Read My Struggle: Book 2: A Man in Love Online

Authors: Karl Ove Knausgaard,Don Bartlett

My Struggle: Book 2: A Man in Love (2 page)

BOOK: My Struggle: Book 2: A Man in Love
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A powerfully built man with protruding ears, also dark-skinned, came and lifted the boy and bike and carried him to the open space in front of the kiosk, patted him on the head a couple of times and went over to the mechanical octopus he was operating. The arms were fitted with small baskets you could sit in, which rose and fell as they slowly rotated. The boy began to cycle across the entrance area where summer-clad visitors were constantly arriving and leaving.

‘Of course,’ I said, and got up, took Vanja’s and Heidi’s candyflosses and threw them in the waste bin, and pushed John, who was tossing his head from side to side to catch all the interesting things going on, across the square to the path leading up to ‘Cowboy Town’. But Cowboy Town, which was a pile of sand with three newly built sheds labelled, respectively,
MINE,
SHERIFF
and
PRISON
, the latter two covered with
WANTED DEAD OR ALIVE
posters, surrounded on one side by birch trees and a ramp where some youngsters were skateboarding and on the other by a horse-riding area, was closed. Inside the fence, just opposite the mine, the eastern European woman sat on a rock, smoking.

‘Ride!’ Heidi said, looking around.

‘We’ll have to go to the donkey ride near the entrance,’ Linda said.

John threw his bottle of water to the ground. Vanja crawled under the fence and ran over to the mine. When Heidi saw that she scrambled out of her buggy and followed. I spotted a red and white Coke machine at the rear of the sheriff’s office, dredged up the contents of my shorts pocket and studied them: two hairslides, one hairpin with a ladybird motif, a lighter, three stones and two small white shells Vanja had found in Tjörn, a twenty-krone note, two five-krone coins and nine krone coins.

‘I’ll have a smoke in the meantime,’ I said. ‘I’ll be down there.’

I motioned towards a tree trunk at the far end of the area. John raised both arms.

‘Go on, then,’ Linda said, lifting him up. ‘Are you hungry, John?’ she asked. ‘Oh, it’s so hot. Is there no shade anywhere so that I can sit down with him?’

‘Up there,’ I said, pointing to the restaurant at the top of the hill. It resembled a train, with the counter in the locomotive and the tables in the carriage. Not a soul was to be seen up there. Chairs were propped against the tables.

‘That’s what I’ll do,’ Linda said. ‘And feed him. Will you keep an eye on the girls?’

I nodded, went to the Coke machine and bought a can, sat down on the tree trunk, lit a cigarette, looked up at the hastily constructed shed where Vanja and Heidi were running in and out of the doorway.

‘It’s pitch black in here!’ Vanja shouted. ‘Come and look!’

I raised my hand and waved, which fortunately appeared to satisfy her. She was still clutching the mouse to her chest with one hand.

Where was Heidi’s mouse, by the way?

I allowed my gaze to drift up the hill. And there it lay, right outside the sheriff’s office, with its head in the sand. At the restaurant Linda dragged a chair to the wall, sat down and began to breastfeed John, who at first kicked out, then lay quite still. The circus lady was making her way up the hill. A horsefly stung me on the calf. I smacked it with such force that it splattered all over my skin. The cigarette tasted terrible in the heat, but I resolutely inhaled the smoke into my lungs, stared up at the tops of the spruce trees, such an intense green where the sun caught them. Another horsefly landed on my calf. I lashed out at it, got up, threw the cigarette to the ground and walked towards the girls with the half-full still cold can of Coke in my hand.

‘Daddy, you go round the back while we’re inside and see if you can see us through the cracks, OK?’ Vanja said, squinting up at me.

‘All right, then,’ I said, and walked round the shed. Heard them banging around and giggling inside. Bent my head to one of the cracks and peered in. But the difference between the light outside and the darkness inside was too great for me to see anything.

‘Daddy, are you outside?’ Vanja shouted.

‘Yes,’ I said.

‘Can you see us?’

‘No. Have you become invisible?’

‘Yes!’

When they came out I pretended I couldn’t see them. Focused my eyes on Vanja and called her name.

‘I’m
here
,’ she said, waving her arms.

‘Vanja?’ I shouted. ‘Where are you? Come out now. It’s not funny any more.’

‘I’m here! Here!’

‘Vanja?’

‘Can’t you see me, really? Am I really invisible?’

She sounded boundlessly happy although I sensed a touch of unease in her voice. At that moment John started screaming. I looked up. Linda got up clutching him to her breast. It was unlike John to cry like that.

‘Oh, there you are!’ I said. ‘Have you been there the whole time?’

‘Ye-es,’ she said.

‘Can you hear John crying?’

She nodded and looked up.

‘We’ll have to go then,’ I said. ‘Come on.’

