The Lapland – The Forever White Under The Phosphorescent Sky
For a short second, I saw him standing there in the snow and then he ran off back into the trees quicker than a wink!
I thought for sure that I was seeing things. After my emotional ‘outing’ with Brian earlier in the day, I had to think that it was my overwrought mind playing tricks on me in the constant twilight. But, my crystal clear eyes are adapted for these conditions. Growing up here, the semi-dark, with the snow and the tree shadows, do not present much of an obstacle for me. I can see quite well in the winter darkness, especially when the colours in the sky shine down on the snow so brightly.
But the ever-changing ribbons of the Northern Lights make for strange dancing shadows and images. It is easy upon the white snows of the Lapland to see things you think are there and yet they really are not. Either that or what one sees are things left beyond the reach of mortal men for they are too sacred to touch. Either way, they are only as real as the mind of the person that sees them imagines them to be.
But, that said, the sound of the voice was his and the way he ran off into the woods was the way he used to run! Could my remembering him after all this time, and in such a dramatic way, have stimulated his spirit to show itself to me now? Could the Angelsong be singing into life the one who I left behind?
Could that actually have been Tristan there teasing me in spirit like he once did in life when we would play hide and seek together?
“What’s up, Snuffy? A flea bite your butt?” Brian asks sardonically as he looks back toward me. We are skiing up to the ‘Santa’s Celebration Room’ to meet with my family. Perhaps my mind is playing tricks just to stall me. I do not look forward to this reunion. I have not had many dealings with most of my family since my grandparents died. I have so little in common with the brothers that never cared for me. I suppose, the only thing driving me to this meeting is the hope that Helga is there. Even my mother could not induce me to come calling if the promise of Helga was not there. I would love Brian to meet her. The others would not be able to appreciate him and I doubt they would care much anyway. My brothers seem to be as uninterested in seeing me as I do them. I am sure Stephen will not be there. Once Helga learned what he did to me, she personally made sure he and I would never cross paths again. Hopefully, that old rule still applies. I would not do anything to cause a fight, but now that I’ve told Brian of this, I am not sure he would be as forgiving. Much to my beloved’s credit, his reaction to Tristan’s tragedy is just another reason why he has proven, without a shadow of a doubt, that he is my soulmate and my completing other half! As such, the anger at my abuse will be fresh in his mind and I know he would probably seek ‘Texas Style Revenge’ on Stephen. I would not want that for either Brian or Stephen.
I’ve always wondered why Stephen hated me so much.
I have had my suspicions about Stephen and his cruelty toward me for a long time. I have come to the conclusion that Stephen, who is older than me by enough that I would not know all of his history, was hurt very badly at some point in his childhood. The hurt was such that he could only resent me. I have a feeling it had to do with his relationship with our father. I never knew what my father had been like in a younger day. Being a warrior as he was, I could only imagine that he was a rough sort in his youth. Similar, I suppose, in the ways Stephen became. What abuse Stephen suffered I will probably never know, but it was enough to kill any love or happiness in him. Never did I see him smile in our whole life together. He hardly played, he hardly talked, he hardly interacted at all with the rest of us. Also, my mother had and probably still has a softness for Stephen she didn’t have with the rest of us. I can only imagine that this was because of the shared pain they both suffered because of what my father, probably, did to them.
My father was my saint and my greatest hero, but my memories of him are clouded in the pink mists of a baby-mind not yet exposed to the ruinous nature of the world. He is glorified in my memory and enshrined there, but such an idea of a person is rarely the truth of who they really were. He treated me special and he didn’t Stephen. That may have been enough for Stephen’s jealousy to get the better of him and cause him to do . . . what he did to Tristan and me.
“Earth to Snowflake! Come in Snowflake!” Brian chimes in from somewhere outside my thoughts.
“I thought I saw . . .” I start to say, but realise what I’m about to say is crazy so I stop.
“. . . the kid over there? Yeah, he just said ‘Hello’ and ran off.” Brian says and I nearly fall down!
“YOU SAW HIM?” My face must look like I have taken a hit off of an LSD sticker because Brian looks at me like one who has ‘lost his marbles,’ as he would say.
“Uh, like, YEAH! Why wouldn’t I have? He was right there as plain as day if this weird-assed place ever had anything like ‘day,’ ” He says to me with the assurance that only someone who had seen something real would have.
“‘Kay, what’s the deal? Why does that kid have you spooked, Snowplow?” Brian asks with humour but mixed with concern.
“It was Tristan.” I blurt with no warning.
“Wait, what?” Brian cocks his head and turns full face to me. I am sure he must think I am crazy now!
“Um, I thought, like, Tristan was supposedly dead. Not to be insensitive, Babe, but we just went through that. Plus, how can he still be a kid even if he is, somehow, still alive?” Brian, ever the rational scientist, asks all the right questions a sane mind should. Unfortunately, I wonder if he is actually dealing with a sane mind at all with me! It was obviously a real child there, but his appearance as Tristan was, more than likely, just wishful thinking on my part.
“You are right, Brian. Of course, it could not be him. He is, indeed, passed on. This light can play tricks on the eyes and mind. Let us be on our way and forget this, ok?” I say this a little bit more rushed than I should. I have to think it is all in my mind. Madness truly exists in any other way of thinking about this!
“O-okay, but only if you feel ok to go on! If this meeting with your family is weirding you out this bad then maybe we should cancel and go back to the resort.” Brian offers with his characteristic concern. He comes to my side and hooks his arm around my waist in the best hug he can do in skis.
“No. It is good. My family does not bother me that much and I have longed to introduce you to Helga. I hope that she is there. She will just love you, Brian!” I smile at the thought.
Interestingly, though older, Helga looks like a feminine and more beautiful version of myself! She did a few modelling jobs in the past but got out of that when her agents started to want her to cut weight and take drugs in unhealthy ways. She refused and found work running her own modelling agency. She has wanted me to come in and do some modelling work for her. Maybe Brian and I can do it together since we have all this Olympic notoriety going on. It might boost business for her!
“Well, let’s go then and get this over with.” Brian sulks a bit. Hehehe! I turn him around and kiss him which brings the stars back in his lovely eyes!
Before long we arrive at our destination and it is ridiculously lit up with all manner of Christmas lights and shimmeringly crystal things that I suppose are supposed to be icicles that light up. Why they need such things is beyond me. The Lapland, especially at this time of year, can generate much better icicles naturally!
