.”
Laina wept for the first time in her marriage. He had monopolised crying. Now that he’s gone - flung off - she can again cry.
The next morning, they went down to the beach before heading home. Sari spotted the box in a patch of bulrushes. It’d been washed ashore last night. Laina threw it back out as hard as she could, propelled by an unreasonable annoyance with Sari for having noticed the damn thing.
The wind had died down earlier. A light mist hovered above the still lake. The box made a crispy splash, shattering the morning silence. Startled gulls appeared out of nowhere, screeching like demons rejoicing their escape from hell, causing a rare moment of excitement in the tranquil northern air. The box, as if stunned by the violent rejection, undulated dazedly where it landed.
“Let’s go!” She grabbed Sari’s hand and started flouncing back to the car. Sari, half pulled along, turned to take another look at the box. Concentric ripples, gleaming softly in the lazy autumn light, rushed belatedly towards an empty beach.
Posted 23 Nov 2010 on Guo Du Blog