Silja’s Song – The Story of a Girl Band
Siljan laulu, Karisto 2007
15-year-old Silja, the protagonist of Silja’s Song is grieving for her father, but her life takes a turn for the better when she becomes the front woman in an all-girl band. Huotarinen’s book is structurally interesting because it is assembled like scenes in a screenplay. The musical and descriptive directions at the beginnings of chapters guide the reader to their themes, but it is the main text’s shuttling between reality, memory, and dreams that, at its best, climaxes with an epigrammatic insight. Silja’s Song won the Karisto Young Adult Book competition in 2006.
Music: Winter. Performer: Tori Amos. Video: A path leading into a dusky forest. On the path stands a girl, a blue scarf tied across her eyes. The girl fumbles to move the branches to one side. The camera zooms in on the white lilies growing along the side of the path.
The sound of a red electric guitar fizzing in the darkness. The drums start a slow riff. The air shimmers; the edge of the horizon flickers. There’s sand everywhere, crunching in your teeth and building up in a thin layer across your tongue. The creature has curled up its back and extended its spikes. I reach my hand out towards the hedgehog, but its spikes are sharp and prick my fingers. A thick trickle of blood begins to ooze out of the cut. I try to wipe my finger on the edge of my shirt, press it tightly inside my fist and shake it in the wind. The sand around me is suddenly dyed red. I start shouting out a name at the top of my voice. I won’t get through this by myself, I need help before the hedgehog and I drown in the tide of blood. The guitar solo rolls towards us like a storm; it catches us up in its power and carries us across the cracked earth.
The duvet had flopped crumpled on to the floor and the pillow was wedged between the bed and the wall. The window had blown open and now the wind whistled through the room. From the radio came the final chords of Stairway to Heaven. Silja rolled on to her side and picked up the duvet. She’d had the same dream three or four times that spring.
It was a cool morning, though it was the second day of June. Silja had turned fifteen the day before. Alanis Morissette was born on the same day. Silja had already listened to her birthday song, You Oughta Know, on repeat dozens of times.
Her godparents had sent her a card in two parts, red roses on a pitch-black background. The card stood on her desk, flapping in the breeze. Silja could only make out some of the text: “…ppy Birthd… …ier year ahead.” A ‘ier year ahead’. That’s about all you could say about it at the moment.
Silja and her mum had agreed that there would be no presents this year. Töpö and Nipsu had forgotten her birthday altogether, and Silja hadn’t bothered reminding them. Jarkko would have remembered. If he’d wanted to.
Mum’s sister Heleena had sent her perfume and earrings, the way she did every year. Silja had stuffed the packages into her desk drawer. Her aunt wanted her to blossom finally, to mature into a rosy-cheeked young lady. Her grandmother had sent her a pile of girls’ books. Right at the start, the narrator pointed out that the heroine wasn’t at all pretty, but that straight away everyone noticed that she had that Special Something.
It would have been so much easier to be Kaarina or Tiina, to be like little Pammy living in her own paradise in Hawaii. Even annoying Pollyanna, who could forget all her troubles in an instant. Ruddy-cheeked Emilia, who took comfort in moments spent writing by candlelight.
Silja had once come across a book whose heroine had the same name as her. On the cover of the book the girl looked scrawny and had thick, black eyebrows. Ugly, normal, the kind of girl who at the end of the story lies back in a sea of flowers and coughs up blood until she dies.
Whatever, thought Silja. She thought that about a lot of things these days – whatever.
She sat up and pulled back her brown hair. The seahorses embroidered into the curtains stared at her with decaying eyes. Kurt Cobain grimaced on the wall opposite.
Her dreams had been crazy these last few weeks. Dead cities, desert sand that makes you ill. Often Silja found that she couldn’t move, even if danger was approaching, forced to watch from the sidelines as her house or school burned to the ground.
