‘Helena Halme keeps us on tenterhooks right to the last minute.’Debbie Young, Author & Book BloggerIs there a happy ever after?Newly married to her dreamy Navy Officer husband, Kaisa’s happiness is shattered when she discovers her hard-fought degree from Finland is less than useless in Britain. She’s suddenly faced with a lonely life in the shadow of Peter’s brilliant career, which takes him away to sea, unreachable during his long submarine patrols.Enter rich, charming and clever Duncan, who seems to have all the answers to Kaisa’s problems. With Peter away, can the lonely and bored Kaisa resist Duncan’s advances?Can Peter and Kaisa’s love stay on course?A standalone read, The Faithful Heart is the second novel in The Nordic Heart Romance Series, which follows the tumultuous 1980’s love affair between the Finnish-born Kaisa and British Navy officer, Peter.Read this stylish European love story now!Previously published as The Navy Wife.
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Also by Helena Halme
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Kaisa woke to the sounds of the seagulls calling to each other in the distance. She opened her eyes and felt the empty space next to her. An involuntary smile spread over her face when she remembered the night before, and where she was. After two weeks of married life, she still couldn’t quite believe that she was finally living with Peter as his wife in a married quarter in Portsmouth. She looked at the radio alarm clock, a wedding present from a distant aunt of Peter’s, and saw it was past 9am. Although Peter had gone back to work after their honeymoon in Finland, Kaisa still felt as if she was on a long holiday. Poor Peter had to wake up early, and although he didn’t seem to mind, Kaisa felt guilty that she was able to lie in bed all morning.
Again Kaisa smiled as she remembered Peter’s first day back at work. On the Monday – Peter was on a training course at the submarine base in Gosport – she’d got up at the same time as Peter and made him bacon and eggs for breakfast while he showered. She’d struggled to operate the gas hob, even though Peter had shown her how to turn on the hissing gas and light the ring the night before. It all seemed so dangerous to Kaisa, who was used to an electric cooker, especially when Peter stressed how important it was to make sure the gas was properly turned off. ‘Leaking gas will cause an explosion,’ he’d told her. Kaisa was horrified. How did people in England manage?
‘This is the life,’ Peter had said, grinning at her from the other side of the small kitchen table. Kaisa had still been wearing her dressing gown, shivering in the bleak, unheated kitchen. It had all felt so romantic; Kaisa the young Navy wife cooking breakfast for her husband. But as she’d lifted her head for Peter to give her a kiss goodbye at the door, Kaisa had felt like a 1950s housewife from a black-and-white film. Kaisa went back to bed and thought, ‘This is not why I got married – to serve my husband breakfast before he goes off to work.’ So on the Tuesday, she stayed in bed. Peter thought it funny that it had taken Kaisa only one day to get over the sentimental notion of making him breakfast in the morning, and joked about it in the pub the following weekend.
‘If you wanted a conventional Navy wife, you should have married one of the many English girls with a crush on you,’ she’d said when they were back in their new flat.
‘Shh …’ When Peter had placed his lips on hers, Kaisa had abandoned her mouth to Peter’s kisses and let herself be led upstairs to bed.
Kaisa sighed and forced herself out of bed. She pulled on her bright blue satin sports shorts and a heavy cotton T-shirt with a boat neck, and tied her hair back with a satin ribbon. It was a beautiful sunny day, the seagulls were still calling to each other in the distance, and she was going to clean the flat. As she began clearing the living room of a couple of weeks’ worth of detritus, she thought how wonderful it was to be living in a huge married quarter, right in the centre of Portsmouth. King’s Terrace, a large red-brick Victorian building, where each married quarter occupied two floors, had one of the best situations in the city. The shops at Palmerston Road were within walking distance, as was the seafront at Southsea.
When they’d found out where they would be living, Peter had said they were lucky to be in Southsea – many of the junior submarine officers’ families lived on the other side of the water, in Gosport. That would have been difficult for Kaisa. As well as the job interviews she anticipated attending, all of Peter’s friends lived on the Southsea side, and, as Kaisa didn’t drive, it would have been costly and tedious to take a bus and a ferry across the Solent every day. And the maisonette was huge: there were three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a large (but cold) kitchen and a separate lounge. But the Navy issue furniture didn’t please Kaisa’s Finnish eye. Every piece was – in one word – awful. She hadn’t told Peter how she felt about this, of course. And she had to admit, the ugly solid teak sideboard, dining table and chairs, the moss-green flower-patterned curtains, the red-and-yellow three-piece suite, were better than having no furniture at all. It was just that so many of the wedding gifts from her Finnish friends and family didn’t go with the decoration. The straight lines of the Aalto vase that her friend Tuuli had given her looked completely out of sync with the teak dining table and the old-fashioned, intricately carved chairs. If only they’d been able to afford new pine furniture. Then Kaisa could imagine how to arrange their things.
