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

Authors: Karl Ove Knausgaard,Don Bartlett

My Struggle: Book 2: A Man in Love (4 page)

BOOK: My Struggle: Book 2: A Man in Love
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‘That could be a long way off, you know, Vanja,’ I said.

‘You can’t keep a cat in an apartment,’ she said.

‘Exactly,’ Linda said.

Vanja looked ahead again. She was squeezing the bag containing the present with both hands.

I looked at Linda.

‘What was his name again, Stella’s father?’

‘My mind’s gone blank . . .’ she said. ‘Oh, it was Erik, wasn’t it?’

‘That’s right,’ I said. ‘What was his job again?’

‘I’m not sure,’ she said. ‘Something to do with design.’

We went past Gottgruvan and both Vanja and Heidi leaned forward to look through the window. Next door was a pawnbroker’s. The shop beside that sold a variety of small statues and jewellery, angels and Buddhas, as well as joss sticks, tea, soap and other New Age knick-knacks. Posters hung in the windows giving information about when yoga gurus and well known clairvoyants were coming to town. On the other side of the street was a clothes shop with cheap brands, Ricco Jeans and Clothing,
FASHION FOR THE WHOLE FAMILY
, beside it was Taboo, a kind of ‘erotic’ boutique luring passers-by with dildos and dolls in various negligees and corsets in the window by the door, hidden from the street. Next to it was Bergman Bags and Hats, which must have remained unchanged in terms of interior and range from the day it was founded in the 40s, and Radio City, which had just gone bankrupt but where you could still see a window full of illuminated TV screens, surrounded by a wide selection of electrical goods, with prices written on large almost luminous orange and green bits of cardboard. The rule was that the further you advanced up the street, the cheaper and more dubious the shops became. The same applied to the people frequenting the area. Unlike in Stockholm, where we had also lived in the centre, the poverty and misery which existed here were visible in the street. I liked that.

‘Here it is,’ Linda said, stopping by a door. Outside a bingo hall a little further on three pale-skinned women in their fifties stood smoking. Linda’s gaze glided down the list of names beside the intercom; she pressed a number. Two buses thundered past one after the other. Then the door buzzed, and we went into the dark hallway, parked the buggy by the wall and went up the two flights of stairs to the flat, me with Heidi in my arms, Linda holding Vanja’s hand. The door was open when we arrived. The inside of the flat was dark too. I felt a certain unease walking straight in, I would have preferred to ring, that would have made our arrival more obvious, because now we were standing in the hall without anyone paying us the slightest attention.

I set Heidi down and took off her jacket. Linda was about to do the same with Vanja, but she protested: her boots were to come off first, then she could put on her golden shoes.

There was a room on either side of the hall. In one, children were playing excitedly; in the other some adults were standing around talking. In the hall, which continued deeper into the flat, I saw Erik standing with his back to us chatting to a mother and father from the nursery.

‘Hello!’ I said.

He didn’t turn. I laid Heidi’s jacket on top of a coat on a chair and met Linda’s eye. She was looking for somewhere to hang Vanja’s jacket.

‘Shall we go in then?’ she said.

Heidi wrapped her arms round my leg. I lifted her up and took a few steps forward. Erik turned.

‘Hi,’ he said.

‘Hi,’ I replied.

‘Hi, Vanja!’ he said.

Vanja turned away.

‘Aren’t you going to give Stella her present?’ I asked.

‘Stella, Vanja’s here!’ Erik said.

‘You do it,’ Vanja said.

Stella got up from the group of children on the floor. She smiled.

‘Happy birthday, Stella!’ I said. ‘Vanja’s got a present for you.’

I looked down at Vanja. ‘Do you want to give it to her?’

‘You do it,’ she said in a low voice.

I took the present and passed it to Stella.

‘It’s from Vanja and Heidi,’ I said.

‘Thank you,’ she said, and tore off the paper. When she saw it was a book she put it on the table next to the other presents and went back to the other children.

‘Well?’ said Erik. ‘Everything OK?’

‘Yes, fine,’ I said. I could feel my shirt sticking to my chest. Was it noticeable? I wondered.

‘What a nice apartment,’ Linda said. ‘Are there three bedrooms?’

‘Yes,’ Erik said.

He always looked so wily, always looked as though he had got something on the people he spoke to, it was hard to know where you stood with him; that half-smile of his could equally well have been sarcastic or congenial or tentative. If he’d had a pronounced or strong character, that might well have bothered me, but he was dithery in a weak-minded, irresolute kind of way, so whatever he might be thinking didn’t worry me in the slightest. My attention was focused on Vanja. She was standing close to Linda and looking down at the floor.

