from Katoamispiste (Vanishing Point) by Joel Haahtela (Otava 2010)
During those days I felt as though I were preparing to commit a crime and therefore had to move with soundless steps, feel my way in the dark, beware of a switch, of a light that could scare it all away. I was entering a place that was no one else’s business, another person’s life, and the most frightening thing was the certainty: that no one could stop me, forbid me, not even she could say anything now. And while the mornings were windy, while the windows rattled and the roar of the city increased, overwhelming other sounds, I had to stop, listen, open the doors of rooms quietly; in case she was really standing there and seeing it all.
Perhaps I was also aware of the crime’s self-regarding aspect, the desire to take possession of something that belonged to another person, to make it a part of myself before anyone else could; like all the robbers of lives before me. Or perhaps calling it a crime was going a bit too far: I was really stealing a life that had already been lived, something that no longer existed.
After my visit to the archives of the Finnish Literature Society I made a few phone calls and found out a couple of names: people who had known Raija [Siekkinen]. And as I sat in my third storey consulting room on Albertinkatu that morning, I noticed that my thoughts kept wandering to the forthcoming meeting, returning to that moment, then straying again, and so everything I heard – and at the same time remembered – mingled in a strange texture; as though I were looking at the world through a kaleidoscope, through multiple mirrors; slipping backwards and forwards in time, yet still remaining in the same place.
The man who sat before me was middle-aged, about ten years older than me, he had come to my consulting room for the first time at the beginning of summer. But unlike my other patients, there seemed to be nothing at all particularly wrong with the man, and I wondered why he had come. His problems appeared to be very vague, until one day he said that yes, there was something that preyed on his mind; that was really why he was here. And then he began to talk about a memory that had come back to him, unexpectedly, in early spring, when the first warmer days had arrived.
The memory was connected with his mother, and with water, and week by week he appeared to remember more and more, though each time he also seemed to doubt his memory, seeking confirmation from me, calling me as a witness. By September the memory was out in the open, and only a small part of it remained obscure. Now he remembered the sun-splashed water, the beach, his mother's eyes, their colour, bright blue, the pattern of her skirt, orange and green, the water coming up to her waist, the cloth slowly getting wet, its heaviness. The man remembered how he had pressed his mother's neck, fastening his hands tighter and tighter, and how the two of them had suddenly stood still in the water for a long time, and the cool water had splashed her ankles, and how they had then returned to the sandy beach as after a very long journey.
Now the man was considering all the decisions of his life in that light; as if every action had had ever taken in his life were somehow linked to that moment on the beach; as if at every moment, from then on, he had had to try to persuade his mother to turn back, not to go on moving deeper into the water, not to take her son with her. And now, in this room, the man still felt he was there, as if to this day a part of him had remained in the water and he had to go back to look for it over and over again.
As I listened to the man I forgot about everything else. The things he had confided to me shocked and moved me. We continued to talk for a while and then the man fell silent, rose and took his coat. At the door he paused in front of the Vermeer reproduction and stared at it for a long time. This is new, he said, touching its surface with his finger; in case the woman in the picture was actually alive. I said that the picture had been there for a week, and that many others had also wanted to touch it. The man laughed and closed the door behind him. I thought of the chain that the second-hand bookseller had reeled off; how the original painting had moved from one owner to another, changed continents, and perhaps that unbroken chain had fascinated me more than the painting itself; the mere thought of how it was all in motion, continuing, secretly becoming part of another person’s life.
(to be continued)
translated from Finnish by David McDuff
See also in this blog: Vanishing Point