Still, she knew she was lucky. Living like this, together in Pompey – the Navy’s nickname for the city – was what she’d been dreaming about during the many painful years she’d been apart from Peter, when she was living in Finland trying to finish her studies and he was in the UK pursuing his naval career. This is what she had wanted: to be Peter’s wife – a Navy wife. She looked around the messy living room, and began cleaning it with renewed vigour.
‘Isn’t it nice that we have one more week together, with me coming home every night?’ Peter had said as they had walked home from the pub the night before. The routine they’d got into during the first two weeks of their married life seemed like a dream to Kaisa. When Peter got home, hot from a day spent in a stuffy classroom, they’d drive down to the quieter part of the seafront in Eastney, swim in the sea, come back home, make love, and go to the pub. Because Jeff, Peter’s best friend and best man, was still away in the Falklands, they didn’t often go to Jeff’s father’s pub in Old Portsmouth, preferring instead to go to places like the India Arms, or King’s in Southsea. Wherever they went, Peter bumped into people he knew. Often he would make arrangements for them to meet up with friends from the naval base in the evening. Kaisa didn’t usually know the people, but they were all outgoing young men like Peter: carefree, good-looking, and full of jokes. Kaisa’s old life in Finland seemed dull in comparison to the sunny days and jolly evenings in Pompey.
Although Kaisa didn’t always understand everything that was being said, she didn’t mind sitting next to Peter, holding his hand under the table and soaking up her new life. Occasionally they met other young couples like themselves. During their first week of marriage, Peter introduced Kaisa to Mary and Justin. They’d been married for less than a year and Justin was a submariner, just like Peter. Kaisa liked Mary straight away. She was a tall, lanky girl, with a black, even bob, and a fringe that just touched her eyelashes. She didn’t look like any of the other Navy wives Kaisa knew, and she certainly didn’t act like one. Even though she was pregnant, she always had a pint of beer, and wore high-waisted jeans.
‘I’ve been wanting to meet you,’ she said to Kaisa.
‘Oh,’ Kaisa said. She didn’t know how Mary knew about her, but guessed Peter had told Justin all about his new Finnish wife.
Mary laughed at Kaisa’s confusion, and added, ‘I hope you wanted to meet me, too, right?’
Mary told Kaisa that she’d known Justin since school, and that her father had been in the Navy too. Kaisa could hear from the conversation between the men and Mary that she knew a lot of technical details about the course Justin and Peter were on, and about the various submarines and ships. Kaisa tried to listen and learn, but she invariably switched off when the Navy talk started in the pub. It wasn’t that she was uninterested in Peter’s career; she did want to know about these things, but felt stupid asking questions, because she knew so little.
‘Sorry, Peanut, we’re boring you.’ Peter had his arm around her waist and squeezed her closer to him so that he could give her a quick peck on the forehead.
‘No, not at all,’ Kaisa replied and lent into his embrace. She smiled at the silly nickname Peter had coined for her during their honeymoon. When she asked him where it came from, he’d just kissed her and said, ‘You just are my little Peanut.’
‘We’ll miss them and their boring submarine talk when they’re away, won’t we,’ Mary said.
Mary didn’t need to remind Kaisa that soon she was going to be on her own. She knew this blissful state wasn’t going to last – and that she should make the most of Peter’s presence. But she didn’t want to think about his impending absence. They didn’t as yet know which submarine he was going to be appointed to, nor where he was going to be based. Because Kaisa knew Portsmouth, and some of Peter’s friends, from her many visits to the city, they’d decided she’d stay in their married quarter on King’s Terrace wherever he went. Now that she had her degree from Hanken, the school of economics in Finland, Kaisa planned to apply for jobs. But she hadn’t yet filled in one application. There’d be plenty of time for that when Peter was away.
