Home > Normal People(9)

Normal People(9)
Author: Sally Rooney

I bet he did get a cheeky ride, said Rob. He’d never tell us anyway.

I wouldn’t hold it against you, Eric said, she’s not a bad-looking girl when she makes an effort.

Yeah, she’s just mentally deranged, said Rachel.

Connell pretended to look for something in his locker. A thin white sweat had broken out on his hands and under his collar.

You’re all being nasty, said Lisa. What has she ever done to any of you?

The question is what she’s done to Waldron, said Eric. Look at him hiding in his locker there. Come on, spit it out. Did you shift her?

No, he said.

Well, I feel sorry for her, said Lisa.

Me too, said Eric. I think you should make it up to her, Connell. I think you should ask her to the Debs.

They all erupted in laughter. Connell closed his locker and walked out of the room carrying his schoolbag limply in his right hand. He heard the others calling after him, but he didn’t turn around. When he got to the bathroom he locked himself in a cubicle. The yellow walls bore down on him and his face was slick with sweat. He kept thinking of himself saying to Marianne in bed: I love you. It was terrifying, like watching himself committing a terrible crime on CCTV. And soon she would be in school, putting her books in her bag, smiling to herself, never knowing anything. You’re a nice person and everyone likes you. He took one deep uncomfortable breath and then threw up.


He indicates left coming out of the hospital to get back on the N16. A pain has settled behind his eyes. They drive along the Mall with banks of dark trees flanking them on either side.

Are you alright? says Lorraine.


You’ve got a look on you.

He breathes in, so his seatbelt digs into his ribs a little bit, and then exhales.

I asked Rachel to the Debs, he says.


I asked Rachel Moran to go to the Debs with me.

They’re about to pass a garage and Lorraine taps the window quickly and says: Pull in here. Connell looks over, confused. What? he says. She taps the window again, harder, and her nails click on the glass. Pull in, she says again. He hits the indicator quickly, checks the mirror, and then pulls in and stops the car. By the side of the garage someone is hosing down a van, water running off in dark rivers.

Do you want something from the shop? he says.

Who is Marianne going to the Debs with?

Connell squeezes the steering wheel absently. I don’t know, he says. You hardly made me park here just to have a discussion, did you?

So maybe no one will ask her, says Lorraine. And she just won’t go.

Yeah, maybe. I don’t know.

On the walk back from lunch today he hung back behind the others. He knew Rachel would see him and wait with him, he knew that. And when she did, he screwed his eyes almost shut so the world was a whitish-grey colour and said: Here, do you have a date to the Debs yet? She said no. He asked if she wanted to go with him. Alright then, she said. I have to say, I was hoping for something a bit more romantic. He didn’t reply to that, because he felt as if he had just jumped off a high precipice and fallen to his death, and he was glad he was dead, he never wanted to be alive again.

Does Marianne know you’re taking someone else? says Lorraine.

Not as of yet. I will tell her.

Lorraine covers her mouth with her hand, so he can’t make out her expression: she might be surprised, or concerned, or she might be about to get sick.

And you don’t think maybe you should have asked her? she says. Seeing as how you fuck her every day after school.

That is vile language to use.

Lorraine’s nostrils flare white when she inhales. How would you like me to put it? she says. I suppose I should say you’ve been using her for sex, is that more accurate?

Would you relax for a second? No one is using anyone.

How did you get her to keep quiet about it? Did you tell her something bad would happen if she told on you?

Jesus, he says. Obviously not. It was agreed, okay? You’re getting it way out of proportion now.

Lorraine nods to herself, staring out the windshield. Nervously he waits for her to say something.

People in school don’t like her, do they? says Lorraine. So I suppose you were afraid of what they would say about you, if they found out.

He doesn’t respond.

Well, I’ll tell what I have to say about you, Lorraine says. I think you’re a disgrace. I’m ashamed of you.

He wipes his forehead with his sleeve. Lorraine, he says.

She opens the passenger door.

Where are you going? he says.

I’ll get the bus home.

What are you talking about? Act normal, will you?

If I stay in the car, I’m only going to say things I’ll regret.

What is this? he says. Why do you care if I go with someone or I don’t, anyway? It’s nothing to do with you.

