What I Know About July by Kat Hausler
Release date: October 31, 2023
Subgenre: Psychological thriller, Crime thriller
About What I Know About July:
Simon Kemper is on the up and up– he’ s out of rehab, and his band is gaining moderate success around Berlin. But out of the corner of his eye and over his shoulder, he’ s always aware of her. The stalker. She’ s at every show, no matter what city. She sends hundreds of postcards to his label. Worst of all, she acts like she knows him. Like she owns him. When the stalker disappears at one of his shows, Simon is the prime suspect. Initially an effort to clear his name, his search for July quickly becomes a deeper psychological quest: to prove that his fears were warranted? That she couldn’ t have given up her obsession that easily? The threads of July’ s disappearance turn out to be tangled into every corner of Simon’ s life: a trusted band member, a tenuous new love interest, a resentful ex, and the self he’ s supposedly left behind. Narcissistic, insecure, and consummately relatable, Simon is the anti-hero of his own life— trying to want to be better; hoping that’ s enough.
The stalker was literally the only one of Simon’s fans he never thought about sleeping with. No, not literally. His little sister Franzi was always getting on his case about that. You’re not literally dying. Like she’d know. But anyway. Obviously, some of his fans were ugly, some were men, some were too young—pedophile-bait rather than jailbait—and there were the girls who spent his whole show making out with their greasy boyfriends without ever looking up.
But not the stalker. She wasn’t even bad looking. Not that his standards were very high, which worried him since his therapist acted like he was some sex addict with zero ability to commit. The stalker never even glanced at her phone while he was playing. He didn’t mean to look, but there was something magnetic about the intensity of her gaze. As bad as he felt when a woman didn’t show interest, this was worse. His drummer Micha had been the first to call the short brunette with awful taste in lipstick and an endless array of band shirts “the stalker,” even though only Simon felt threatened by her.
She hung around before and after shows. Venue managers made nudge-nudge references like she was some exotic pet Simon kept, and that was probably what she wanted, having her name linked to his as often as possible. As if they even used her name. It was something ordinary like Julia, but she always acted like Simon should know who she was. And he did, some little warning light flashing when he saw her maneuvering through the crowd toward him: Watch out, stalker!
It was this maneuvering and positioning of herself that put him off, even more than her postcards piling up in the mail room of Poor Dog Records. He didn’t know her, or if he did, it was only because she’d forced her acquaintance on him. He assumed she lived in Berlin since she’d made every show in town since their first album came out. She sometimes turned up in nearby cities and had once even accosted him in Munich with a story about visiting relatives. It creeped him out to think of her traveling all that way for him. With someone else, that amount of devotion would’ve stroked his volatile ego enough for a positive response, but seeing her stupid knowing smile in the front row that night had almost cost him his rhythm. What gave her the right?
Micha laughed himself silly at the slightest hint that Simon was afraid of her, and now Tanja had gotten wind of it. She played bass, and teased Simon and anyone she could get her hands on with the mercilessness of an older sibling. Micha had pointed out that, in addition to her obvious talent, Tanja offered certain demographic benefits. Tom, their first bassist, had quit before they recorded anything after a coke-fueled fight over his girlfriend, and Simon had gone on to have a crushing relationship and even more crushing breakup with the willowy blonde who’d replaced him. Nadine had left the band when they’d been just popular enough for people to notice. Since Tanja wasn’t into men, Simon couldn’t start anything with her. She smoked like a chimney but didn’t touch drugs. She was a godsend. The other advantage was her ruthless careerism. Despite the tough, sarcastic impression she made, or perhaps because of it, she’d soon coerced and charmed the band onto a bigger label.
“I don’t plan on dying young,” she’d said. “I need something in the bank for when I’m an old hag.” She worked at a temping agency doing everything from data entry to dishes, but had only the usual Berlin savings account, a shoebox full of change.
“When you’re an old hag?” Micha had asked. They’d gotten close enough to be mean to each other almost right away.
Simon liked Tanja, which Dr. Froheifer said was a healthy development in his relationship to women. Of course, he didn’t buy into everything she said. It had taken him a few sessions to notice she had a doctorate in literature, not psychology, but that was what you got for picking your therapist based solely on proximity to your apartment. Between touring, recording and making overpriced lattes at his day job, he didn’t see her that often. He should’ve had the stalker analyze him. She got more face time.