Silja stood naked in front of the bathroom mirror. Was her skin still fresh and supple, the way fifteen-year-old girls’ skin was always described in women’s magazines? She thought of all those old ladies that pinch young girls’ cheeks, as if to check just how soft the skin really is. Well, well, they’d say, and pinch that bit harder than they’d intended to.
Silja tied her terry towel around her head. As she bent over she caught sight of the ivy leaf tattooed on her shoulder. She pulled the towel across the leaf. This is Silja Hillevi Kaikumaa, she thought to herself, without any clothes and without any make-up. Distinguishing features: twelve moles, innumerable freckles. The left breast smaller than the right one. A poetic surname, shared by only a few people. Are you that author’s daughter? That was always the first thing her teachers asked.
In the evenings Silja could see her mother standing in front of the hall mirror examining her face.
Silja’s mother had become an obsessive sports enthusiast. She pushed herself to the brink of exhaustion at the gym, did lifting exercises with bags of shopping and sat in yoga positions while watching the television. Silja had once commented that a multivitamin bar doesn’t replace a meal, no matter what the adverts tell you. Her mum had thrown the bar on the floor and gone into the bedroom to listen to a CD of the sounds of running water and tropical birdsong.
‘You should get some exercise. Go for a walk, lift weights, go to an Afro dance class or something,’ Silja’s PE teacher Pimu said over and over again. ‘It’s no good hanging around at home all day. You can’t just lie around while Rome burns,’ she’d said in a loud voice at the last PE lesson Silja had attended.
Silja had looked at Pimu stretching her shoulder muscles in a bright white, velvet tracksuit and pouting her lips as if to see what the newest shade of coral lipstick would feel like. At that moment Silja realised it was impossible to explain how she felt, to anyone. She had walked out of the school gym, across the playground, past the fire station and on towards the city centre. Away. If she turned up the volume on her headphones she didn’t need to listen to the rest of the world. The music coloured the landscape in an instant. Madonna: Nobody Knows Me.
Silja walked into the living room with the towel around her head and yawned. A crazy bird launched into a serenade in one of the trees in the yard. Between two spruce trees you could see into Miss Haapa’s garden. Miss Haapa was one of the last village idiots, at least that’s what people round here called her, and she was a constant source of amusement. Whereas other people walked their Golden Labradors in light green sporting gear, Miss Haapa walked a fat old pig wearing a wide-fitting floral dress and a straw hat. She’d even been seen singing strange little songs in the middle of the night.
Right then Miss Haapa was sitting on the steps outside her house wearing a brightly-coloured kimono, holding a cup of tea between the palms of her hands and staring into the distance. Silja’s dad often chatted with Miss Haapa across the low spruce hedgerow. Silja had never asked quite what it was they’d been talking about.
Many other things had been left undone in exactly the same way.
Jenna lived on the other side of the garden. Only two years ago they had built hideouts in the woods nearby and sat there having a picnic and drinking vanilla milkshakes. Then the seventh grade had changed everything. Jenna’s jeans started hanging down round her bum and she stopped wearing a bra. Silja stopped saying hello to her. In the evenings you could hear the solemn moaning of a cello as Jenna sat practicing her scales. You never saw the geeky Conservatory students at parties or hanging round the school at break time. They sat as far away from the rose bushes as possible (the place where the older kids used to push the seventh-graders) and chatted in monotonous voices about who they’d rather be with, Bach or Vivaldi. At least that’s what Silja and her friends had giggled about. Even the fingers of the Conservatory students looked longer and whiter than other people’s. There was a rumour going around the school that Jenna’s parents had taken out an insurance policy on her wrists.
Silja lay down on the leather sofa in the living room so that she wouldn’t be seen on either side of the garden. The sofa felt cool against her bare skin.
