Home > Normal People(14)

Normal People(14)
Author: Sally Rooney

In the shed, Peggy asked where Connell was.

Upstairs, said Marianne. With Teresa, I guess.

Connell has been casually seeing a friend of theirs called Teresa. Marianne has no real problem with Teresa, but finds herself frequently prompting Connell to say bad things about her for no reason, which he always refuses to do.

He wears nice clothes, volunteered Joanna.

Not really, said Peggy. I mean, he has a look, but it’s just tracksuits most of the time. I doubt he even owns a suit.

Joanna sought Marianne’s eye contact again, and this time Marianne returned it. Peggy, watching, took a performatively large mouthful of Cointreau and wiped her lips with the hand she was using to hold the bottle. What? she said.

Well, isn’t he from a fairly working-class background? said Joanna.

That’s so oversensitive, Peggy said. I can’t criticise someone’s dress sense because of their socio-economic status? Come on.

No, that’s not what she meant, said Marianne.

Because you know, we’re all actually very nice to him, said Peggy.

Marianne found she couldn’t look at either of her friends then. Who’s ‘we’? she wanted to say. Instead she took the bottle of Cointreau from Peggy’s hand and swallowed two mouthfuls, lukewarm and repulsively sweet.

Some time around two o’clock in the morning, after she had become extremely drunk and Peggy had convinced her to share a joint with her in the bathroom, she saw Connell on the third-storey landing. No one else was up there. Hey, he said. She leaned against the wall, drunk and wanting his attention. He was at the top of the stairs.

You’ve been off with Teresa, she said.

Have I? he said. That’s interesting. You’re completely out of it, are you?

You smell like perfume.

Teresa’s not here, said Connell. As in, she’s not at the party.

Then Marianne laughed. She felt stupid, but in a good way. Come here, she said. He came over to stand in front of her.

What? he said.

Do you like her better than me? said Marianne.

He tucked a strand of hair behind her ear.

No, he said. To be fair, I don’t know her very well.

But is she better in bed than I am?

You’re drunk, Marianne. If you were sober you wouldn’t even want to know the answer to that question.

So it’s not the answer I want, she said.

She was engaging in this dialogue in a basically linear fashion, while at the same time trying to unbutton one of Connell’s shirt buttons, not even in a sexy way, but just because she was so drunk and high. Also she hadn’t managed to fully undo the button yet.

No, of course it’s the answer you want, he said.

Then she kissed him. He didn’t recoil like he was horrified, but he did pull away pretty firmly and said: No, come on.

Let’s go upstairs, she said.

Yeah. We actually are upstairs.

I want you to fuck me.

He made a kind of frowning expression, which if she had been sober would have induced her to pretend she had only been joking.

Not tonight, he said. You’re wasted.

Is that the only reason?

He looked down at her. She repressed a comment she had been saving up about the shape of his mouth, how perfect it was, because she wanted him to answer the question.

Yeah, he said. That’s it.

So you otherwise would do it.

You should go to bed.

I’ll give you drugs, she said.

You don’t even— Marianne, you don’t even have drugs. That’s just one level of what’s wrong with what you’re saying. Go to bed.

Just kiss me.

He kissed her. It was a nice kiss, but friendly. Then he said goodnight and went downstairs lightly, with his light sober body walking in straight lines. Marianne went to find a bathroom, where she drank straight from the tap until her head stopped hurting and afterwards fell asleep on the bathroom floor. That’s where she woke up twenty minutes ago when Connell asked one of the girls to find her.


Now he’s flipping through the radio stations while they wait at a set of traffic lights. He finds a Van Morrison song and leaves it playing.

Anyway, I’m sorry, says Marianne again. I wasn’t trying to make things weird with Teresa.

She’s not my girlfriend.

Okay. But it was disrespectful of our friendship.

I didn’t realise you were even close with her, he says.

I meant my friendship with you.

