Six Nights & Cinnamon Buns (II)

Sunday — 19th January
22,004 steps 8.84 mi walked 1.6 mi by tram

Sunday was their favourite day; both of them recognized it separately and after the fact, kept quiet for a time, then acknowledged aloud to each other. It was strange — Sunday was always their favourite.

The forecast had been for a sunny day but when they awoke — entangled & pink, still very satisfied and full from the night before — it was quite overcast. There were no curtains hanging over the windows of the flat, indeed nothing to stop the daylight — at that time of year, very dim — from stumbling all over the furniture in a sleepy kind of grey; one had only to open their tired eyes to see what the weather was like. Over the bedroom window was a net curtain, which did little to obscure the red lamp light at night or the Finnish day at dawn. By the time the water had boiled in the pan and the coffee was done, it was beginning to brighten; fingers of blue sky running through grey hair. As she applied her makeup by the sill, he rolled his cigarettes. A news article was being read out and it filled the flat as they spoke silly-little-things to each other, negotiating their paths over the smallest of scents, the last remaining crockery of last night’s festivities.

The city was caught in a perpetual golden hour; its latitude meaning that the sun never strayed from its angle of wonderful illumination. To go wandering around noon one would believe the sun was about to set, yet there it lingered just above the horizon, hovering, teasing you toward the deep darkness of a Nordic night. They walked towards the water. She led him to a small wooden hut in the distance—‘All the tourists come here.’ Inside was a tremendous cosiness, a soup of dirty window daylight and brown rings on worn wooden tables. Above the counter was a sign that read NO SPECIAL COFFEE. The cinnamon bun was freshly hot, tasted of cardamom. Outside a gaggle of strangers clung around a fire where the wind blew sharp. The two of them passed on by, sharing the bun squeezed between a thin paper napkin.

Sundays and graveyards. She pointed to her favourite one: a sloppily carved lion sitting on a perfectly rectangular stone, the name of its memory chiselled on the side. ‘In London all the graves are crammed together, a mess … here they are spaced out, organised.’ The sun came through trees and the teeth of tombs.

They cut zigzags. She led, he followed.

In time they would come to forget the order of things, what happened and when. The scenery itself would fade out of recollection. Most moments could never be savoured enough; even nostalgia did not paint in such vivid colours. There was only a passage of time and the remembrance of feelings so wonderful.

The flea market would close in five minutes and the loner tending the till dimmed the lights down one side, forcing everyone perusing the secondhand goods into the glassware, ornaments and DVD section. There was, amongst it all, a box of chocolates. They wasted some time there, then struck out into the street. Everything so calm, so Sunday.

‘I need the toilet.’
‘Me too.’

Up the hill was a museum in an old stately home, full of oil paintings and varnish. They used the toilets, then took a moment to look at the opulent furnishings, cabinets and works of art. They stood in front of a vanity unit, she pulled a phone from her pocket and took a picture of them.

‘I want to show you these cliffs,’ she said to him. The colours were perfect. He was sure that the camera in his pocket would not do them justice. She stood there, examining the carvings in the rock; some of it over a century old, others more recent and many an engraved cock. The sun shone low over the water and the sound of the sea. He did not feel anxious or terrified of life; was it her or the city? Was it both? He looked at her and she looked as good as she ever did. He raised his camera, certain the colours would not come out as he wished. The counter showed thirty-eight; the wheel could not be turned; the film had run out. The sheets of rock, disruption of the sea, her gold headband catching the light, and her figure making its way to him. Most moments could never be savoured enough; even 35mm Fuji did not paint in such vivid colours.

She had picked out a cinema for him to watch the Liverpool United game. On the sign outside it advertised BEER HOTDOGS GIRLS. It was their sort of place. Every red velvet seat was taken, mostly by twenty-something men and the odd girlfriend bewilderedly staring at her phone, praying for some kind of bomb threat evacuation.  Not a spare seat in the house, so they went down the road to a pub that smelled of butter and garlic. They took up a bench to themselves. She rubbed close to him and he did not know he was born. Everything about it seemed so perfect, so absurd and amusing. She got into it and told him so. On the shirts of the Finnish Liverpool fans were names from ten years ago, more; they dragged him back to college days. Good-humouredly they hurled taunts at one another, then laughed great puffing bellows.

On the tram home—‘Let’s buy some sweets and order pizza.’
On the tram home—‘I was going to say that exact thing.’

There were candles and there was comedy. They ate till they were full and then ate sweets. He shared his with hers and she reached in, rummaged like a child, commenting all the time, critiquing every kind—‘I’ve not tried this one before!’ He put his head in her lap and could not keep his eyes from closing. She finished removing her makeup and contact lenses; as she did, he wrote down everything they had done that day. The bedroom was all red from the lamp. She climbed in next to him, extending her limbs about his. All the while she was watched. Her nightly routine smelled of tea leaves. It was all over his senses. She was blurred in the darkness. He was, too.
Monday — 20th January
7,325 steps 5.52 mi walked

The brunch had been organised for at least a week. ‘What time are they coming over?’ ‘Eleven.’ Fine drizzle fell, could be seen from the bed. He opened the window and stood in front of it. The nets blew like a ball gown. Three of her friends were due to visit for a considerable breakfast of freshly baked rolls, smoothie, spreads, fruits and so on, as well as some leftovers from Saturday night, which, to the both of them, already seemed like weeks ago. He ensured he looked presentable; a trifle nervous at what her nearest & dearest would think of him.