As the living room clock struck six-thirty Silja pressed the button on the TV remote control. Teddy bears with great, wide eyes were bouncing around the screen in a children’s programme. The face of one of the bears filled the entire screen. ‘Good morning!’ he said. ‘Isn’t life wonderful?’ Over on MTV two songstresses in tight-fitting clothes were explaining how they liked kissing each other ‘just for fun’. After that they launched into a song about how much they yearned for true love. Pink neon lights flashed in time with the duo’s eyelashes.
Silja switched off the TV and closed her eyes. If it hadn’t been the middle of summer, she might have burrowed deep into the snow and been forgotten about, sunk beneath the autumn leaves or climbed a tree and been speared by a formation of migrating cranes. In the summer you’re expected to be active, even if there’s nothing you feel less like doing. You should go out for an ice cream, head for the beach, have a picnic or sit in garden bathed in the sunshine. Go on a bike trip. Visit Grandma. Go to a music festival. Buy fresh strawberries at the market with Mum.
In summer people shouted across the street, all smiles: ‘Hi! How are you?’ And the only acceptable answer seemed to ne, ‘Gosh, it’s hot!’
On Silja’s last day at school she’d been called up to the school counsellor’s room. She thought of Truth or Dare. Mornings were the worst of all. The attic rooms, where the counsellor and the school nurse had their rooms, were painted with brighter colours than the other classrooms and they had plants twining their way up the walls. If you were ill, you were offered a moment’s repose, but for those slogging away in the other classrooms these things didn’t matter all that much.
The school counsellor had plaited her hair and she was wearing a kilt. She liked the finer things in life and said ‘like’ a lot; she was friends with all the students and her favourite TV show followed the lives of a group of single women in New York. The pinnacle of modern pedagogy, no less. The counsellor introduced herself as Nina. You can’t expect someone called Nina to work miracles, Silja thought. As Silja hadn’t answered a single one of her questions, Nina had asked whether she was planning on being this quiet in class from now on.
Instead of words, Silja would have had plenty of images: a throbbing cardiograph, houses about to collapse, cats and dogs missing their paws and tails. She would have had music, different intervals rising and falling in quick succession, like breath.
Music: The Light Bearer. Performer: Food Blender. Video: A close-up shot of a small, yellow plastic spade in a sandpit. Next to the spade is a half-built sand castle. Behind the window of an apartment in a block of flats we see a child with its hand pressed against the windowpane.
Outside the temperature was barely above freezing, but at least the sun was shining. Silja placed the newspaper beneath her arm, picked up her bowl of porridge and walked out to the veranda squinting her eyes. Mum’s flower arrangements weren’t doing very well in the chilly summer air; the flowers were pale and drooping. Paint had begun flaking away from the three green deckchairs. Silja couldn’t help thinking that they didn’t need the third chair any more.
The porridge was cold and tasted burnt. Silja quickly spooned up what was left of it. Dad had made all the food, while Mum was always bragging about how helpless she was. Last week Silja had made a pot of vegetable soup: crème fraîche, potatoes, carrots, turnips. That had kept them going for a couple of days.
Her phone beeped as a text message arrived. Hi. Free after 10. U @ home? Töpö :). Silja threw the phone on the deckchair cushions. Töpö, aka Tilli Tähtinen, had been Silja’s friend since she’d fed her sand cakes in the playground when they were four. Töpö had been at the same party where Silja had first kissed Jarkko, constantly worried that Jarkko’s tongue would find her braces. Silja had been there when Töpö had blown out eight candles on her birthday cake and sprayed her plaits with whipped cream. Silja had been there when Töpö’s mum had thrown their Rococo sofa off the balcony and started producing oil paintings of misshapen human heads with animal’s bodies.
Silja moved her porridge bowl to one side, put her feet on the garden table and tilted her chair back. Her friends had tried hard to bring back the happy, chirpy old Silja. They’d tried to make her smile with pyjama parties and by making music videos with Nipsu’s video camera. But the strawberry mousse at the pyjama party had given Silja a stomach ache and she’d hated looking at herself in the music videos. In Töpö’s mum’s studio she’d just opened her mouth like a goldfish. In the video the blue make-up beneath her eyes had stood out against her grey skin and looked every bit as ghost-like as Töpö’s mum’s abstract paintings in the background.
