Welcome to the newest slot on my blog, the Sunday night Novel Nights In where I bring you guests’ novels in their entirety over a maximum of ten weeks. Tonight’s is the ninth, and final, instalment of the first novel in this series and features the conclusion of a novel by literary author, poet and interviewee Rose Mary Boehm.
For shorter pieces I would run the story then talk more about it afterwards but because this is a longer post (8,630 words), here is an introduction to Rose then the seventh part of her novel…
A German-born UK national, Rose Mary Boehm now lives and works in Lima, Peru. Two novels (‘Coming Up For Air’ and the follow-up ‘The Telling’) have been published in the UK, as well as a poetry collection (‘Tangents’). Her latest poems have appeared, or are forthcoming, in US poetry reviews. Among others: Toe Good Poetry, Poetry Breakfast, Burning Word, Muddy River Review, Pale Horse Review, Pirene’s Fountain, Other Rooms, Requiem Magazine, Full of Crow, Poetry Quarterly, Punchnel’s, Verse Wisconsin, Naugatuck Poetry Review (contest semi-finalist), Avatar…
Her poem ‘Miss Worthington’ won third price in the coveted Margaret Reid Poetry Contest: http://winningwriters.com/contests/margaret/2009/ma09_epaminondas.php
You can find out more about Rose and her writing at her blog: http://houseboathouse.blogspot.com, and you can also read one of Rose’s short stories on http://shortstorywritinggroup.wordpress.com/2013/01/12/short-story-for-critique-003-mrs-boffa-by-rose-mary-boehm.
Coming Up For Air
A young girl’s struggle to take control of her life – click to read Book I: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3. Book 2: Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3. Book 3: Part 1 and Part 2. If you don’t want to wait the 10 weeks for the whole story, you can purchase Coming Up for Air at Amazon.com (just $2.95) Amazon.co.uk (only £1.87). The rest of the ‘adventures of Annie’ can be read in THE TELLING.
Book III: Spitting against the Wind (conclusion)
June was gently warm and mostly sunny. Auntie Eeva took me on that promised trip. I was enchanted by everything I saw and, for the first time in my life, stayed in hotels and felt suitably grand. The hotel in Tampere gave onto the main street. After having returned to our room, tired from sightseeing and feeding hundreds of little red squirrels in Tampere park, we noticed a commotion in the street. People – not many – were beginning to converge on the pavements just below our window, most with little red flags in their hands, moving them from time to time without much enthusiasm. I had of course no idea what this was about, and Auntie Eeva hadn’t read the papers either since we left Helsinki. We opened the window to see better, when the voices became more excited, the flags a little more animated, faces turned all in one direction and the first black limousine came slowly into view. Low and behold, there were Bulganin and Khrushchev together with an extensive protective entourage in their huge, black limos during one leg of their much announced visit to Finland. “Pathetic”, mumbled Auntie Eeva. I looked at her hoping for an explanation which promptly came: “Pathetic. Did you see the ‘masses of workers’ receiving them? As I told you, there is no love lost between the Russians and the Finns. Some tired red flags in the fists of some workers they probably paid to be here this afternoon, by tomorrow, cleverly photographed, will make the few seem many, grace the front pages of the international press, telling us that the visit has been a total success and that the ‘Finnish workers received the guests from Russia with great affection’. Pathetic!”
Before we leave to spend the summer on my cousin’s island, it’s Sibelius Week in Helsinki (a yearly event) and Cousin Magnus indeed asks me to join him and his family at Helsinki’s Messhallen to enjoy one of the concerts. The programme Magnus gives me is in Swedish, but it’s easy to understand that the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra from Amsterdam under Edward van Beinum will be playing Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy’s fourth, Claude Debussy’s ‘La Mer’ and Sibelius’ Fifth Symphony. Just before the concert is to start, an older, tall, distinguished man with glasses takes his seat not far from where we sit, and Magnus whispers with some awe, “Kekkonen, our president.” As a hush falls over the audience, the first bars from Mendelssohn’s ‘Italian’ symphony fill the hall. At the end of the concert the audience gives Edward van Beinum a standing ovation who, after a decent interval of seeming hesitation, indicates that they’ll ‘give in’. We all sit down again expectantly. The encore is Sibelius’ tone poem ‘Finlandia’. Never before has it moved me so much, and I look around discreetly to see tears not only in Magnus’ eyes. Next to me sits an elderly American tourist who, having slept throughout the concert, is trying to figure out what’s going on.
