One June morning in the 1970s, when I was on my way back from the park where I had gone to get some government sponsored soup, I spotted a familiar character walking towards me. I was glad that I noticed her first, because I was a little afraid of her. She walked around our neighbourhood almost every day, but it was much more fun to watch her from our kitchen window.
Every time Mom saw her, she let me know.
“Mrs. Sunshine’s out,” she’d yell, and I ran to the window to see what she was wearing that day.
Although, I wasn’t her clothes, really, that was the big deal. It was the fact that she was wearing so much makeup that it looked like she had painted two red balls on her cheeks. She also seemed to be wearing two wigs on top of each other. Anyway, seeing her made Mom happy so, in a way she was Mrs. Sunshine, even if the nickname probably wasn’t all praise to begin with.
But since I was a little scared of her, I walked as close to the edge of the sidewalk as I could and let her pass me without having to pay any attention to me. Her wig(s) were swaying, as was her big purse, as she walked past me in a colorful summer dress.
I cut to the right, between two apartment buildings so I came straight to Pekka’s house.
We were supposed to be doing “something”, which usually meant roaming around our block, sitting on the big swing in the park, or picking rose hips for our rose hip fights. Later in the summer, when the rose hips got red, we used the seeds as itching power and tried to put it inside each other’s T-shirts.
But that day, there was a man sitting on the bench in the smaller park, the one where there were only two benches and the roses, not the bigger one, which was the playground, with the swings and the sand box. The man shouted something at us, so Pekka walked up to him to ask him what he had said. I kept my distance, but I heard them speak.
“You boys, you don’t mind my sitting here, do ya?” the man asked Pekka.
“No, it’s fine. We’re never here anyway,” he replied.
The man took a sip out of a bottle, which he then tried to hide from us. I found it silly, but also a little frightening.
“You’re good boys,” he said. Pekka nodded.
Ten meters behind him, I nodded, too.
“Good boys like you should have an ice cream, it’s such a hot day,” he said.
I was speechless, still, but Pekka saw an opportunity. We both knew we weren’t supposed to take anything from strangers, absolutely not, never ever ever, ever. I reminded Pekka of this.
“You’re not supposed to talk to strangers, and much less take anything from them. Absolutely not, never ever ever, ever,” I told him.
“I know,” he whispered back.
Meanwhile, the man had pulled up a wrinkled five markka bill, and that blue bill pulled us.
“I think it’s OK, since it’s money, and not anything to eat,” Pekka told me.
He took the bill from the man and thanked him. The man got up, which startled us, but he just continued to pull up his pants and tell us he had to be moving on.
“Have a good day, boys,” he said, and walked towards “Scrap cars”, our secret place in the woods where there were a half a dozen abandonded cars.
Pekka waved the five markka bill in front of my face.
“Let’s get some ice cream then,” he said.
We turned around and walked past Pekka’s house, towards the train station, where our favorite candy kiosk was. To us, it was the best little candy store in the whole world. We ran the last hundred yards. Pekka got there first, and he bought us both strawberry ice cream bars.
I was still a little nervous about the whole affair, about accepting money from a stranger, and Pekka could tell that. We walked back towards the playground, and as we sat down on the big swing, he took my ice cream, still in the wrapper, and pointed out a small hole in the paper.
“Now, I’m not saying anything happened, but that’s where they would inject the poison if they wanted to,” he told me.
I stared at him. I didn’t know who they were and why they would be poisoning me, but I didn’t want to find out, either.
“It’s probably nothing,” he added, and then after another pause, “although I didn’t see a hole in the wrapper of my ice cream.”
By that point, I had already taken a bite out of my ice cream. It was delicious. I didn’t taste anything strange, there was no taste of poison whatsoever, and I told that to Pekka.
“Well, poison doesn’t taste anything. That’s why it’s such a good murder weapon. Like arsenic, for example. Atomic number 33,” he said.
He knew that kind of things,
I just nodded.
We got up, and each one grabbed the chains at one end of the big swing, and we started to swing. The goal was to get the other end to defy gravity, so that the chains loosened a little, and that’s when it felt like you were flying. For a split second, anyway, until gravity did pull you down and the chains tightened again.
After a while, I told Pekka I was going home. I kept swallowing every 30 seconds, to feel if the arsenic was already in my bloodstream. My throat felt a little sore, but other than everything seemed to be working fine.
Our dog, Riku greeted me at the door as usual. I threw a tennis ball a few times, so my buddy could fetch it for me.
It had been a good day, except for that damn poisoned ice cream. I stood by the kitchen window, and I saw the retired fire chief making his second daily round. He was walking in the opposite direction now, in Mrs Sunshine’s footsteps. I followed him all the way to the bank, and just when I couldn’t see the fire chief anymore, I saw another familiar figure walking towards our house.
I heard the front door door open and close downstairs, and immediately after that, the keys turn in our door.
Riku beat me to the door. He was wagging his tail, and it kept hitting the cupboard door in the hall. The sound echoed in the stairs before Mom closed the door.
“Hi, Mom,” I said.“Hi, how was your day?” she asked me.
“What did you do? Did you go for soup in the park?”
“Nothing special. And yes I did.”
“Good. I got some candy for you,” she said, and pulled out a brown paper bag from her purse.
I knew what was inside the brown bag. On Fridays, she came home with a bag filled with spogs, the pink and blue jelly buttons from liquorice allsorts bags.I took one, two, three and by the third one I realized that I feel anything special in my throat. My arms and legs seemed to function.
In fact, I felt great. I felt alive.