Home > Normal People(15)

Normal People(15)
Author: Sally Rooney

Knew what? she said.

That we were seeing each other and all that.

I didn’t tell anyone, Connell, I swear to god.

She could see him wince even in the dark.

No, I know, he said. My point is more that it wouldn’t have mattered even if you did tell people. But I know you didn’t.

Were they horrible about it?

No, no. Eric just mentioned it at the Debs, that people knew. No one cared, really.

There was another short silence between them.

I feel guilty for all the stuff I said to you, Connell added. About how bad it would be if anyone found out. Obviously that was more in my head than anything. I mean, there was no reason why people would care. But I kind of suffer from anxiety with these things. Not that I’m making excuses, but I think I projected some anxiety onto you, if that makes sense. I don’t know. I’m still thinking about it a lot, why I acted in such a fucked-up way.

She squeezed his hand and he squeezed back, so tightly it almost hurt her, and this small gesture of desperation on his part made her smile.

I forgive you, she said.

Thank you. I think I did learn from it. And hopefully I have changed, you know, as a person. But honestly, if I have, it’s because of you.

They kept holding hands underneath the quilt, even after they went to sleep.


When they get to her apartment now she asks if he wants to come in. He says he needs to eat something and she says there are breakfast things in the fridge. They go upstairs together. Connell starts looking in the fridge while she goes to take a shower. She strips all her clothes off, turns the water pressure up as high as it goes and showers for nearly twenty minutes. Then she feels better. When she comes out, wrapped in a white bathrobe, her hair towelled dry, Connell has eaten already. His plate is clean and he’s checking his email. The room smells like coffee and frying. She goes towards him and he wipes his mouth with the back of his hand, as if he’s nervous suddenly. She stands at his chair and, looking up at her, he undoes the sash of her bathrobe. It’s been nearly a year. He touches his lips to her skin and she feels holy, like a shrine. Come to bed, then, she says. He goes with her.

Afterwards she switches on the hairdryer and he gets in the shower. Then she lies down again, listening to the sound of the pipes. She’s smiling. When Connell comes out he lies beside her, they face one another, and he touches her. Hm, she says. They have sex again, not speaking very much. After that she feels peaceful and wants to sleep. He kisses her closed eyelids. It’s not like this with other people, she says. Yeah, he says. I know. She senses there are things he isn’t saying to her. She can’t tell whether he’s holding back a desire to pull away from her, or a desire to make himself more vulnerable somehow. He kisses her neck. Her eyes are getting heavy. I think we’ll be fine, he says. She doesn’t know or can’t remember what he’s talking about. She falls asleep.

Two Months Later

(APRIL 2012)

He’s just come back from the library. Marianne has had friends over but they’re heading off when he arrives, taking their jackets from the hooks in the hallway. Peggy is the only one still sitting at the table, draining a bottle of rosé into a huge glass. Marianne is wiping down the countertop with a wet cloth. The window over the kitchen sink shows an oblong of sky, denim-blue. Connell sits at the table and Marianne takes a beer out of the fridge and opens it for him. She asks if he’s hungry and he says no. It’s warm out and the cool of the bottle feels good. Their exams are starting soon, and he usually stays in the library now until the man comes around ringing the bell to say it’s closing.

Can I just ask something? says Peggy.

He can tell she’s drunk and that Marianne would like her to leave. He would like her to leave too.

Sure, says Marianne.

You guys are fucking each other, right? Peggy says. Like, you sleep together.

Connell says nothing. He runs his thumb over the label on the beer bottle, feeling for a corner to peel off. He has no idea what Marianne will come up with: something funny, he thinks, something that will make Peggy laugh and forget the question. Instead, unexpectedly, Marianne says: Oh, yeah. He starts smiling to himself. The corner of the beer label comes away from the glass under his thumb.

Peggy laughs. Okay, she says. Good to know. Everyone is speculating, by the way.

Well, yeah, says Marianne. But it’s not a new thing, we used to hook up in school.

Oh really? Peggy says.

Marianne is pouring herself a glass of water. When she turns around, holding the glass, she looks at Connell.

I hope you don’t mind me saying that now, she says.

He shrugs, but he’s smiling at her, and she smiles back. They don’t advertise the relationship, but his friends know about it. He doesn’t like public displays, that’s all. Marianne asked him once if he was ‘ashamed’ of her but she was just joking. That’s funny, he said. Niall thinks I brag about you too much. She loved that. He doesn’t really brag about her as such, though as it happens she is very popular and a lot of other men want to sleep with her. He might brag about her occasionally, but only in a tasteful way.

