Eero groaned as he settled into bed, pulling up the down blanket and resting his hands on his chest. He always did this when he had something grinding in his brain, a rock stuck in the plough blades. Piia reached over and stroked his face, lined with years in the sun and worries. Too many worries.
“What is it, love?”
He sighed and turned to look at her. “Two days until we leave. Magnus is ready.”
“But Hannu. I just don’t know.”
She kissed him and rolled to her side to face him. “You know our son. He is always dramatic, always putting on a show. I think it’s the war gotten him all worked up.”
“No, it’s something more.”
She said nothing but watched him looking at the ceiling, trying to pry free the rock.
“It’s as if he’s already stuck going down a path he doesn’t understand.”
“But he’s a boy, trying to learn how to become a man. He thinks he wants his freedom,” she said.
“Yes, but it’s a dangerous idea! If anything, he should study in Helsinki or Tampere. What kind of misguided hiisi plan to go to Leningrad…”
“Shh…” she said as she stroked his forehead. “You know you can’t push Hannu away from this idea. It’ll make him move stronger towards him. Just like a mule. You need to give him room and options. He’ll come around.”
Eero shook his head and ran his fingers through his thinning gray-brown hair.
“He needs to come around before war arrives and he’s stuck somewhere he shouldn’t be.”
He turned to look at her and she saw the pain in his eyes.
“Piia, don’t let him do something stupid while we’re gone. I’ve told him to start on the barn. I want him here when I get back.”
She embraced him and took a deep breath. “I know, I’ll do everything I can.”
Early June, 1939
Balsam and beech caressed each other in the morning wind, sunlight dripping through their branches in bands and paisleys across the path. Magnus tossed an apple up into the air, high enough to make him pause, judge his pace, then step forward quickly to catch it with a slap in his palm.
“I used to bicycle on this road in the summer.” Eero ran his hand over his brow and returned his cap to his head. “There was a girl, Heikka, who lived with four sisters down a driveway a few kilometers from here.”
Magnus smiled and looked at his father, who didn’t normally talk of his past.
“You haven’t told mother this story?”
Eero laughed and kicked at the dirt road. “This was much before her time. I was not even ten. Heikka was…” he paused and looked up, seeing the blush of apple soar in the sunlight. “…she was stunning.”
Magnus saw the summer light in his father’s eyes making them shine like wet stones. “What happened to her?” The apple landed with a smack, paused in his hand, then rolled off his fingertips as his arm swung upward.
“Her father was in the civil war. He was a red, and my parents didn’t allow us to talk to Heikka or her sisters. He was killed at night in his bed.”
Eero looked over at Magnus, his mouth in a ghost of a smile. “Heikka found him. She told me this the next day. I never saw her again.”
The apple thudded in the dirt and Magnus stopped.
“That is war, and it was a neighbor who killed him. We never asked who.”
The two men stood in the road, folding shovels jutting out the tops of their packs like nuns’ headdresses.
“We’ll stop the Russians, I know we can. And the world will come help us if we start to fall.” He cleared his throat and reached for the apple. “I won’t let war come to our part of the woods.”
Eero strode forward on the path, the afternoon light turning to amber on his cheek. His voice was barely audible as he walked toward the frontier with Russia. “War will wash over Finland like snow, my son.”
© Peter Soutowood 2010