He looks around at her. She tightens her arms around her knees and tucks her chin into her shoulder. Lately she and Connell have been seeing a lot of each other. In Dublin they can walk down long stately streets together for the first time, confident that nobody they pass knows or cares who they are. Marianne lives alone in a one-bedroom apartment belonging to her grandmother, and in the evenings she and Connell sit in her living room drinking wine together. He complains to her, seemingly without reservation, about how hard it is to make friends in Trinity. The other day he lay on her couch and rolled the dregs of wine around in his glass and said: People here are such snobs. Even if they liked me I honestly wouldn’t want to be friends with them. He put his glass down and looked at Marianne. That’s why it’s easy for you, by the way, he said. Because you’re from a rich family, that’s why people like you. She frowned and nodded, and then Connell started laughing. I’m messing with you, he said. Their eyes met. She wanted to laugh, but she didn’t know if the joke was on her.

He always comes to her parties, though he says he doesn’t really understand her friendship group. Her female friends like him a lot, and for some reason feel very comfortable sitting on his lap during conversations and tousling his hair fondly. The men have not warmed to him in the same way. He is tolerated through his association with Marianne, but he’s not considered in his own right particularly interesting. He’s not even smart! one of her male friends exclaimed the other night when Connell wasn’t there. He’s smarter than I am, said Marianne. No one knew what to say then. It’s true that Connell is quiet at parties, stubbornly quiet even, and not interested in showing off how many books he has read or how many wars he knows about. But Marianne is aware, deep down, that that’s not why people think he’s stupid.

How was it disrespectful to our friendship? he says.

I think it would be difficult to stay friends if we started sleeping together.

He makes a devilish grinning expression. Confused, she hides her face in her arm.

Would it? he says.

I don’t know.

Well, alright.


One night in the basement of Bruxelles, two of Marianne’s friends were playing a clumsy game of pool while the others sat around drinking and watching. After Jamie won he said: Who wants to play the winner? And Connell put his pint down quietly and said: Alright, yeah. Jamie broke but didn’t pot anything. Without engaging in any conversation at all, Connell then potted four of the yellow balls in a row. Marianne started laughing, but Connell was expressionless, just focused-looking. In the short time after his turn he drank silently and watched Jamie send a red ball spinning off the cushion. Then Connell chalked his cue briskly and resumed pocketing the final three yellows. There was something so satisfying about the way he studied the table and lined the shots up, and the quiet kiss of the chalk against the smooth surface of the cue ball. The girls all sat around watching him take shots, watching him lean over the table with his hard, silent face lit by the overhead lamp. It’s like a Diet Coke ad, said Marianne. Everyone laughed then, even Connell did. When it was just the black ball left he pointed at the top right-hand pocket and, gratifyingly, said: Alright, Marianne, are you watching? Then he potted it. Everyone applauded.

Instead of walking home that night, Connell came back to stay at hers. They lay in her bed looking up at the ceiling and talking. Until then they had always avoided discussing what had happened between them the year before, but that night Connell said: Do your friends know about us?

Marianne paused. What about us? she said eventually.

What happened in school and all that.

No, I don’t think so. Maybe they’ve picked up on something but I never told them.

For a few seconds Connell said nothing. She was attuned to his silence in the darkness.

Would you be embarrassed if they found out? he said.

In some ways, yeah.

He turned over then, so he wasn’t looking up at the ceiling anymore but facing her. Why? he said.

Because it was humiliating.

You mean like, the way I treated you.

Well, yeah, she said. And just the fact that I put up with it.

Carefully he felt for her hand under the quilt and she let him hold it. A shiver ran along her jaw and she tried to make her voice sound light and humorous.

Did you ever think about asking me to the Debs? she said. It’s such a stupid thing but I’m curious whether you thought about it.

To be honest, no. I wish I did.

She nodded. She continued looking up at the black ceiling, swallowing, worried that he could make out her expression.

Would you have said yes? he asked.

She nodded again. She tried to roll her eyes at herself but it felt ugly and self-pitying rather than funny.

I’m really sorry, he said. I did the wrong thing there. And you know, apparently people in school kind of knew about us anyway. I don’t know if you heard that.

She sat up on her elbow and stared down at him in the darkness.

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