Home > Normal People(8)

Normal People(8)
Author: Sally Rooney

The other night Marianne told him that she thought he’d turned out well as a person. She said he was nice, and that everyone liked him. He found himself thinking about that a lot. It was a pleasant thing to have in his thoughts. You’re a nice person and everyone likes you. To test himself he would try not thinking about it for a bit, and then go back and think about it again to see if it still made him feel good, and it did. For some reason he wished he could tell Lorraine what she’d said. He felt it would reassure her somehow, but about what? That her only son was not a worthless person after all? That she hadn’t wasted her life?

And I hear you’re off to Trinity College, his grandmother says.

Yeah, if I get the points.

What put Trinity into your head?

He shrugs. She laughs, but it’s like a scoffing laugh. Oh, good enough for you, she says. What are you going to study?

Connell resists the impulse to take his phone from his pocket and check the time. English, he says. His aunts and uncles are all very impressed with his decision to put Trinity as his first choice, which embarrasses him. He’ll qualify for the full maintenance grant if he does get in, but even at that he’ll have to work full-time over the summer and at least part-time during term. Lorraine says she doesn’t want him having to work too much through college, she wants him to focus on his degree. That makes him feel bad, because it’s not like English is a real degree you can get a job out of, it’s just a joke, and then he thinks he probably should have applied for Law after all.

Lorraine comes back into the ward now. Her shoes make a flat, clapping noise on the tiles. She starts to talk to his grandmother about the consultant who’s on leave and about Dr O’Malley and the X-ray. She relays all this information very carefully, writing down the most important things on a piece of notepaper. Finally, after his grandmother kisses his face, they leave the ward. He disinfects his hands in the corridor while Lorraine waits. Then they go down the stairs and out of the hospital, into the bright, clammy sunshine.


After the fundraiser the other night, Marianne told him this thing about her family. He didn’t know what to say. He started telling her that he loved her. It just happened, like drawing your hand back when you touch something hot. She was crying and everything, and he just said it without thinking. Was it true? He didn’t know enough to know that. At first he thought it must have been true, since he said it, and why would he lie? But then he remembered he does lie sometimes, without planning to or knowing why. It wasn’t the first time he’d had the urge to tell Marianne that he loved her, whether or not it was true, but it was the first time he’d given in and said it. He noticed how long it took her to say anything in response, and how her pause had bothered him, as if she might not say it back, and when she did say it he felt better, but maybe that meant nothing. Connell wished he knew how other people conducted their private lives, so that he could copy from example.

The next morning they woke up to the sound of Lorraine’s keys in the door. It was bright outside, his mouth was dry, and Marianne was sitting up and pulling her clothes on. All she said was: Sorry, I’m sorry. They must have fallen asleep without meaning to. He had been planning to drop her home the night before. She put her shoes on and he got dressed too. Lorraine was standing in the hallway with two plastic bags of groceries when they reached the stairs. Marianne was wearing her dress from the night before, the black one with the straps.

Hello, sweetheart, said Lorraine.

Marianne’s face looked bright like a light bulb. Sorry to intrude, she said.

Connell didn’t touch her or speak to her. His chest hurt. She walked out the front door saying: Bye, sorry, thanks, sorry again. She shut the door behind her before he was even down the stairs.

Lorraine pressed her lips together like she was trying not to laugh. You can help me with the groceries, she said. She handed him one of the bags. He followed her into the kitchen and put the bag down on the table without looking at it. Rubbing his neck, he watched her unwrapping and putting away the items.

What’s so funny? he said.

There’s no need for her to run off like that just because I’m home, said Lorraine. I’m only delighted to see her, you know I’m very fond of Marianne.

He watched his mother fold away the reusable plastic bag.

Did you think I didn’t know? she said.

He closed his eyes for a few seconds and then opened them again. He shrugged.

Well, I knew someone was coming over here in the afternoons, said Lorraine. And I do work in her house, you know.

He nodded, unable to speak.

You must really like her, said Lorraine.

