Late that evening in Hilma’s room he caught the girl’s attention by his eager caresses and his silence. ‘What’s wrong?’ Hilma asked. The man merely looked straight ahead, and his chin trembled. ‘Tell me what it is, it will be easier,’ the girl said again. ‘Father’s so ill now.’ These were Kustaa’s words, and the girl could think of no reply to them except to fall silent and remain immersed in desolate thoughts. Kustaa put his head on the girl’s breast like a weary child leaning against his mother. There he liked to remain, in the place where a child’s repose and a man’s oblivion are at their most profound.
The master’s room was in Salmelus Manor, and Hilma’s was in the cottage. They marked the limits of Kustaa’s life, and now he moved between them with a vague and desolate sense of expectancy. When he arrived at the one, he forgot that the other existed. At home he sometimes noticed that he missed his deceased mother. Then a gentle sadness weighed down the mind of the man into the safe condition of childhood.
Thus the fine days of the Indian summer moved towards their end. The air grew misty, and fires were lit in the drying barns. One morning the master of Salmelus was seen going to one of the barns as usual. He took some logs of firewood from the pile, threw them in at the barn door, took a deep breath and went inside himself. When Martta, his sister, saw Vihtori going into the barn, she continued to stare, in spite of herself. The morning was grey and raw; it was one of those chance moments in life when an energetic but elderly person may suddenly detect with a start the dreadful weight of time. So it was with Martta, and she realized that she had been staring at the barn for a long time, with wide-open eyes. But no smoke was rising from the chimney, nor had Vihtori come out again. There was not a sound or a stirring in the whole of the house. Martta got up and looked around her, the time on the clock seemed oddly late. Where was everyone?
She went outside and stood on the kitchen steps. The open doorway of the barn gazed at her, black and immovable, as though it were trying to prolong this strange moment in time. What in the world? It was silly to go into the barn, but she did so anyway. ‘I came to see what was keeping you here,’ she planned to tell Vihtori. Nothing could be heard from the barn, even close to. And when she peeped through the doorway, she saw Vihtori, her brother, lying on his back on the floor, his arms stiff at his sides.
translated from Finnish by David McDuff
Silja - 2
Silja - 3
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Silja - 5
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