Thursday, 20 October 2011

Visceral and permanent - a short story

Aarno knew he was about to grapple with his demons again. He'd just put the children to bed (his wife being away on a medical conference in Stockholm), he fried a piece of fillet steak, poured himself a large whisky sour, and switched on the wireless. The newscaster told of Soviet tanks and infantrymen pouring into Budapest. All of a sudden his mood changed. Until that moment, he'd been very content. He'd just driven home from work in his brand new Oldsmobile Holiday 88, having had a successful day at work. The Helsinki court had upheld his pleading on behalf of his corporate client, and a new partner had just joined his law firm, the very lawyer the he'd been trying to recruit for some time. Things were going well – and then the news on the radio.

His three small daughters having settled down in their spacious bedrooms upstairs, Aarno bid their nanny goodnight. He had just settled down to a drink and was looking forward to listening to the new jazz record by John Coltrane and Miles Davis. But what he heard on the news infuriated him.

He knew what the Soviet army looked like; he'd faced that barbarism himself, 17 years earlier, when, as a young man in his final year at law school, he'd been called up to defend his homeland against an invasion from the east. For three months he fought them – hordes of sub-human idiots – forever charging forward through the deep snowdrifts, while he and his comrades would cut them down with machine gun fire. The Soviets were unable to bring artillery or tanks forward to support their infantry because of the thick forests shielding the Finnish positions, and so wave upon wave of infantry attacks was their only tactic. As long as the Finns' ammunition held out, the result was mechanised slaughter.

Aarno remembered it in numbing detail; faces of young men, many Asiatic types, comically distorted with drunken hatred, running forward in slow-motion through the knee-deep powder, encumbered in their khaki coats – how the Finnish machine gunners raked wave after wave of these stupid Bolsheviks – how he despised this cattle sent forth by Stalin and his commissars to take his fatherland by force. More ammunition belts. More charging Soviets. Fire! Watch them die like the sub-human vermin they were. Watch them fall like flies. Watch the 12.7mm bullets rip chunks of flesh, of brain, out them, knocking them over, into pink snow. A few mortar shells fell ineffectually between the Finnish dug-outs. He despised his enemy, utterly.

Finns did not mean harm to any nation. A peaceful people. Yet when this evil horde came to take Finland by force - they would need to be stopped with brutal determination.

Still they came on – driven forward by the NKVD troops at their rear. Onward into their inevitable deaths, piling on top of the dead and wounded from previous waves. Until the Finns' ammunition ran out. And then, clad in their white snow-suits, Aarno and his comrades would silently ski back to prepared positions from which they could continue to fight...

Viipuri finally fell to the Red hordes. Viipuri – where Aarno's mother's family was from. The city bombed and shelled, the civilians forced to flee. Finland's second city lost, a beautiful, historic city that would soon fill with the dim proletariat, shuffling to and from their factories, cheering Stalin – God, how he hated the Soviet Union, the Russians, Communism – he loathed it all. If he were Eisenhower, he'd not hesitate to turn Moscow – that heart of inhuman darkness – into an atomic wasteland. The contrast between the dirt and brutality of Russia and the civilised, agreeable peace of modern Finland was to Aarno too great a gulf to bear.

As he listened to the radio, to descriptions of the Red Army entering Budapest, to impassioned pleas to the world for help from the leaders of the Hungarian Revolution, Aarno found himself shouting at at his wireless set, swearing at it at the top of his voice. His daughters woke up and began to cry. “Why was daddy shouting?” On hearing their distress, blaming no one else other than the Soviet people, he became angrier still. That his baby girls would live to grow up in the shadow of that filthy, backward, brutal, stupid nation! That the USSR should be there – next to their homeland – armed to the teeth and threatening the peace and prosperity of the Western World!

The successful Helsinki lawyer's livid face contorted into the very quintessence of what it is to hate, his eyeballs bulging, his hands shaking in frustrated rage. He'd been in this state before, but then he had had the trigger of a heavy machine gun in his hand, and hundreds of enemy soldiers in the gun sights. But what now? Leave his children, drive to the Soviet Embassy and throw rocks at the windows? What effect would that have? He could say goodbye to his legal career; he'd bring shame upon himself and his family? Aarno turned off the radio. He opened the door to the back garden, and stepped out. The cool of the night air helped calm him down, a few snow flakes fell, touched his face, reminding him of childhood. The anger would not go away; but what could he do?

This time last year:
Crushed velvet dusk in my City of Dreams II

This time two years ago:
Going North, the quick way

This time three years ago:
Glorious autumn dusk

This time four years ago:
Last man voting?

1 comment:

adthelad said...

On reading the last line I was suddenly reminded of the unmistakeable first few bars of Bach's Air on the G string, a match flaring up into life, and the rising of a puff of smoke.