The Book of Hope 21: Mirrorland
OK, I admit it: my wedding was the teeniest bit of disappointment in some ways. I mean, when you're growing up, it's natural that you fantasize about it, what your dress will look like, what kind of service you'll have, how you'll rewrite your vows, who'll be there, what kind of band will play at the reception, where you'll go on your honeymoon, what flowers you'll have, which caterers, etc, etc. All girls do that, don't they? I sure did, anyway. So from that standpoint, it was pretty much a total dud--we didn't even have a honeymoon! "We'll just have to make the rest of the marriage be our honeymoon." I told him, and come on, give me credit, I was like 90% sincere when I said it. Seriously, the marriage was what I was all about, not just a stupid social event. But still...well, you know. You open your mouth and hear yourself say those kinds of things, and then afterwards you're all like, "Whoa, did I really say that? No way, what was I thinking??"
For starters, we couldn't have it in church, because my husband (getting more used to that word now) isn't a Catholic--as if anyone really is these days, at least in America anyway--so we had to say our vows at the license office in front of a justice of the peace. In this case, he was also a notary and realtor with his office across the street, and that's where we all ended up. Not exactly the most romantic spot in the world. The Mothership was there, of course, dressed to the nines and looking all glowing and happy--incredibly and weirdly enough, she has a super-sized crush on him, after I'd spent ages dreading that she was so gonna hate him. And would try to talk me out of marrying him. Instead she acted all grateful, like he was rescuing me from a life of spinsterhood or whatever! My older bro flew in to give me away, and my other bro filled in as best man, since none of my husband's friends could make it on such short notice. And neither could any of mine, either, (including Father Mac who I'd originally wanted to read us the vows) except Kerry, who sweetly drove down from New York just to be Matron of Honor, and looked far better than the poor old frazzled bride in her second-best formal dress, but of course, no bridal gown. In fact, I was terrified Kerry and my man would run off together, but he gallantly assured me afterwards that he adored her already because she was my best friend but that she really wasn't his type.
So I was like, "Oh yeah, right, too beautiful for you, huh?"
"No," he said. "Not quite Hopeful enough." OK, he had to say it, but it still made me swoon a little. So things didn't suck totally. In fact, my biggest regret is that my dad couldn't have been there to see it.
It's really hard for me to write about my dad. About his death, I mean. Because it was like, so unfair. And all the way to Kaustinen I kept think that if Dr Praetorius really had the power to help me bring the dead back to life again, then why couldn't it be my dad instead? Why Likkanen, who I didn't actually care about at all? Of course, he didn't really have that power, it was all just crap. But I kept thinking, you know, what if...?
At first when my dad was diagnosed, he and the Mothership tried to keep it a big dark secret from the rest of us. I dunno how they thought that was gonna work out, since he had to have an immediate first surgery, which left him shaved on one side of his head with a livid scar. And then, of course, then he had to have chemo, because the tumor couldn't be completely removed, and that took care of the rest of his hair. And he lost a lot of weight. He had what was called a 'wafer' implanted in his brain before I'd even come home from school and saw him for the first time, which was a total shock, probably the worst moment of my life. At first he had fantasies of actually going back to work while he underwent treatment, but pretty soon it became obvious that wasn't gonna happen. Especially after he had a couple of seizures and had to be rushed to the hospital in the middle of the day a few times. His military insurance wasn't bad, but it didn't cover a lot of stuff, so they ended up taking out a second mortgage on the house (which is now, thank God, still worth way more in spite of the recent buying slump). When it became pretty obvious that the treatments weren't working out, I wanted to take the rest of the year off from school so that I could help out with the nursing and hang with him as much as possible, but they wouldn't allow it. The Mothership converted the dining room into a hospital room, because it was on the first floor and rented an adjustable medical bed, and professional equipment like trays and bedside potties, IV stands, oxygen, etc etc, because Dad was starting to have opportunistic infections like pneumonia. I took his car down to St Mary's and commuted back home every weekend--and each time he looked noticeably worse. It was so hard to imagine that such a tiny growth could destroy such a strong, vital man. A man who was the center and the bedrock of a whole family. But it was in just the wrong place. At the wrong time. Of course, it's never the right time, unless you're like 110 or whatever and die right away the first time you have a seizure--then I guess it could be a mercy.