Upon looking up at the oversized perennial Christmas decoration, I detect some ‘weirdness’ on Brian’s part now. He looks up at the strangely gaudy yet beautiful building and seems to need to stop and take a rest, though he has been going strong all this time up until this moment.
“You know? I’m a little worried about that ‘Tristan’ boy back there. Should a kid that age be out at this time of night?” Brian says in an obvious attempt at escape.
“It is only 3 PM in the afternoon, my cute little scaredy-cat. If indeed, that child is capable of running upon these deep snows with no problem then he is a child of the Lapland for sure. He can take care of himself, I promise. That is not going to help you either! We must go in now! You will LOVE Helga and if anyone else in there gets pissy then fuck them!” I grin and Brian rolls his eyes at me.
“Oh, for fuck sake…” Brian relents and we go up the small hill the short way to the stairs. We dismount from our skies and climb one short flight of stairs to the ski closet with a lock patterned to our room key. When we open it and look inside we see mostly snowshoes. Indeed, my brothers are here! None can ski for the life of them. But, there is one pair of very nice skies that look suspiciously like the antique ones I left back in San Francisco. I laugh and clap like a delighted child!
Helga IS here!
“You seem pretty giddy for some fucked up reason. Mind telling me why?” Brian peers in the closet with me, not understanding, of course, what he is seeing.
“Helga came! She is here! I no longer dread going in there now! You will love Helga! I promise!” I say with excitement as I put our skis away and bound up the rest of the stairs two at a time! I have not seen Helga in far too long! Video Chats are just not the same as the real thing!
“Yeah, you keep sayin’ that. . .” Brian says in a way that tells me he is not convinced as he slowly and deliberately makes his way up the stairs.
“Come! She will be something of a surprise for you, I think! A pleasant one this time!” I assure him.
Shrugging, he shuffles behind me into the hallway anteroom of the place. As one can figure, it is, basically, a place where Christmas never ends since it is one of ‘Santa’s’ places. The wood-panelled hallway is lined with pictures of reindeer with appropriate names and some fairly non-Finnish style furniture. Everything looks like it belongs in a British museum celebrating the excesses of one of their more overindulgent kings or queens. The floor even has an oriental style carpet with an appropriate tree, snowflake, and Christmas star design. It is quite ridiculous in a fun and Disneyland kind of way. Certainly, it would have the ‘authenticity’ needed to impress young and even not-so-young children! I am, on some level, fairly convinced that this could very well be Santa’s real place! As I am fond of reminding anyone who has not grown tired of listening to me, Santa Claus is a Laplander of our special people up here in the northern-most north of all! For all I know, I could be a relative! I am certainly ‘otherworldly’ enough according to some people who have met me.
Naturally, there is an enormous Christmas tree as we enter into the front reception hall. It stands a respectable distance from the equally enormous fireplace that roars with a volcanic Icelandic-style fire! Both the tree and the mantlepiece seem to have been decorated by Americans because of the number of ornaments, lights, candy canes, etc. To a Finn, such ostentation is hilarious!
But, the most beautiful thing of all in the room is an ornament not at all common to this crazily made-up tourist trap. This beauty is a truly authentic part of this land and the beauty of this shining Christmas angel is, to me, as if the Northern Lights themselves had come down and taken human form!
She always did love pastels patterned after the colours of the Angelsong!
“HELGA!!!” I lose my composure and run into her arms and she embraces me and we hug each other tight while shaking each other gently back and forth!
“Hei, pikku Lumihiutale!” She says in the low, feminine voice I remember bringing me such comfort when I had been in such pain after Tristan’s death. I find my head lowers to rest on her bosom, but not as one would do a lover, but as a child would. A child seeking comfort in a place made first for a baby’s comfort rather than for a man’s libido.
(In the Finnish: “Oh, Helga! You are as beautiful as ever! I have missed you so much!”) I say as I stand up again with her still in my arms. Our shared grey eyes look into each other’s for long moments, taking each other in. As I made mention, indeed, Helga has not aged much at all since last I saw her, perhaps, ten years ago! She must be in her mid-forties by now! To my shame, I must admit to not knowing her exact age. I never kept up with birthdays like I wanted to.
“And you, my Snow Hero! Every time I see you I cannot think but see Papa standing there in front of me once again! You stand with his tallness and now you stand with the strength of a warrior! What you did in China is now legend up here, Snowflake! I — WE are so proud of you! You do our father and his father and his father’s father great honour!” Helga says almost breathlessly as she holds and squeezes both of my hands lovingly. She says this in the English and I think she does it for Brian’s benefit!
I must blush and shrink from her praise, however, for she steadies me and bears me up so that I will remain standing ‘with the tallness of our father,’ in her opinion. The praise she heaps upon me cannot be known in its depth to anyone but a Halla. To compare me with our warrior ancestors of the past is to say words that are beyond price to me! She weds me to that noble lineage and it does my soul such good to hear it from her lips. For she is the only one of my family left that I can trust to know what her words mean.
Finally, she breaks from me and goes to Brian in those great gliding modelesque strides that are born more from her skiing prowess than her catwalk abilities.
For his part, Brian seems to be somewhat intimidated and finds himself back up a bit at the flowing charge of my forward sister. Perhaps, also, I suspect, her appearance will be something of a shock for him as well. The silly thing he says in greeting proves it to me! Hehehehe!
“Wow! Well, butter my butt and call me a biscuit!” Brian drawls. I cannot help but begin my stupid tittering. Sometimes, Brian’s colloquialisms are even more absurd than Jimmy’s!
“Erm, please to excuse me?” Helga slows her pace and hesitates before shaking Brian’s hand. I fear I must translate.
“He is surprised to see you, Helga. That is Texan for ‘Jumalani! I do not believe how much you look like a prettier version of Snowflake!’ ” I hold my mouth and continue my giggling at my boyfriend’s expense.
“I am sure he is glad you are here to speak his mind for him with your stupid mouth, Poophead!” Helga does her gentle smackdown on my silliness which I love and have dearly missed!
“You will accept my apologies for my little brother. He has the manners of a Finn sometimes!” She says to Brian with a mischievous smile.
