Authors: Karl Ove Knausgaard,Don Bartlett
‘Is that good?’ she asked at length.
I smiled. That was what I usually asked.
‘Yes, it’s great,’ I said. ‘I don’t know what I’d do without you!’
She brightened up, and then she ran into the living room as well.
I wallowed in the water until it turned cold. First football on TV, then a long bath. What a Sunday!
Vanja came in a couple of times to see. I supposed she was waiting for the bandage to be put on. She spoke Swedish of course, still with Stockholm intonation patterns, but when I had been with her for a morning or an afternoon, or she felt close to me for some other reason, words from my dialect appeared more frequently in her conversation. Very often she would say
instead of the Swedish
, me. ‘
Lyft upp mæ!
’ Lift me up, she would say, for example. I laughed every time.
‘Can you go and get mummy?’ I said.
She nodded and ran off. I got out of the bath gingerly, and had dried myself by the time she came back.
‘Could you put the bandage on?’ I asked.
‘No problem,’ she said.
I explained how it was supposed to be, and said she had to pull it hard, otherwise it wasn’t doing its job.
‘Doesn’t it hurt?’
‘A bit, but the tauter it is the less it hurts when I move.’
‘OK,’ she said. ‘If you say so.’
And then she pulled from behind.
‘Aaaaagh!’ I said.
‘Was that too hard?’
‘No, that was good,’ I said. I turned towards her.
‘I’m sorry I was so grumpy,’ she said. ‘But I had such a terrible vision of the future, me doing everything on my own for months on end.’
‘It won’t be like that though,’ I said. ‘I’ll be able to take them to school and pick them up as usual within a few days, I’m sure.’
‘I know it hurts, and it’s not your fault. But I’m just so tired.’
‘I know. It’ll be fine. Things’ll sort themselves out.’
On Friday Linda was so tired that I went with John to pick the girls up from the nursery. Going there was easy, I pushed John in the buggy with my right hand while walking behind as carefully as I could. The way back was more problematic. I pulled John after me with my right hand, clutching the injured left hand to my side and somehow shunting Vanja and Heidi in the double buggy with my whole body. Occasional pains shot through me and I had no defence except to emit little screams. It must have been a bizarre sight, and people did stare at us as we trundled along. It was also a strange experience for me during those weeks. Not being able to lift or carry and finding it difficult to sit down and get up gave me a sense of helplessness that went beyond physical restrictions. Suddenly I had no authority, no strength, and the feeling of control I had taken for granted until now became manifest. I sat still, I was passive, and it was as though I had lost control of my surroundings. So, had I always felt I controlled them and had power over them? Yes, I must have done. I didn’t need to make any use of the power and the control, it was enough to know that it existed, it permeated everything I did and everything I thought. Now it was gone, and I saw it for the first time. Even stranger was the fact that the same applied to writing. Also with it I had a sense of power and control, which disappeared with the broken collarbone. Suddenly I was
the text, suddenly
had power over
and it was only with the greatest effort of will that I managed to write the five pages a day I had set myself as a goal. But I managed, I managed that too. I hated every syllable, every word, every sentence, but not liking what I was doing didn’t mean I shouldn’t do it. One year and it would be over, and then I would be able to write about something else. The pages mounted, the story advanced and then one day I came to another of the places where I had made a note in the book I had kept for the last twenty years, about a party dad had held for friends and colleagues the summer I turned sixteen, a gathering which in the late-autumn darkness merged into one with my own enormous pleasure and dad crying, it was so emotional, such an impossible evening, everything converged there, and now at last I was going to write about it. Once it was done, the rest would be about dad’s death. This was a heavy door to open, it was hard being inside, but I approached it in the new way: five pages every day, regardless. Then I got up, switched off the computer, took the rubbish with me, disposed of it in the basement and went to collect the children. The horror lodged in my chest dissipated when they came running towards me across the playground. They competed with each other, seeing who could shout loudest and give me the biggest hug. If John was with us he sat smiling and shouting, for him his two sisters were the tops. They scattered their lives around him, he sat lapping it all up, and copied whatever he could, and even Heidi, who could still become so jealous of him that she would scratch or knock or thump him if we didn’t keep an eagle eye open, didn’t hold any fears for him, he never viewed her with fear. Did he forget? Or was there so much goodness there the rest was lost in it?