‘The others are in the kitchen,’ Erik said. ‘There’s some wine there, if you fancy a glass.’

Heidi had already entered the room, she was standing in front of a shelf with a wooden snail in her hand. It had wheels and a string you could pull.

I nodded to the two parents down the hall.

‘Hi,’ they said.

What was his name, now? Johan? Or Jacob? And hers? Was it Mia? Oh hell. Of course. Robin, that was it.

‘Hi,’ I said.

‘You all right?’ he said.

‘Yes,’ I said. ‘What about you two?’

‘Everything’s fine, thank you.’

I smiled at them. They smiled back. Vanja let go of Linda and hesitantly entered the room where the children were playing. For a while she stood observing them. Then it was as if she had decided to take the plunge.

‘I’ve got golden shoes!’ she said.

She bent forward and took off one shoe, held it up in the air in case anyone wanted to see. But no one did. When she realised that she put it back on.

‘Wouldn’t you like to play with the children over there?’ I suggested. ‘Can you see? There’ve got a big doll’s house.’

She went over, sat down beside them but did nothing, just sat watching.

Linda lifted Heidi and carried her to the kitchen. I followed. Everyone said hello, we returned the greeting, sat down at the long table, I was by the window. They were talking about cheap air tickets, how they started out dirt cheap, slowly became more expensive as you had to pay one surcharge after another, until you were left with a ticket that cost as much as those from more expensive airlines. Then the topic moved to buying CO
2
quotas and after that to the newly introduced chartered train journeys. I could definitely have offered an opinion about that, but I didn’t – small talk is one of the infinite number of talents I haven’t mastered – so I sat nodding at what was said, as usual, smiling when others smiled, while ardently wishing myself miles away. In front of the worktop was Stella’s mother, Frida, making some kind of salad dressing. She was no longer with Erik, and even though they were good at working together where Stella was concerned, you could still occasionally notice the tension and irritation between them at committee meetings in the nursery. She was blonde, had high cheekbones and narrow eyes, a long, slim body, and she knew how to dress, but she was much too pleased with herself, too self-centred for me to find her attractive. I have no problem with uninteresting or unoriginal people – they may have other, more important attributes, such as warmth, consideration, friendliness, a sense of humour or talents such as being able to make a conversation flow to generate an atmosphere of ease around them, the ability to make a family function – but I feel almost physically ill in the presence of boring people who consider themselves especially interesting and who blow their own trumpets.

She placed the dish of what I thought was a dressing but which turned out to be a ‘dip’ on a board beside a dish of carrot sticks and one of cucumber sticks. At that moment Vanja came into the room. When she had located us she came over and stood close.

‘I want to go home,’ she said softly.

‘We’ve only just got here!’ I said.

‘We’re going to stay a bit longer,’ Linda said. ‘And look, now you’re all getting some goodies!’ Was she was referring to the vegetables on the board?

She had to be.

They were crazy in this country.

‘I’ll go with you,’ I said to Vanja. ‘Come on.’

‘Will you take Heidi as well?’ Linda asked.

I nodded, and with Vanja at my heels I carried her into the room where the children were. Frida followed holding the board. She placed it on a little table in the middle of the floor.

‘Here’s something to eat,’ she said. ‘Before the cake arrives.’

The children, three girls and a boy, went on playing with the doll’s house. In the other room two boys were running around. Erik was in there, by the stereo system with a CD in his hand.

‘I’ve got a bit of Norwegian jazz here,’ he said. ‘Are you a jazz fan?’

‘We-ell . . .’ I said.

‘Norway has a great jazz scene,’ he said.

‘Who’s that you have there?’ I asked.

He showed me the cover. It was a band I had never heard of.

‘Great,’ I said.

Vanja was standing behind Heidi trying to lift her. Heidi was protesting.

‘She says no, Vanja,’ I said. ‘Put her down.’

As she carried on I went over to them.

‘Don’t you want a carrot?’ I asked.

‘No,’ Vanja said.

‘But there’s a dip,’ I said. Went over to the table, took a carrot stick and dunked it in the white, presumably cream-based, dip and put it in my mouth.

‘Mm,’ I said. ‘It’s good!’

Why couldn’t they have given them sausages, ice cream and pop? Lollipops? Jelly? Chocolate pudding?

