By Rayne Golay
The Wooden Chair
Throughout her childhood and teenage years, Leini suffers both physical and emotional abuse from her mother, Mira. Years later, married to a wonderful man, Bill, a mother herself, Leini is determined to break the pattern of abuse. With pain, she struggles through past hurts, to grow into a nurturing and loving parent and wife, a successful professional. Her victory is complete when she is able to forgive Mira.
Chapter 1 Helsinki, May 1943
The policewoman stood on the corner of the crowded marketplace, staring at a little girl with long legs and curly toffee blond hair. The child sang a popular German refrain with high-pitched fervor. “Wie einst, Lili Marlene, wie einst, Lili Marlene.” (My Lili of the lamplight, my own Lili Marlene).
Suppressing a smile, the policewoman observed the little girl standing with feet slightly apart, hand outstretched to receive what coins the shoppers could afford. An orange cardigan accentuated her long neck and the high cheekbones of her pale face. She kept adjusting round black-rimmed glasses that slipped down her nose.
This was a mere child, at the most five years old. Is there no adult accompanying her? The policewoman studied the crowd.
The officer approached the little singer. “Are you here alone?”
A shy smile came and went on the child’s face. Her eyes, dark like bitter chocolate, were wary behind the thick glasses that detracted from her prettiness. She nodded, causing her glasses to slide again.
“Where’s your mother?”
She waved in the general direction of the street. “My Mamma’s there.”
The policewoman creased her brow. “Why aren’t you with your mother?”
“Mamma doesn’t want me with her.”
That’s odd. “How old are you?”
She held up four fingers. “I’m … this old”
“You’re four years old?”
“Uh-huh. Almost five.”
“Why are you singing in the street? Does your Mamma know you’re begging?”
The girl shook her head vigorously, her shoulder length curls dancing. “I don’t beg.” She stamped her foot. “My Mamma says it’s bad to beg. I’m not bad. I sing so I get money to take the yellow tram home.”
She speaks Finnish with a slight accent, the vowels not so open. Her mother tongue is probably Swedish. She looked into the girl’s palm. It contained two one-penny copper coins. Poor kid, she’s not going far on so little money.
“Where do you live, little girl?”
“There.” Again she waived a tiny hand toward the city center. “At the end of the yellow tram line.”
“Can you show me where you live if I take you?”
The child raised her shoulders and made a movement with her head, which might have been “yes” or “no.”
“What’s your name?”
“Mamma says not to tell strangers.”
“Your Mamma is right.” She tugged at the lapel of her uniform jacket. “I’m a policewoman, so you can tell me.”
“Leini? That’s a pretty name.” The policewoman looked around at the small group of people drawn close by the interaction. What’s your family name? Your second name?” she added, in case Leini didn’t understand “family name.”
The girl looked at her from under her brow, mistrust in those dark eyes. She shook her head while she played with a strand of hair, twirling it between forefinger and middle finger.
The policewoman smiled. “My name is Tuula Heinonen.” Perhaps this will help. “Now you know mine.” She cocked her head to the side. “Please tell me yours.”
A fleeting smile crossed the child’s lips, and she held out her hand to shake. “I’m Leini Ruth Bauman.”
Tuula took the slim hand and held it in her own. She looked into the crowd, hoping to spot the mother.
“I have an idea,” Tuula said and pointed at a phone booth across the market square. “Let’s have a look in the phone book to see if I can find your address, so I can take you home.”
Leini gazed at her with eyes too serious for such a young child. Making up her mind, she stuck her hand in Tuula’s. “Let’s.”
Adjusting her pace to Leini’s, Tuula pushed through the throng of people. Her ears caught snippets of conversations from the cacophony of Swedish, Finnish and the occasional word in Russian, mingled in with an organ grinder’s tune. She glanced at the crowd, mainly women and children, here and there an elderly man or a very young boy among them. Every able-bodied man was now defending Finland against the Russian army.
Holding the door for Leini, Tuula followed her inside the booth. “Here’s the phonebook.” She glanced at the girl’s upturned face. “Now, let’s see. Bal, Bar, Bas. Ah, here.” She kept talking to reassure Leini. “Hmm. There are several Baumans.” Tuula caressed Leini’s head, the hair silky under her hand. “What’s your father’s name?”
Tuula laughed low in her throat. Have to try something else. “Well, there’s no ‘Papi’ listed. Does he have another name?”
“No, just Papi.”
“What’s your mother’s name?”