One day in March the telephone rang while I was working, the number was unfamiliar, but as it didn’t come from Norway, but was Swedish, I took it anyway. It was a colleague of my mother’s, they were at a seminar in Gothenburg, mum had fainted in a shop and been taken to hospital, where she was now in intensive care. I rang, she’d had a heart attack, was being operated on now and was out of danger. Late that night she rang me herself. I could hear she was weak and perhaps a touch confused. She said the pain had been so great she would rather have died than gone on living. She hadn’t fainted, she had just fallen over. And not in a shop but the street. While she was lying there, she said now, convinced that this was the end, the thought had gone through her head that she’d had a fantastic life. When she said that I froze.
There was something so good about it.
In addition, she said it had been particularly her childhood that had flashed through her mind as she lay there about to die, as a kind of sudden insight: she’d had an absolutely brilliant childhood, she had been free and happy, it had been fantastic. In the ensuing days what she had said kept returning to me. In a way I was shocked. I could never have thought that. If I keeled over now, and had a few seconds, perhaps minutes, to think before it was all over I would think the opposite. That I hadn’t accomplished anything, I hadn’t seen anything, I hadn’t experienced anything. I want to live. But why don’t I live then? Why, when I’m on board a plane or in a car imagining it’s going to crash or have a collision, why do I think that’s not so bad? That it doesn’t matter? That I might just as well die as live? For this is what I think more often than not. Indifference is one of the seven deadly sins, actually the greatest of them all, because it is the only one that sins against life.
Later that spring, when I was nearing the end of the story about dad’s death, the terrible days spent at the house in Kristiansand, mum came to visit me. She had been at another seminar in Gothenburg and came over to see us afterwards. Two months had passed since she fell over in the same town. If she had fallen over at home it is unlikely she would have survived, she lived alone, and if, contrary to expectation, she had got help it was a forty-minute drive to the nearest hospital. In Gothenburg she had been attended to at once, and in no time at all she was on the operating table. Now it transpired the heart attack hadn’t come out of the blue. She’d had pains, terrible intermittent pains, but she thought it was stress, pushed it to the back of her mind, thinking she would go and see the doctor when she got home, and then she fell over.
One morning she was knitting while I sat writing and Linda was out with John after having taken the girls to the nursery. After a while I went in to see how she was and she started talking unbidden about dad. She said she had always wondered why she stayed with him, why she didn’t take us and leave him, was it because she hadn’t dared? Some weeks earlier she had talked to a friend about it, she told me, and suddenly she had heard herself say she loved him. Then she glanced at me.
love him, Karl Ove. I loved him a lot.’
She had never said that before. She hadn’t even been close to it. Indeed, I couldn’t recall her ever using a word like love before.
It was a shock.
What is going on? I thought. What is going on? For something around me was changing. Or was it changing inside me, so that now I could see something I hadn’t seen before? Or had I set something in motion? Because I talked to her and Yngve a lot about the time with dad. Suddenly it was close to me again.
That morning she went on to tell me about the first time they had met. She had been working at a hotel in Kristiansand during the summer when she was sixteen, and one day at a terrace restaurant in a large park, in the shade of a tree, her friend had introduced her to her boyfriend and his pal.
‘I didn’t quite catch his name, and for a long time I thought it was Knudsen,’ she said. ‘And at first I liked the other one better, you know. But then I fell for your father . . . It’s such a good memory. The sun, the grass in the park, the trees, the shade, all the people there . . . We were so young, you know . . . Yes, it was an adventure. The beginning of an adventure. That was how it felt.’
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Epub ISBN: 9781448155989
Published by Harvill Secker 2013
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Copyright © Forlaget Oktober 2009
English translation copyright © Don Bartlett 2013
Karl Ove Knausgaard has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work
First published with the title
Min Kamp Andre bok
by Forlaget Oktober, Oslo
First published in Great Britain in 2013 by
20 Vauxhall Bridge Road
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A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library