“Gawddayyam, you even got his smile! No apologies necessary, Ma’am. I’m well aware of Snowplow’s little ‘eccentricities!’ ” Brian winks at me with one blue lickable eye.
“Yes, well, I was the, how would you say it? The ‘template’, Jö?” Her eyes linger on Brian’s for an, um, uncomfortably long time, but then she turns back to me with a knowing smile.
“You have done well, Little Brother. I approve.” She flourishes her hand like a queen which brings a smile to my face as wide as the crescent moon! Brian cocks his head with a perplexed look. Apparently, he does not understand that, though I have not seen her in person for a long time, this does not mean I haven’t been texting and FaceTiming her and continuously sending her all manner of pictures and information about my Bri Bri! My sister may know my love better than I do by this time!
“Come, both of you. It is time to eat. I do not know your appetite well, yet, Brian, but I am sure my little brother would enjoy something. He is always hungry like a big husky dog.” She teases me in passing.
“Sure! I can do with a little somthin’.” Brian confirms and off we go into the dining hall where, suddenly, my appetite goes away.
I have no idea why, but Stephen stands there not ten paces away from me! I freeze solid! I stop. I do not move! Brian runs right into my back and grumbles about it.
“Ok, what the hell? Move!” He encourages with a prod, but Helga takes him by the shoulder and looks at him knowingly. I catch this all in the corner of my eye.
Stephen walks toward me, an older version of myself except with more wrinkles and greying dirty-blond hair and a grizzled beard. He seems diminished to me, somehow, but that hardly calculates in my mind as what I remember of him and what mixes into the one entity who could cause me such fear and hatred all at once. I, naturally, tense, and the tension translates into the room around me as the other brothers and my elderly mother look on with concern. Brian merely looks confused and Helga stands next to me waiting for something stupid to happen!
Stephen stands in front of me with his typically stoic look.
The rush of ice that comes up in me is indescribable. It feels like something in my stomach erupts and I feel a shiver of adrenalin flood my body like ice water in my blood. Despite myself, I feel my fists bunch up and tighten! Stephen’s lips part as if to say something as his usually cold, unfeeling eyes seem to soften for some reason. He must see the red rush to my face. I have never been able to hide my feelings. My ‘Snowflake Tender’ skin cannot hide anything! My lip curls as the mental words come back to me in the Finnish: Lumihiutale Tarjous – Snowflake Tender, the words my rapist used as he violated my unblemished child’s skin with his rough hands as he took me and took me and took me!
Stephen stands away from me and swallows hard as he sees what my face must be twisting into. He knows . . . I have killed! He sees that I could kill him if I wished. I am no longer the waif of fourteen that I was then. I am Snowflake, the ironically named. I am one of the strongest athletes on earth! Nothing short of a gun or knife could keep me from breaking every bone in Stephen’s fucking miserable body!
A growl comes out of me that I can’t hold. It is primal. I did not know that seeing him again would make me this hateful. I feel betrayed! He was never supposed to come into my presence ever again! I was promised! I WAS PROMISED!
I thought I could handle this eventuality and that it would be Brian that might go off on Stephen, but no . . . Tristan was murdered by my brother! Perhaps that is why his illusion or ghost appeared to us out in the snow on our way here! It was his warning to me even beyond the grave. Tristan who I loved! Tristan who was sweet! Tristan who was innocent! Tristan who was taken from me by the jealous hatred of my oldest brother!
“(Snowflake, my darling! Do not be this way! It is time to. . . )” Helga attempts to lay a reassuring, if restraining, hand on my shoulder, but the adrenalin is too much. My shoulder instinctively and violently shrugs off her hand and my arm reaches out to push her away. I immediately regret it, but then again my anger is also kindled against her in particular. It was she who had promised! It was she that said that I would never have to see this fiend of a man ever again! I am charitable calling Stephen my ‘brother.’ He is not my brother! Not anymore! He is my everlasting enemy! I HATE him!
“What’s up, Babe? Why the face-off scene from ‘Rocky’ all of a sudden? Is this . . . ?” Brian comes to my side, his own suspicions ignited as he sees the indelible resemblance Stephen has with me as almost a dark mirror of myself.
“Yes . . .” Is all I say in a hushed voice.
Then it is Brian’s turn to tense and all the fire he has in his blistering soul suddenly kindles in his blue eyes. To his credit, Brian manages to control his fire and does not turn it loose on my brother. I am glad Finland does not countenance free use of firearms or Brian may have felt the irresistible urge to shoot Stephen point-blank! I can feel that desire ooze from his every pore!
Stephen sees he is now confronted by two accusers who do not have his best interests at heart. Brian steps forward and Stephen retreats back to the nest of my other two brothers who all look ready to defend him to the death.
“(This was obviously a mistake. I should have known there could be no peace made here, however much I may have wanted it.)” Stephen’s deep voice has aged and roughened considerably. As he talks, the frost clears from my eyes and I can see him as more than just a target. He is thin. He is emaciated, actually. His face looks much older than it should look for his age. I hear vodka poisoning in his voice and I see cancer in his unnatural leanness.
Helga, who has easily recovered from my mild violence against her, comes again to my side and in that Finnish directness that peoples of other nations find sometimes charming and at other times very disconcerting, tells the way things are: “Snowflake. Your brother is dying.” She says it in English so that Brian can hear the truth too.
My answer is as venomous as it is heartless: “Hyvä!”
‘Good!’ This is what I say as I glance hatefully back into my family’s shocked faces. My mother’s old eyes flood with tears. My brothers show me their usual hatred, but Helga only looks sad as I spare her a disgusted glance.
“Come, Brian. You have met them and so now you understand. Let us go!” I turn on my heel forcing Helga out of my way as Brian slowly turns to follow me, keeping an eye on these men and women he knows now cannot be trusted.
(“This is not how our father would have handled things, Jusse. You shame his memory when we all know that you have ever been the shining star of our family!”) Helga’s voice deepens as she says this rather like a goddess in judgement making her will known.
The ridiculousness of the comment causes me to pause and face her. My bizarre reaction causes her to pause in turn.
“You must be kidding!” I say behind a belly laugh!
“You laugh, but only because you could never see. Grandfather knew what you were when you were born! Your looks, your strength, your sisu: he knew that you would be the one to replace our father one day. You were the only one strong enough to do that! The suffering you endured . . .”