Mostly, though, he went back and forth between worrying that what Dr. F said was true and he’d never be cured, and coming up with reasons why it couldn’t be. Like the sex thing. He didn’t actually have sex that often. In fact, he never did except after a show. That averaged out to less than with Nadine, though they’d had their ups and downs, and not just in bed. Right now, he happened to be single, which meant he had to divide a perfectly normal amount of sex among different women. He also happened to be incapable of picking up anyone outside of a concert venue.
That was another of Dr. F’s suggestions: meeting someone “the normal way.” He’d tried saying it was normal to meet potential partners at work, but she’d made it into this whole power thing. In actual fact, it was just easier. On his days offstage, he made good coffee and bad small talk if he had a shift at Café Astral, read or listened to music in Volkspark Friedrichshain if he didn’t. A beer with Micha and Tanja was a big night out for him. And when he was himself, Simon Kemper without a guitar or mic, surprise, surprise, women didn’t throw themselves at him.
Sure, he got occasional darting glances. But they always seemed to be asking how far gone he was, whether the downcast eyes and five o’clock-yesterday shadow were intriguing or signs of unemployment, addiction, a life of crime.
Now that Hare vs. Hedgehog was playing bigger venues, people sometimes came up to ask if it was really him. But instead of leading to new love interests, his minor celebrity status only created more distance. He felt slow and clumsy in the harsh light of day, and never managed to say anything clever. They probably thought he wanted to be left alone. He did and didn’t. They never even asked for autographs, just identified him and drifted away to tell their many loved ones about the slightly famous misanthrope they’d run into. The anecdote would be more interesting than the actual encounter.
It was different at a show. Beforehand, they’d sidle up with breathy compliments and talk of great parties later. He didn’t party much anymore, or at all, really, but admitting that made him feel old. The beauty of these pre-show invitations was the idea that there was some cachet in being seen with him. He loved to play the person they saw him as.
Afterward, he’d scribble signatures on tote bags, t-shirts and skin, and get photographed with countless devices and overheated fans whose heartrate tripled when he put an arm around them. It was easier when you knew you were wanted.
He specialized in the very bold and very timid. When he was exhausted, and he almost always was, he liked athletic girls with taut ponytails, fierce smiles and more self-assurance than he’d had on the best days of his life. When he had the energy, though, he chatted up the skittish ones who stammered in search of replies and gulped when he touched their arms. It felt like charity, bestowing his favor upon those too meek to demand it. But in his heart of losery hearts, he knew he had more in common with these helpless wallflowers who’d never know they were attractive, not even when they were in bed together, not even when they did nervous, breath-holding imitations of sleep as he whispered, “You’re beautiful,” as hopefully and hopelessly as if he were talking to himself.
The stalker was neither of these types. She put a steady arm around his waist when she demanded a picture, and acted like she’d known him before he was famous—if you wanted to call it that. In a way, she had, since she’d been at their first show after their first album came out, but that wasn’t the same. She only knew concert-him, which—even if he liked this persona better than his actual personality—wasn’t the real him. And what was she to him? Her face had the impersonal familiarity of a pop-art celebrity, Mao Zedong or Marilyn Monroe. He didn’t feel like he’d always known her, but like he’d always known what she was: a standard feature of his surroundings, like the sticky bars and foul, graffitied bathrooms of clubs—unpleasant, but expected.
It remained unclear whether she was trying to flirt, or so deluded she thought they were friends. Once she hung around so long a bartender told her how talented her “boyfriend” was. Simon said, “I don’t even know her,” but she laughed like it was an inside joke. Being rude to her might backfire since she posted on their website several times a day and was probably all over whatever social network could most effectively spread the word that he was an asshole. The only thing he could think to do was leave with the nearest fan. If the stalker was disappointed, she never let on.
About Kat Hausler:
Originally from Virginia, Kat Hausler is a graduate of New York University and holds an M.F.A. in Fiction from Fairleigh Dickinson University, where she was the recipient of a Baumeister Fellowship. She is the author of Retrograde and What I Know About July, as well as many shorter pieces. Her work has appeared in Hawaii Pacific Review, 34th Parallel, Inkspill Magazine, The Sunlight Press, The Dalloway, Rozlyn Press, Porridge Magazine, LitReactor, BlazeVOX, failbetter, Rathalla Review and The Airgonaut, among others. She lives in Berlin and is also a translator.