Kaisa viewed the mess in the large lounge, which had two tall sash windows facing the road. An ironing board was out, on top of which teetered an insurmountable pile of washing. Most of it consisted of Peter’s heavy cotton uniform shirts, which took Kaisa an age to iron. She spotted the bone china mug her mother-in-law had given her on her first Christmas together with Peter in Wiltshire. She could see only half of the beautiful italic text on the flower-patterned mug, but she knew it read, ‘Oh to be in England, now April is here!’ She remembered how tearful she’d felt when she opened the present and saw those words. And how surprised she’d been that her mother-in-law, who barely knew her, could understand exactly how she felt. To be living in England, with her beloved Englishman, was barely a dream then, nearly four years ago. Now the mug was half-empty of cold, milky tea, left there by Peter, as he’d hurried out of the door that morning. As well as the dirty tea mug, on the table were leftovers of their evening meal – a takeaway burger and chips from the new American-style restaurant a few doors down from the flat. This was fighting for space with opened letters, most of which were bills, old recipes, and a few job applications, which Kaisa had planned to fill in. Kaisa speeded up her cleaning and felt good when after an hour the place looked spotless. Peter would be so pleased with her.
She made herself a cup of coffee, sat on the uncomfortable sofa and began sifting through the job applications. She wanted to start earning money – even though Peter had a good salary, it would make their life easier if they had two pay packets coming in. But Kaisa didn’t want to take any job – she was a graduate after all, with a Master’s degree from a reputable school of economics, not just any three-year qualification in business administration from a polytechnic, or a diploma from a secretarial college. She wanted a job that would lead to a career, just like Peter’s Navy career. Kaisa thought about Peter and how handsome he looked in his white shirt, tie, black trousers, shiny black shoes, and naval officer’s cap, as he bent over her on the bed each morning to give her a long kiss goodbye. His black hair was often wet from the shower, and he smelled of the coconut shaving foam she so adored. More than once, if she was fully awake, she’d pull him into bed and they’d make love hurriedly. Peter had told her how on those mornings he could hardly concentrate during his first lectures for thinking about her, still warm and naked in their bed. Kaisa smiled and sighed. She hadn’t realised that anyone could ever be this happy.
The following Sunday Peter took Kaisa to a breakfast party in London. ‘What’s a breakfast party?’ Kaisa asked. She only knew about sillis, herring and vodka breakfasts that the rich kids at her university in Helsinki used to organise after the annual students’ ball and the 1st of May celebrations.
‘I expect there’ll be drinking involved, but perhaps not schnapps,’ Peter said and grinned. They were driving up the A3 in Peter’s grey Ford Fiesta, listening to Radio One and singing along to hits like ‘Wake Me Up Before You Go Go,’ by Wham! and ‘Two Tribes’ by Frankie Goes to Hollywood.
Kaisa had never met Jackie, whose party it was, but Peter knew her through some of his Navy friends. Kaisa wondered if she was another one of Peter’s old girlfriends, but didn’t want to ask. Peter was married to her now.
Kaisa wore a new sky-blue silk skirt and a matching strappy vest. She was a little nervous, because she was not wearing a bra. Peter had said it would be ‘absolutely fine’ when Kaisa had shown him the outfit, with and without a bra. The straps looked ugly under the thin cloth bands at the top, so Kaisa preferred not to wear one. Luckily it was a very sunny and warm day, the last day of June, and Kaisa took a cardigan that she could always slip on if she became too self-conscious. Her breasts were so tiny anyway that no one, she was sure, would take any notice. Peter had kissed her as they were getting into the car on King’s Terrace and told her she looked gorgeous.
‘And very Scandinavian,’ he added. Kaisa smiled and said, ‘You know Finland is not part of the Scandinavian Peninsula, and therefore I can’t look Scandinavian!’
‘Yeah, yeah,’ Peter said and squeezed her bottom. ‘Miss Geography, no one cares.’
‘On the way up to London, Peter told Kaisa that Jackie’s parents were very well to do, and had bought her a flat in a posh area of central London called Chelsea. ‘You know, where the yuppies live,’ he said and looked sideways at Kaisa.
‘You know her well, then?’ Kaisa asked.
Peter shot her a quick look, and said, ‘No, not really. She’s a friend of a friend.’
Kaisa smiled to herself. She now loved teasing Peter about his old girlfriends, just as he liked to pull her leg about her old fiancé in Finland, Matti. Neither of them was jealous of the other anymore, not since they’d sorted out their pre-wedding nerves. Since being married, Kaisa couldn’t imagine even looking at another man, and she knew Peter felt the same way about her. Peter looked over at Kaisa and squeezed her knee. ‘Fancy a quickie in the car before we get there?’
‘Where? On the road while you’re driving?’ Kaisa laughed, and brushed aside his hand.
The car in front stopped; they’d reached the traffic lights in Petersfield, a small, pretty town between Portsmouth and London. Peter took hold of Kaisa’s arm and placed her hand over his crotch. ‘I’m ready!’