“. . . Destroyed me! I wanted to follow Tristan in death! The boy you knew! The child my mother bore and my father sired was killed that day STEPHEN murdered him! I ran from you! ALL of you! I found a half-life to live in sports! If not for the skiing I would be dead now too! My ‘sisu’ was only a sham! I endured because no pain I would ever endure again could compare with knowing my Tristan had hanged himself from a tree because of what you did!” I am shouting, my full athletic booming ‘Trainer’s’ voice ringing off the walls of the hall. All shrink away from me. All but Stephen who continues to stare me down with that hateful contempt he has always had for me!
To Brian’s shock and a bit of fright, I stomp back and retrieve him by the arm rather roughly, unfortunately. I hold him in front of me not as a shield, but as a presentation of the finest ‘award’ I ever earned!
“I live again, Stephen! I live because someone has restored the life in me! He came to me from an unknown corner by unknowable means to find and rescue me!” Brian turns and looks at me incredulously but then looks down as it sinks in what I am saying!
(“This . . . man? He is the one that means so much to you? What of children? What of carrying on our name?”) The brother closest to my age pipes in. His name is Sasha. He and I never had many dealings. He loved to tease me when I was smaller, but beyond that, he and I hardly had any connection at all. He certainly always took up Stephen’s side for anything that would come up in the family.
“What care have you of anything I do, Sasha? We were never anything to each other. You made sure of that! Neither do those other two! You were all against me! You ALL hated me! But Stephen was the only one with the ‘sisu’ to do anything about it! You talk to me of family now after helping in ejecting me from this family? THIS is my family now!” I crush poor Brian into a bear hug against me as a clear sign of possession. Brian does not resist, though I know he must be dreadfully uncomfortable being a pawn in this game!
In sensitivity to him, I release him from my clutch where he turns with a melting look of a new kind of admiration and love I have never seen in his eyes before.
I have to look beyond him, though, to face these people who called themselves my family but acted far less than like it when I was young and defenceless. This includes my own mother, who has sunk to the couch in quiet sniffles and sobs. She is too old for this. She should not have been brought into this. I love her. I always will, even though she was weak before my brothers and never protected me from them.
“Except for Mama and Helga, Grandfather, Grandmother, Liliana . . . and Papa, I have no other family!” I spit more poison at my hated brothers.
(“By God, Snow…er, Jusse, we had no idea you felt that way about we two. Of Stephen . . . I can understand, but why us? Why?)” Jaakko, the next eldest, seems truly hurt by my accusations and pronouncements.
“You, ‘Jackoff,’ who gave me my stupid nickname? You would ask this of me? You never stood up for me! You were always ‘put out’ that you had to go find me and you did not even wonder why I never wanted to be found! You did not even care when you were forced to carry me home in the roller wagon because I was unconscious and near death! You have the nerve to ask ‘why’?” I bellow in his direction. He shrinks back behind Stephen . . . just as he has always done when trouble was around.
“(That is not true, Jusse! It is not! Jaakko wept bitterly when he saw you in the snow! He was terrified for you! You were not put in a wagon. We left you to rest in it when we got home while we made sure we could get Mama and get you safely inside! I carried you home on my back all the way! All of fourteen years old with hardly a crust of bread in my stomach and I carried you home! You do not remember well because you were too young and out of it, but you were the one most affected by the fact that we were all going hungry! Our mother was trying to keep our family together, but was not getting enough to feed us all! You were starving! But, we were all starving, Snowflake!”) Stephen cries out for the first time with any feeling! I have never heard him emotional before and what he says redefines my memories for me somewhat.
“(In the end, our family had to split up. You were sent to the Grandparents. They only wanted you! They did not want us! We were bastards of our father! You were the only legitimate one! Mama and Father were married shortly after Sasha was born! Before that, they had eloped! But, our Father’s family only recognised them being married after they insisted on having the Balderaa Marriage Ceremony done! You were the only child who was the product of Mother and Father after the marriage! You were the only one that mattered to them. Helga had been born to Father’s previous marriage, but her mother died in childbirth bearing her! She was female anyway so the Legacy could not move through her.)” Stephen says to me in Finnish daring to walk up to me and face me again. The fact he seems to think any of this justifies what he did to Tristan and me only angers me more!
Helga winces at the comment and turns away in tears. This is something of her history that I have never heard before! She had only been my half-sister all this time? It does not matter to me, though. All I can see is Stephen inflicting pain again! So, I ready myself to return some pain of my own!
I raise my fist to finish Stephen only to have an irresistibly strong hand grip my wrist. The strength in it is as strong as mine and just as determined to stop this as I am to finish it.
“Snowflake! Stop this now.” Is all Brian says. I turn to look at my ultimate betrayer! His cobalt blue eyes grip me in their hypnotic gaze and somehow, with their burning light, manage to blast away some of the iciness of my intent. Brian freezes me with the heat of his glare!
“You too? You now betray me? How could you!” I babble still lost in my blood rage.
“Fuck off. Let’s go. We’re getting out of here before things get worse.” Brian actually hooks my arm behind me to immobilise me and goes to turn me around to shove me out the door! I cannot believe how easily he holds me even with my struggling!
“Please! Please do not go! I am sorry. It not have been my place of remind you of responsibly. I have no place. I die. I will die to make this right.” In difficult English, Stephen tries to tell us both something, but what I cannot quite make out, so I switch to Finnish. I will translate to Brian later once he lets go of me!
I pull hard and finally get free of Brian mostly because he wants to let me go. I think he knows my blood rage has cooled back to Snowflake coldness again.
(“What the fucking hell are you trying to say to me, Stephen? What of your dying? I can’t make it out from your fucking pissed-on useless English!”) I hiss my question to my brother in vicious Finnish.
Jaakko answers for him: (“He refuses treatment. Mother is beside herself! He wants to die! The reason why? Because he can’t and has not been able to live with what he did to you! He has been an alcoholic, drug-addicted, indolent half-man for years! He does not live! His death in his body will only cause him to follow a spirit that has long left him, Jusse!”)
All I can do is sneer. What a weak fool! Another ‘hyvä!’ wants to bubble up again, but something squelches it. It is a small still voice in the back of my mind like an irritating gnat buzzing in my ear!
In Tristan’s voice, it says simply: “Forgive!”
