Home > Normal People(12)

Normal People(12)
Author: Sally Rooney

He follows her to the kitchen, which is empty and hygienically quiet. Matching teal surfaces and labelled appliances. The closed window reflects the lighted interior, blue and white. He doesn’t need a glass but she takes one from the cupboard and he doesn’t protest. Taking her jacket off, she asks him how he knows Gareth. Connell says they have classes together. She hangs her jacket on the back of a chair. She’s wearing a longish grey dress, in which her body looks narrow and delicate.

Everyone seems to know him, she says. He’s extroverted.

He’s one of these campus celebrities, says Connell.

That makes her laugh, and it’s like everything is fine between them, like they live in a slightly different universe where nothing bad has happened but Marianne suddenly has a cool boyfriend and Connell is the lonely, unpopular one.

He’d love that, says Marianne.

He seems to be on a lot of like, committees for things.

She smiles, she squints up at him. Her lipstick is very dark, a wine colour, and she’s wearing make-up on her eyes.

I’ve missed you, she says.

This directness, coming so soon and so unexpectedly, makes him blush. He starts pouring the beer into the glass to divert his attention.

Yeah, you too, he says. I was kind of worried when you left school and all that. You know, I was pretty down about it.

Well, we never hung out much during school hours.

No. Yeah. Obviously.

And what about you and Rachel? says Marianne. Are you still together?

No, we broke up there during the summer.

In a voice just false enough to sound nearly sincere, Marianne says: Oh. I’m sorry.


After Marianne left school in April, Connell entered a period of low spirits. Teachers spoke to him about it. The guidance counsellor told Lorraine she was ‘concerned’. People in school were probably talking about it too, he didn’t know. He couldn’t summon up the energy to act normal. At lunch he sat in the same place as always, eating sad mouthfuls of food, not listening to his friends when they spoke. Sometimes he wouldn’t notice even when they called his name, and they would have to throw something at him or clip him on the head to get his attention. Everyone must have known there was something wrong with him. He felt a debilitating shame about the kind of person he’d turned out to be, and he missed the way Marianne had made him feel, and he missed her company. He called her phone all the time, he sent her text messages every day, but she never replied. His mother said he was barred from visiting her house, though he didn’t think he would have tried that anyway.

For a while he tried to get over it by drinking too much and having anxious, upsetting sex with other girls. At a house party in May he slept with Barry Kenny’s sister Sinead, who was twenty-three and had a degree in Speech and Language Therapy. Afterwards he felt so bad he threw up, and he had to tell Sinead he was drunk even though he wasn’t really. There was no one he could talk to about that. He was excruciatingly lonely. He had recurring dreams about being with Marianne again, holding her peacefully the way he used to when they were tired, and speaking with her in low voices. Then he’d remember what had happened, and wake up feeling so depressed he couldn’t move a single muscle in his body.

One night in June he came home drunk and asked Lorraine if she saw Marianne much at work.

Sometimes, said Lorraine. Why?

And is she alright, or what?

I’ve already told you I think she’s upset.

She won’t reply to any of my texts or anything, he said. When I call her, like if she sees it’s me, she won’t pick up.

Because you hurt her feelings.

Yeah, but it’s kind of overreacting, isn’t it?

Lorraine shrugged and looked back at the TV.

Do you think it is? he said.

Do I think what?

Do you think it’s overreacting, what she’s doing?

Lorraine kept looking straight at the TV. Connell was drunk, he doesn’t remember what she was watching. Slowly she said: You know, Marianne is a very vulnerable person. And you did something very exploitative there and you hurt her. So maybe it’s good that you’re feeling bad about it.

I didn’t say I felt bad about it, he said.

He and Rachel started seeing each other in July. Everyone in school had known she liked him, and she seemed to view the attachment between them as a personal achievement on her part. As to the actual relationship, it mostly took place before nights out, when she would put make-up on and complain about her friends and Connell would sit around drinking cans. Sometimes he looked at his phone while she was talking and she would say: You’re not even listening. He hated the way he acted around her, because she was right, he really didn’t listen, but when he did, he didn’t like anything she actually said. He only had sex with her twice, neither time enjoyable, and when they lay in bed together he felt a constricting pain in his chest and throat that made it difficult to breathe. He had thought that being with her would make him feel less lonely, but it only gave his loneliness a new stubborn quality, like it was planted down inside him and impossible to kill.