Kaisa felt his hardness and squeezed it lightly. ‘You’re crazy.’ The traffic had moved and there was the sound of a horn being pressed from behind. ‘Go on, concentrate on the road and stop thinking about sex for one second.’ Kaisa shook her head in mock disapproval.
When Jackie opened the heavy door, she gave a little shriek of pleasure at seeing Peter and Kaisa. She kissed them on both cheeks and said, ‘Come up, please, darlings! You simply must meet everyone!’ She was wearing a pink, flower-patterned dress and holding a cigarette. She darted up a light-coloured staircase and, with the hand holding the cigarette, waved to them to follow her. Kaisa worried about the ash falling onto the carpet, but Jackie didn’t seem to care. On her feet she had very high-heeled gold sandals that sank into the plush pile.
The flat was decorated with old-fashioned furniture; against one wall was a polished teak sideboard filled with family pictures framed in silver, and in the far corner of the large room stood a beautiful piano, on top of which was a large vase filled with long-stemmed pink roses. The place reeked of money. In the centre of the room was a table laden with glasses, bottles of wine and a large bowl of punch filled with cucumber slices and mint leaves. A man wearing a striped jacket over a cotton shirt and light-coloured slacks, with bare feet, was pouring Pimm’s and lemonade into the bowl when Peter and Kaisa walked in. He turned around and looked straight at Kaisa. She adjusted the straps of her top and tried to take hold of Peter’s hand, but he moved away from her towards the man.
‘Duncan, how the hell are you?’ The two men shook hands. Peter turned around and said, ‘This is my wife, Kaisa.’
For a moment, which felt like an age, Duncan said nothing but just gazed at Kaisa. He was slightly shorter than Peter, with fine, fair hair and light-blue eyes. ‘I’ve heard a lot about you,’ Duncan bent down and kissed Kaisa’s hand. His lips felt soft. Fearing she’d blushed, she moved her eyes down to the floor.
There were a lot of people squeezed into the one room, talking and laughing loudly in small groups. As Peter and Kaisa approached each group, faces lit up in smiles. Peter kept pushing Kaisa forward, introducing her as ‘My wife, Kaisa.’ Her heart filled with pride each time she heard those words and greeted each person with a handshake, apart from a couple of men who seemed to know Peter well and pulled her towards them for a kiss on both cheeks. No one else kissed her hand like Duncan had done. As much as Kaisa tried to remember at least one other name, she couldn’t retain any of them. She couldn’t really follow the conversation very well, either. The loud music and everyone talking at the same time made it impossible for her to catch all the English words.
Towards the end of the party Kaisa was sitting alone on the bay window ledge admiring the view below. She’d had several glasses of Pimm’s, and was glad of a reprieve from trying to make sense of people’s stories and jokes. She’d left Peter talking to a slightly older man about the Navy and his course. Jackie’s flat was on the second floor and overlooked a cobbled yard where flowers grew in pots and hanging baskets. In Finland people grew far fewer flowers than they did in Britain, and Kaisa still marvelled at a display such as the one below. There were pinks, blues and violets. Small white flowers overflowed the baskets, some of them nearly reaching the ground. Kaisa lazily wondered how such displays of loveliness could be achieved, and jumped when she heard a voice behind her, ‘Here you are!’ Jackie was holding another cigarette, but had taken off her high-heeled shoes. She looked very short in her stockinged feet. She came to sit next to Kaisa, and Kaisa noticed that Jackie was wearing a pink nail varnish that exactly matched her dress. ‘So what else do you do apart from being Mrs Williams?’
Kaisa told her she was looking for a job. She said she had an economics degree from Finland, to which Jackie lifted her eyebrows and said, ‘I didn’t think a foreign qualification would be recognised here in England.’
Kaisa didn’t know what to say. Jackie inhaled deeply on her cigarette, with her cold blue eyes fixed on Kaisa’s face. She removed the now pink-stained cigarette from her lips.
‘Oh,’ Kaisa eventually said and turned her face down to the floor. It hadn’t crossed Kaisa’s mind that her degree from Hanken would be ignored by prospective employers. Her mind whirled with questions, but she couldn’t think how to put them to Jackie without appearing stupid.
‘So how is it being married to Peter?’ Jackie asked.
‘Fine,’ Kaisa couldn’t think how else to reply. She didn’t want to tell this girl whom she hardly knew that she was the happiest woman alive. That after their four-year long-distance love affair, to be finally married to Peter was a dream come true. Why was Jackie so interested anyway? Perhaps she really was an old girlfriend of Peter’s?
‘Fine, you say!’ Jackie gave a little short laugh and tapped the end of her cigarette onto a small silver ashtray that she was holding in her other hand.