But there was absolutely nothing merciful about those last few months. When actors die on TV, no matter how realistically it's portrayed, they always look pretty good. I mean, they're actors and actresses, for Chrissake, so naturally they look good, no matter what. Their agents aren't gonna let them jump the shark. But nothing prepares you for the reality of just how terrible-looking and shrunken and withdrawn someone you love gets when they're dying. Or how gross all the little details become, you know, like when you have to check bedpans for stuff before you empty them. Or when you're bathing them after they start getting bedsores. Or when they start getting really bitter and irrational (because most of them do at some point after the chemo) and lash out at you. Or in lots of pain when nothing helps. Well, maybe you already know all this because you've been through it yourself, so I'll shut up.
Bad as it is, though, it gets even worse when they finally pass. By that point you're like, "Oh it will be such a relief to have the suffering over with." But somehow it isn't. I can't even explain why. Maybe, in spite of everything, you still, you know, have hope even at the very end. During the funeral, the Mothership acted really weird. She didn't cry, she just looked cross and impatient and was barely even polite at times while she was doing the social meet-and-greet thing with all the Marine Corps brass who showed up for it. Inside the chapel, she said to me, "This may be the last time I ever set foot in a place like this."
So I was all like. "What are you talking about?" They were playing Sibelius' Valse Triste in the background, I now realize.
"I'm not so sure I believe in a god any more," she said. "What's the use of our Faith anyway? It doesn't get you anywhere--none of our prayers were answered. I don't believe in all that submission BS any more." "BS" being as close to an actual cuss word as I'd ever heard her use, I was pretty shocked. But when I thought about it later, I could see her reaction was pretty natural. I mean it's all well and good for the priests to tell you that Christ loves those who suffer, that it's a test from God, etc etc, but that doesn't actually the address the question of 'why'? What is pain for, exactly? What use is it and what good does it do? And what kind of god creates it, much less allows it? Or, in this case, actively inflicts it on us? Is that a god worth worshipping? Or just some sadistic monster who takes pleasure in our misery? A few nights later, the Mothership was still acting totally unlike herself, chain-smoking like a teenager, stubbing them out again half-smoked or just forgetting about them and letting them burn unattended in ashtrays, wandering around in her bathrobe, pouring herself out belts of scotch on the rocks which she would clink around while she talked. It was like suddenly having a slutty older sister instead of a mother. I didn't get that she and dad had started dating when she still WAS a teenager--and now, with him surgically removed from her life, she was reverting back to being the girl she was in the weeks and months before she'd met him. A sad and miserable and lonely girl this time who was numb with shock and fear about the future.
We talked about religion again. "I've been thinking about what you said in the chapel," I told her, "And I think here's what I believe. I think we both need God right now more than ever, so it's dumb to be mad at him. Maybe our needing him makes him love us more, too, if that makes any sense. I mean, to me, God is sort of like your parents--they give you the gift of life, they love you, sometimes to pieces, but they can't live your life for you. They can't protect you from everything or you know, try to baby-proof your whole world because that wouldn't be fair, right? Freedom is like the biggest part of their gift. Freedom to live your life the way you want it or even die young trying. But that doesn't mean they don't love you."
"But why give us such frail bodies?" She burst into tears. "Why make them age and get old and sick so fast? Where's the love in that?"
"Well, maybe bodies are kind of like cars. I mean, when Dad loaned me the Cutlass to drive back and forth from school with, he got new tires for it first and had it tuned up and lubed and everything. He didn't want his little girl dying in a car crash, right? But even with all the best will in the world, that car has broken down constantly--it's spent almost as much time in the shop as on the highway for the last nine months. Maybe our bodies are like that, too."
"I tried to get him to buy an Accord," she said, blowing her nose.
So basically it's like that old joke. The good news is there is a god. The bad news is that he's definitely a man. And probably an American, judging from all the design flaws. Definitely not Finnish anyway.
At Kokkola, we turned south-southeast and drove across a flat, boring landscape down a highway that was absolutely straight, like a military road. The Return of Lemminkainen was playing over the car stereo now--it made me feel like we were galloping across the plain on fast horses. "Are we anywhere near Lappland?" I asked Riita.