I figure it is just the nice part of me trying to break through my luscious revenge! But, I know such a word is meaningless to me in Stephen’s regard. Then . . . I see Tristan again! He stands in front of the fire with his little snowsuit on like when he left me that day in the hospital! A little boy Tristan! The first and most innocent Tristan! The Tristan who’s spirit must forever be, as Christ willed, like that of a little child!
“No more.” He pleads and I am undone as tears begin streaming from my face.
My brothers see my strange change and all look to where the fire crackles because that is where I am staring so intently. Stephen turns and smiles warmly and then turns back to me with a look of complete understanding!
Brian too steps forward and hooks his arm in mine, this time with tenderness as he looks to the fire, again, seeing the boy who was my first love standing there in spirit!
“(Tristan has forgiven me, my beloved brother. Please do likewise! I haven’t many days left. Sorry isn’t a word to use for what I have done. I cannot use words to express my remorse. The living death I have endured these many years may be enough of an apology, but I know that it can’t be. Not really. Nothing I can ever live, unlive, or undo will ever be enough! Only by your grace can I find peace, my Little Snowflake. You, the boy and man I failed so completely. The friend and confident I should have loved! The big brother I should have always been to you, but wasn’t. It is too late for all that now. All I can ask for is forgiveness and then I can take my just payment for the evil I did in a younger day when I was blinded by a blackness that should never have been allowed to take root in my damned soul! )” Stephen, damn him all the more, moves me to further tears! I can see in his own sunken and tearing eyes that he has been consigned to Hell already. He has lived Hell. He has taken into himself the Hell that I ran from. I have to forgive. I have to forgive if for no other reason than it would be something he would never probably do in the same position. As always, it is upon me to be the better man, but I will be so without resentment.
Also, if Tristan forgives him, and he was the most wounded by Stephen’s actions, then I suppose I must also. It is hard though. Very hard! The steadfast stare I get from my lost little love, through whom I can now see the Hell-flames of the fireplace, moves me to action.
I advance upon Stephen while everyone but he stiffens in anticipation for further violence and I reach out my hand in offering. Tentatively at first, but then with gathering feeling, Stephen gratefully reaches for my hand and takes it. His hand is cold and dry almost like the hand of Death himself. He has hardly enough strength even to squeeze my hand and I am reminded of Brian who, not so long ago, seemed to come to me in a very similar condition: weaker than a kitten and yet propelled by a need greater than the life in his body.
We pull each other into an embrace I never thought could be possible. There was a time, not too distant when I was sure that I should vomit to be in the very presence of the man. But, now . . . he is in my arms trembling and wracking himself with very un-Finnish emotions. I clutch Stephen closer, feeling the frailty there and knowing this is his last feat of strength spent only in reuniting with me.
I kiss Stephen on his forehead and say into his eyes: “Se ei ole mitään. Unohda.” – “Forget it. It is nothing.”
Again, Brian has opened this possibility up to me. Teaching me how to open my heart and to love again, he has made this impossibility possible! He . . . and Tristan . . . the boy I loved and the man I love both here together, they have taught me to love again and thus to forgive!
For the first time since I was fourteen years old . . . I finally feel truly free!
The melted snow beneath our skies is a hardened shell crusting a layer of compacted snow underneath that is more like earth than it is like snow. The effect is that the surface is nearly as frictionless as solid ice. This makes our skiing at once easier and harder as we cross the Lapland northward toward my ‘secret’ destination to which I am taking Brian. He is enjoying the orienteering, though not so much the natural track he has had to learn. He was slipping around like a child on ice skates when we first started upon this part of our journey.
As we proceed north, warmed by our thermals as efficiently as possible and by the rigours of our efforts, the trees become more scarce and the plains of snow become wider and brighter. Above all, it seems the Angelsong rises in volume as the Northern Lights practically sparkle above us casting phosphorescent glows of green onto the bright snow.
Every now and then a cutting wind blows through, threatening what things could turn into if we become unlucky. No amount of clothing can block a -50-degree windchill. The cold is survivable, but not in any way comfortable while we wear our snow gear.
Brian and I let out of Kakslauttanen after a brief rest from our highly emotional encounter with my crazy family. I am still processing everything. I actually forgave Stephen! I FORGAVE him for what he did! What is more, I feel much lighter for having done so. That sense of childhood freedom I felt after doing that still hangs with me and is, perhaps, the burr of energy that continues to push me on through the Arctic wilderness even now!
Brian, also, seems so awestruck that he forgets his fatigue. He asks me: “What planet is this again?”
“Planet Lapland. A place of uncommon beauty under uncommonly difficult conditions.” I reply between huffs. I continue on after going some 50K today because I long to reach my sacred destination before ‘nightfall,’ though that may be something difficult to make out at this time of year.
“This has got to be another planet or dimension. How can a place like this exist and still be on Earth? The sky is glowing and the snow below is glowing and look . . .” Brian stops and reaches into his satchel to pull out his smartphone. He goes to take a picture of me, but then cusses: “Fuck! How’d I run out of juice? It was fully charged earlier! I wanted to show you a picture of how you’re glowing too!” Brian looked sad about that. It does not surprise me. The Lapland has a way of confounding human technology.
“Do not worry, my sparkling American Angel, you are glowing just as much as I must be and I much rather look at your glow than mine!” I shuffle up and kiss the barely exposed part of his cheek that isn’t covered with a ruff of fur.
“Oh well. Wasn’t like I wanted to call anyone anyways. Still, it’s weird, though. It had a full charge, all apps off, power-saving features, everything. It should have lasted twice as long as this!” Brian continues to dither.
“Forget your silly phone. We have better things to look at. See? Over there!” I point at a shifting shadow in the distance that, as we get closer, begins to resolve into distinct shapes.
Reindeer, by their hundreds, slowly move their huge society from one part of the snowy plain to the other. They are unconcerned about us and do not seem to be hounded by a bear or wolf, so I can only figure that they are one of the semi-wild/semi-tame reindeer herds that have wandered the Lapland for countless generations.
“Wow! That’s a lot of Rudolfs!” Brian remarks.
“Truly! They used to be in even greater abundance once, but these semi-wild herds have diminished in recent times. It always amazes me how docile they are and how used to humans they seem to be. I could, probably, walk right up to the herd and they would not much care. Then again, they might trample me to death. One never knows with reindeer. They can be unpredictable. Best to watch from a distance.” I inform my lover.