It was gone three o’clock when they set off for home. But when Peter drove along the A3, Kaisa didn’t even notice the scenery. During the rest of the party, she had experienced a growing sense of betrayal. She felt as if she’d been cheated. To work so hard for a degree and then not get anything for it. Or not even that. Kaisa felt cheated that she hadn’t known about this; it hadn’t even occurred to her that the degree for which she had reluctantly studied would not be recognised in Britain. Why hadn’t Peter told her about this before? Why hadn’t he said anything during the long years they’d been apart because Kaisa wanted to finish her studies? She thought it important to get a degree before she got married, so that she could forge the worthwhile career she longed for. If that same degree was a worthless piece of paper after all, what had been the point?
That evening Kaisa went to bed early. When she heard Peter come up the stairs, she wondered if she should ask him about her degree, but decided against it. She’d promised herself never to go to bed on a disagreement, something her mother had taught her not to do, so she decided to pretend everything was fine. When Peter leaned over to kiss her goodnight, Kaisa returned the kiss, but turned over quickly to stop Peter doing anything more. There was no way she could make love to Peter now, not until she had had it out with him.
‘What’s up?’ Peter said, nuzzling his face into the back of her neck.
‘I’m really tired, sorry darling.’
Next day, in search of some facts, Kaisa phoned and asked about the validity of her foreign degree at the Job Centre in Portsmouth. When they eventually found someone who knew about foreign qualifications, the so-called expert just said, ‘It’s worth putting everything on your job application, dear, you never know what they’re looking for.’ In other words, Kaisa’s degree was more or less worthless. Four long years studying Political Science and Economics, a long summer course in book-keeping, years of trying to study for her exams, while pining for Peter and dreaming of living in England – were for nothing. So, when the ten o’clock news had finished and Peter turned the telly off, the frustration just flowed out of Kaisa. Why hadn’t he told her that there was no need to finish her degree if it wasn’t worth anything in England? Why did she have to find out from someone like Jackie, a stranger? Or perhaps she wasn’t such a stranger to Peter? Kaisa demanded to know, ‘Was she or, was she not, an old girlfriend?’
The row went back and forth, with Kaisa accusing Peter of keeping her in the dark about her degree and not being straight about how well he knew Jackie, to Peter swearing he had no idea of the validity of her qualifications in the UK, and denying there had ever been any kind of relationship, apart from a friendly one, with Jackie. And why was Kaisa blaming Peter. ‘I’m no bloody expert on the British job market!’ he shouted. The pinnacle of the row occurred when Peter admitted that perhaps, ‘Jackie did once – a long time ago – have a bit of a crush on me.’ Kaisa stormed out of the room and locked herself in the toilet, crying loudly. It took Peter a full ten minutes to coax her out again.
Of course, in the end they made up, and Peter said that he really hadn’t had any idea that Kaisa’s degree from Finland would be ‘worthless’ as she put it.
‘Are you sure Jackie knows what she’s talking about?’ Peter said.
‘I don’t know.’ Kaisa was leaning on Peter. She felt silly for having worked herself up into such a state.
Peter lifted Kaisa’s chin up with his thumb and forefinger. ‘You’re a clever woman. And what’s more you are very good-looking, funny and I love you very much. You will get a job, but you know there’s no rush. Let’s just enjoy our time together while I’m still at home?’
During that last week before Peter went away, Kaisa asked if they could get a sewing machine. She could run up new curtains for their married quarter, making it a little more homely. It was an expensive purchase, but Kaisa promised Peter they’d save money in the long run.
‘Alright then, Mrs Williams, let’s get you a sewing machine,’ Peter smiled and squeezed Kaisa close to himself. Kaisa was surprised when, at the Knight and Lee store on Palmerston Road, she knew quite a lot about the different models they were shown. Glancing at Peter, she saw how her knowledge impressed him, too.
The following day Peter was again impressed when Kaisa made simple, light drapes for the lounge from cheap fabric she’d bought in town. She took down the awful net curtains in their bedroom and hung the new ones in place. ‘You should go into business making curtains!’ Peter said. Kaisa smiled; impressing Peter made her feel so wonderful. She was acting like a 1950s housewife again, but she couldn’t help herself. She promised herself that she’d start applying for proper jobs as soon as Peter went away. Kaisa sighed; they only had two more days together.
