Authors: Karl Ove Knausgaard,Don Bartlett
‘Food?’ I queried, as though I had never heard the word before.
‘Yes, you can choose between vegetarian lasagne and normal lasagne,’ she said.
‘Oh, that’s nice,’ I said. ‘Normal lasagne,’ I said.
Linda didn’t seem to notice that someone was there at all. A new wave came, the nurse closed the door behind her, I pressed my hands against Linda’s back as hard as I could, watched the curve subside and when Linda did not release the mask I carefully took it from her. She didn’t react, just stood there staring inside herself, her brow dripping with sweat. When the next contractions started, the cry she emitted continued dully inside the mask she held tight to her face. Then the door opened, the nurse put a plate on the table and it was seven o’clock. I asked Linda if it was OK with her if I ate, she nodded, but the second I took my hand away she shouted, no, don’t do that, and I continued, I pressed the button, the same nurse came in, could she take over the massaging? Of course, she said and carried on where I had left off. Linda shouted. No, it has to be Karl Ove! It has to be Karl Ove! That’s too light! Meanwhile I gorged down the food as fast as possible, so that, two minutes later, I could resume the massaging, and Linda settled back into her rhythm.
Contractions, gas, massage, pause, contractions, massage, gas, pause. There was nothing else. Then the midwife came in, rolled Linda authoritatively onto her side, examined her to see how far she had dilated, Linda screamed and it was a different kind of scream, one she let out, she didn’t meet halfway.
She got up again, fell into the rhythm, was gone from this world and the hours passed.
A sudden shout: ‘Are we alone?’
‘Yes,’ I said.
‘I LOVE YOU, KARL OVE!’
It seemed to come from deep inside her, from a place she never went, or for that matter had ever been. I had tears in my eyes.
,’ I said, but she didn’t hear, another wave was on its way.
Time ticked by: eight o’clock, nine o’clock, ten o’clock. I didn’t have a thought in my head, I massaged her and kept my eye on the monitors until I had a sudden flash of insight: a child is being born. Our child is being born. Just a few hours more. Then we’ll have a child.
The insight was gone, now it was all graphs and numbers, hands and back, rhythm and howls.
The door opened. Another midwife came in, an elderly woman. Behind her a young girl. The woman stood close to Linda, her face only a couple of centimetres away, and introduced herself. Said that Linda was doing well. Said she had a trainee with her, was that OK? Linda nodded and looked around for the trainee. Nodded when she saw her. The midwife said it would soon be over. And that she would have to examine her.
Linda nodded again, and looked at her like a child at her mother.
‘That’s great,’ the midwife said. ‘Good girl.’
This time she didn’t scream. Lay there with big dark eyes looking into the air. I stroked her forehead, she wasn’t aware of me. When the midwife took away her hand, Linda shouted, ‘ARE WE THERE?’
‘Bit more yet,’ the midwife said. Linda patiently got up and resumed her position.
‘An hour, perhaps less,’ the midwife said to me.
I looked at my watch. Eleven.
Linda had been standing there for eight hours.
‘We can take this off you,’ the midwife said, removing all the straps and wires. Suddenly freed, she lay there, a body in a bed, and the pain she had resisted was no longer green waves and rising numbers on a screen I was watching, but something taking place inside her.
I hadn’t understood that before. It was inside her, and she was completely on her own with it.
That was how it was.
She was free. Everything that happened, happened inside her.
‘It’s coming now,’ she said, and it was from inside her it came. I pressed my hands as hard as I could against her back. There was just her and inside her. Not the hospital, not the monitors, not the books, not the medical courses, not the cassettes, not all these corridors that our thoughts had followed, nothing of that, just her and what was inside her.
Her body was slippery with sweat, her hair straggly, the white smock hanging loosely round her. The midwife said she would be back in a minute. The trainee stayed. Wiped Linda’s forehead, passed her water, fetched her a Marathon bar. Linda snatched it greedily. She was on the verge, she must have sensed it, she was almost impatient in the pauses, which lasted only brief instants now.
The midwife returned. She dimmed the light.
‘Lie down and rest,’ she said. Linda lay down. The midwife stroked her cheek. I went to the window. Not a car on the road below. The air around the lamps thick with snow. The room completely quiet. I turned. Linda appeared to be sleeping.