Silja’s mum had her own way of coping. She watched television, debate programmes with men and women reminding viewers that you shouldn’t leave children to their own devices, alone.
From the end of Poppy Lane came the sound of a scooter. Töpö swerved into the Kaikumaas’ driveway, sending grit flying up against the wall of the house. She pulled off her helmet. A new hair colour: bright green this time.
As Töpö took off her jacket, Silja noticed that she’d drawn tribal markings on her arms.
‘Didn’t see you at the spring party then,’ she said.
‘Nope,’ Silja replied bluntly.
They’d finished eighth grade the previous day. Töpö and Nipsu had been dancing along the school corridors with roses between their teeth. As a leaving present they’d given the ninth-graders’ classroom assistants a one-way train ticket to Siberia. The teachers all smelled of perfume when they forcibly hugged you and pressed their push-ups against the squirming students. The modern dance club had been up on stage, gyrating in a series of difficult-looking pirouettes under the guidance of Pimu the PE teacher. Virpi-Vilma, a Finnish teacher with big teeth, had written and directed a deathly dull play about the history of the school. Jarkko had been on detention – even on the day of the spring party; he’d thrown his bag into the corner of the room in a soaring arch, the way he always did, and spent the last two hours of his school career sitting whistling at the back of the classroom.
If things had still been different, Silja would have been waiting for Jarkko in a patch of sunshine warming the school’s brick walls. When Jarkko arrived, they would have kissed and passed their chewing gum from mouth to mouth. Jarkko would have driven her to the kiosk on the back of his bike, and the old crowd would all be waiting for them.
That hadn’t happened. Everything that Silja knew about what had happened that day she’d imagined the previous night before going to bed.
‘Post-traumatic stress disorder,’ the doctor had called it. Silja hadn’t said a thing. She’d been diagnosed, so now she was finally free of all explanations.
Töpö hopped on to the garden swing and so vigorously that the branches along the roof shook, showering them with morning dew. Töpö had always been the livelier of the two of them. She always grew towards the sun, like a force of nature; even now she’d painted her arms red and yellow because it was grey outside. Silja, on the other hand, was a plant that needed enough shade. The thread holding her to life was more modest.
‘Dad burned my ripped jeans. How can he be such a jerk? If Mum had still been at home, she’d never have dared do something like that. She liked those jeans, said she wanted some like that for herself. Dad gave her an earful last week when she came home with a really expensive felt poncho. But she’s got to dress like that. She’s an artist.’
‘Right,’ Silja mumbled and huddled her legs together.
She was thinking of her own dad, who on workdays would stop what he was writing to make them lunch. She thought of her dad’s flowery apron and his hair, tangled when he’d just woken up, the way he’d run his fingers through it making it stick up in all directions.
‘Imagine the look on Marleena’s face when she got a ten for English,’ said Töpö. Silja felt annoyed at the thought that Töpö was only interested in what things looked like, not what they really were. ‘She didn’t deserve a ten, but Mustapää’s been eyeing her up since seventh grade. He’s really old, he’s like thirty-five or something.’
Töpö moved her head the way Silja had seen her mum doing. There would come a day when they wouldn’t be fifteen any more; they’d be forty, complaining about teenagers and heavily made-up rock singers loitering around the shopping centre.
‘Riia was wearing a skin-coloured pencil dress and all the other girls had blazers. Jenna had a really ugly one; her mum probably chose her outfit again. And you could have stuck a pen in Marleena’s fringe, it was so full of gel. The boys looked like idiots, as usual, just jeans and baseball caps. When our RE teacher wanted us to pray, Aku shouted out “Don’t forget the Muslims”. He says he’s not going to pray as a show of support.’
Silja gave a muffled snort. Had they really always talked to one another like this, gossiping about what everyone was wearing?