First of all, a hard-looking English woman with a shaved head entered, well-spoken and quietly stiff for some reason. The two English people shook hands. It was too early in the day for new people, they both thought so. She pulled out a jar of apricot jam from her pocket. Then another arrived; usually the most punctual, she lingered outside, finishing a cigarette she had lit after stepping off the bus. Finally the third arrived with all the entrance of a bounding dog named Oili.  She tried to calm the dog, but as soon as she was unharnessed she bounced around the apartment, sniffing everything, receiving a quick stroke and then running her nose around the edges of the fridge. Every one was given a task to perform and slowly the table was filled with a delicious bouquet of food, a carton of orange juice, a jug of smoothie and a large pot of coffee. They all sat down, conversing in accented English for the benefit of their monolingual guest. The Finnish brunch was conducted with far greater decorum than its English counterpart; dishes were passed carefully, voices were low, discussion was polite, seconds were forked out surreptitiously, not a drop of alcohol was consumed or even dreamt about. Oili looked upwards eagerly but not rudely; at the end of the meal she was allowed onto the host’s lap. He went out for a cigarette, and the four women were afforded an opportunity to talk earnestly about the romantic affairs of the English woman, who, quite forlorn with things, twirled the jar of apricot jam as she spoke. Her friends listened intently, and he returned, they acted as though nothing had happened, and all was measured once more. One by one the guests left until it was just the couple—

‘Let’s go for a walk,’ he said.
‘Great idea,’ she said.

It was cold out, and miserable. You had to hold hands to keep warm. The light was dim, muggy with drizzle and the day showed no signs of recovering. Around the coast there were people strolling or jogging, dogs sniffing for Oili. Above the water stood imposing old wooden houses, cluttered with old sofas and reclusive artists; the shadows whispered to themselves in the darkness and, beyond, waves lapped at the shore. The city was sleepy, docile. An old woman running a secondhand bookshop broke out her English to explain each section of the shop, then pointed to a portrait of her uncle on the wall, a veteran of the Finnish Russian war. There were a great many books, one could hardly move for them, books stacked on books, books on the shelves, on every horizontal surface, books all over the till with nowhere to write receipts, books all over the floor with nowhere to walk. ‘It’s been over twenty-four hours… I’m getting withdrawal… I need a cinnamon bun!’ he said, so they burst into a closing café, then walked along clasping a cup of hot black coffee between both hands; it cooled quickly in the biting wind.

The bar was dead. It was men watching a screen of football from around the continent, and then it focused on a live game from Germany. At the opposite end a group of three spoke in English, loudly, but with an accent and laughing all the while. Their gaiety broke the atmosphere, while the solitary gentlemen tipped their glass, curved their spines, faced the same light-blue direction. The couple sat with their backs against the glass, both bitterly aware that tomorrow was their last day together, and that their time with each other had gone too fast. For weeks they had anticipated their reunion, talked about it daily, dreamed about the things they would do together; and it was almost over. Both were terribly sad about it but neither said anything, as though refusing to acknowledge it would prevent it from happening. After that it was back to normal life. But at that moment they each had a beer, and she had her thigh in his hand, and he had his hand over her thigh, and in the distance the three people laughed at one another. At that moment, things were perfect.

The swimming pool smelled like a swimming pool. Everything was the colour of white & water, and in between large flesh moved and burst through. All sounds were echoes, nothing firsthand, and be still the quiet café of patrons hunched over wooden tables and simmering pop music! ‘The cinnamon buns in here are great, too. You can do a taste-test.’ The lady behind the till was on her phone, but came out flowering with conversation when greeted by a friendly face on the other side. Everything inside there was so white and so much like a mint. Outside the odour of chlorine vanished and all one could smell was melted frost & salt. Both of them knew what they would do when they got home, before they ate dinner, before they accepted that time was running out, then they would be as animals in the boudoir. No matter how hard they tried or what the neighbours heard, the next day was their last for the foreseeable. 
Tuesday — 21st January
11,658 steps 4.70 mi walked 2.3 mi by bus

The night before, she had fallen before him, so he was permitted, for a tired moment, to listen to her gentle breathing. Sleeping next to her was easy. She clung to him ‘like a monkey’. Their legs were entwined; he felt her pubic hair on his hips and she felt his morning stiffness between her cheeks, and they woke up in each other’s eyes and smiled. It did not make it easier.

She had something planned, knew exactly where they would go. And go they went! It was no time at all before they left behind the cacophony of apartment buildings and busy roads, and ventured into the forests where pine trees stood tall and scraped out a living on the hard rocks and meagre light.