I reached out for Heidi’s hand.

‘Don’t want to,’ she said. ‘Don’t want to hold hands.’

‘OK,’ I said. ‘Hop into the buggy then.’

‘Don’t want buggy,’ she said.

‘Shall I carry you then?’

‘Don’t want carry.’

I went down and fetched the buggy. When I returned she had clambered onto the fence. Vanja was sitting on the ground. At the top of the hill Linda had left the restaurant; she was standing in the road now looking down, waving to us with one hand. John was still screaming.

‘I don’t want to walk,’ Vanja said. ‘My legs are tired.’

‘You’ve hardly walked a step all day,’ I said. ‘How can your legs be tired?’

‘Haven’t got any legs. You’ll have to carry me.’

‘No, Vanja, that’s rubbish. I can’t carry you.’

‘Yes, you can.’

‘Get in the buggy, Heidi,’ I said. ‘Then we’ll go for a ride.’

‘Don’t want buggy,’ she said.

‘I haven’t got any leeegs!’ Vanja said. She screamed the last word.

I felt the fury rising within me. My impulse was to lift them up and carry them, one pinned under each arm. This would not be the first time I had gone off with them kicking and screaming in my arms, oblivious of passers-by, who always stared with such interest when we had our little scenes, as though I was wearing a monkey mask or something.

But this time I managed to regain my composure.

‘Could you get into the buggy, Vanja?’ I asked.

‘If you lift me,’ she said.

‘No, you’ll have to do it yourself.’

‘No,’ she said. ‘I haven’t got any legs.’

If I didn’t give way we would be standing here until the next day, for though Vanja lacked patience and gave up as soon as she met any resistance, she was infinitely stubborn when it was a question of getting her own way.

‘OK,’ I said, lifting her up into the buggy. ‘You win again.’

‘Win what?’ she asked.

‘Nothing,’ I said. ‘Come on, Heidi. We’re going.’

I lifted her off the fence, and after a couple of half-hearted ‘No, don’t want’s we were on our way up the hill, Heidi on my arm, Vanja in the buggy. As we passed, I picked up Heidi’s cloth mouse, brushed off the dirt and popped it into the net shopping bag.

‘I don’t know what’s up with him,’ Linda said as we arrived at the top. ‘He suddenly started crying. Perhaps he’s been stung by a wasp or something. Look . . .’

She pulled up his jumper and showed me a small red mark. He squirmed in her grip, his face red and his hair wet from all the screaming.

‘Poor little lad,’ she said.

‘I’ve been bitten by a horsefly,’ I said. ‘Perhaps that’s what happened. Put him in the buggy though and we can get going. We can’t do anything about it now anyway.’

When he was strapped in, he wriggled about and bored his head down, still screaming.

‘Let’s get into the car,’ I said.

‘Yes,’ Linda replied. ‘But I’ll have to change him first. There’s a nappy changing room down there.’

I nodded, and we began to walk down. Several hours had passed since we arrived, the sun was lower in the sky and something about the light it cast over the trees reminded me of summer afternoons at home when we either drove to the far side of the island with mum and dad to swim in the sea or walked down to the knoll in the sound beyond the estate. The memories filled my mind for a few seconds, not in the form of specific events, more as atmospheres, smells, sensations. The way the light, which in the middle of the day was whiter and more neutral, became fuller later in the afternoon and began to make the colours darker. Oh, running on the path through the shady forest on a summer day in the 70s! Diving into the salt water and swimming across to Gjerstadholmen on the other side! The sun shining on the sea-smoothed rocks, turning them almost golden. The stiff dry grass growing in the hollows between them. The sense of the depths beneath the surface of the water, so dark as it lay in the shadow beneath the mountainside. The fish gliding by. And then the treetops above us, their slender branches trembling in the sea breeze! The thin bark and the smooth leg-like tree beneath. The green foliage . . .

‘There it is,’ Linda said, nodding towards a small octagonal wooden construction. ‘Will you wait?’

‘We’ll amble down,’ I said.

In the copse inside the fence there were two gnomes carved in wood. That was how the place justified its status as Fairytale Land.

‘Look,
tompen
!’ Heidi shouted.
Tompen
, or in correct Swedish
tomten,
was a gnome.

She had been fixated on gnomes for quite a time. Well into spring she had pointed to the veranda where the gnome had appeared on Christmas Eve and said ‘
Tompen
’s coming,’ and when she played with one of the presents he had given her she always stated first of all where it had come from. What sort of status he had for her, however, was not easy to say, because when she spotted the gnome outfit in my wardrobe after Christmas she wasn’t in the least bit surprised or upset. We hadn’t said a word; she just pointed and shouted ‘
Tompen
’ as if that was where he changed his clothes, and when we met the old tramp with the white beard who hung around in the square outside our house she would stand up in the buggy and shout ‘
Tompen
’ at the top of her lungs.

