(selection from: a short story)

Gulf of Finland

 

He pulls back abruptly, that’s when a lunging wave splits against the old seawall. Blue water rains down right in front of him like it has been tossed from a second story, slapping the wall, then rolling and foaming in silvery strands filled with life as it spills back into the ocean. The curving brine-encrusted barrier scarcely protects anything from the black, indifferent Baltic. Frank Wells is walking on top of the ancient barricade in December trying not to cut his hand on the corroded red metal handrail. Over the deep water a wall of clear blue light hovers, too serene to be real. In a new city Frank sometimes visits the edge of the inhabited world to locate its exact demise. Over the Gulf a long remnant of bright winter light clings to the belly of an approaching storm front, a line of gold fleece suggesting a passageway into other worlds.

            Frank is a long way from home, but this afternoon he’s dressed warmly, even properly. He knows nothing untoward will happen, it never does. His glasses are slightly effeminate, too slim and rounded at the ends for a man. Once, a woman told him it looked as if his mother had dressed him. He bought a dark blue suit after that. He’s wearing it today.

            He stands at the border of the Gulf in a park named after Jean Sibelius and stares at the water. Sibelius, the great national composer of Finland, burned his last symphonies in a laundry basket in his dining room. His wife couldn’t stand it and had to leave. He didn’t want any last thoughts left behind.

            Frank walks back and the waves curl against the sea wall like fingers lifting a melody from a stone piano. Tattered islands and bays surround the peninsula and the Gulf is largely frozen and covered with snow and ice. In the winter Helsinki seems trapped in a white sea.

            A taxi deposits him in the center of town and he window shops along the Aleksi. Inside the city static faces emerge from the surreal twilight. They don’t stare or smile, they just exist. It’s anyone’s guess who they might be, Frank certainly doesn’t know. Their identity is not something he would want to know. It’s frigidly cold and Frank finds pleasure visiting a place where he will never be known. When he thinks that, the satisfaction of it almost forces small sounds of elation from his mouth.

            December is constant on the Baltic. Winter afternoons begin, but just as abruptly they die, like spotlights roughly shuttered in a theater. Dusk absorbs the hovering sounds of cars and buildings, of Helsinki’s indecipherable density. Frank pulls his collar close and icy air enters his lungs. Around him the sky is stained a grainy blue brown. It is city air filled with a human mixture of sound and odor and light. It lifts from the gutters and the pavement and the sweat of heated buildings. The air smells bitter, but it buoys Frank. He stops and enjoys the anonymity of the approaching night. On the avenues the headlights of cars turn firelight yellow. Streetcars wobble on the sparking electric lines. Their wheels ring metal to metal. None of this requires Frank to do anything.

            He descends through a tunnel of contemporary buildings. The street is collaged with competing signs, blinking lights and turning buses, the scissored legs of pedestrians. Frank’s sandy brown hair flops as he walks. His beautiful winter coat is warm and it conceals an ugly lichen colored tie. He appears remarkably young for forty.

            Around him black apparitions with long scarves flee to the trains, as if the darkness could be outrun. He sets his briefcase down. For a moment he tries to remember anything about the day that is plunging into night, but it’s not easy in the chaos. From his pocket he pulls out a cell phone. His hands move rapidly tugging at his collar, adjusting his glasses. He picks up the briefcase again. He’s come all the way from America to get something out of these Finns.

            There’s Sibelius again, a waltz ringing hollow in metal speakers around the emptying city center. Snow is falling. The thin briefcase swings softly in Frank’s hand. It holds a signed agreement. His shoes push into the snow and the frigid temperatures remind him he’s not fully in charge. Forces are all around. He touches the membrane of his cell. His finger slides over the beautiful Helvetica of oddly sequenced numbers. It dials.

            A woman answers.

            “Hei?

            “Yes. This is…Frank.”