‘I should be back by September,’ Peter squeezed Kaisa’s body hard against himself. It was only the 8th of July, and he said he’d be away ‘for about eight weeks.’ The nuclear submarine, HMS Tempest, to which Peter had been assigned, was based in Scotland, and he was catching a flight up to Glasgow that morning. Even though Peter was now officially working up in Scotland, Kaisa would stay in the King’s Terrace married quarter, just as they had agreed. Kaisa was glad; it meant she could meet up with friends, and begin looking for jobs. Peter told Kaisa the submarine would undergo trials in Scotland for ‘about two weeks’ first, then be at sea for an undefined time. Kaisa knew better than to ask anything more. Peter’s standard, joking reply was: ‘If I tell you, I’d have to kill you.’
‘But don’t forget we’ll see each other in Liverpool.’
The submarine was going on an official visit to Morecambe in mid-August, but that too seemed a long time away.
Kaisa thought how much taller Peter always looked when he was about to leave her. They were standing in the hall, saying goodbye. It was early on a Sunday morning, only 5am, and Kaisa was in her nightie, while Peter wore his ribbed Navy jumper over his white uniform shirt. The night before, he’d packed his ‘Pusser’s grip’ – a Navy issue brown canvas holdall with his initials on the side – and was holding his white cap with its gold-embossed officer’s badge under his arm. His eyes looked dark and intense. Squeezing Kaisa tightly, he said, ‘When I’m with you nothing can hurt me.’ Kaisa knew he was nervous about meeting his new captain, and the crew, and she hugged him hard and said, ‘You’ll be fine.’ She was trying not to cry, but a single tear fell down her cheek.
I’ll be home before you know it,’ Peter said and wiped Kaisa’s tear away with his thumb.
Kaisa went back to bed and tried to sleep, but she couldn’t. She stretched herself across the bed and felt the empty space next to her. It was still warm from Peter’s body. She hugged his pillow, inhaling his scent. She already longed for his touch. Kaisa managed to sleep for a couple of hours and then woke up with a start to the loud screech of seagulls. As she got up and dressed, she thought how tired she felt. Listening to the horns of the ferries and ships (she couldn’t tell the difference, even though Peter had told her many times), she wondered how she was going to manage all the weeks without him.
Kaisa spent the next few days cleaning the flat top to bottom, and unpacked the last two boxes they’d brought over from Devonshire Road, where Peter and Kaisa had briefly stayed before they were married. The place was owned by Jeff’s parents and had been home for Jeff and Peter when they were both based in Pompey. She bought the Guardian newspaper and the Portsmouth Evening News and sent out ten applications for jobs. She got an appointment with an employment agency called Bayleys on Commercial Road and, after an interview with a friendly woman, felt more optimistic about her chances. The woman had even looked at her degree certificate and asked a few questions about the courses she’d taken. On the way back home she bumped into Jeff’s sister. Maggie was an odd sort of girl. A few years younger than Kaisa, she’d already been married and divorced from a sailor. She played at being much wiser and more experienced, yet when she spoke she sounded more like a teenager.
‘You on your own now, yeah?’ she said, chewing gum. She was wearing a short ra-ra skirt over a pair of leggings, and a ripped top, with her thin blonde hair up in a messy ponytail. She was very thin, and her skin was pale, almost translucent. She stood with one hand on her hip, while holding a cigarette in the other.
‘Yes, Peter is in Scotland and they’ll sail in a week or two.’
‘You miss him?’ Maggie delivered this question without displaying any emotion, neither in her thin voice, or in a change in her demeanour. She took a drag on her cigarette while gazing steadily at Kaisa.
‘Yeah, I miss him …’ Kaisa said.
‘Listen, I’m in a bit of a hurry now, but why don’t you come over to the pub tonight, yeah? I’m working there now and I think Jeff’s home later.’
Kaisa thanked her and said she would go. It’d be good to get away from the flat and the TV. After Peter left she’d got into the habit of watching all the soaps, including the new Brookside, set in Liverpool. The actors’ accents were so strong that Kaisa treated it as an English-language lesson, and was glad if she got the whole of the plot at the end of the episode.
Jeff gave Kaisa a big hug when she entered The Palmerston Arms in Old Portsmouth that evening. He’d been away for weeks, and she hadn’t seen him since the wedding in Finland.
‘How’s my favourite married woman?’ he joked, and Kaisa smiled. Having Jeff at home was a little like having Peter around, so she relaxed and told him about Peter’s new job in HMS Tempest.
‘I’m a skimmer, you know, so I don’t know a thing about subs.’
‘Neither do I,’ Kaisa admitted and laughed.
