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Sillanpää, Frans Eemil, 1888-1964 / People in the summer night; an epic suite (1966)

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[chapter 26]

  [p. 79]  


The artist rowed about until he felt on his face and wrists that there was a touch of night in the air. The realization checked his humming and made him think of going home.

A man approaching his home at nightfall, after his wife and children have gone to bed, does so usually in a childlike good humor — unless, on the contrary, he is seething with rage. When the day has drawn on to evening, the tumult it brought has been stilled; the peace of night prevails, ancient both as word and as concept. The home may have been visited by want, affliction, worry of all kinds; perhaps that is what has driven the man to roam about so late. But as he gets near his home, he knows that he alone has the right, middle of the night though it is, to enter those rooms to which years of family life have already lent a familiar atmosphere. The night's rest is one of the sacred things; a kind of protective ring surrounds a human being asleep. There behind the forehead is the brain, in which now, in sleep, all kinds of good and evil spirits are jostling, beautiful and ugly figures which, during the struggles of the day, had to be pushed far to the back of the mind. Happy the man who, fully trusting, can step out of the night into his warm home, his wife's and children's nest. The mother and her young, there they are . . . .

  [p. 80]  

No one was up as the artist approached the farm. At this hour nothing stirred. He saw the cottage that he rented and remembered the horrible circumstance by which he had become its tenant: the old man, whom many hated, and his wife had been furtively done to death in those same rooms. The window panes still seemed to say "Oh yes, we know all right, but if we can't speak, we can't . . . and now your brood is here."

The door was locked; he had to knock. It was some time before anyone came. As the door was opened, he saw the back of a woman in a nightgown. It was his wife. The artist had time to note her receding footsteps, which were extremely regular — the even flip-flop of his wife's slippers was very familiar. The woman got back into bed and lay motionless in the same position she had evidently been lying in when she heard the knocking. The children were breathing quietly in the bed they all shared.

The artist was still not sleepy; he was in no hurry to go to bed. He went to the window and looked hard for something to watch — apart from the luminous night itself. A small white butterfly was fluttering around near the path — perhaps he had startled it when he came. Its flight was in some way very earnest; it seemed to be doing something whose futility it was not itself aware of . . . . And there, on the outside of the window pane, was another arthropod: unmoving, as though petrified for a hundred years, a strange insect like a symbol of the night — a crane fly. Incredibly long legs, bent sharply at one of the joints, and a proboscis like the continuation of the slender body — then the wings, spread even in that motionless repose. The insect was so still that the man could study the venation of the wings against the evening glow. He could really take his time observing the curious stumps behind the wings — and reflect wonderingly   [p. 81]   why one pair of wings was transformed like that and what the creature could possibly use them for . . . . At this moment the peculiar insect's only purpose, as it rested inert on the window pane, seemed to be in some odd way to intensify the spirit of the summer night, which gleamed quite close to it and yet was so far away, shining down from the remoteness of undreamt-of heavens. Just as the pattern of the snow in a winter drift intensifies and expresses the spirit of a frosty moonlit night.

"Well, did you do your painting of Syrjämäki-Hilja's breasts?" said a voice from the bed.

The artist seemed still to be observing the outline of the crane fly against the night sky, but — but he no longer saw it. He merely stood for a moment longer in the same position. Then he turned and looked calmly at the room. Children's clothes lay on chairs and even on the floor; some were in holes, some stained with tar. The night was so warm that the sleeping children had kicked the bedclothes into a tangled heap; one of them had scratched a mosquito bite on the buttocks until it bled. At peace, and strangely moved, the father took all this in. His wife's remark a moment ago was also like a garment flung on a chair and left to hang there. He went into the other room and opened a window. The night had deepened; he felt as if a very long time had passed since he had wandered about in it just now. Quite a new spirit seemed to be enticing him back.

Stealthy as a thief, he slipped outside and around the corner, as if afraid of pursuit; he came to the path leading to the hill and began to follow it, an expression almost of ecstatic suffering on his face.

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