Töpö pulled a bar of chocolate from her pocket and broke off pieces on the garden table, her nails clacking. Chocolate was a cure for everything, especially if you’re in need of a bit of comfort.
‘Nipsu and I were texting each other right through the headmaster’s speech. “I wish you well in the big wide world, my dear young adults…” blah blah blah. All the things he warned the ninth-graders not to do, we’ve already done them – in the eighth grade. Take this: we already know that all you need is this moment, that you don’t need to worry about tomorrow. We’ve been shirking our responsibilities as much as possible and not thinking about Plan B. When Kalmari started singing about the “summer days of beauty”, we were all watching his face to see his lower lip trembling. What’s so moving about that bloody hymn?’
Silja remembered a day back in February when she’d come to class before the others. Kalmari had been sitting by himself playing the Marcia alla Turca on the piano. His eyes were burning with concentration and his hands danced across the keys. His black hair had fallen across his forehead. Silja had remained standing in the doorway, hoping that the music would never end, that she could look passion in the eye just as he was doing right then.
Silja chewed her nails and stared at Töpö’s drainpipe jeans and the three chains tied around her thin ankle. They jangled with crosses, skulls and hearts. She’d never be able to tell Töpö about these feelings. Never.
‘We’ve got everything planned ready for the Province Rock festival. Short tops, sunglasses, wellies, banners and flags, canisters and straws. We’ll put up two of those flowery deckchairs from Nipsu’s place in front of the tent and we’ll take a stereo for when there’s some crappy band playing. We’ll take packets of sausage soup and the camping stove. Aku and Untsa took some meat pasties one year, and they turned into mush in the heat on the first day. If it cheers you up, you’ll get to see Jarkko too.’
Silja looked at Töpö; she looked away. She’d spurted out Jarkko’s name by accident.
‘Oh, and congratulations for yesterday,’ Töpö continued swiftly. ‘Nipsu was supposed to come and see you today but she couldn’t make it. She got a whole list of fives and she had to stay home to have a “serious talk” about it all.’
Silja thought about Nipsu and her habit of fiddling with her glasses when she was nervous. Nipsu hadn’t come to see her because she wouldn’t have known what to say.
The same thing had been happening a lot in the last few weeks. First one of Mum’s work friends had called them. Her voice was high-pitched and cold and chimed like a crystal chandelier. When Silja had explained why Mum couldn’t come to the phone (because she was crying hysterically in the bathroom), the phone call had ended abruptly. The school bus driver didn’t look her in the eye any more; the familiar postman had disappeared without a word. But school was the worst of all.
It seemed like an eternity ago that they’d sat in their old playground playing How much. Töpö had been dangling from the ropes of the climbing frame shouting out questions to Silja and Nipsu, who were sitting on the children’s rocking horses. How much to ask Mustapää on a date? How much to eat a whole pot of the canteen’s chicken soup? How much to cheat in an exam? But if Töpö had asked whether a year from now Silja would do a year’s forced labour for her, would she have agreed? How important was their friendship to Silja?
‘How are things otherwise?’
Töpö’s feet scuffed the grass beneath the garden swing. Couldn’t she sit still just for a moment?
‘Nothing much,’ Silja answered quietly.
Her head was filled with music and images, but nothing she could put into words.
‘Just don’t say hello to Nipsu from me,’ she said suddenly in a shrill voice.
‘Silja, you don’t know what’s going on. People were talking about you at the class party. They were…’ Töpö began to explain but Silja stood up from her deckchair so sharply that the remaining pieces of chocolate fell beneath the table.
Her throat was tight and she felt dizzy. Töpö had been drunk, and she was probably exaggerating. But what did it matter? She, Silja, had still been going out with Jarkko a week before the class party. So what, she’d ended it all as soon as she’d heard about her father’s death? She couldn’t talk about death with a boy whose most important hobby was playing war games on the computer. Jarkko had been devastated; Jarkko who’d always needed a helping hand, who’d wanted nothing more than to take his angel in his arms… Jarkko had arrived at the class party his eyes glassed over. Nipsu had adjusted the position of her glasses and taken control of things.