We finally get ready to leave during the last week of June. Father had told me about his stay on the island and how he had enjoyed the summer with his cousins (my uncles) and their friends, when my cousin Helvi was just a little girl. Auntie Eeva and I pack (“don’t forget to take some warm clothes and a cardigan for the evenings…”) for a couple of months of summer. On the bus to Tammissaari, where Helvi will pick us up, Auntie Eeva tells me about her Tammissaari island summer house. They built it just for ‘Mummy’, and every year she spends around three months with Helvi, Helvi’s husband and the grandchildren, being fussed over and having absolutely nothing to do but walk, sit on her terrace and read, go to the sauna. “Oh,” she shuts her eyes, “this bus takes forever. I can’t wait!”
She tells me that I’ll be staying in the ‘sauna flat’ and that the boathouse is always reserved for an old friend of the family, Armas Vuoristo, who joins them every year for at least one month if not two – July and / or August. “You’ll like him. He’s quite a character.”
Helvi was a tall woman with short curly hair, still brown but greying everywhere, clearly not cut to be fashionable but to be efficient and no bother. Her kind brown eyes were big and round and easily took on an astonished expression as though constantly surprised by what she saw and heard around her. She had a full mouth that was quick to smile. Her strong hands were those of a woman who uses them to make, to do. She wore mostly dresses, the simple, no-fuss kind, and sometimes, when we were working in the fields or making hey, old baggy trousers, held up by braces, into which she carelessly stuffed one of Seppo’s shirts.
I soon became (and delightedly so) part of that especially gorgeous summer’s island life. What once had been a ‘gentleman’s farm’ had been transformed into a working farm by Helvi’s husband Seppo, who was somewhat shorter than Helvi, balding and grey, always in overalls and walking with a pronounced limp which didn’t seem to bother him much. I was fascinated by two rather big tufts of grey hair growing from his nostrils and the fact that he’d only shave on Saturdays.
The big farmhouse, the typical Finnish dark red offset with white, was the place where everyone tended to congregate for breakfast. Lunch and supper were simple affairs for most of us, but Helvi would take special care of Auntie Eeva and often send one of her boys with a tray to ‘Mummy’s little house’. Well, ‘little’ was not exactly a word I’d have used for a beautiful wooden house of perhaps 100 square metres, a good-size terrace and an old-fashioned flower garden, surrounded by a mix of pine trees and birches where I would often eat with her to keep her company.
The first time Auntie Eeva and I had lunch together on the island, she grinned and poked me with her elbow: “A long way from two useless women who can’t cook…”
Very soon after my arrival in Helsinki I had admitted to my aunt that I couldn’t cook either, and we had decided to learn together, reading cookery books and trying out recipes. We had encountered some problems when we’d tried to clean a chicken and quarter it with the help of a pair of rose clippers; on another occasion we wondered how best to prepare small herrings I had bought from one of the little boats anchored in the market place (take out the innards, get rid of the scales, yuk!); and once we tried to bake a cake – another dismal failure. But both of us got slowly better at it as the weeks passed, and we’d had a lot of fun. In the kitchen we cemented our unlikely friendship. Auntie Eeva was always ready to laugh at herself and generally see the funny side of things, and I found that in me the ‘laughter strings’ resonated and my natural silly sense of humour, up to now a bit starved, was allowed to blossom.
It was as though I was growing ‘into myself’, as if, up to now, I had not known how to match myself to myself. And deep, deep inside I timidly began to believe that perhaps I could be attractive and loveable.