The midwife smiled at me.
Linda groaned. The midwife caught hold of her arm, and Linda sat up. Her eyes were as dark as a forest at night.
‘Now push,’ the midwife said.
Something new happened, something was different, I didn’t understand what it was, but moved behind her and began to massage her back again. The contractions lasted and lasted, Linda groped for the gas mask, inhaled greedily, but it didn’t seem to help, a protracted cry seemed to be torn from her, it went on and on.
Then it subsided. Linda slumped back. The midwife wiped the sweat from her forehead and praised her, good girl.
‘Would you like to feel the baby?’ she asked.
Linda looked up at her and nodded slowly. Got to her knees. The midwife took her hand and guided it between her legs.
‘That’s the head,’ she said. ‘Can you feel it?’
‘YES!’ Linda said.
‘Hold your hand there while you’re pushing. Can you do that?’
‘Come here,’ she said and led Linda onto the floor. ‘Stand here.’
The trainee took the stool that had been beside the wall.
Linda went onto her knees. I walked behind her even though I had a sense that the massage no longer made any difference.
She screamed at the top of her lungs, her whole body moved as she held the baby’s head with her hand.
‘The head’s out,’ the midwife said. ‘One more time. Push.’
‘Is the head out?!’ Linda asked. ‘Was that what you said?’
‘Yes, push now.’
Another cry, as though beyond everything, issued from her.
‘Would you like to hold her?’ the midwife asked, looking at me.
‘Yes,’ I said.
‘Come here, stand here,’ she said.
I walked around the stool, stood in front of Linda, who watched me without seeing me.
‘One more time. Push now, my love. Push.’
My eyes were swimming with tears.
The baby slipped out of her like a little seal, straight into my hands.
‘Oooohhh!’ I yelled. ‘Oooohhh!’
The little body was hot and slippery, it almost slipped out of my hands, but the young trainee came to my aid.
‘Is she out? Is she out?’ Linda asked, yes, I said, lifting the little body up to her, and she put it to her chest, and I sobbed with joy, and Linda looked at me for the first time for several hours and smiled.
‘What is it?’ I asked.
‘A girl, Karl Ove,’ she said. ‘It’s a girl.’
She had long black hair stuck to her head. Her skin was greyish and waxen. She screamed, I had never heard such a sound before, it was my daughter’s sound, and I was at the top of the world, I had never been there before, but now I was, we were there, at the top of the world. Around us everything was still, around us everything was dark, but we were there, the midwife, the trainee, Linda, me and the little baby, she was the light.
They helped Linda into bed, she found a comfortable position on her back, and the baby, her skin redder now, raised her head and looked at us.
Her eyes were like two black lamps.
‘Hi . . .’ said Linda. ‘This is us . . .’
The child lifted one arm and lowered it again. The movement was reptilian, a crocodile’s, a monitor lizard’s. Then the other one. Up, out a bit, down.
The black eyes looked straight at Linda.
‘Yes,’ Linda said. ‘I’m your mummy. And there’s your daddy! Can you see?’
The two women began to tidy up around us as we watched this creature that was suddenly here. Linda had blood over her stomach and legs, the girl was covered with blood as well, and a sharp, somehow metallic, smell came from them both, which did not lose its unfamiliarity with every breath I took.
Linda put the girl to her breast, but she wasn’t interested, she had enough to do looking at us. The midwife came in with a tray of food, a glass of apple juice and a Swedish flag. They took the child to measure and weigh while we ate, she screamed, but went quiet when she was put on Linda’s chest. The way Linda opened up, the consummate care that was in her every movement; these were new experiences for me.
‘Is this Vanja?’ I said.
Linda looked at me.
‘Yes, of course, can’t you see?’
‘Hiya, little Vanja,’ I said. I looked at Linda. ‘She looks like something we’ve found in the forest.’
‘Our little troll.’
The midwife came to the bed.
‘It’s time for you both to go to your room,’ she said. ‘Perhaps put some clothes on her?’
Linda stared at me.
I nodded. Picked up the tiny slim body and laid her on the bed, took the pyjamas from the bag and started to dress her with infinite care while she cried with her strange little voice.
‘You really know how to give birth,’ the midwife said to Linda. ‘You should do it more often!’