The Palmerston Arms was a small pub along the Old Portsmouth High Street, with a dark mahogany bar and a few round tables and stools scattered around the small space. In the corner, where Jeff and his friends liked to sit, there was a fish tank, and a corner sofa with a slightly larger, rectangular table. As with everything, The Palmerston Arms was just a walk away from Kaisa and Peter’s flat. It was a warm, beautiful evening, with just a slight sea breeze that had made Kaisa’s hair stick out in all directions during the short walk. She’d really need to have it cut, but hadn’t yet dared to use a local hairdresser.
‘Anyway, you’re looking good, Mrs Williams!’ Jeff grinned at her and Kaisa smiled back at him. She’d felt such relief at seeing him there – it was never easy to walk into a pub alone as a woman, even if the pub belonged to the parents of your husband’s best friend, and best man. Jeff looked exactly as before. He was more heavily built than Peter, and had thinner, light-brown hair that he constantly tried to keep in place by brushing it away from his face. He reminded Kaisa of a friendly bear, and she was very fond of him.
‘Hiya, Kaisa,’ Maggie waved from the bar, and Jeff’s much larger-framed, beer-smelling dad, the pub landlord, came over and nearly squeezed the life out of her. Kaisa tried to turn her head, but he planted a kiss straight on her mouth. His thick beard tickled Kaisa’s lips, and for a moment Kaisa relaxed in his fatherly embrace. Before she could make her way to the bar, where Maggie was pulling a pint, Jeff brought out a short, dark-haired girl and said, ‘Meet Catherine!’
Not another girlfriend, Kaisa thought, giving Catherine a quick peck on her cheek. Jeff went to get their drinks and motioned towards the corner table. The pub was small, and everyone knew each other. As Kaisa and Catherine made their way past the bar, the other customers said hello. Kaisa couldn’t remember anyone’s names, so she just smiled and nodded to the familiar faces.
When she got to Jeff’s mum, a grey-haired woman with rimless glasses and a pinny over her dress, Kaisa gave her a kiss on the cheek and asked how she was. ‘Can’t complain,’ she said. It was her responsibility to cook the bar meals in the pub, and she was often flustered. Kaisa could see she was glad to have Jeff back, because her eyes were following his every move. She now laughed at something Jeff said. He’d been to the Falklands, and even though the war was long won, and the danger over, everyone knew the Argentinians could mount another surprise attack. Jeff was now telling a long-winded tale about his trip to everyone at the bar. Kaisa couldn’t make out what it was about, nor did she understand the punchline, but she laughed at the end anyway, along with Catherine.
It was a typical night in the pub. She and Peter had spent many evenings like this when they lived for a short while in Jeff’s house on Devonshire Road before their marriage. The laughter and drink, and the way Jeff and his dad entertained everyone with their stories, made Kaisa suddenly feel Peter’s absence more acutely. She realised how often, during their pub evenings, he had to explain stories to her, or translate the naval terms people used. Jeff did some of this for her now, but he was also looking after his new girlfriend, who had a bubbly, overflowing way of laughing at his jokes.
As the night went on, Kaisa and Catherine struck up a conversation. Usually Jeff’s dates didn’t have anything to say to Kaisa, and Kaisa had nothing to say to them, but this girl had studied politics at Portsmouth Polytechnic, and they began discussing the British electoral system, the subject of Kaisa’s theses back in Finland. She loved debating the subject.
‘Will you listen to these intellectuals?’ Jeff laughed when Kaisa and Catherine had got onto arguing about the merits of first-past-the-post as opposed to proportional representation. Catherine was a strong opponent of coalition government, but their discussion was far from hostile, and until Jeff made them stop by asking Kaisa about Peter, she enjoyed talking about something other than her job prospects or the Navy. She’d have to tell Peter about the new girlfriend when he phoned. As yet she’d not heard from him. She was disappointed he’d not called to say he had got up to Scotland alright, but she presumed he’d not had the time because of ‘the trials’, whatever they were. As usual with evenings at The Palmerston, there was a lock-in and they carried on drinking after closing time. Kaisa felt herself getting drunker and drunker, but didn’t care. She didn’t have a job to go to the next day, nor did she have an interview lined up. All she had was time, so why not use it to nurse a hangover?
The next day Kaisa slept in until late in the morning. When she came down the stairs, she hoped there’d be a letter from Peter, but there were just a few fliers and that day’s edition of the Guardian on the mat. She’d not heard from Peter since she kissed him goodbye on the doorstep five days previously. She knew he would be busy, getting to grips with a new job and a new crew. He said he knew a couple of the other officers on the new submarine, but admitted that he was a little nervous about meeting the Captain, an older officer who’d been in charge of HMS Tempest for two years. But since they were still alongside in port (Kaisa presumed, based on what Peter had told her), and not at sea, surely he would have been able to get in touch? Of course, Peter might have contacted her the night before, when she was in the pub with Jeff and his new girlfriend. Although she was desperate to talk to Peter, a part of her felt a sense of triumph at not always being available to him. That is, if he did try to call.
