With thanks to Six Towns Radio www.6towns.co.uk/ for permission to use their broadcast and to photographer Brooksie for the images on this personal video
This is the saddest place.
At 10 a.m. locals head home, store bags clinking with alcohol. Youths, swaying like polar bears in a zoo, hang at the café. Animal skulls adorn doors of dilapidated concrete houses. My grandfather is buried here: Anders Karlsonn, professor of Northern Eugenics, whose life’s work became embarrassing and shameful. By 1940 his research was halted. In 1945, aged 50, he returned to the high arctic forever, leaving behind his dead child-wife, and tiny baby; my father.
A red ovoid sun circles the midnight sky. Permafrost, Aguta says, prevents burials. Handsomely impassive despite knowing what Anders had been: a monster, lying here amongst people he called inferior and Godless. Endless light transforms everything. White crosses of enforced religion are dusted pink. Wild-flowers drift in waves across a different set of graves; many suicides.
“Cultural genocide” I murmur. Guilty.
His hand cups my chin “Not your fault, Maria”
I long to kiss his dark face.
We find the stone coffin, above ground and facing the sea. Ander’s name is on the cap-stone with naïve carvings of a man and woman. The symbolic overturned kayak. A second name: Aguta.
I look at my guide and tremble. Terra-cotta light bruises his chiselled face and almond eyes.
“Aguta is male and female. It means ‘gatherer of the dead’”
“My mother’s sister. Karlsonn married her when she was very young. She outlived him by many years. A dead woman’s name is taboo until a new-born child is named after her. ”
Anders condemned this very culture, yet couldn’t keep away. Neither could I.
“Do you think he loved her?” I whispered.
“I think he couldn’t help himself”
Agutas nose is cold as it touches mine, but his mouth is warm, guiding me towards a love that will be like the Arctic summer, brief and frenzied. If we make winter, will months of darkness bind us? I am glad we have no blood tie, but would that even matter, here? Instead we have the weight of gathered dead. Impossible to bury them beneath the ice, out of sight.
Today I attended the Potteries Prize event in Hanley. I was not the overall winner (and let's face it we all live in hope!) - that went to the "twist in the tail" story Mrs Clowder's Cats by Beverley Adams. As soon as I heard this story and the judge's critique I just knew Bev had won and very well deserved. All of the stories were of a high standard - some such as High Noon and Snowy were laugh out loud funny - the first of those in just 100 words - others were sad and poignant. I was delighted to be the joint first prize winner in "Most Beautiful Use of Language" category with Sam Palmer (no relation) with her story "Sea Change". The whole event at Central City Library was a great success and very well attended. Thanks Writer's Kiln I can't wait for the next one.
Author - June Palmer