"Oh no! Lappland is much more interesting than this. But you will like Kaustinen, I think. It is called the 'Finnish Woodstock'. In our cartoons, the little bird from Peanuts is named 'Kaustinen'. We have a saying that even the rocks sing there."
"The geological harmonics are excellent in that area," Dr Praetorius informed us. "It is also at an epicenter of ley lines. That is why it was chosen for the ceremony."
Riita glanced at him shrewdly. "Why do you want to bring this Likkanen back to life, anyway? You must have a secret reason for it." In that moment, my opinion about her changed once again. I guess I had started thinking of her as being a bit pitiful, even a little helpless because of her unhappiness and the business with Erkki, but now I suddenly saw that Riita had something I didn't have and would never have, a kind of stubborn resilient farm-girl toughness that allowed her to focus only on the things she wanted to see. She'd somehow even managed to avoid discovering her boyfriend having (well trying to have, anyway) public sex with another woman--instead, she was already finding reasons to be bored and dissatisfied with him, so that when it came time to make the break, she would do the dumping, not him. And now suddenly, I could see the crazy fat old Swede was no match for her at all. He even squirmed at her question.
"It is true," he said at last, "That I have no love for Mr Likkanen. To be very honest, I was extremely bitter when his grandfather, my dear friend and mentor, Frederik Wilander chose to bequeath certain articles to him instead of me. One of these I particularly wished to buy from him, and obviously I cannot do so now that he is dead."
"You could just buy it from his estate," I pointed out. "Wouldn't that be easier than raising him from the dead?"
But he was like, "I'm afraid that is impossible. The article in question is in a safe-deposit box in Stockholm that Mr Likkanen never bothered to visit--only he knew its numeric code. We were negotiating a price for it at the time of his death."
"What is this 'article'?" Riita wanted to know.
"It is a book."
"A book of magic?"
"Ja, ja, in a manner of speaking," Dr Praetorius said irritably and with great reluctance. "It is a book written or dictated by Adolf Hitler describing his discovery of another plane or dimension of existence."
Oh great, I thought. Just priceless. Here I was stuck in the middle of nowhere in a stretch-limo with this total nut-job on his way to attend some kind of Neo-Nazi New Age cult ceremony designed to bring a dead plumbing fixtures designer back to life so that he could buy 'Hitler's Diaries' from him. I think that's a fair summary, anyway. Oh well, as my mom used to tell me before a blind date, at least I'd get fed. Though, speaking of getting fed, I made a mental note never to be stranded with Dr P in a lifeboat, as I watched him gobble down yet another 'light snack'. Oh, and have I said that all his eating utensils were made of gold, too? Heavy, brushed, non-reflective gold.
This was the very first time I ever heard of this manuscript, by the way, the book I now sort of think of as the 'Occult Mein Kampf'. Yes, it really existed, bizarrely enough. And, incredibly, it was gonna play a really huge role in my life to come, though I didn't have a clue about this at the time, and I really don't know exactly how I feel about it in retrospect. Exhausted, mostly. In some ways, I wish I'd never even heard of it. But again, in lots of other ways, it's actually brought me plenty of happiness. It's a bit like the Treasure of the Sierra Madre or whatever--I'm pretty much the only one who's gotten anything out of it at all. Including, amazingly enough, my marriage. Yep, I admit it--I owe my wedding to Adolf Hitler! Which I guess is why I'm writing this, cuz "winners write the history books", right? Survivors, anyway. And it's just too weird a story to, you know, keep to yourself. Even if I could, I mean.
Dr P (it was a typo above, but I liked it so much I think I'll keep on using it, because it majorly saves me having to type out his whole last name over and over), probably sensing that we were totally not buying into any of this Hitler stuff, started talking about Sibelius again. "It is a sad fact that my country of Sweden has never produced so great a musical genius as Jean Sibelius--or of the Norwegian Grieg, for that matter. I am myself descended from the 16th-Century father of Swedish church music, Michael Praetorius, but since his day I am very sorry to say Sweden has produced few serious composers other than Hugo Alfven, and he is, at best, an amiable mediocrity, do you not agree, Miss Riita?" He shifted position slightly, his enormous pajama-clad belly rolling around under the shawl. "For me, music dwells apart from anything else in this life, and is much more my real home than the mundane world. And Finland oozes Sibelius. I have noticed that driving through the country. Different parts of it often evoke different moments from his works. For example, a rocky pass might be shaped exactly like the savage theme in En Saga. Or the curve of a distant hillside might resemble the opening theme from the fourth movement of the Sixth Symphony. That stretch of river with the sun on it puts in me in mind of the sparkling 'Musette' from the King Christian Suite that is so often played on the radio. In fact, I would say there is no passage from Sibelius that will not unavoidably drift into the mind from time to time--and that I think is the mark of musical greatness."
