:: Article

Knausgaard Burning

By Nicholas Rombes.

Knausgaard was burning a hole through the trunk of the car.

I’d been lugging his Struggles around for days, helping Sheila move out of one shitty apartment in East Toledo into a less shitty one in Toledo proper. A duplex beneath the shadow and hum of the Cherry Street Bridge. Somehow, My Struggle (volumes 3-6) never made it out of my trunk. The books were always part of that one last trip from car to apartment we said could wait until next time.

Sheila was in a band around that time, powerfully awkward and angular with her bass guitar in ways that she hadn’t yet figured out how to harness. The power was there but to what end? This is a question she and I would stay up late to talk about, our backs against her purple couch, the wet laundry drying on the backs of chairs and draped over unsteady lampshades. This was when she still stuck her eyebrows with silver pins after lubricating them with cooking spray.

Her mother was dying and they hadn’t spoken in a year. It was like a duel where no one pulled the trigger first.

“Her hair is falling out,” she said. She might have been crying. “That’s what Hannah saw.”

“I know,” I said.

“How do you know?”

“Hannah told me.”

“When did you see Hannah?”

When had I seen Hannah? I hadn’t. I just said I had to cover for my I know.

“I don’t remember,” I said, “last week.”

“Hannah’s been gone for a month. She’s in Portugal, remember?”

“Maybe we talked or Skyped.”

“Talked or Skyped? Maybe you talked or Skyped.”

“Maybe, I don’t know. I’m sorry about your Mom’s hair.”

“Her name’s Irene. You never say her name.”

“I’m sorry about Irene’s hair.”

Sheila turned the laundry over on the chairs and came back.

“It doesn’t matter,” she said, “it’s just that moving in here without Mom is so empty. I’ve never moved into a new place without showing it to Mom first. That sounds stupid.”

“No it doesn’t.”

“Yes it does. To you it must. You don’t have a mother or a father. Just books.”

“That’s not true. The books are yours.”

“Not all of them. Not the Knausgaards.”

“I gave you the Knausgaards. As a gift.”

“They were yours first. Then you gave them to me,” she said.

“They weren’t mine first. I bought them at Rockets and gave them to you.”

“You’re right,” she said. “I’m sorry. It’s just so hard right now. Thanks for helping me move.”

It had gotten dark out, the light slipping away. It was late summer and the cicadas were out. Every few years somebody jumped into the Maumee River from the bridge and so it had a certain fame about it, a certain aura. Two years ago sixteen-year old twins had jumped and one survived, her back broken and then she tried again, crawling up there the next year and survived that jump too, pulled out by a fisherman who turned out to be the doctor who had delivered she and her sister.

“I just think if I had the courage to call,” she said.

“It’s not courage. After what Irene said about you, it’s not courage.”

“Courage to tell her how I feel. How she hurt me.”

“You have, you did.”

“She tried to apologize and I ignored her and now her hair is falling out.”

I suggested practicing some poses to get her mind off things. She strapped on her black RedSub bass, hopped onto a chair and noodled around while I stayed on the floor. But her heart wasn’t in it.

“Then how come they had black dots?” she asked.

“What did?”

“The Knausgaards. You said you said you bought them at Rockets.”

“I did.”

“Used. Remainders.”

“So what?”

“You made it sound like it was some big deal,” she said. “Just like him.”

“Like Knausgaard? Then I’m flattered. I really am.”

“If you don’t even know when you’re being sarcastic then how can I?”

“I’m not being sarcastic,” I said.

“Then you really are an asshole.”

Despite us not talking from that moment on Sheila let me spend the night. In the morning, I turned the laundry on the chairs one more time. I washed the dirty cups.

In the parking lot I could see and feel right away that something was wrong, car-wise. It wasn’t just the smoke from the trunk, or the way the breeze carried the smoke. It wasn’t just the earth tilted at a weird angle, or the size of the birds, or the low sound of their call, or the blank color of the sky. It wasn’t just the incessant hum coming from nowhere, or the sweet sick smell of something like old honey, or the soft vibrations that made my ears ache.

Knausgaard burning, that was part of it.

That was just part of it.

Nicholas Rombes

Nicholas Rombes is author of the novel The Absolution of Roberto Acestes Laing (Two Dollar Radio) and the 33 1/3 book Ramones (Bloomsbury), as well as the director of the feature film The RemovalsHis work has appeared in The BelieverThe Los Angeles Review of Books, and Filmmaker Magazine. He is a professor of English at the University of Detroit Mercy, at the corner of Six Mile and Livernois, in Detroit, Michigan.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Sunday, October 18th, 2020.