I moved to the Helsinki in Maine because of the Helsinki in Finland. I wanted to move to the Helsinki that is the original, but I couldn’t get there. I don’t take planes and don’t take boats. I looked at an inflated globe in a toy store once to see if there was an ice path if I went north over the pole. I got cold thinking about it. I hopped my fingers from island to island toward the pole and thought how I couldn’t hop them that easily in real life.
In Helsinki, I go to hockey games. I watch the co-ed over 18 league. I sit close so that they’re even faster than when I sit far away. I don’t pick up my popcorn if I spill it onto the floor. I kick it under the seats where it collects with all the other spilled popcorn. It looks more yellow on the floor than it does in my bucket. It’s yellow because of the butter.
When I call my mom, sometimes we talk for over a half hour. Other times I don’t want to talk much at all. After I answer her questions as short as I can, she asks to talk to the woman I live with at her house. When they talk, it is never for long. Sometimes I mimic the sigh I hear from the woman when she hangs the phone back on the hook on the wall. She plays pretend mad and charges at me. I ball up on the fluffy rug and ask her to let me get away with it. She always says that it’s okay this time, but next time I’ll get what was coming to me.
Helsinki is the second town I’ve lived in. Nothing much used to happen in the town I was born in. In Helsinki, there is always something. One day I was walking to the store to get a candy bar and the creek that had been frozen for a couple of days had a blue and white truck stuck through the ice. I couldn’t tell how it could have gotten there. It was frozen just a little where the water went through the open windows.
At a hockey game, I was cheering for a goal when the concession stand manager and the woman I lived with came up to me where I sat. He asked me if I ever wanted any work. I flung open my jacket and said yes. What he called the gist of it was taking a broom and sweeping out the popcorn and candy wrappers from underneath the seats. I told him I got the gist. The woman I lived with held back a laugh but she was smiling.
After my first time sweeping up, I was sweaty but it was cold inside the rink. I missed a lot of the goals from the second game. My back hurt. I wished I hadn’t ever kicked my spilled popcorn under the seats while I was the one watching the games. I thought when I saw the manager I’d ask him who swept up before me and I’d find him to say I was sorry.
I didn’t want to clean up after the birthday parties after I had cleaned up after a few of them. The one I cleaned up one day was a party that we called the ‘Avalanche Package.’ That was the best of all the parties we hosted at the ice rink.
I tried to look at the birthday cake to count candles to see how old the birthday boy was. Almost all of them were boys. Some were tall and some were short. They all skated faster than they should have. They would fall over and slide into the boards on purpose. Their music was loud. I wished I could hear the sound my broom made when I used it.
I accidentally began to dance to the music. It was loud and something about it was funky. I swung my broom from one side of me to the other. I used the top of the handle as a microphone even though I didn’t know the words.
Behind me I heard a loud noise. The rink boards were shaking. The birthday partyers were mimicking my dance moves near the blue line. They used their hockey sticks the way I used my broom. They started slapping shots at me. The pucks sounded like when rain is hard on the roof from a big storm. I flinched and ducked and dropped my broom, but I was never hit. I stood up with my broom and saw the pucks coming at me. The glass between us made the pucks stop before they could hit my body. I wanted to laugh in their faces, but they were already laughing in mine.
I walked closer to the glass. They were running out of pucks. I got close enough to where I could see how they had collected at the edge of the rink. I placed the hand that didn’t hold the broom onto the glass and I felt how it shook beneath my hand. The birthday boys started skating toward me, behind the glass, looking at the pucks they had shot. I dropped the broom and ran.
It was colder outside the rink than it was inside. My jacket did the job a jacket does worse as soon as I got through the doors. I had lost track of time while I was sweeping at my job. It was that time of the day when it started to darken, just a little.
There weren’t many streets in Helsinki that had nice sidewalks to walk on. I thought I knew the way home, but I realized that when the woman I lived with drove me there and home, I would smush my face up to the window so the way I saw the roads was blurry. I ended up walking a path that led into a lot of trees. It was even darker in there, but I walked deeper anyway.
In the woods, I breathed in the cold air and thought of the fire that might have already been made at my new home. It’s been cold the whole time since I’ve lived here. The fireplace is in the living room next to the fluffy rug. I looked around at how I was surrounded by the trees. I wondered if they had these trees full of green needles in the real Helsinki. I bet with myself in my head that they did. Then I agreed with myself that they would chop them down like we do here so that we can make fires and get warm after being out in the cold.