Have I mentioned anything about how his voice sounded? It wasn't like it was, you know, deep or rumbly like George Clooney's for example--in fact, when he was upset, Dr P sort of squealed. But when he spoke normally, like now, it had a surprisingly pleasant sound, sort of cultured and theatrical, like he'd been trained for the stage or something. You could imagine that he'd be great at reading books aloud, because he was definitely pretty hypnotic to listen to. Of course, he could also sound very fake and histrionic, especially when he laughed, which involved a great deal of preliminary chuckling and chin-wobbling, kind of like a sad, humorless thin guy imitating a jolly fat one. If that makes any sense. Anyway, it was just as well that his was an OK voice to listen to, because the rest of the way to Kaustinen he never shut up:
"Finland is still a living country, full of magic. Unlike my poor Sweden, which is slowly dying. Our gods have abandoned us. Instead of making babies, our young people spend all their time on their computers, dreaming of becoming rock music stars or computer game programmers. Their parents retire at 50 and watch TV all day. We are committing mass suicide--soon there will be no Swedes left at all, and our country will be inherited by Finns and Slavs and Muslims. Instead of churches we will have mosques. But you Finns, by contrast, are vigorous and self-respecting with a healthy birth-rate. You still have a hearty appetite for sex."
Riita nodded approvingly. Obviously this was her kind of talk--and after what I'd seen that morning at Moominworld, I sure wasn't gonna argue.
"And this sad decline began nearly a century ago. After your independence many of Sweden's most dynamic and powerful personalities, like my dear friend and mentor Frederik Wilander, were not native Swedes but were Finlander-Swedes fleeing war and persecution in this country."
Riita was shocked. "That is not true!" she said in an outraged tone. "We Finns respect our Swedish heritage very much. No one in my country is allowed to be persecuted."
"But you hate Swedes," I pointed out. I felt like we were having a group therapy session. "You're always complaining about them."
Then she was like, "No, I don't! Of course I don't hate anyone, that is a very bad emotion! It's true I don't like Swedes very much, but that is just my personal opinion."
"And perhaps there is some validity in that," said Dr P in a soothing tone. "Sweden has treated the Finns very badly at times, it's true. And usually historical conflict of that sort leaves a legacy of bitterness, particularly among refugees, but that was not so for my dear friend Wilander. Despite his political convictions, he was a very quiet and gentle man, and in his own way, quite fearless--while as you see, I am a timid coward who merely stews in his own fears. If he were here now, he would not be afraid of Tuuslar--and he would never have lost his own shadow, which, incidentally, possessed a tail and was quite disturbing to look at. Believe me, there can be no doubt that Frederik Wilander was the most remarkable man of this past century. You are surprised? Amused at me again? What if I were to tell you that he discovered the secret of the Philosopher's Stone? That he was able to transmute lead into gold? It's true--all my vast wealth, everything you see in this automobile, I owe to his alchemical genius."
"Shut up!" I was like. "No way!"
"Nonetheless, it is true. And I can prove it."
"But if he could transmute lead into gold or whatever, and he was Likkanen's grandfather like you say, then why didn't Likkanen inherit all that?" I pointed out. "I don't get it."
Dr P sighed. "Your friend Mr Likkanen did inherit it all, in fact. He just never bothered to come back to Stockholm to collect it. He was a very careless and foolish man--in purely Darwinian terms, one might say he was simply too stupid to live."
"I didn't think he was stupid at all!" I protested loyally. "He was just sort of sad and didn't really care about himself at all, except for like his appearance. And he drank too much. I think his priorities in life were pretty much all wrong."