She pushes the door wide and climbs out of the car. You’re being so weird, he says. In response she slams the door shut, hard. He tightens his hands painfully on the steering wheel but stays quiet. It’s my fucking car! he could say. Did I say you could slam the door, did I? Lorraine is walking away already, her handbag knocking against her hip with the pace of her stride. He watches her until she turns the corner. Two and a half years he worked in the garage after school to buy this car, and all he uses it for is driving his mother around because she doesn’t have a licence. He could go after her now, roll the window down, shout at her to get back in. He almost feels like doing it, though she’d only ignore him. Instead he sits in the driver’s seat, head tipped back against the headrest, listening to his own idiotic breathing. A crow on the forecourt picks at a discarded crisp packet. A family comes out of the shop holding ice creams. The smell of petrol infiltrates the car interior, heavy like a headache. He starts the engine.

Four Months Later

(AUGUST 2011)

She’s in the garden, wearing sunglasses. The weather has been fine for a few days now, and her arms are getting freckled. She hears the back door open but doesn’t move. Alan’s voice calls from the patio: Annie Kearney’s after getting five-seventy! Marianne doesn’t respond. She feels in the grass beside her chair for the sun lotion, and when she sits up to apply it, she notices that Alan is on the phone.

Someone in your year got six hundred, hey! he yells.

She pours a little lotion into the palm of her left hand.

Marianne! Alan says. Someone got six A1s, I said!

She nods. She smooths the lotion slowly over her right arm, so it glistens. Alan is trying to find out who got six hundred points. Marianne knows right away who it must be, but she says nothing. She applies some lotion to her left arm and then, quietly, lies back down in the deckchair, face to the sun, and closes her eyes. Behind her eyelids waves of light move in green and red.

She hasn’t eaten breakfast or lunch today, except two cups of sweetened coffee with milk. Her appetite is small this summer. When she wakes up in the morning she opens her laptop on the opposite pillow and waits for her eyes to adjust to the rectangle glow of the screen so she can read the news. She reads long articles about Syria and then researches the ideological backgrounds of the journalists who have written them. She reads long articles about the sovereign debt crisis in Europe and zooms in to see the small print on the graphs. After that she usually either goes back to sleep or gets in the shower, or maybe lies down and makes herself come. The rest of the day follows a similar pattern, with minor variations: maybe she opens her curtains, maybe not; maybe breakfast, or maybe just coffee, which she takes upstairs to her room so she doesn’t have to see her family. This morning was different, of course.

Here, Marianne, says Alan. It’s Waldron! Connell Waldron got six hundred points!

She doesn’t move. Into the phone Alan says: No, she only got five-ninety. I’d say she’s raging now someone did better than her. Are you raging, Marianne? She hears him but says nothing. Under the lenses of her sunglasses her eyelids feel greasy. An insect whirrs past her ear and away.

Is Waldron there with you, is he? says Alan. Put him on to me.

Why are you calling him ‘Waldron’ like he’s your friend? Marianne says. You hardly know him.

Alan looks up from the phone, smirking. I know him well, he says. I saw him at Eric’s gaff there the last day.

She regrets speaking. Alan is pacing up and down the patio, she can hear the gritty sound of his footsteps as he comes down towards the grass. Someone on the other end of the line starts talking, and Alan breaks into a bright, strained-looking smile. How are you now? he says. Fair play, congratulations. Connell’s voice is quiet, so Marianne can’t hear it. Alan is still smiling the effortful smile. He always gets like this around other people, cringing and sycophantic.

Yeah, Alan says. She did well, yeah. Not as well as yourself! Five-ninety she got. Do you want me to put her on to you?

Marianne looks up. Alan is joking. He thinks Connell will say no. He can’t think of any reason why Connell would want to speak to Marianne, a friendless loser, on the phone; particularly not on this special day. Instead he says yes. Alan’s smile falters. Yeah, he says, no bother. He holds the phone out for Marianne to take it. Marianne shakes her head. Alan’s eyes widen. He jerks his hand towards her. Here, he says. He wants to talk to you. She shakes her head again. Alan prods the phone into her chest now, roughly. He’s on the phone for you, Marianne, says Alan.

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