“So, like, they are, kinda, tame? Where’s their, er, ‘herder’ or whatever?” Brian wonders rather adorably. I believe he has reindeer confused with cattle. Reindeer are definitely not cattle.
“Reindeer are rarely ever completely tameable, so herding them is rather pointless. They can be raised and trained to pull sledges and to allow themselves to be corralled if it serves their purpose, but, they can just as easily bolt and leave all humanity behind without looking back. They are a true representative of the Lapland. Creatures of the wild that work, sometimes, with other creatures for mutual benefit. Reindeer are freedom with antlers! They cannot be contained or controlled completely.” I say with a sigh as I watch the last of the stragglers follow the rest of the herd into the distance.
Apparently, there are no hunters around or those stragglers would be the ones that get picked off for dinner. Killing the rear guard rarely disturbs the herd, for some reason. Reindeer only stampede if you take ones too close to the main body of the herd or those strong ones that lead the herd. My grandfather taught me this when he would take me with him on a rare hunting trip once in a while. The art of reindeer hunting is going away along with a lot of other parts of the old ways.
“They sound almost like American Buffalo. You know, the ones my miserable ancestors picked off one by one until they were almost all gone?” Brian muses as he looks on. I know of what he speaks. Indeed, that rather rapacious period in American history does not have a direct analogue in Finnish history except if you go back, quite a ways back, to when my people warred with Vikings and then allied ourselves with them in later times. The prey then were not animals, though. They were other people! The old Nordic gods were a bloodthirsty lot and human sacrifices were often necessary to appease them. Supremacy in the North came with the near extinction of many other tribes of Northern peoples. So, it is in this way that there can be something of a similarity between the Nordic history and that of the American West. Both are places of an untameable wildness and of a history of unrestrained genocide, annihilating other members of the human race.
It is another strange kinship that Brian and I share in that we both descend from some of the more ‘untameable’ breeds of men and that our family histories, however young or old those histories may be, followed a similar course. Additionally, though I know not of such from my own family’s branch of the Hallas, it is quite possible that there were peoples of my kind that lived, worked, and even loved with the peoples of Brian’s kind in that wild time in the uttermost West! I can see where the Old West would have appealed to my people: untamed, wild, and full of promise! A place where sisu was rewarded with wealth and glory!
“You went quiet again. Are your lips going numb too?” Brian brings me back from my thoughts. I forget that I’m not alone out here today. I have skied and orienteered here so many times by myself and have lost myself in my thoughts so many times out here that I have grown used to the habit of not talking and only thinking for days at a time.
I abruptly stop, snatch Brian up into my arms and kiss his ‘numb’ lips for him to make them warmer! He rears back and stares at me with hilarious befuddlement! It makes me giggle!
“Hehehe! Your lips are warmed up now, yes?” I say through my childish giggles.
“I suppose they are . . . though now I can feel how cold my crotch has gotten. How’s YOURS!” He just as abruptly reaches out to grip my crotch which makes me attempt to bend away from his grab while laughing hysterically.
The effect is that I fall over on my side into a snowdrift, having lost my balance. Brian follows suit and we find ourselves laughing out loud as we face one another now half white with soft, powdered snow attached to our furs and faces!
“You are silly, Mr. Snowflake. That’s what you are.” Brian says to me with the sweetest smile. It is almost a bashful smile. I suddenly long to be loose of my skies so that I can flop myself on top of him and warm him up with my whole body!
“If I am silly you are sillier, my Butt Blossom.” We steal another awkward kiss made complicated by our skies and snowsuits. This frustrates Brian and so he sits up (with difficulty in his overstuffed winter suit) and unbinds himself.
“Why do that? We are only going to get up and move again!” I say with a little bit of my ‘trainers edge’ in my voice.
“Not for a bit, we’re not. The wound . . .” Brian looks at me with a touch of sadness and rubs his thigh through the padded leg of his snow pants. It reminds me of our realities and all that we’ve gone through together. So many things! So many things and yet we are still alive and still together! The thought only makes me more impatient to get to the place where I want us to be! But, Brian is right and, for all the therapy and slow skiing we’ve been doing to get his strength back in his shot leg, the fact is that the stamina in that leg is still compromised and extended use will soon bring debilitating fatigue to Brian. I admit to having forgotten this as I have been striving to get to Pitkäjärvi Lake. In my opinion, it is the greatest place to see the Northern Lights in Finland when they are at their peak. I am eager to get there before the Aurora Borealis ceases its blooming for the night.
But, all my plans would be for nought if Brian’s injury exacerbates and he is in pain. What I have planned must be joyous and without any misery to distract it other than the necessary cold of our environment.
“Yeah, just give me a few, ‘kay?” Brian says as he sits up and pops one of his pain pills he’s been having to use. He swallows a draught of his tea he brought in his thermal insulated mug. The scant warmth left in the tea makes an impressive ‘steam bubble’ around his head indicating just how cold it is. Thankfully, our snowsuits are being proof against the cold making it tolerable.
“I know one thing, this cold is a great motivator to keep moving if for no other reason than not to freeze to death, ya know?” Brian remarks as he watches the steam actually sink, freeze and become one with the snow!
“You are quite correct. There’s a reason Laplanders always seem to be doing something. It is not that we are very industrious. It is to keep our balls from freezing off!” I clutch myself which makes Brian chuckle.
“That would be a damned shame too, Snowballs.” Brian remarks with a smile.
“Well, let’s get going, I think the pain pill is kicking in already or I’m just going numb from this ‘freezation’ to feeling anything anymore.” He tries but struggles to get up so I manage to stand and help him up, snap his skies back on and, with a bit of a wince and a sigh from Brian, we are off again.
“How much further, do you think?” Brian wonders with a touch of weariness in his voice.
“Not too much farther. We’re getting close now if you look in the distance. That depression there in the land is where we will be going!” I point in the direction of the lake, but Brian seems unconvinced.
“It’s funny, the closer we get to it the farther away it becomes.” Brian grouses. I suppose the pain pill isn’t working near as well as he hoped it would so I make to suggest something.
Pulling out a line from my pack with a small torso harness, I tell Brian, “Here. Let me make things a bit easier, Jö?”