“Good girl.” She ran her finger down the column of Baumans …. Herman, Markus, Oskar, Pertti. “There! I found it—Robert and Mira.” She gazed at Leini. “Does it sound right?”
“Uh-huh, Papi Robert and Mamma Mira.”
Tuula wrote the address on a scrap of paper and pushed open the door. “It’s not far.”
With Leini’s hand in hers, she crossed the short distance to the nearby tram stop. While they waited for their transportation, Tuula gazed at the market. In between frequent bombardments by Russian planes, people gathered at the marketplace to meet friends, gossip, to break the isolation the war imposed. The abundance of fruits and berries, all the produce the short Finnish summer afforded, was a mere memory. Shortage was part of the reality of war Tuula had grown accustomed to.
It used to be so different before the war. Vendors’ stalls then crowded the marketplace, leaving narrow paths for shoppers. Now with the war raging, only a few stalls stood close together, which left most of the cobble-stoned space unoccupied. Instead of more than a hundred flower and vegetable booths there were now a scant fifteen. Beggars held out their tin cups in which a penny or two rattled along with a few peas and radishes. Tuula sighed. It was all so sad.
She found the display of carrots, potatoes, turnips and red beets formed into pyramids a pleasure for the eye, but she also knew they were so arranged to create the illusion of plenitude, when in fact the merchandise was limited. The fish stands held a few Baltic herring, that was all.
Again Tuula sighed. After four years of penury, she was used to doing without, like the other inhabitants of Helsinki. Eggs, sugar and dairy products, even bread, were luxuries she preferred not to think about. Most of what the land grew, along with meat, went to the frontlines to those brave men, who fought to keep their twenty-six-year-old nation free and safe.
Everybody in the marketplace was there for a reason. The same one for everyone—to learn the latest about the Finno-Russian front and to exchange news about the war in Europe. Faces were somber, the Waffen SS’s attack on the Warsaw ghetto in April still fresh on their minds. Frequently, eyes searched the blue sky, their ears strained for the sound of the dreaded alarm that signaled yet another Russian air strike was imminent.
Tuula sat on the hard bench next to Leini as the tram wound its way along the shore, sunrays dancing on the waters of the Baltic Sea. They passed a deep crater and a heap of rubble, all that remained after Russian bombs took down a five-story building during one of their night raids. Her thoughts wandered to the Winter War, which broke out when the Soviet Union attacked Finland in late November 1939, three months after the start of World War II. To Tuula, as to most Finns, it was a source of comfort that this attack was judged completely illegal, and the USSR was expelled from the League of Nations. Finland fought with valor. She held out until March 1940, when she signed a peace treaty with the Soviet Union. But peace wasn’t lasting; in June 1941 the Russians attacked again starting the Continuation War they were now fighting.
The tram slowed. They disembarked, and Tuula found the street.
“There’s my home,” Leini said, pointing at a door boarded in wood paneling, the glass inlay shattered from the shockwave of bombs. Once inside the vast entry hall, Tuula glanced at an unmanned desk, bearing witness of times when the apartment building had a doorman. She pushed the button to the lift.
Leini tugged at her skirt. “It’s broken. We walk.”
Tuula sighed. “You’re right, we walk.” She took Leini’s hand, and they climbed the stairs to the fifth floor.
To the right of the stairs, Leini pointed at the door with a brass plate, “Bauman.” Tuula rang the bell.
When the door opened, Tuula’s first impression was of a woman in her late twenties, shorter than average, the multicolored house coat, cinched at her waist, couldn’t hide her flat breasts and flaring hips. Her jet black hair, pulled off her face, revealed a high forehead with a widow’s peak, a strong jaw, and large, very dark eyes much like Leini’s. The woman’s lips, painted bright red, created a sharp contrast to her pale silken skin.
As the doorbell rang, Mira’s brow furrowed in several horizontal creases in irritation vibrant inside at being disturbed. She glanced at the meat-and-vegetable soup simmering on the stove. After she turned off the gas and wiped her hands on a towel, she took a deep puff of the cigarette smoldering in an ashtray and crossed the small sitting room to the entry hall.
Mira sucked air into her lungs at the sight of the child and fought the urge to slam the door. She glared at the woman who clutched the child’s hand. Leaning over Leini, Mira grabbed the girl’s arm.
Leini winced and tried to pull away.
“You hopeless number,” Mira hissed. “Where have you been?”
Leini twisted her arm back and forth. “Mamma, you’re hurting me.”
Letting go of Leini, she turned to the policewoman and made a supreme effort to paste a pleasant look on her face.
