Riikka Pulkkinen (trans. Lola Rogers)


It had been only six months since Elsa got sick. In December Martti remarked that she had dwindled to half her previous size. She weighed herself at the spa and made an appointment with the doctor.

It’s nothing, she said. Nothing at all, Martti said. Elsa wiped the worry from his face with a kiss.

Everything happened quickly—the examination, the biopsy, the diagnosis.

Martti cried on the way home from the hospital after the hardest news. Elsa was quiet, squeezing his hand the whole way, even in the elevator.

They stood in the entryway for a long time, leaning against each other. A Christmas star in the window, afternoon dusk in the room.

Let’s have a really good Christmas, Elsa said. Just in case.

Eleonoora came with her family on Christmas day. Elsa hadn’t had the heart to tell her yet.

But Eleonoora guessed—it was the kind of thing a doctor notices. It started right away—her worry, which to the less observant could seem like bossiness. Elsa didn’t take any notice of her instructions, she just said, as she had to Martti, Let’s enjoy Christmas.

It was a happy Christmas, in spite of everything. On Christmas Eve they went skating, and on Boxing Day they skied. Elsa was surprised at her strength, ate half a chocolate bar and slid down the hills as sprightly as a girl.

The treatments started at the beginning of the year. They only gave her the cytostatins for a few weeks, a month. Then they used the phrase “palliative care.” That meant hospice. This time Elsa cried.

Martti tried to be strong and keep up his hopes. He asked her what she wanted to do.

We could drive somewhere, she said. We could just drive off into the dusk, without any destination, listen to music like we always do on road trips.

They had gone driving every evening now, since the end of February. The spring was light pink and pale yellow, like every spring. Elsa often urged him to drive slower so that she could see the sky better. The clouds moved across the sky like big buildings. At the beginning of March, in a parking lot in Lauttasaari, they heard a black-bird singing.

They sat there for a long while, with the lights off, in the dark, listening to the blackbird.

It’s surprising how little there is to fear, Elsa said. No, there’s nothing to be afraid of, Martti answered.

True Riikka Pulkkinen (tr. Lola Rogers)