I tress my bewildered Brian up like a Christmas goose and then attach my line to a carabiner on the front of his tress that then attaches to my backpack. Brian finally catches on to the idea, “Oh, Bullshit! You ain’t pulling me along like a no goddamn husky!”
“Oh yes, I am! Woof Woof! Steady yourself on your skies and try not to pole too much, ok?” I tell him but don’t give him time to protest. Before long we’re off with his slight weight tugging at my back. Fortunately, he is a good enough skier so that he doesn’t drag his skies which would make this far more difficult.
“Ok! Well, I could get used to this!” Brian chimes in enthusiastically!
Before long, much to the relief of my aching back and shoulders, we arrive where I wanted us to be! My heart beats fast like a triphammer, but not because of my efforts, but for entirely different reasons.
The frozen lake stretches out before us like a sheet made of diamond! A dusting of snow powders its frictionless surface. but this snow continuously blows off the ice leaving it relatively free of the dusting. This makes for a perfect black mirror to Heaven’s glory that twists, bends, warps, stretches, and glows phosphorescently above the perennial ice sheet! The forever white snows that surround the lake are relatively clear of brush and pine trees leaving it, more or less, like snowy dunes in a frozen Sahara! The Forever White, as we have learned to call this place since time out of mind, shines oddly in any colour other than white as the phosphorescent sky blends its light with the reflective snow.
The Angelsong of the Aurora commands all vision this night of nights. It is as if the Angels of Light are celebrating only for us while the Spirits of the Snow refrain the Angels’ calling by reflecting it and amplifying it in sympathetic joy on our behalf!
Then, ah . . . ! There is a resonant hum!
“Oh my! They are so powerful tonight that you can actually hear them!” I exclaim in wonder! It is so rare for the Northern Lights to give off their peculiar hum. Very few on the Earth ever hear the Angelsong made of light! Indeed, tonight has been specially made for us!
I hear a choked sob next to me and look over to see the Aurora reflected in Brian’s watering eyes and off the streaming tears down his glowing face. My hand reaches and finds his and he squeezes my hand and brings his spellbound, starlit eyes to mine. They are painted in every colour of the Northern Lights as he gazes at me.
“Ohhhh, Snowflake! I had no-o idea! This is beyond beautiful!” Brian creaks through his strained larynx.
It is at this moment that I know that . . . It is time.
Keeping hold of his hand, I turn to face him and then kneel. Brian’s tear-streaked face takes on an expression of exquisite anticipatory shock. He knows what this means. He knows what is coming, but he can hardly believe it, though why he should not is a mystery. We have talked about it and I have longed for it. I declared my love for him before which is tantamount to this ‘formality’ in any case for a Finn.
But all that remains . . . Is to ask the question:
“Brian Chesney, my heart and my most beloved, will you marry me?” I ask, nearly choking on the words myself while at the same time feeling that little jump of fear that I may have gone one length too far on my ungroomed track.
There is a pause, which heightens my anxiety, as Brian stands there, mouth hanging open like a grouper fish catching anchovies. His mouth seems to want to work, but what will he say? What will he say?
The tears fall in near squirts from his eyes as the answer manages to work its difficult way up to his lips from his heart of hearts.
“Oh, Baby! Of COURSE, I will!” He falls down to me in the snow clutching me hard until we both fall sideways in the only way our skies will allow. The kisses are first rapid and incessant then they settle into a long mouthful of the longest most sensual kiss I have ever known!
I think he likes the idea!
Still, on our sides, I get out the rings. We both pull our gloves off and put the rings on. These are our Joining Rings and they will be our promise to each other that we will forever be joined in life and in death!
“I love you, Jusse Halla!” Brian whispers in joy.
I respond with equal joy: “I love you, Brian Chesney . . . Beyond the end of time!”
Copenhagen, Denmark: The Rose
Brian, many years later
I’m a few minutes from home in Fælledparken, a lovely park near central Copenhagen where I have lived and worked for these many years. It is here that we moved after we were married in Kakslauttanen and enjoyed a long honeymoon with my Snowflake’s family. Such precious memories . . .
I’m sitting on our bench, here, looking at the lake and the beautiful fountain at its center. Denmark is such a gorgeous place in Autumn, though the cold comes a bit early as compared to most of the places I’ve lived (besides Finland, of course). Actually, a light flurry of snow is beginning to fall. I’m not as good with the cold as I once was. It’s strange to remember my being an Olympic skier for that short time and actually winning medals and things. It seems like another life. But then, how many different lives have I lived in just this one. More than my share, I suppose. Gay sex addict, neuroscience student and then doctor, Olympic skier, and, most importantly, the lover and husband to my Snowflake. He always kept me feeling so young, even when we were both getting quite on in years.
My name is Brian Chesney. I am 85 and I was the lead neurologist for Rigshospitalet, a part of the University of Copenhagen’s medical school. We chose to move here because Denmark’s medical system in neurological research is so wonderful and, with my celebrity, the Danes were more than happy to accommodate my wishes to finish my residency there. I had no interest in returning to America. We were gay as larks and my beloved nation had started to turn against us there again. In Denmark, strangely, we could be free where we couldn’t in the ‘Land of the Free.” I’m no longer the blonde and blue-eyed All-American type that likes to surf, ski, and have sex parties up in a loft on Castro above Qbar with 25 or so of my really close friends. I doubt that I would even be visible to the young twinks in Castro now. But here in Copenhagen, older people are treated with a bit more respect and I can go to the various gay bars downtown and enjoy chatting with some of the most beautiful young men on the face of the earth! I never found our ‘Link’ brigade we had group sex with in Helsinki, however. Those five probably went back to Narnia for all of me.
Gosh, how I ramble on these days. It’s harder to keep a straight thought in my head and I don’t mean that I’ve suddenly taken to women. I just have so much . . . stuff in there anymore. So many memories and experiences. I’m sure I bore poor Jimmy to death these days. Bless him, he moved out here to be with me when Snowflake passed on. He’s been a great comfort to me. He lost so much in his long life and yet, he is still just as incredible as he has ever been. Sometimes behind the grey hairs and wrinkles, I catch a glimpse of that cute boy who flipped his hair at me in that ski lodge so long ago . . . whatever its name was. I can’t remember. Auburn something . . .
