Last December I published a post about Hernán Casciari and Orsai. Today I wanted to share with you a translation I did of one of Casciari’s most popular short-stories: Finlandia (Finland). The story was first published in his blog in 2005 and then, in 2011, it was republished in the magazine Orsai (Orsai 02) with drawings by Javier Olivares. Below, you can see a sample of one of the drawings that illustrates Finlandia.
The story needs no further introduction, so I hope you enjoy this version as much as I enjoyed translating it! And if you have any suggestions or comments about the translation, feel free to make them in the Reply section.
On December 14th 1995 I killed my sister’s eldest daughter while reversing my car. During the blunt impact, my family’s howling and the actual realization that I had run into a trunk, I lived the most intense ten seconds of my life. For those ten seconds, I hung onto time and I realized that any possible future would be an endless hell.
I was living in Buenos Aires and I had travelled to Mercedes to celebrate my grandmother’s eightieth birthday (that’s why I remember the exact date because she will be ninety in a few days; because in a few days it will be the tenth-year anniversary of something, not good or bad, that has defined my life unlike any other event).
We celebrated my grandmother’s birthday with a barbecue in our country house; we were having a nice conversation after the meal. At three o’clock I borrowed the car from Roberto to go to the newspaper and hand in an interview. I got into the car, I looked at the rear mirror to check there were no children playing around and I reversed the car to align it with the gate and gain access to the street. It was then that I felt the impact, a sharp blow against the car’s rear, and the world stopped forever.
Forty meters from me, at the table where everyone is talking, my sister, terrified, stands up and screams her daughter’s name. My mother, or perhaps my grandmother, or somebody also screams:
—He ran her over!
At that moment, I realized that my life, as I knew it, had come to an end. My life was no longer my life. I realized it immediately. I realized that my three-year-old niece was behind the car; I realized that because of her height I couldn’t have seen her through the mirror before reversing; I realized, finally, that I had just killed her.
Ten seconds is the time my family takes to run from the table to my car. I see them stand up, their faces distorted. I see an endless glass of wine falling to the floor. I see them all coming straight towards me. I don’t do anything; I don’t get out of the car; I don’t look at anybody: my eyes can’t be entertained with the real world because I have begun to travel in time, a very long and awful trip that would take ten seconds in reality but that, internally, it would take a viscous eternity.
At that moment (I don’t know why I’m so certain) I have no doubts about what I’ve just done. I don’t think about the possibility of having run into a trunk. I don’t even think that my niece is taking a nap inside the house. I see everything so clearly, so truly, that the only thing left to do is to think of me for the last time before letting myself be killed.
“I wish Negro would kill me” —I think—, “I hope he gets so mad, so enraged that he beats me up like an unmerciful father until I’m dead. I hope that he doesn’t give me the option of having to kill myself, tonight, because I’m a coward and I couldn’t do it; because I would do the most despicable act: I would go to Finland”. I spend the last ten seconds, the last peaceful seconds I will spend in my entire life, thinking about the person I will no longer be.
I was almost twenty-five years old. I was writing a very long and pleasant novel. I lived in a beautiful house in Villa Urquiza, with a Ping-Pong table in the terrace. I had my whole life ahead of me. I worked in a magazine that paid well. I had an intense social life. I was happy. And then, I kill my three-year-old goddaughter and all the lights go off in all the rooms in all the houses where I could have lived happily ever after. I reflect about all of this dispassionately because I no longer own a body to tremble.
During those ten seconds, when real time has literally ceased, when my brain works for hours to fit into a ten-second box, I see clearly that I have only two options –if my brother-in-law doesn’t do me the favour of killing me—running away (immediately, bribe somebody and flee the country) or killing myself. As things stand, my biggest regrets are not to be able to write or laugh ever again.
For a long time, years, I was surprised at how coldly I faced disaster in those ten seconds when I thought that I had killed my niece. It wasn’t exactly coldness, but something worse: a split soul, an inhumane objectivity. It bothered me that I wouldn’t be able to write anymore, that in my suicide or escape –I hadn’t decided which one yet—I would have to give up one option: pleasure.
I could go to Finland, yes, to any cold and remote country. I wouldn’t be able to phone my family and friends anymore. I could become a butcher in a supermarket in Hämeenlina, but I wouldn’t be able to write, love a woman or fish anymore. I would be ashamed of happiness. I would be ashamed of forgetting, of distractions. An involuntary guilt would always be there and when I had a false sense of calm or I forgot for a moment what had happened, guilt would return to prolong my suffering. Life had ended. I had to disappear.
And what if I disappeared? What if my family could no longer see the killer? What kind of peace was I offering them? My family, the ones that were now running slowly from the table to my car to kill me or to see a child’s corpse, could think that I was in exile, hurt and afraid, fearful and mean, or agoraphobic. They could suspect that I was mad, like those people that wonder aimlessly after an earthquake; numb, sick, a bum. They could even forgive me because they would see me incapable of happiness, dejected. They would kill those that cursed me saying that they had seen me laughing in a Finnish town, drinking in a brothel, writing a story, making money, seducing a woman, petting a cat, fishing a boga or giving out money to a Moroccan in the subway. They wouldn’t believe that someone (not I in particular but someone) could be capable of such weakness, of such sad forgetfulness, of killing and not crying, of escaping and forgetting a summer’s afternoon when a child, your own blood, lied dead under a car tyre.
Ten endless seconds until someone sees the trunk and everyone forgets the situation.
Nobody, none of the people that were having lunch that day ten years ago in Mercedes, remembers this story now. Nobody has had nightmares; only I have woken up in a sweat for years, when those ten seconds come back at night without the happy ending. For them it is only a dent in my bumper at the end of spring.
Nothing bad happened that afternoon, and nothing bad happened, before or afterwards, in my life. Ten years have passed and since then everything has been peaceful; an oasis where nothing inevitable has interfered in my life. Why then, these days, do I feel like I have turned ten and not thirty-five? Why do I give more importance to this date when I didn’t kill anybody than to that previous one when I was born screaming, crazy with life? Why some nights do I wake up and I’m short of breath and I feel the real cold of a Finnish cabin? And why do I find the odds and ends of anguish and exile, and I suffocate because I didn’t have the guts to kill myself?
It is the frailty of peace that provokes shivers and uncertainty. It is the dreadful speed of misfortune that stalks like an eagle at night and waits hidden to steal everything and leave us grasping the steering wheel and thinking that the only option is to die alone in Finland, with dried eyes from not weeping.
Luckily, there is usually a trunk and we live in peace. But we all know, beneath laughter, love and sex, and the nights spent with friends, books and records, that there isn’t always a trunk. Sometimes there is Finland.