‘I don’t know you any more,’ said Töpö. Her face was white and the sun shone red against her arm like a rash. ‘Have fun with all your dead friends.’
Their friendship was severed with a steely smile and a sharp, brusque movement. Snap, as if it had been cut with a pair of scissors.
The scooter was already far away, Töpö’s leather jacket billowing like a sail. When it reached the crossroads, Silja saw the scooter turn in the direction of Nipsu’s house.
How much can you lose in a matter of only a few months? Your father, your boyfriend, two of your best friends. Was there a limit somewhere, a line beyond which you can’t take it any more?
Music: Big Exit. Performer: PJ Harvey. Video: the roof of a high-rise building. The singer has a pair of black, sparkly wings on her back. The clouds dance above the city, and in one corner of the screen an old women opens out an umbrella in a firm, determined gesture.
Silja walked in quick, sharp steps. She didn’t know where she was going. Maybe forwards, maybe round and round in a circle. The houses on Poppy Lane were shrouded in a thick fog like the hem of a white skirt beneath which all the residents were huddling in the houses. Candles flickered in some of the windows. If not the sun, then at least there was something to warm people.
A thought was gnawing away at Silja’s mind: Something has got to change. She didn’t yet know how or in what way the change would happen, but it was clear that it would happen. Not with the help of school counsellors, friends or teachers. Not even with her mum. There had to be other options. Her own options.
The words had hit her on the head shortly after her meeting with Töpö. That night Silja had sat up in bed at half past eleven. She had picked up her trousers and shirt from across the chair, pulled them on and started throwing out her old schoolbooks. They thudded into a box together with a battered old pencil case full of letters, the silver lighter Jarkko had given her and an unsuccessful plaster sculpture of a girl’s head.
Her maths books flew into the box with a gentle sigh. Freedom from percentage exercises and those loathsome calculations. They drove to work every day at eighty kilometres an hour and still didn’t know how long the journey took!
Her geography book read: ‘A black hole in the Milky Way creates waves that rock the Earth.’ On the cover of the book was a map, and Silja had circled all the cities with hearts. Foreign names, strange places, unknown streets filled with secrets. The sea was all around them, keeping the continents moving. She’d thought that she’d like to visit those cities: Rio de Janeiro sounded like laughing girls, Budapest like a wonderful romance beneath swinging street lanterns. She hadn’t travelled anywhere. Dad had wanted to take them to Prague that summer.
Silja had walked around the house and examined old objects with fresh eyes. For years there’d been an old black-and-white coat that nobody ever wore hanging in Mum’s closet. When Silja had taken it to the charity shop, her mum had been shocked: ‘You can’t just throw memories away,’ she’d moaned.
But Silja’s head was already filled with layers, days piled one on top of the other. Who would be crazy enough to carry everything with them all the time?
Silja continued clearing things out, emptying and throwing things away. A photograph of Jarkko ended up in the fireplace. Jarkko’s black eyes mocked her from amongst the ashes, and she threw a pile of old letters in on top of him. Silja caught her finger on a hot ember and gave a yelp. She felt like crying – but not now. Now she had to get this done, to change everything that could be changed.
The T-shirt from Töpö and Nipsu with the words I am too hot was too small for her now. The woolly jumper Dad had given her last Christmas was still too big. Silja folded it neatly, put it on the top shelf of the closet and shut the door.
Silja brushed her glass zoo from the shelf into a black bin liner. Giraffes with dainty legs; great cats with thin waists and fur around their necks; pink elephants. Once the animals were gone, the shelf was bare. Mum had given her a couple of empty picture frames, and Silja placed them on the shelf.