What a stupid, bloody idiotic country this was. All the young women drank water in such vast quantities it was coming out of their ears, they thought it was ‘beneficial’ and ‘healthy’, but all it did was send the graph of incontinent young people soaring. Children ate wholemeal pasta and wholemeal bread and all sorts of weird coarse-grained rice which their stomachs could not digest properly, but that didn’t matter because it was ‘beneficial’, it was ‘healthy’, it was ‘wholesome’. Oh, they were confusing food with the mind, they thought they could eat their way to being better human beings without understanding that food is one thing and the notions food evokes another. And if you said that, if you said anything of that kind, you were either reactionary or just a Norwegian, in other words ten years behind.

‘I don’t want any,’ Vanja said. ‘I’m not hungry.’

‘OK, OK,’ I said. ‘But look here. Have you seen this? It’s a train set. Shall we build it?’

She nodded, and we sat down behind the other children. I began to lay railway track in an arc while helping Vanja to fit her pieces. Heidi had moved into the other room, where she walked alongside the bookcase studying everything in it. Whenever the two boys’ capers became too boisterous she swivelled round and glared at them.

Erik finally put on a CD and turned up the volume. Piano, bass and a myriad of percussion instruments that a certain type of jazz drummer adores – the kind that bangs stones against each other or uses whatever materials happen to be at hand. For me it sometimes meant nothing, and sometimes I found it ridiculous. I hated it when the audience applauded at jazz concerts.

Erik was nodding to the music, then turned, sent me a wink and went into the kitchen. At that moment the doorbell rang. It was Linus and his son Achilles. Linus had a pinch of
snus
under his top lip, was wearing black trousers, a dark coat and beneath it a white shirt. His fair hair was a touch unkempt, the eyes peering into the flat were honest and naïve.

‘Hello!’ he said. ‘How are you doing?’

‘Fine,’ I said. ‘And you?’

‘Yep, jogging along.’

Achilles, who was small with large dark eyes, took off his jacket and shoes while staring at the children behind me. Children are like dogs, they always find their own in crowds. Vanja eyed him as well. He was her favourite, he was the one she had chosen to take over the role of Alexander. But after he had removed his outer clothing he went straight over to the other children, and there was nothing Vanja could do to stop him. Linus slipped into the kitchen, and the glint I thought I detected in his eye could only have been his anticipation of a chance to have a chat.

I got up and looked at Heidi. She was sitting beside the yucca plant under the window, taking earth from the pot and making small piles on the floor. I went over to her, lifted her, scraped what I could back with my hands, and went into the kitchen to find a rag. Vanja followed me. Once there, she climbed onto Linda’s lap. In the living room Heidi started to cry. Linda sent me a quizzical look.

‘I’ll see to her,’ I said. ‘Just need something to wipe with.’

People were crowded round the worktop, it looked as if a meal was being prepared, and instead of squeezing through, I went to the toilet, unfurled a hefty handful of toilet paper, moistened it under the tap and went back to the living room to clean up. I lifted Heidi, who was still crying, and carried her to the bathroom to wash her hands. She wriggled and squirmed in my grip.

‘There, there, sweetheart,’ I said. ‘Soon be done. Just a bit more, now, OK. There we are!’

As we came out the crying subsided, but she wasn’t entirely happy, didn’t want to be put down, just wanted to be in my arms. Robin stood in the living room with his arms crossed following the movements of his daughter Theresa, who was only a few months older than Heidi, although she could already speak in long sentences.

‘Hi,’ he said. ‘Writing at the moment, are you?’

‘Yes, a bit,’ I said.

‘Do you write at home?’

‘Yes, I’ve got my own room.’

‘Isn’t that difficult? I mean, don’t you ever feel like watching TV or washing some clothes or something, instead of writing?’

‘It’s fine. I get less time than if I had an office, but . . .’

‘Yes, of course,’ he said.

He had quite long blond hair that curled at the nape of his neck, clear blue eyes, a flat nose, broad jawbones. He wasn’t strong, nor was he weak. He dressed as if he were in his mid-twenties, even though he was in his late thirties. What went through his mind I had no idea, I didn’t have a clue about what he was thinking, yet there was nothing secretive about him. On the contrary, his face and aura gave the impression of openness. But there was something else nevertheless, I sensed, a shadow of something else. His job was to integrate refugees into the community, he had told me once, and after a few follow-up questions about how many refugees were allowed into the country and so on, I let the matter drop because the opinions and sympathies I had were so far from the norm I assumed he represented that sooner or later they would shine through, whereupon I would come across as the baddie or the idiot, which I saw no reason to encourage.

BOOK: My Struggle: Book 2: A Man in Love
11.96Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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