The Midnight sun seared the ice-cracked streets.
He sat drinking a Finnish beer and watching the old vintage cars making their umpteenth circuit of the same block. That’s what people did up here, work all winter on old American cars, making them look fine and dandy and then come the summer, drive them proudly through Lahti’s city centre.
To live at the edge of the world made you a different creature from the rest, it made you harder, more observant, more ready to indulge, more patient, more sorrowful.
There is a sliver of sorrow that punctures all of life up here and leaves the heart wide open. The difficult language sets the Finns apart from the others. They are proud of its complexity and its differences.
He was lonely but then who wouldn’t be up here? Scandinavia was the mother-lode of loneliness; they mined the stuff in the hills and shipped it to the world.
He checked his pockets and found he’d spent the money he’d taken from the room, so he managed to steal a lonely beer from the table opposite.
It was three twenty-five am and he’d almost forgotten the time such was the light blue sky. Like a summer’s day in London. He’d almost forgotten a lot of things but they always bubbled their way back to the surface of his thoughts.
He’d been living at the Hotelii Helsinki for nearly five months now and was starting to call it home. In that lay a danger, Finland was not home but then neither was anywhere else.
He just wished, right at that precise moment, that the world would just stop, maybe for an hour or two so that he could think of what to do next. But it never did, it just kept going, it kept catching up with him and he was afraid.
When had he first met her? In the street? No. At the dance? Probably the dance, it was the most obvious place. You couldn’t say she wasn’t attractive with her fine blonde hair and those cheekbones; God, those cheek bones that were borrowed from an angel.
In any other society she would have been fighting them off but not here. Here, she had to travel over forty kilometres to attend the dance. Was ‘a dance’ the right words? It really didn’t do it justice. This was a gathering, a social event, a news swapping forum and a pickup joint.
They were mostly farmers, foresters and their families and each Saturday, every Saturday they travelled vast distances to meet at the Traffic Light Saturday Dance.
Every weekend he’d sit in the Reception Hall of the hotel watching them arrive. Faces that had been ground down by the wind over the years, faces that sat on top of bodies all decked out in fancy sports clothing. Not the real designer gear of course but cheap copies probably bought from a travelling Russian.
All of them happy and drunk, the same way a Titanic passenger would have been happy and drunk. There was a forced camaraderie about them all, perhaps due to the fact these were the first humans they had felt heat from all week.
There were never any pretty ones – was that because they had left the backwoods to trade in on their looks? Or because the midnight sun eventually stole the pretty faces?
Sometimes he would ride up in the elevator with them, not that he understood their language but just so that he could feel the heat of another.
They would all fall out at the same floor and he would be left with only the smell of booze, cheap scent and himself; and the coldness.
There were only two modes to living in the north: Dark and Light. Several months of twenty-four hour darkness brought a resignation to nature, then it brought the ghosts – the dark thoughts that usually inhabited the night and were gone in the morning – were not washed away up here by the light of day. The dark thoughts persisted.
Then came the bleaching of the constant daylight, there were no contrasts, no shaded area to take shelter, and the ghosts persisted in the sunshine. He thought that funny, that once the ghosts came they came to stay.
The Traffic light stood in the middle of the dance floor, when it was green the man could ask the woman to dance. When it was at red, the woman could either sit a dance out or ask the man.
There was no doubting it, she was very pretty.
She had asked him to dance and then he had asked her. Her English was as bad as his Finnish, so they signed to each other, then they kissed. The universal kiss, there was no doubting that.
What he hadn’t expected was to find her gone when he awoke. The pillow was still smelling of her scent and still warm from her heat.
The bed was growing cold again and sunlight burned through the curtains.
It would be another week, another seven days of living until he felt her body next to him again, to feel that heat again.
He understood them now and he understood their dances. There was a need in all of us to feel the warmth of others.
So he turned away from the light and wept.
bobby stevenson 2016