I leaned forward and kissed her chubby cheek.

‘No kisses!’ she said.

I laughed.

‘Can I kiss you then, Vanja?’

‘No!’ Vanja said.

A meagre though regular stream of people flowed past us, most wearing summery clothes – shorts, T-shirts and sandals – some in jogging pants and trainers, a striking number of them fat, almost none well dressed.

‘My daddy in prison!’ Heidi shouted with glee.

Vanja turned in the buggy.

‘No, daddy’s not in prison!’ she said.

I laughed again and stopped.

‘We’ll have to wait for mummy here,’ I said.

Your daddy’s in prison: that was what kids in the nursery used to say to one another. Heidi had understood it as a great compliment, and often said it when she wanted to boast about me. Last time we were returning from the cabin, according to Linda, she had said it to an elderly lady sitting behind them on the bus. My daddy’s in prison. As I hadn’t been there, but was standing at the bus stop with John, the comment had been left hanging in the air, unchallenged.

I leaned forward and wiped the sweat off my forehead with my T-shirt sleeve.

‘Can I have another ticket, daddy?’ Vanja said.

‘Nope,’ I said. ‘You’ve already won a cuddly toy!’

‘Nice daddy, another one?’ she said.

I turned and saw Linda walking over. John was sitting upright in the buggy and seemed content under his sun hat.

‘Everything OK?’ I said.

‘Mm. I bathed the sting in cold water. He’s tired, though.’

‘He’ll sleep in the car then,’ I said.

‘What time do you think it is?’

‘Half past three maybe?’

‘Home by eight then?’

‘Or thereabouts.’

Once again we crossed the tiny fairground, passed the pirate ship, a pathetic wooden façade with gangways behind, where one-legged or one-armed men with headscarves brandished swords, the llama and ostrich enclosures, the small paved area where some kids rode four-wheelers and finally arrived at the entrance, where there was a kind of obstacle course, a few logs, that is, and some plank walls with netting in between, a stand with a bungee trampoline and a donkey-riding ring, where we stopped. Linda took Heidi, carried her to the queue and put a helmet on her head, while Vanja and I stood watching by the fence with John.

There were four donkeys in the ring at a time, led by parents. The circuit was no more than thirty metres in length, but most of the animals took a long time to complete it because these were donkeys, not ponies, and donkeys stop when the whim takes them. Desperate parents tugged at the reins with all their strength, but the creatures would not budge. In vain they patted them on their flanks; the accursed donkeys were as motionless as ever. One of the children was crying. The woman taking the tickets kept shouting advice to the parents. Pull as hard as you can! Harder! Just pull, they don’t mind! Hard! That’s the way, that’s it!

‘Can you see, Vanja?’ I said. ‘The donkeys are refusing to move!’

She laughed. I was happy because she was happy. At the same time I was a little concerned about how Linda would cope; she wasn’t much more patient than Vanja. But when it was her turn, she managed with aplomb. Whenever the donkey stopped she turned round and stood with her back to its flank while making smacking noises with her lips. In her youth she had ridden horses, they had formed a large part of her life, so that must have been how she knew what to do.

Heidi was beaming astride the donkey’s back. When the donkey no longer responded to her trick Linda pulled so hard on the bridle it was as if there was no room left for any obstinacy.

‘You’re such a good rider!’ I called to Heidi. Looked down at Vanja. ‘Do you want a go?’

Vanja firmly shook her head. Straightened her glasses. She had ridden ponies from the age of eighteen months, and the autumn we moved to Malmö, when she was two and a half, she had started at a riding school. It was in the middle of Folkets Park, a sad down-at-heel riding hall with sawdust on the ground, which was a wonderful experience for her, she absorbed everything and wanted to talk about it when the lesson was over. She sat erect on her straggly pony and was led round and round by Linda, or on those occasions I went with her on my own, by one of the eleven- or twelve-year-old girls who seemed to spend their lives there, while an instructor walked about in the middle telling them what to do. It didn’t matter that Vanja wouldn’t always understand the instructions; the main thing was the experience of the horses and the environment around them. The stable, the cat that had kittens in the hay, the list of who was going to ride which horse that afternoon, the helmet she chose, the moment the horse was led into the hall, the riding itself, the cinnamon bun and the apple juice she had in the café afterwards. That was the high point of the week. But things changed during the course of the following autumn. They had a new instructor, and Vanja, who looked older than her four years, came face to face with demands she couldn’t meet. Even though Linda told the instructor, things didn’t get any better and Vanja began to protest when she had to go – she didn’t want to go, not at all – and in the end we stopped. Even when she saw Heidi riding the little donkey in the park free of any demands, she didn’t want a ride.

BOOK: My Struggle: Book 2: A Man in Love
4.03Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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