Why do you say that?

Isn’t that why you’re going to Trinity?

He put his face in his hands. Lorraine was laughing then, he could hear her. You’re making me not want to go there now, he said.

Oh, stop that.

He looked in the grocery bag he had left on the table and removed a packet of dried spaghetti. Self-consciously he brought it over to the press beside the fridge and put it with the other pasta.

So is Marianne your girlfriend, then? said Lorraine.


What does that mean? You’re having sex with her but she’s not your girlfriend?

You’re prying into my life now, he said. I don’t like that, it’s not your business.

He returned to the bag and removed a carton of eggs, which he placed on the countertop beside the sunflower oil.

Is it because of her mother? said Lorraine. You think she’d frown on you?


Because she might, you know.

Frown on me? said Connell. That’s insane, what have I ever done?

I think she might consider us a little bit beneath her station.

He stared at his mother across the kitchen while she put a box of own-brand cornflakes into the press. The idea that Marianne’s family considered themselves superior to himself and Lorraine, too good to be associated with them, had never occurred to him before. He found, to his surprise, that the idea made him furious.

What, she thinks we’re not good enough for them? he said.

I don’t know. We might find out.

She doesn’t mind you cleaning their house but she doesn’t want your son hanging around with her daughter? What an absolute joke. That’s like something from nineteenth-century times, I’m actually laughing at that.

You don’t sound like you’re laughing, said Lorraine.

Believe me, I am. It’s hilarious to me.

Lorraine closed the press and turned to look at him curiously.

What’s all the secrecy about, then? she said. If not for Denise Sheridan’s sake. Does Marianne have a boyfriend or something, and you don’t want him to find out?

You’re getting so intrusive with these questions.

So she does have a boyfriend, then.

No, he said. But that’s the last question I’m answering from you.

Lorraine’s eyebrows moved around but she said nothing. He crumpled up the empty plastic bag on the table and then paused there with the bag screwed up in his hand.

You’re hardly going to tell anyone, are you? he said.

This is starting to sound very shady. Why shouldn’t I tell anyone?

Feeling quite hard-hearted, he replied: Because there would be no benefit to you, and a lot of annoyance for me. He thought for a moment and added shrewdly: And Marianne.

Oh god, said Lorraine. I don’t even think I want to know.

He continued waiting, feeling that she hadn’t quite unambiguously promised not to tell anyone, and she threw her hands up in exasperation and said: I have more interesting things to gossip about than your sex life, okay? Don’t worry.

He went upstairs then and sat on his bed. He didn’t know how much time passed while he sat there like that. He was thinking about Marianne’s family, about the idea that she was too good for him, and also about what she had told him the night before. He’d heard from guys in school that sometimes girls made up stories about themselves for attention, saying bad things had happened to them and stuff like that. And it was a pretty attention-grabbing story Marianne had told him, about her dad beating her up when she was a small child. Also, the dad was dead now, so he wasn’t around to defend himself. Connell could see it was possible that Marianne had just lied to get his sympathy, but he also knew, as clearly as he knew anything, that she hadn’t. If anything he felt like she’d been holding back on telling him how bad it really was. It gave him a queasy feeling, to have this information about her, to be tied to her in this way.

That was yesterday. This morning he was early to school, as usual, and Rob and Eric started fake-cheering when he came to put his books in his locker. He dumped his bag on the floor, ignoring them. Eric slung an arm around his shoulder and said: Go on, tell us. Did you get the ride the other night? Connell felt in his pocket for his locker key and shrugged off Eric’s arm. Funny, he said.

I heard you looked very cosy heading off together, said Rob.

Did anything happen? Eric said. Be honest.

No, obviously, said Connell.

Why is that obvious? Rachel said. Everyone knows she fancies you.

Rachel was sitting up on the windowsill with her legs swinging slowly back and forth, long and inky-black in opaque tights. Connell didn’t meet her eye. Lisa was sitting on the floor against the lockers, finishing homework. Karen wasn’t in yet. He wished Karen would come in.

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