Today’s sample is from Chapter Two of The Finnish Girl. If you missed Chapter One, you can read it here. And if you’d like to order this prequel novella to my Nordic romance, The Englishman, you can do that now on all possible channels, including Amazon, Kobo, iBooks and Barnes & Noble.
Now read on …
Helsinki, Autumn 1974
One day after school, about two months after her parents’ separation, Kaisa went to get her skates from the store at her old home in Espoo, where her father now lived alone. She’d been putting it off, but her class was due to go ice skating the next day and she knew no amount of excuses would get her off the hook with her new strict gym teacher. Besides, Kaisa didn’t want to be the poor kid in class, who needed to borrow a pair of used, stinking skates at the ice rink. Kaisa liked skating and was quite good at it, so there was nothing for it; she would risk speaking to her father again. Luckily, she’d kept a key, and as she got off the bus and walked up the little hill to where the semi-detached, wood-panelled house stood, she saw the large windows were dark. Kaisa breathed a sigh of relief. She’d be able to slip inside, get the key to the store from the hook in the kitchen, walk to the end of the long garden, retrieve her skates and be on her way back to Lauttasaari in no time.
As she got closer to the house, Kaisa remembered the last time she’d seen her father. It had been early summer, the beginning of May. She’d just turned fourteen and her sister Sirkka was sixteen. Kaisa had been doing homework in her room when she heard her father calling their names. Their bedrooms stood side by side and opened off the oblong living room with its bright red carpet, which her father had promised to replace before they moved in but never had. When Kaisa opened her door, she was faced by Sirkka rolling her eyes at her. By then, Sirkka was living with her boyfriend in the centre of Helsinki most of the time, and was only at home by chance that evening.
‘Sit down girls,’ their father had said. He was sitting opposite the sofa, in one of the large comfy chairs, while their mother, her head bent down, was sitting in the other. A large man, with blue eyes and wispy light-brown hair, that evening their father’s face was drawn and his eyes had huge dark shadows under them.
‘Your mother has decided to leave me for the second time in our marriage,’ he’d said, not looking at either his wife, or his daughters. ‘And I suppose you two will choose to live with her again.’ At that point her father had lifted his eyes at Kaisa, pleading with her. But Kaisa had moved her gaze away and glanced sideways at her sister, who shifted on the sofa and sighed. She knew Sirkka thought their mother ‘had been crazy’ to come back to Finland after she had left ‘the bastard’, as Sirkka often referred to her father. Sirkka hated their father, because he was always telling her what to do, or what he thought of her friends. They didn’t agree on anything.
The first separation hadn’t surprised Kaisa either. The fights and rows started in Stockholm shortly after the family moved there. When her father’s two-year posting in the Swedish capital had come to an end, Pirjo and the girls had stayed in Stockholm while he went back to Finland alone. Both daughters had been glad to stay put. They’d learned to speak Swedish, and loved the city, with its bustling, international vibe. Pirjo rented a beautiful apartment near the Natural History Museum, with views over woodland, and only a bus ride away from Kaisa’s new school and the lovely Mr Sorenson. Still, Kaisa was close to her father, and had missed him in Sweden, although she’d never told her mother or Sirkka this.
Coming back to Finland had been like taking a step back to a poorer, more inward-looking society. Neither Sirkka nor Kaisa had wanted to move to Turku, nor Helsinki a year later, let alone to the unfashionable suburb of Espoo, but they’d had no choice in the matter. Before the move, Sirkka had told her mother she was making a mistake, and back in Finland she’d barely spoken to her father, nor, towards the end, spent much time in the semi-detached house with the red carpet.
Now, as Kaisa slowed her pace, putting off going inside her old home, she shuddered remembering that awful day when her father had sat with his head bent, quiet for a long time. Kaisa had been afraid he would cry, but after the longest few minutes of her life, he’d given her a steady look, and said: ‘OK, off you go with your mother. Good luck!’ The last comment was delivered with a dry, sarcastic laugh. He’d then got up, put on his grey, padded coat and left the house.
When Kaisa opened the door to the house, a familiar, musty smell hit her. She’d forgotten that scent, which Sirkka claimed was mould. She said the three-bedroom, single-storey building was constantly damp and cold, because it had been built on a downward slope, with the red-carpeted lounge abutting the waterlogged garden. Their father had dismissed Sirkka’s claims as ‘pure nonsense’, but now, faced with the familiar smell, Kaisa wondered if her sister had been right.
Kaisa closed the door behind her, and stepped inside the dark hall. The narrow, galley kitchen was right in front of her. She took a sharp intake of breath when she saw a large figure slumped at the table at the far end, in front of the window overlooking the garden. Her father turned towards Kaisa, and lifted his chin in a casual greeting, as if seeing her use her own key to come inside the house was an everyday occurrence.
When Kaisa got closer she saw her father had a glass and a half-empty bottle of Koskenkorva in front of him. He didn’t seem too drunk yet, so Kaisa settled herself opposite him.
‘I need to get something from the garden shed,’ Kaisa said. Her voice was small, and she was struggling to find enough air to fill her lungs.
Her father lifted his eyes to Kaisa and said, ‘Drink?’
‘No, thank you.’ Had her father forgotten she was only fourteen?
He looked down at his glass, lifted it to his lips and drained the contents in one go. He poured another glassful and said, ‘No, I suppose your prissy mother has told you not to drink good old Finnish vodka?’
Kaisa’s heart started to pound hard in her chest. She didn’t dare reply.
‘How is the fucking bitch?’ Her father was now staring hard at Kaisa. His eyes were red-rimmed, and he had the dark shadows of a stubble on his chin.
‘Look, I just want to get my skates, and …’
‘Yes, you want, all of you bloody women just want, want, want stuff all the time.’
Kaisa looked at her father, and suddenly, instead of fear, which his drunkenness usually provoked in her, she felt a surge of anger. It wasn’t her fault that that her parents weren’t able to patch things up again in Finland.
‘It’s not my fault you are impossible to live with.’
She’d uttered the words before she fully realised they’d left her mouth. This was what her mother had said to her over and over during the long months they’d all lived together in Espoo. Kaisa could only agree; her father’s domineering behaviour towards, not only their mother, but also Sirkka, and his constant drinking, weren’t endearing him to anyone.
Kaisa’s words had a terrible effect on her father.
‘What did you say?’ he boomed, getting up from his seat. His eyes were dark and his bulk towered above her. With horror, Kaisa saw him lift his hand as if to slap her, and thought that she should duck. But she couldn’t move a muscle. His hand stopped a few millimetres from her face. For what seemed like an eternity, they stayed that way, her father with his hand close to her face, and Kaisa staring at him. She felt the tears running down her face before she realised she was crying, and angrily wiped them away with the back of her hand. Her gesture seemed to wake her father from the trance, and he slumped heavily onto the chair. Kaisa stood up, ran out of the house, and down the hill towards the bus stop.