HOUSE HUNTING

FINNISH STYLE

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                                                  PROLOGUE

 

 

As is sometimes the way with farmers, Mr Karhu’s life had the same parameters as his farm. ‘Life’, ‘farm’ – the two words were almost interchangeable. In addition to arable land he had pigs and a small herd of dairy cows and some chickens, plus a wife and a son. A little of everything in fact, at least of things that could thrive in the part of Finland where he lived. His day began with milking, ran through working on his fields, and returned via evening milking to an early bedtime.

His wife, Mrs. Karhu, kept the farmhouse like a palace. It was spotless, in spite of her having a little part-time bookkeeping job in the town. She went there daily; her days were regular all year round, whether daylight shone or darkness pressed against the windows. Mr. Karhu’s life was governed by daylight hours and the seasons; in winter when the days almost vanished and the land was under snow, he became more taciturn, if that was possible, and a little morose.

Of course, after twenty-odd years of marriage, there is often not very much left to say. Whatever was worth saying has long since been said, in the days when the presence of a spouse was a novelty, and time through the years carves out separate, parallel grooves for man and for wife, with little need for surplus communication. Thus it was that it was quite some time before the Karhus discovered that they both thought the boy was somehow getting worse. In the end it was sheer exasperation that drove them to speak of it to each other. Mrs. Karhu saw him as getting more slovenly and rude, Mr. Karhu as becoming more stubborn. Of course, he had always been stubborn, if  by ‘stubborn’ was meant ‘slow’, but now there seemed to be a different quality to his slowness. A kind of rebelliousness, a sort of resentment. Or else the boy was in his private world, a world that left the cows unmilked while he stood staring into space. The farmer wondered where and what that world was, but he for one had no time to try and find out. Someone had to do the milking.

 

She supposed it was his age, said Mrs. Karhu. He was growing up. But what did ‘growing up’ mean, if it meant that he was three times as irresponsible as ever? Half the time she had to remind him to take his muddy shoes off in the house. She hoped it would pass. He wasn’t a bad boy.

And now he was back at school. The long summer holiday was over, the new school year had just begun. That was another thing. The boy should have left school before the summer, but his grades had not been good. He was having to repeat his final year; maybe that was the cause of his constant glumness.

Today was the second day of term, but the afternoon already, the slow-paced hours of a hot, still, sleepy August day. The boy would be home soon; he never went anywhere after school. The farmer kept a lookout for him from the tractor shed. It would take the two of them to go and bring in logs on the tractor. Then the boy could start to chop them – they would need wood for the sauna and the winter heating. All in all, mused Mr. Karhu, the lad was good at farm work, if only he could just snap out of his present attitude. They hadn’t had to employ a farmhand now for a couple of years.

When he saw his son go past the window on his way to the house he shouted to him, but the boy did not answer, or even turn his head. Mr. Karhu cursed him briefly and went out after him, towards the house and into it and right to the door of the room where the boy had gone. The room where the outdoor shoes were kept and the ancient hunting rifle hung on its hook on the wall. Beyond the door he noticed that the boy had not yet taken his shoes off. He had lifted the gun down from the wall and was playing with it. Mr. Karhu stepped inside.

“What are you doing?”

The farmer was a practical man, prosaic and down-to-earth; he knew where he stood on matters. He had never expected to finish his life with a question.

 

                                                 

 

                                             CHAPTER 1

 

London, 1980

Dr. Noel Fisher would never of his own accord have taken in a lodger, least of all one from somewhere dubious, such as overseas...

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