That night she sat on the window ledge for a long time gazing out of the window. She wanted to swap the garden for another one, maybe the garden at Marleena’s house. It had a decorative stone fountain and two tall trees. Silja would be different too. She would have Marleena’s explosive laugh and her golden curls. She would be so beautiful and talkative that she’d go straight to heaven.
A lonely piece of glass glinted on the floor like a small, moist tear.
The further Silja walked from home, the clearer it became to her that in addition to clearing out her old memories something else needed to happen.
Hanoi Rocks started playing in her ears. An almost continuous soundtrack was playing inside her head. If the first notes of The Old Vault Church found their way into her ears, there was no way of getting rid of them. If felt wonderful to paint the first moments of each morning with beloved music – My My, Hey Hey or Bohemian Rhapsody.
On mornings when Silja couldn’t bring herself to get out of bed, it was music that saved her.
Mum would sometimes come into her room, her hands over her ears, and ask Silja to turn the stereo down. But music had to flow straight into her veins, fill every cell in her body and do it with awesome power. If you couldn’t hear all the instruments, the melody seemed somehow hollow. You can’t shush the kind of violins that burst into sound at the beginning of Madonna’s Papa Don’t Preach.
Silja’s steps quickened. If only there were someone she could sit down with over a cup of creamy cocoa and share her experiences. Talk. Talk endlessly. Someone who could say: ‘It’s going to be okay.’ Silja could have written across the sky in letters the size of aeroplanes that phrases like ‘Try and pull yourself together’ or ‘It’ll soon pass’ don’t help when nothing has passed yet.
Or what about, ‘I’m sorry’? What is there for anyone else to be sorry about? Silja shocked her shoulders. This was about her.
The trees by the side of the road looked at her suspiciously. Silja glowered at them angrily. Thoughts were spiralling around her head, winding their way around a black word that she couldn’t quite make out. Dark water splashed in her footsteps. The road would soon come to an end, then she’d be at the edge of the forest.
Silja reached a hill. She started running up and down it. She ran and ran, stopped to catch her breath and brushed the hair from her face. The song had changed. Now it was the Ramones: ‘I don’t want to be buried in a pet cemetery.’
Once she’d reached the top of the hill, she had to come down again. Once she was at the bottom of the hill, there was nothing to do but run back up again. She would never be able to tell when to stop. She would just carry on running until something happened.
As she was running down the hill for maybe the eighteenth time she tripped over and fell. She lay on the ground for a moment and coughed. Just long enough for a thought to flash through her mind: if a car came along right now, she’d die.
She didn’t want to get up. The ground felt good against her cheek. She closed her eyes.
‘You can’t just lie around while Rome burns,’ Pimu had said.
And what if there was a fire blazing where she was supposed to be running?
Silja stood up. Through her fatigue she imagined that this kind of grief might suit her mum, but it didn’t suit her. Fiery stars thudded in her temples.
When Silja arrived back home, she saw the newspaper she’d been reading a couple of days earlier still lying on the garden table. She and her mother truly didn’t take much care of the house. The damp pages fluttered in the breeze, and the back page looked torn. Silja flicked through the notices. Some poor child had been christened Alfa-Salama, and someone else’s child had died.
Suddenly her eyes froze. She picked up the newspaper and read it again.
Silja looked around her, as though she had been caught doing something she shouldn’t. She ripped off the back page of the newspaper and stuffed it into her pocket. Now she had to get to her room, somewhere she could think.
Jenna walked past the garden and quickened her step when she noticed Silja. Jenna’s shoulders were a bit slouched. Why couldn’t Silja say hello to her? But Jenna had already gone inside, and Silja rattled the handle on the front door with a well-aimed karate kick. Her hands trembled as she held the page of newspaper against her pocket.
Her geography book had said that a black hole in the Milky Way creates waves but that a supernova only explodes once every hundred years. The grit on the pathway had slowed her speed. The paper had appeared before her eyes bringing with it a piece of news.
Translated from the Finnish by David Hackston