The following is from Karl Ove Knausgaard’s The Wolves of Eternity. Knausgaard’s first novel, Out of the World, was the first ever debut novel to win the Norwegian Critics’ Prize and his second, A Time for Everything, was widely acclaimed. The My Struggle cycle of novels has been heralded as a masterpiece wherever it has appeared.
There was no one in when I got home. Joar was at school and Mum must have gone somewhere after work. I felt restless and impatient, wanting something to happen, but of course nothing did. The interview had gone all right, so it couldn’t have been that that made it so hard for me to relax.
I had a shower and lay down on my bed with one of the thrillers that were still on the shelf in my room, The Key to Rebecca by Ken Follett, one of my favourites. I’d read it loads of times, but realised quite soon that I could barely remember the storyline.
Although the interview had gone well, I knew I never should have done it. That must have been what was tormenting me.
I went to the cupboard and looked at all my old things. Two boxes of school exercise books, what did I want them for? The pile of board games. In the corner at the back was my old air rifle. I’d got it as a present off my uncle Einar and my auntie Ida for my twelfth birthday, almost certainly because Dad was fond of shooting and would probably have
bought me an air rifle himself if he’d still been alive then.
I hadn’t used it for years.
I got it out, put it to my shoulder and took aim at a sparrow that was perched on a twig on the tree outside the window.
Double standards. A lack of principles. Not being honest with myself. I wondered if there might still be some paper targets in the garage. Maybe it was something that would amuse Joar?
With the rifle under my arm I went out to have a look. And there was too, a pile of mouldering cardboard targets, tucked away on top of one of the beams under the roof.
I strung one up between the two apple trees that formed a kind of portal between the garden and the field. No one would ever go out there, and even if someone did, I’d be able to see them a mile off.
I fired a few shots from the wall of the barn, first standing, then lying down. It would have been an understatement to say I wasn’t very good; half my shots missed completely, the rest were nowhere near the bull’s eye. I decided to keep at it at least until I got a bit closer. Then, just as I was changing targets, I heard a car come up from the road and went round to the front of the barn to let Mum know where I was.
Joar was on his way inside with his school bag on his back and a carrier bag in his hand, while Mum had put two bags of shopping down so she could close the car boot.
‘You’ve done the shopping, I see,’ I said. ‘Are you shooting?’ Mum said.
‘I found my old air rifle in the cupboard. Do you fancy a go, Joar?’ He nodded from the doorway with his face turned towards me. ‘He’s only twelve,’ Mum said.
‘I was twelve when I got it for my birthday, or can’t you remember?’ I said, and laughed. ‘It’s only an air rifle, anyway.’
I leaned it against the barn and carried her shopping inside. After that, I took Joar round the back of the barn with me, just as Dad had done with me that time.
‘You’ve never tried before, have you?’ I said, handing him the rifle. He shook his head.
‘I know how, though.’
He nestled the butt against his shoulder, closed one eye and took aim at the target.
‘That’s it,’ I said. ‘But you might want to load it first?’
I took the rifle and showed him how to do it before handing it back.
‘Deep breaths, in and out, exhale slowly, and then fire while you hold your breath.’
He did as I said. Loaded, held his breath and fired, then again, and again after that.
He looked up at me and beamed.
‘It’s fun, isn’t it?’ I said. ‘Let’s go and see if you hit the target, shall we?’ He had.
‘Eight, seven and four.’ ‘Is that good?’
‘I think it’s very good,’ I said. ‘Beginner’s luck, if you ask me!’ ‘What did you get?’
‘We won’t talk about that,’ I said. ‘Do you want another go?’
He nodded. I strung up another target and stood beside him as he loaded and took aim. He was really enjoying himself, a picture of concentration.
‘You should join a club,’ I said.
He raised the rifle slowly as he breathed out, and I realised suddenly that he was aiming towards the apple tree, where a raven stood watching us.
‘No, don’t shoot it!’ I said, but it was too late, he squeezed the trigger and the next instant the bird collapsed to the ground. As if in slow motion, it fell over onto its side, its wings still folded against its body.
‘Wow!’ he shouted. ‘I got it!’
I grabbed him hard by the arm. ‘What the hell are you playing at?’
‘Let go,’ he said. ‘I want to see where I got it.’ ‘You don’t shoot birds just for fun.’
‘You’re not my dad.’
‘But it’s my rifle,’ I said, and took it from him. ‘You’re coming in now.’
‘I want to see where I got it,’ he said.
He tried to twist free. I gripped him tight. ‘Let go!’ he shouted.
I saw myself dragging him inside as he twisted and writhed, shouting and screaming. What was I going to do once we got in – lock him in his room?
So I let him go.
He ran over to the bird. I went after him, saw him bend down and pick it up.
‘I shot it in the head!’ he said. ‘Look, there’s hardly anything left of it!’
‘All right, you’ve seen it now,’ I said. ‘Put it down and come inside.’ The little head was a mess of bloody goo and splintered bone.
‘It’s still warm,’ he said.
‘That’s because it was still alive three minutes ago,’ I said. ‘But now it’s not. It’ll never be alive ever again. Do you understand that?’
‘Of course I do,’ he said, and threw the bird into the field. ‘Is that good enough, or do you want to bury it too?’
I said nothing to Mum about what had happened. I knew what she’d think. It’d be my fault for letting him try.
And in a way she’d be right.
Instead, I went upstairs to his room after tea to have a word with him.
He sat hunched over his desk, drawing.
‘What are you drawing?’ I said, and sat down on the edge of his bed. ‘Just my room,’ he said.
‘Do you want to show me?’
He held the drawing up for me to see. The room was recognisable down to the smallest detail, the bed, the wardrobe, the bookcase, even the posters on the wall were there. And at the desk, hunched over some drawing paper, he’d drawn himself, seen obliquely from behind.
‘It’s not finished yet,’ he said.
‘It’s very good,’ I said. ‘You could draw comics when you grow up.’ He pulled a face.
‘Is it this drawing you’re doing there in the picture?’ ‘How could it be?’ he said, and smiled.
I looked closer and saw that it was; the little drawing he was drawing in his drawing was of his room too.
‘Do you want to see some others?’ he said.
‘Yes, if you want to show me.’
He pulled the drawer open, took out a pile and handed it to me.
From The Wolves of Eternity by Karl Ove Knausgaard. Published by arrangement with Knopf Canada, a member of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © Karl Ove Knausgaard, 2021.