The path came to a set of new paths and I took one of them where the next few steps were the prettiest. It stayed pretty past those first pretty steps. The snow in the woods was whiter than on the side of the road. I could still see how white it was even though the darkness was getting even more dark. I touched a tree and thought of Christmas. I wondered if I’d still be in Helsinki next year. It would be my first Christmas away from home.
I was surprised that when I came to the end of the woods, I recognized where I was. I kept on walking like I had known the whole time where I was going. The streetlamps were lighting up. They didn’t all do it at the same time. I stopped underneath one and waited for it to give me light, but it took too long so I left. The lights were bright on the little bridge that helped people and cars over the creek.
The blue and white truck was still there looking as frozen as the creek. When the creek started freezing the woman I live told me that in the summer, when it was warm enough to swim in, how the creek flowed not too fast. She pointed in the direction it flowed. She told me how people would take tubes and float down the creek and look up at the clouds and feel their feet dangling in the water. She said that in the summer that would be something we could do.
Looking at it frozen, I wondered if it was as frozen as the ice at the rink. I hoped that no kids would skate on it and slap shots at me. There were no boards to keep me safe from all the pucks. All the noises that I had heard them make on the glass would be making those noises on my body. If I survived I’d look at myself in the mirror in the morning and count all the bruises they shot into me.
I tried to think back to the thoughts of me on a tube floating down the creek in the sun. I walked to the side of the bridge and slid down some snow to where the ground ended and the frozen water began. The first step I took came down safely, so I took a second. Then I took a few more. I tried to grab onto the underneath of the bridge but it was too high and I slipped. It hurt enough that I thought I might check for a bruise in the morning.
I approached the truck like I had never seen one before. I didn’t drive but I had seen a lot of people turn a key to make a car start. I wished I could do that to the truck. It would take a long time to get warm and melt the ice that made it stuck where it was. I wouldn’t expect the radio to work because of how wet it got sitting in the creek.
It was cold on my seat when I sat on top of the truck. Maybe in the summer, if it hadn’t gotten out of the creek, I’d take a break from my floating and sit back on the top of the truck to feel how warm it would get from the sun.
I looked to the sky. There are a lot of stars when you look up at the stars in Helsinki.
A police car drove onto the bridge over the creek and pulled to the side of the road. When she turned her red and blue lights on, they lit up the ice. Sometimes at the ice rink at the end of a birthday party, we turn off the lights and flash a bunch of colorful ones. It reminded me a little of that. When the police officer walked onto the ice toward the truck, she asked me if I was okay. I told her I was just cold and that I’d slipped once and might have a bruise. She came up the driver side and asked me what I was doing all alone. I said I’d never been on top of a truck before and that I wasn’t sure what I was doing.
I sat in the front seat. The heat of the car had warmed me, but I still wanted the fireplace. It was full dark when we pulled into the driveway where I lived. Only a few of the lights in the house were on. The officer knocked on the door even though I said we could just go in, that the fire would warm both of us from the coldness outside.
On the fluffy rug, I felt the spot on my body where I’d slipped. I turned onto my stomach and watched the flames of the fire. I wondered if the wood that burned was from the woods where I had walked.
The officer and the woman I lived with walked into the room together. The officer said goodbye to me and said to stay safe. I said goodbye and thanks for the ride. The woman I lived with touched my back and felt the wetness of my clothes. She told me to go get changed, said she’d make me some dinner.
At the dinner table I ate and she drank a glass of wine. I asked her if I wrote a letter to someone, if she’d read it to make sure it would be a good letter to read. She said of course. She does a lot of nice things for me.
When she asked me if I was going to write a letter to my mom, I said no. I told her that I had a friend back home who didn’t live there anymore either. I told her that he now lived in Helsinki, the one that if you go north enough you’d come down south to find it. She told me I’d have to write Helsinki for where the letter would go, and also for where to return it if something went wrong. She sipped her wine. She pulled out a book of stamps and said we might need all of them to get a letter to the Helsinki across the world. She held back a laugh but was smiling. I mimicked the way she did it and when she saw me do that, we laughed.
NILES BALDWIN lives and writes in Kittery, Maine. His work has previously appeared at Green Mountains Review, Fanzine, and FEED. Niles dedicates this story to Smithmaki.