Ah, yeah, we bring each other much-needed comfort, Jimmy and me. He’s been a little worried about me lately. I don’t know why. I’ve been seeing my Snowflake more in dreams and things lately. Sometimes I see him even when I’m not asleep! What’s weird is I see him not as I knew him, but as, like, that fourteen-year-old kid that wasn’t allowed to grow up all the way due to the terrible thing that happened. Snowflake, as a boy, smiles at me excitedly, almost like he’s expecting something. I don’t know. I am a neurologist and I can only figure I’m getting a touch of dementia. Lord knows with the amounts of alcohol I used to drink in my twenties I’m amazed I don’t need a diaper and for someone to hold my head up to eat.
I’m rambling again, aren’t I?
Well, I guess I can say that when Snowflake left me to join his Tristan in the great beyond those two long years ago that I rather stopped caring a lot about the world and what goes on in it. When you get old all the things the young get all fussy about seems not to matter so much anymore. Sports, sex, drugs, making money, getting ahead, etc. You realize you ain’t gonna take none of it with you so you might as well not worry about it anymore. Memories and waiting to be with those memories again one day seem to be all that really matters.
Heh, I just pulled a picture of us out! I was hot as an H-Bomb in those days for sure and Snowflake was as bright and gorgeous as his namesake in the sun. We were so beautiful back then! But so much of that beauty came from our love! That never changed and I feel that I was just as beautiful at 83 as I was at 33 when Snowflake and I settled down and made a home together.
I’m tired, now, but fulfilled!
I’ve had a good life. A better life than probably I ever deserved! I found what I was looking for all those years ago when I was driving that length to Tahoe. I do remember the trip at least. I was so clueless, then, heh. Funny, that trip to Tahoe, the hours spent driving there listening to my electro-dance music crap, would be the last hours I would spend as a boy. Snowflake really made a man out of me and he did it by building me up and not tearing me down. My life started anew that day I met him.
I broke the silly pointless cycle of hookups and binging and found something to really live for! Every day I was with him I was made more and more alive! He was my everything . . .
I’m alone out here by the lake today. Jimmy wasn’t feeling well so I came by myself. I seemed to need the solitude, I guess. I remember finding myself in those Tahoe mountains while looking up at the stars and the snow-covered hills all around me. I found my place in the universe. They’d been there always and they would probably stay there always. What is strange now, even in the finite amount of time I still have left on this earth, something about my relationship with Snowflake makes me feel like I could, possibly, be as timeless as those mountains and stars. The more I’ve lived the more I see things that tell me that things go on and remain even when the physical body dies. I’m not one of those neuroscientists that only believe in chemical impulses blinking out in a dying brain. I was for a long time, but no longer. I’ve seen children born that grow to so closely resemble a man I eased into death upon an earlier occasion that a connection can’t be ruled out. Am I a believer in reincarnation now? Probably . . . among a lot of other ‘strange’ things I’ve come to believe and know.
My main truth now is that I know Snowflake waits for me! I know that we were meant to go on together through every turn of the cycle of life and death. We are soul mates and I feel that we’ve lived many lives before and will live many together in the future.
I honestly can’t wait to die! I want so much to feel him in my arms again . . .
I place a single red rose on the seat next to me where he used to sit with me. The red of it so beautifully offsets the small dusting of snow accumulating there. So many little snowflakes and I can still see some that haven’t had a chance to break down so I can see their shapes.
Today is an anniversary of sorts. This is the anniversary of the first time we came here and sat on this very bench together all those years ago! It was also the first day we moved into our flat near the university. We fed the ducks and swans and watched the beautiful people and adorable children that live here. We became such fixtures on this bench that we actually watched some of those children grow into men and women! They still recognized us and would stop and chat. My Danish is shitty, but between my bad Danish and their slightly better English, I was able to communicate. Snuffy wasn’t so lucky. He never managed to master Danish very well. I think he had a mental block against it. He used to say . . .
“. . . that it was too much like Swedish, jö?” The voice is young and yet even in its youth, I would know it anywhere!
His pale skin, silver-white hair, slightly plumper face, and those hypnotic crystal blue eyes capture me. Oh, but he was such a beautiful boy! I could see where Tristan would have fallen madly in love with him.
I get up on my feet to walk over to the apparition that is only slightly veiled by the increasing flurry of snowflakes falling through him. Interestingly, I more jump up than ‘get’ up. That is something I haven’t been able to do for ages! I feel so light! How strange! But, I hardly have time to care because as I spring up to see if my love’s vision before me is real, he comes to me with the same speed and with tears of joy in his eyes!
“I’ve missed you, my Butt Blossom! Oh, you are so cute at this age too!” I am beyond words as I weep openly to hold my Snowflake in my arms again, even if our arms are strangely smaller and thinner than I remember.
It’s then that I pull away and look at my hands and I’m astonished! They’re so smooth! So pink! So . . . young! I turn to look behind me and am not so much shocked as intrigued. I see the heap of an old man in a brown overcoat on the ground like he tried to get up but fell over like he’d been drinking too much. Then I see the red rose in the snow sitting on the bench next to the bit of a butt-shaped void where the old man must have been sitting. I then realize who it is and what has happened! Rather than horrified I’m relieved and overjoyed!
“Wow! That’s it? That’s all it took? I didn’t even know anything had happened!” I ask and hear my young voice for the first time since I was fourteen myself!
“Yes. It is like stepping out of old clothes. The suffering beforehand is always miserable if suffering there is to be, but dropping the dead weight is really rather nifty!” Another voice answers. It is a voice with the same strange Finnish accent as Snowflake’s, but a little deeper.
Tristan comes walking out of a beam of sunlight that has suddenly come to light up the lake and the glittering snowflakes and snow all around! Where he walks, only a leaf-strewn path exists. The snow does not touch him.
He is as gorgeous as Snowflake said he was! Tristan comes to embrace us both and gives us both a sweet little peck on our cheeks.
“So YOU are the famous Brian I keep hearing about! Well, Snowfluffs did not lie! You are every bit as gorgeous as he said you were! I am Tristan! Come now because I am bored and it’s time to play!” He carries a soccer ball and he bounces it on the ground and then off of my head!
“Hey! Fuck you! Gimme that!” I start to chase Tristan with the ball who runs away giggling and Snowflake follows with twittery giggles of his own.
We run into the sunbeams and out of the snow and we have a ball playing just as kids do because we can!
We can because we are young again . . . forevermore!
Never The End . . .