Eventually the night of the Debs came. Rachel wore an extravagantly expensive dress and Connell stood in her front garden while her mother took their photograph. Rachel kept mentioning that he was going to Trinity, and her father showed him some golf clubs. Then they went to the hotel and ate dinner. Everyone got very drunk and Lisa passed out before dessert. Under the table Rob showed Eric and Connell naked photographs of Lisa on his phone. Eric laughed and tapped parts of Lisa’s body on-screen with his fingers. Connell sat there looking at the phone and then said quietly: Bit fucked-up showing these to people, isn’t it? With a loud sigh Rob locked the phone and put it back in his pocket. You’ve gotten awfully fucking gay about things lately, he said.

At midnight, sloppy drunk but hypocritically disgusted by the drunkenness of everyone around him, Connell wandered out of the ballroom and down a corridor into the smoking garden. He had lit a cigarette and was in the process of shredding some low-hanging leaves from a nearby tree when the door slid open and Eric came out to join him. Eric gave a knowing laugh on seeing him, and then sat on an upturned flowerpot and lit a cigarette himself.

Shame Marianne didn’t come in the end, Eric said.

Connell nodded, hating to hear her name mentioned and unwilling to indulge it with a response.

What was going on there? said Eric.

Connell looked at him silently. A beam of white light was shining down from the bulb above the door and illuminating Eric’s face with a ghostly pallor.

What do you mean? said Connell.

With herself and yourself.

Connell hardly recognised his own voice when he said: I don’t know what you’re talking about.

Eric grinned and his teeth glittered wetly in the light.

Do you think we don’t know you were riding her? he said. Sure everyone knows.

Connell paused and took another drag on his cigarette. This was probably the most horrifying thing Eric could have said to him, not because it ended his life, but because it didn’t. He knew then that the secret for which he had sacrificed his own happiness and the happiness of another person had been trivial all along, and worthless. He and Marianne could have walked down the school corridors hand in hand, and with what consequence? Nothing really. No one cared.

Fair enough, said Connell.

How long was that going on for?

I don’t know. A while.

And what’s the story there? said Eric. You were just doing it for the laugh, or what?

You know me.

He stubbed out his cigarette and went back inside to collect his jacket. After that he left without saying goodbye to anyone, including Rachel, who broke up with him shortly afterwards. That was it, people moved away, he moved away. Their life in Carricklea, which they had imbued with such drama and significance, just ended like that with no conclusion, and it would never be picked back up again, never in the same way.


Yeah, well, he says to Marianne. I wasn’t that compatible with Rachel, I don’t think.

Marianne smiles now, a coy little smile. Hm, she says.


I probably could have told you that.

Yeah, you should have, he says. You weren’t really replying to my texts at the time.

Well, I felt somewhat abandoned.

I felt a bit abandoned myself, didn’t I? says Connell. You disappeared. And I never had anything to do with Rachel until ages after that, by the way. Not that it matters now or anything, but I didn’t.

Marianne sighs and moves her head from side to side, ambivalently.

That wasn’t really why I left school, she says.

Right. I suppose you were better off out of it.

It was more of a last-straw thing.

Yeah, he says. I wondered if that was what it was.

She smiles again, a lopsided smile like she’s flirting. Really? she says. Maybe you’re telepathic.

I did used to think I could read your mind at times, Connell says.

In bed, you mean.

He takes a sip from his glass now. The beer is cold but the glass is room temperature. Before this evening he didn’t know how Marianne would act if he ever met her in college, but now it seems inevitable, of course it would be like this. Of course she would talk drolly about their sex life, like it’s a cute joke between them and not awkward. And in a way he likes it, he likes knowing how to act around her.

Yeah, Connell says. And afterwards. But maybe that’s normal.

Hot Series
» Unfinished Hero series
» Colorado Mountain series
» Chaos series
» The Young Elites series
» Billionaires and Bridesmaids series
» Just One Day series
» Sinners on Tour series
» Manwhore series
» This Man series
» One Night series
Most Popular
» Normal People
» Make Me Bad
» Surprise Delivery
» A Curse So Dark and Lonely (A Curse So Dark
» My Favorite Half-Night Stand
» Faking Forever (First Wives #4)
» Chasing Shadows (First Wives #3)
» Half Empty (First Wives #2)