I grew up in a family that believed in ghosts. I know eyes are rolling. I should say—enough people in my family experienced apparently ghostly encounters to lead me to believe in them, despite never seeing one myself. The photo above is of the upstairs landing at our family farm. The house was built by my Finnish-speaking grandparents. Through the small door dimly visible in that little bathroom was a dark and narrow closet that we called a putka. Its ceiling was slanted, nestled under the roof, and you had to crouch and crawl to move in it. It’s been almost five years since we emptied the house and sold it, and as the anniversary of the closing approaches, I’ve been thinking about that house. When I was a kid, I thought the putka had a ghost. No one in particular, just a ghost. Lately, I’ve been thinking more and more about ghosts—the one in the putka, the ones on our streets. There are suddenly things that frighten in our streets. Figures in camouflage, unidentified, driving ominous vehicles without markings. I’ll get to them shortly. But perhaps you’d like to meet my putka ghost first?
My grandparents had apple orchards, right next to their houses. As my grandfathers grew older and stopped mowing the hayfields, apple trees popped up everywhere. I like to think it’s a metaphor for my family. Quite a few of us on my mother’s side are writers, and I see no surprise in it. One of my mom’s grandfathers was a writer in Finland, the original tree. Growing up, I would hold in my hand the one book of his that we owned, and I’d burn with certainty: this, this shaping of words, was my purpose.