You actually make a very cute couple, says Peggy.

Thanks, Connell says.

I didn’t say couple, says Marianne.

Oh, says Peggy. You mean like, you’re not exclusive? That’s cool. I wanted to try an open-relationship thing with Lorcan but he was really against it.

Marianne drags a chair back from the table and sits down. Men can be possessive, she says.

I know! says Peggy. It’s crazy. You’d think they would jump at the idea of multiple partners.

Generally I find men are a lot more concerned with limiting the freedoms of women than exercising personal freedom for themselves, says Marianne.

Is that true? Peggy says to Connell.

He looks at Marianne with a little nod, preferring her to continue. He has come to know Peggy as the loud friend who interrupts all the time. Marianne has other, preferable friends, but they never stay as late or talk as much.

I mean, when you look at the lives men are really living, it’s sad, Marianne says. They control the whole social system and this is the best they can come up with for themselves? They’re not even having fun.

Peggy laughs. Are you having fun, Connell? she says.

Hm, he says. A reasonable amount, I would say. But I agree with the point.

Would you rather live under a matriarchy? says Peggy.

Difficult to know. I’d give it a go anyway, see what it was like.

Peggy keeps laughing, as if Connell is being unbelievably witty. Don’t you enjoy your male privilege? she says.

It’s like Marianne was saying, he replies. It’s not that enjoyable to have. I mean, it is what it is, I don’t get much fun out of it.

Peggy gives a toothy grin. If I were a man, she says, I would have as many as three girlfriends. If not more.

The last corner of the label peels off Connell’s beer bottle now. It comes off more easily when the bottle is very cold, because the condensation dissolves the glue. He puts the beer on the table and starts to fold the label up into a small square. Peggy goes on talking but it doesn’t seem important to listen to her.

Things are pretty good between him and Marianne at the moment. After the library closes in the evening he walks back to her apartment, maybe picking up some food or a four-euro bottle of wine on the way. When the weather is good, the sky feels miles away, and birds wheel through limitless air and light overhead. When it rains, the city closes in, gathers around with mists; cars move slower, their headlights glowing darkly, and the faces that pass are pink with cold. Marianne cooks dinner, spaghetti or risotto, and then he washes up and tidies the kitchen. He wipes crumbs out from under the toaster and she reads him jokes from Twitter. After that they go to bed. He likes to get very deep inside her, slowly, until her breathing is loud and hard and she clutches at the pillowcase with one hand. Her body feels so small then and so open. Like this? he says. And she’s nodding her head and maybe punching her hand on the pillow, making little gasps whenever he moves.

The conversations that follow are gratifying for Connell, often taking unexpected turns and prompting him to express ideas he had never consciously formulated before. They talk about the novels he’s reading, the research she studies, the precise historical moment that they are currently living in, the difficulty of observing such a moment in process. At times he has the sensation that he and Marianne are like figure-skaters, improvising their discussions so adeptly and in such perfect synchronisation that it surprises them both. She tosses herself gracefully into the air, and each time, without knowing how he’s going to do it, he catches her. Knowing that they’ll probably have sex again before they sleep probably makes the talking more pleasurable, and he suspects that the intimacy of their discussions, often moving back and forth from the conceptual to the personal, also makes the sex feel better. Last Friday, when they were lying there afterwards, she said: That was intense, wasn’t it? He told her he always found it pretty intense. But I mean practically romantic, said Marianne. I think I was starting to have feelings for you there at one point. He smiled at the ceiling. You just have to repress all that stuff, Marianne, he said. That’s what I do.

Marianne knows how he feels about her really. Just because he gets shy in front of her friends doesn’t mean it’s not serious between them – it is. Occasionally he worries he hasn’t been sufficiently clear on this point, and after letting this worry build up for a day or so, wondering how he can approach the issue, he’ll finally say something sheepish like: You know I really like you, don’t you? And his tone will sound almost annoyed for some reason, and she’ll just laugh. Marianne has a lot of other romantic options, as everyone knows. Politics students who turn up to her parties with bottles of Moët and anecdotes about their summers in India. Committee members of college clubs, who are dressed up in black tie very frequently, and who inexplicably believe that the internal workings of student societies are interesting to normal people. Guys who make a habit of touching Marianne casually during conversation, fixing her hair or placing a hand on her back. Once, when foolishly drunk, Connell asked Marianne why these people had to be so tactile with her, and she said: You won’t touch me, but no one else is allowed to either? That put him in a terrible mood.

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