Across a wooden bridge and onto an island. Set amongst the pines were buildings built in the old style, to illustrate a way of life long gone; there were no actors or tour guides, just the buildings. Beyond the pines was the sea, a dark blue with another coast the colour of sun & sand farther away. Birds bobbed in the surf. On the southeast of the island the wind came in and tore away your hearing, penetrated every bit of clothing and so they shared a packet of mints and took photographs of each other, where the shadows stretched on forever. The sun was very bright, didn’t seem like it would ever die.

There was a café owned by one of her favourite brands of chocolate. Inside were many young mothers, all of them breastfeeding at once; all of them holding the babies like it was some salute to a nationless flag. The sun was beginning to set. The babies stared out with bulbous eyes and their mouths full. The city looked beautiful. It could be appreciated more once one had wandered the worn paths between trees and smelled the sea. All the neon signs lit up and competed for attention. Like his first day arriving, the pine trees seemed so far away.

They went to the exhibition they’d been turned away from on Sunday, then searched for somewhere to drink. For a long time they swum around the pick n’ mix stand in the supermarket. If he was in any doubt of what he was shovelling into his bag, she would translate the sign and he’d nod. His bag was heavier than hers; both totaled less than ten euros.

She always talked to those in the shops and the bars. Because he could not understand her, he wondered whether it made sentences seem much longer, but no, she talked a whole lot; so childish and sweet, so charming to behold. He stared, smiled, he liked how much she talked. As wonderful as the last day was, it was still their last day. It was not something they talked about, not something they mentioned. With hidden sadness, they sat down and drank the expensive beer that their palates were becoming accustomed to. They went to another bar, sat in the back where they could be inconspicuous and affectionate. The kitchen bustled, its open door spilling green light and pizza smells onto the crowds of scattered Tuesday night crowds. Delivery men came, took the boxes, exchanged a few words, or silently refused to remove headphones, then went away with something smelling like a million quid—‘The pizzas are better in the other place, trust me.’ He trusted her.

In the other place they started lying to customers saying the kitchen was closed so they could go home. The couple got one of the last orders in. ‘Lemme take a photo of you,’ he said. ‘I’ll do the happy one first. Smile. I bet it hurts… This is the one I’ll show my mum to pretend you actually enjoy being with me, rather than attempting to explain you have this brand you need to maintain of always looking grumpy in photos.’ She smiled and covered her mouth with the pint glass. The first three photos were blurry, of her moving from one side to the next, her smile obscured by a half-full pint glass. ‘Now we’ll do the grumpy one… Be as grumpy as you want, go on.’ She composed herself, pushed away her smile and sneered at the lens. He smiled—‘Perfect.’
Wednesday — 22nd January
11,300 steps — 1,149 mi flown — 30 mi by train — 4.81 mi walked

Everything was measured against the time; wake-up calls, plans cut short for the sake of an extra hour in bed, one pot of coffee or two; she even put on less eye makeup than she wanted to. ‘Shall I take my luggage to the café?’ They wanted to grab one last cinnamon bun from the café they’d gone to on the first morning. It would be different because during the night it had snowed and everything was more beautiful, brighter, everything looked like it was pulling out the stops. He smoked in front of the apartment building as she put on her makeup, returned and smelled her neck, felt the choking in his throat as he packed away his belongings, briefly checking to see if his dirty clothes smelled anything like her, but it was hard to tell. She played a podcast of world events and hunched over by the window, applying eye shadow. The sound of the reporter was buoyant against the feelings of sadness that circulated about the apartment. They went to the café, where it was busy and he wrote a postcard to his parents. They walked back to the sound of schoolchildren on their break. She wore the collar he’d bought her and the sun came down the Finnish streets as they waited for their bus to arrive. Spectacularly he saw the sights of the train he’d missed in the darkness. A jolly ticket-inspector came along, and reminded him, in rambling, to not forget his luggage at the stop for the airport. ‘“I’ll be back to check,” he said,’ she translated.

Prolong the inevitable. As they smoked by the drop-off point, she rubbed moisturiser into his hands, focusing on the knuckles. He did not want the moisturiser but treasured the act. He would not listen to her, all his knuckles were red and there were little cracks where the blood dried. They kissed at the gates, like an equator or a meridian from which everything else was measured. Neither wished to be the first to break away. The nibbling of tears and choked voices, choked tears and broken voices. The sun came in through the large panes of airport glass, blocking the line of sight and, looking back between the hubbub of excited travelers, he saw her descending the escalator. Stiff upper lip. He assisted the elderly around him because it was distracting. They had probably been in love for many years. They muttered little phrases of thanks that he barely understood. He looked toward the distance. He went to text her before security placed their firm hand on his shoulder but she’d beat him to it. As he explained the contents of his bag and struggled to put his belt back in, he thought of her making that return journey on the train and of his life resuming, coming back from dead and putting its hands upon him.