‘Thank you,’ Linda said. ‘I think that’s the nicest compliment I’ve ever received.’
‘And think what a start she’s been given. She’ll carry that all the way through her life.’
‘Do you think so?’
‘Oh yes. There’s no doubt it has meaning. Well, goodnight both of you, and congratulations. I might pop by tomorrow morning, but it’s not certain.’
‘Thank you very, very much,’ Linda said. ‘You were all fantastic.’
A few minutes later Linda staggered through the corridor on her way to the room while I walked beside her with Vanja close to my chest. She was staring at the ceiling with wide-open eyes. Once inside the room we turned off the light and went to bed. For a long time we lay chatting about what had happened, while Linda kept putting Vanja to her breast, although she didn’t seem to be very interested.
‘Now you won’t ever need to be afraid of anything,’ I said.
‘That’s exactly how I feel,’ Linda said.
Eventually they fell asleep while I lay awake, brimming with restlessness and the urge to do something. I hadn’t done anything. Perhaps that was why. I took the lift down, sat outside in the cold, smoked a cigarette and called my mother.
‘Hi, it’s me, Karl Ove,’ I said.
‘How’s it going?’ she said quickly. ‘Are you at the hospital?’
‘Yes, we’ve got a girl,’ I said, and my voice broke.
‘Ooohh,’ mum said. ‘Just imagine, a girl! Did Linda get on OK?’
‘Yes, it went really well. Really well. Everything’s hunky-dory.’
‘Congratulations, Karl Ove,’ she said. ‘That’s great news.’
‘Yes,’ I said. ‘But I just wanted to let you know. We’ll talk again tomorrow. I’m . . . Yes . . . I’m not sure I can say much now.’
‘I understand,’ mum said. ‘Give Linda my love and congratulate her from me.’
‘Will do,’ I said and rang off. I called Linda’s mother. She cried when I told her. I lit another cigarette and told her the same. Rang off, called Yngve. Lit another cigarette, it was easier to talk to him, walked round the illuminated car park with the phone to my ear for several minutes, warm, even though it had to be minus ten and I was in a shirt, rang off, stared around me wildly, wanting what was around me to correspond in some way to what was inside me, but it didn’t, and I began to walk again, to and fro, lit another cigarette, threw it away after a couple of drags and ran to the front entrance, what was I thinking of, they were
! Now! They were there now!
Linda was asleep with the little one on top of her. I watched them for a moment, took out my notebook, switched on a lamp, sat down in the chair and tried to write something about what had happened, but it was too stupid, it didn’t work, instead I went to the TV room, I suddenly remembered that you had to stick a pin in a chart with the date of every child born, pink for girls, blue for boys, did it, a pin for lovely Vanja, wandered up and down the corridor a couple of times, took the lift down for another cigarette, which soon became two, came back up, went to bed, couldn’t sleep, something inside me had opened, all of a sudden I was receptive to everything, and the world I found myself in was laden with meaning. How could you sleep?
Well, in the end I could.
This was all so new and fragile that just dressing her was a major project. While Helena, who had come to collect us in her car, waited down below it took us half an hour to get her ready, only to be met by Helena’s laughter as we emerged from the lift with ‘You’re not going to take her out into the cold wearing those clothes, are you?’
Ah, we hadn’t thought about that.
Helena wrapped her up in her Puffa jacket, and then we ran across the car park with me holding the car seat in one hand and Vanja swinging to and fro. Alone in the flat, Linda began to cry, she sat with Vanja in her arms crying for all the good and all the bad in her life now. I was filled with the same immense urge to be active, I couldn’t sit still, had to do something, cook, wash up, run out and go shopping, anything, as long as there was movement involved. Linda, for her part, just wanted to sit still, motionless, with the baby at her breast. The light did not leave us, nor the silence, it was as though a zone of peace had sprung up around us.
It was fantastic.
I walked around for the next ten days full of peace and tranquillity, as well as the same uncontrollable urge to be active. Then I had to start work again. Drop everything that had happened in my life and was going on right now in the flat, and write about Ezekiel. Open the door in the afternoon to the little family and think that this was my little family.
Everyday life, with all the new demands the little child made, began to run its course. Linda was worried about being on her own with her, she didn’t like it, but I had to work, the novel had to be out for the autumn, we needed the money.