All that evening she waited for the phone to ring, and by ten o’clock she was feeling desperately confused and worried. How could Peter be so busy that he couldn’t find time to talk to her? Had something happened to him? Or didn’t he miss her at all? Kaisa’s heart ached at not being close to Peter – she couldn’t sleep at night for missing his shape next to her in their bed.
Peter finally called at 11pm, when Kaisa was about to go upstairs to bed. Just hearing his voice made Kaisa feel wonderful again. She forgot all about her desperation when he told her the news: he’d be back at the weekend.
‘That’s why I didn’t call before,’ he said, ‘because I didn’t want to tell you before it was confirmed – we’ve all got leave because the sea trials went so well.’
Kaisa hugged the telephone. At that moment she felt so happy she could hardly breathe. It was Friday night and Kaisa would see Peter the next day. She spent the next few hours tidying up the flat, late into the night, and in bed she dreamed about their first kiss.
The next morning there was more news: a letter from the employment agency was waiting for Kaisa on the doormat when she got up. They had a job for her! Kaisa was so happy, she nearly phoned her mum, but decided against it. Telephone calls home were so expensive; besides, she needed to get herself and the flat ready for Peter.
Peter looked weathered – all tanned and grinning widely – when Kaisa met him off the train at Southsea Harbour. It was early Saturday evening, and Kaisa had been awake since 9am because she had so much to organise. She wanted the maisonette to look as tidy and homely as she could make it. She’d even ironed one of the linen tablecloths from Finlayson, a wedding present from her grandmother, and spread it over the dining room table. The pattern of pink roses badly clashed with the sofa, but Kaisa decided not to care. She didn’t think Peter would notice. She laid the table for a dinner of steak and salad, which she’d half prepared. She’d put the steak in a red wine marinade – a Finnish recipe – ready to fry later. She wanted the stage set for the news she was going to deliver that evening. She dressed carefully, in a skirt and blouse, and wore her lacy French knickers and suspenders. Looking at herself in the mirror, before leaving for the station, she’d been pleased; the sun and sea in Southsea had bleached her hair and made it curlier than it was in Finland, a look that suited her. She’d put on some pink lip gloss and hurried out of the door.
When Peter first stepped off the train he didn’t see her, but when she waved like a madwoman he waved back and walked briskly towards her. He scooped Kaisa up in his arms and kissed her for so long that she felt embarrassed. Peter kept grabbing her bottom, and kissing her fully on the lips as they walked towards the station exit. Other sailors, recognisable for their short, smart haircuts and the Pusser’s grips they, too, were carrying, grinned at them, but an elderly couple, descending from the first-class compartment on the same train, viewed Kaisa and Peter with disdain.
‘We’re married,’ Kaisa wanted to shout out to them, but instead she smiled in their direction. The man nodded, but the woman looked pointedly away. Peter and Kaisa giggled and ran out of the station.
‘Do you want to go to the pub?’ Kaisa asked once they were outside. It was Saturday, and they were passing Jeff’s parents’ pub. Peter kissed her again and whispered in her ear, ‘No, I want to go home and take you to bed.’
It wasn’t until later that evening, after they’d finished their steak and salad, that Kaisa was able to tell Peter her news.
‘I’ve got a job!’
‘That’s great news!’ Peter gave Kaisa a peck on her cheek.
Kaisa told him about how nice the woman at Bayleys had been, and how she’d been offered a temporary job at Information Data Services, or IDS as everyone called the large American company. Peter hugged her. ‘I said you’d get a job, didn’t I?’ Then he yawned. ‘God, I’m tired! We had a few beers last night, with an early start today and no sleep at all on that bloody train from Helensburgh to Glasgow. It was full of matelots, home for the weekend, and already plastered.’ He’d changed into his jeans and a blue T-shirt after they’d been to bed. Kaisa looked at his slim torso, and went over and put her hands around his neck.
The next morning when Peter woke up early, Kaisa stayed in bed. She could hear him opening and slamming doors downstairs in the kitchen, and soon he was coming up again with a cup of black coffee for her. Kaisa sat up, yawned, and looked out of their bedroom window. Like the kitchen below, the bedroom overlooked the back of the houses opposite. There was also a nursery school with a playground, where Kaisa had seen mothers drop off their children. The sky was bright blue and the sun was shining into the bedroom.
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