Monday, 28 June 2010

Maaria - 5

from Katoamispiste (Vanishing Point) by Joel Haahtela (Otava 2010)


When Maaria returned to the room and asked what I had found, I was startled and felt that I had been caught doing something I was not supposed to. I apologized for trespassing on her books, but my eye had been struck by the name of Ingeborg Bachmann. I explained that Raija had written that name on the sheet of paper I had found in the Finnish Literature Society's archives.

Maaria smiled and said that Ingeborg Bachmann had been important to Raija, and especially this particular book, Word for Word. When Raija was writing she did not usually read books by other people, Maaria explained, but Bachmann was an exception. Ingeborg Bachmann’s work stirred her to action. Raija had even called her cat “Max” after Max Frisch, Bachmann’s husband. That had always made Maaria laugh.

But it certainly was strange, Maaria said, that Raija had died in a fire like Ingeborg. In fact, she remembered that Raija had always kept her stove lit, even in summer. Maaria told me that Raija also smoked in bed, even though she was afraid of fire. In one of her books Raija had written about bush fires that raged for days and weeks, driven by the wind; she wrote about a woman who stared at the television pictures of the sea of flames, then went back into her house, where something had happened from which she could not get away. The woman soaked a cloth in linseed oil, put it on the window ledge in the sun, waited, and when eventually the fire broke out she opened a bottle of wine, her best, sat by the window and watched the flames slowly begin to rise.

Yes, I said, it was a strange coincidence, but what was Maaria’s opinion of the fire? Had there been something deliberate about it, did she know what had happened? Maaria shook her head and said she had never thought the fire was deliberate, it had been a pure accident. Though it was true that Raija was in a bad state that autumn, thin, not eating anything. And perhaps it was true what Raija had once said, that a person’s attitude to food summed up their relation to life.

Maaria told me, still with a slightly absent air, about Raija’s last years and about the island, which Raija no longer visited. She had also begun to get rid of her books, and that had seemed strange to Maaria; as though all Raija’s ties with the world were being broken, one after the other, and suddenly she was free of all the things she once had loved.

When I was sure that Maaria had no more to add to this, I asked if she had heard the name Paul Roux. Had Raija ever talked about him? And what about Mariankatu 24, did Raija have any connection with that address? Maaria thought for a moment and then said she had never heard that name, but knew Mariankatu well enough, Raija had lived there. After giving up the beloved Ahlqvist House, Raija had moved to an apartment block on Mariankatu, but was not very happy there, and before her death she had moved again, to the Custom House on Korkeavuorenkatu. Maaria remembered that to Raija this had seemed a kind of new beginning.

translated from Finnish by David McDuff

(to be continued)

Maaria - 1
Maaria - 2
Maaria - 3
Maaria - 4

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