"It amounts to the same thing in the end," he said. "In any case, for whatever his reasons, Wilander bequeathed to him rather than to me the Hitler document. Mr Likkanen had no use for it--he was never interested in saving the world, nor indeed in saving even himself. But it is my destiny to do so."
"To save the world???"
"Yes, yes, I know it must sound mad to you. Let me explain, please, before you close your mind to this, Miss Hope. And you too, Miss Riita. Because I need your help, it is only fair that you should both understand the reason why." He gulped down another half-bottle of some bright pink soft drink. "To begin with, you must try to accept that the times were very different then. Wilander was a Nazi, it is true, but a Swedish nationalist, not a German one. I do not condone it, of course, and it is no longer an acceptable political philosophy in the modern world, but it is irrelevant to the larger issues at stake here. You see, during the war, he belonged to a secret Swedish occult order called the 'Knights of the Hooked Cross'--many prominent Swedes were members of this, including the Von Rosens, who created your Finnish air force. Some of the Swedish volunteers who fought at your side during the two Russian wars were also members. It was Wilander's duty to act as a courier between Stockholm and Berlin, where he was often the guest of Hermann Goering, whom he knew well. On one occasion he even met Hitler himself, which is how all this came about, for during their conversation together, Hitler promised Wilander a signed personal copy of his book, Mein Kampf.
Some time passed after this occasion, and Wilander forgot all about the proposed gift. In 1945, on his last visit to Germany, he found himself trapped between the Russian and the American armies, but was able to attach himself to Count Fulke Bernadotte's famous 'White Bus' convoy of repatriated prisoners and so leave the war-torn country under the neutral Red Cross flag. The night before he was to depart, two SS officers came to his hotel room and gave him a manuscript copy of Mein Kampf wrapped in brown paper. Upon his return to Stockholm, he had the leisure to examine the document more closely, and discovered that it was an altered and updated version of Hitler's work, typed out by his secretaries and with many notes and changes hand-written in pencil by Hitler himself. In addition to being somewhat pornographic, it also detailed Hitler's discovery of a world or dimension parallel to our own. This world Hitler called 'Glassland', or as you would say in English, 'Mirrorland'. He believed that it could be glimpsed in mirrors.
Hitler had first glimpsed this world late one night during one of his constant car trips between Munich and Berlin during the late 1920s. The driver had pulled his car over to the shoulder of the road for a brief stop and, left alone momentarily inside the darkened automobile, Hitler had happened to glance up into the rear-view mirror. He saw in the distance an old country house blazing with lights. Inside the windows he could see a number of figures in silhouette coming and going and conversing, rather like in a puppet theater-- these figures resembled grotesque caricatures of people and animals with large, misshapen heads or limbs, with great beaks or rows of sharp teeth. At first he assumed this to merely be a costume party, but much later he came to realize that these creatures must surely have been what we would term 'demons' or 'monsters'. He turned to look at the hill through the rear window panel but could see no house--nor could his driver or bodyguard when he sent them up the hill. The house existed only in the mirror. Or, he later decided, in his imagination, agitated by great stress and overwork.
However, some months later his car happened to pass the same way again, and he ordered that it be stopped in the same place. Once more he was able to clearly see the house in the mirror, though now it appeared dark and abandoned. But on this occasion several of his party were also able to see it, too. After this incident, discovering the truth about the Mirrorland became an obsession for Hitler. He diverted funds for its research, assigned many top scientists to the program, and even built secret factories in Northern Italy to develop experimental machinery and vehicles in order to penetrate it. During the war, concentration-camp inmates were successfully sent into it, but when they returned they were often turned inside-out or suffered other horrifying molecular changes. As the war progressed, and it became increasingly obvious to Hitler that Germany must lose it, he became even more frantic to find a way into Mirrorland, seeing it as his only escape route. He also decided that its inhabitants were able to spy on him from mirrors and glass reflections, which is why they were banned from his bunker--this was a fear that he shared with Wilander, and it is also why I am careful never to allow reflective surfaces anywhere near me. Of course, now that I have lost my own shadow such precautions are all but pointless, even comical.
But you see, unless I am able to secure this document and destroy it, it will fall into the hands of Tuuslar or some other evil warlock like him. They will discover the secret of entering Mirrorland from Hitler's writings and in so doing will open up a gateway between the two worlds..."
OK, I guess you really had to be there.