“I’m Mira Bauman. Thank you for finding my daughter. She wanders away. Does it often.”
Tuula introduced herself. “Yes, she was alone, singing at the market place. I took it upon myself to bring her home. Your daughter is lovely.”
“You don’t know the half of it. She’s a little monster. In the company of people she’s all right. At home with me she’s quite a handful.”
The look in Tuula’s eyes told Mira she’d said too much. Using a more pleasant tone, Mira apologized for Leini’s behavior.
“No trouble. We enjoyed her singing, but she’s much too young to be in the streets on her own.” Smiling at Leini, Tuula bent to touch the child’s cheek with the back of her hand. “There could be a bombardment any minute. Then what would she do? She doesn’t seem to know where she lives. I looked in the phone book for your address.”
“She’d manage. She always does.” She clasped her hands to keep them from shaking at the thought that, yet again, here was Leini, looking dumb as usual with her mouth half open, those horrid glasses magnifying eyes. Her beseeching gaze and stooping shoulders only infuriated Mira more.
Struggling to keep her voice calm, tamping down a lid on her anger, Mira thanked Tuula for her help and dismissed the woman. She pulled the door closed, making a huge effort not to slam it in Tuula’s face.
Mira glared at the child, this accident from the early days of her marriage to Robert. She’d planned on having children, someday—but certainly not so soon. It was too much for her to handle—the loneliness, the responsibility of Leini, food so scarce, fear of bomb attacks a constant presence. During three years of marriage, she and Robert lived together only one year until his country claimed him to fight the Russians. Alone, she was saddled with this girl born on the dawn of the Winter War.
Before Leini could slink into the bedroom they shared, Mamma grabbed the back of her cardigan, yanking her into the living room. Fearing Mamma would pull her hair or pinch her ear as she sometimes did, Leini fought the urge to hide her head in her hands. She stood facing her mother, arms dangling by her sides as she heard Mamma mutter, “You should have stayed lost.”
“But Mamma, I love you.” Leini’s throat burned from sobs she tried to hold in. “I love you, I love you.”
Grandma Britta and Grandpa often said “I love you” to Leini. Mamma didn’t, but maybe if Leini kept saying it very often, Mamma would say the words one day.
“Well, too bad, because I don’t love you. I never wanted you.” Mamma’s hands trembled.
Now Mamma’s very angry at me.
Mamma lit a cigarette and exhaled the smoke in Leini’s face, making her cough.
“Why don’t you want me, Mamma?”
“Your Papi wanted you, not me.” A spray from Mamma’s mouth hit Leini in the face.
“Please, Mamma, please don’t be angry with me. I’ll be good. I’ll do anything you want.” Silent tears rolled from her eyes, leaving trickles of wetness on her cheeks. Sobbing would only make Mamma angrier, she knew. Her hand twined a strand of hair.
Mamma pulled Leini by the ear so hard she moaned. Leini whimpered as the lighted cigarette in Mamma’s hand grazed her cheek. Mamma grabbed her by the shoulders and shook her hard. “Stop that whining this minute.”
Marching Leini across living room down the short hall, Mamma opened the door to the walk-in closet. She shoved Leini inside with such force that the little girl stumbled on the threshold and fell to her knees, cutting them on the rough cement floor inside.
“Mamma! Mamma, please don’t leave me alone here in the dark. Please turn on the light.” Leini heard the lock click. Total darkness. For a long time she sat immobile on knees burning from the scrapes.
Slowly, very carefully, she crawled forward until her head touched the back wall. Turning, she sat and leaned against the wall, cold and afraid. With knees pulled to her chest, arms hugging them for warmth and comfort, she rocked back and forth. She was thirsty. She was tired. She needed to pee.
Life is a Foreign Language
When she surprises her husband making love to another woman in the home NINA BROCHARD has shared with him for thirty-seven years, she has reached her limit. After years of struggling with his infidelities, this final betrayal prompts her to leave her native France and everything familiar and dear. She settles in Southwest Florida where she owns a house and starts a long and grueling journey toward self-discovery and growth to realize her full potential as a woman. But more than anything she wants to heal and find peace. At 59 she is an experienced psychologist, secure in her professional environment, while on the other hand she struggles with her badly damaged self-image as a woman.
When she meets pediatrician MICHAEL HAMILTON, 61, friendship turn into attraction. Memories of her ex-husband haunt her, but life with Michael could be a new beginning if she found the courage to love and trust again.
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