Home > Normal People(10)

Normal People(10)
Author: Sally Rooney

I don’t want to speak to him, says Marianne.

Alan’s face takes on a wild expression of fury, with the whites of his eyes showing all around. He jabs the phone harder into her sternum, hurting her. Say hello, he says. She can hear Connell’s voice buzzing in the receiver. The sun glares down onto her face. She takes the phone from Alan’s hand and, with a swipe of her finger, hangs up the call. Alan stands over the deckchair staring. There is no sound in the garden for a few seconds. Then, in a low voice, he says: What the fuck did you do that for?

I didn’t want to speak to him, she says. I told you.

He wanted to speak to you.

Yes, I know he did.

It’s unusually bright today, and Alan’s shadow on the grass has a vivid, stark quality. She’s still holding out the phone, loose in the palm of her hand, waiting for her brother to accept it.


In April, Connell told her he was taking Rachel Moran to the Debs. Marianne was sitting on the side of his bed at the time, acting very cold and humorous, which made him awkward. He told her it wasn’t ‘romantic’, and that he and Rachel were just friends.

You mean like we’re just friends, said Marianne.

Well, no, he said. Different.

But are you sleeping with her?

No. When would I even have time?

Do you want to? said Marianne.

I’m not hugely gone on the idea. I don’t feel like I’m that insatiable really, I do already have you.

Marianne stared down at her fingernails.

That was a joke, Connell said.

I don’t get what the joke part was.

I know you’re pissed off with me.

I don’t really care, she said. I just think if you want to sleep with her you should tell me.

Yeah, and I will tell you, if I ever want to do that. You’re saying that’s what the issue is, but I honestly don’t think that’s what it is.

Marianne snapped: What is it, then? He just stared at her. She went back to looking at her fingernails, flushed. He didn’t say anything. Eventually she laughed, because she wasn’t totally without spirit, and it obviously was kind of funny, just how savagely he had humiliated her, and his inability to apologise or even admit he had done it. She went home then and straight to bed, where she slept for thirteen hours without waking.

The next morning she quit school. It wasn’t possible to go back, however she looked at it. No one else would invite her to the Debs, that was clear. She had organised the fundraisers, she had booked the venue, but she wouldn’t be able to attend the event. Everyone would know that, and some of them would be glad, and even the most sympathetic ones could only feel a terrible second-hand embarrassment. Instead she stayed home in her room all day with the curtains closed, studying and sleeping at strange hours. Her mother was furious. Doors were slammed. On two separate occasions Marianne’s dinner was scraped into the bin. Still, she was an adult woman, and no one could make her dress up in a uniform anymore and submit to being stared at or whispered about.

A week after she left school she walked into the kitchen and saw Lorraine kneeling on the floor to clean the oven. Lorraine straightened up slightly, and wiped her forehead with the part of her wrist exposed above her rubber glove. Marianne swallowed.

Hello, sweetheart, Lorraine said. I hear you’ve been out of school for a few days. Is everything okay?

Yeah, I’m fine, said Marianne. Actually I’m not going back to school. I find I get more done if I just stay at home and study.

Lorraine nodded and said: Suit yourself. Then she went back to scrubbing the inside of the oven. Marianne opened the fridge to look for the orange juice.

My son tells me you’re ignoring his phone calls, Lorraine added.

Marianne paused, and the silence in the kitchen was loud in her ears, like the white noise of rushing water. Yes, she said. I am, I suppose.

Good for you, said Lorraine. He doesn’t deserve you.

Marianne felt a relief so high and sudden that it was almost like panic. She put the orange juice on the counter and closed the fridge.

Lorraine, she said, can you ask him not to come over here anymore? Like if he has to collect you or anything, is it okay if he doesn’t come in the house?

Oh, he’s permanently barred as far as I’m concerned. You don’t need to worry about that. I have half a mind to kick him out of my own house.

Marianne smiled, feeling awkward. He didn’t do anything that bad, she said. I mean, compared to the other people in school he was actually pretty nice, to be honest.

At this Lorraine stood up and stripped off her gloves. Without speaking, she put her arms around Marianne and embraced her very tightly. In a strange, cramped voice Marianne said: It’s okay. I’m fine. Don’t worry about me.

It was true what she had said about Connell. He didn’t do anything that bad. He had never tried to delude her into thinking she was socially acceptable; she’d deluded herself. He had just been using her as a kind of private experiment, and her willingness to be used had probably shocked him. He pitied her in the end, but she also repulsed him. In a way she feels sorry for him now, because he has to live with the fact that he had sex with her, of his own free choice, and he liked it. That says more about him, the supposedly ordinary and healthy person, than it does about her. She never went back to school again except to sit the exams. By then people were saying she had been in the mental hospital. None of that mattered now anyway.


Are you angry he did better than you? says her brother.

Marianne laughs. And why shouldn’t she laugh? Her life here in Carricklea is over, and either a new life will begin, or it won’t. Soon she will be packing things into suitcases: woollen jumpers, skirts, her two silk dresses. A set of teacups and saucers patterned with flowers. A hairdryer, a frying pan, four white cotton towels. A coffee pot. The objects of a new existence.

No, she says.

Why wouldn’t you say hello to him, then?

Ask him. If you’re such good friends with him, you should ask him. He knows.

Alan makes a fist with his left hand. It doesn’t matter, it’s over. Lately Marianne walks around Carricklea and thinks how beautiful it is in sunny weather, white clouds like chalk dust over the library, long avenues lined with trees. The arc of a tennis ball through blue air. Cars slowing at traffic lights with their windows rolled down, music bleating from the speakers. Marianne wonders what it would be like to belong here, to walk down the street greeting people and smiling. To feel that life was happening here, in this place, and not somewhere else far away.

What does that mean? says Alan.

Ask Connell Waldron why we’re not speaking anymore. Call him back now if you want to, I’d be interested to hear what he has to say.

Alan bites down on the knuckle of his index finger. His arm is shaking. In just a few weeks’ time Marianne will live with different people, and life will be different. But she herself will not be different. She’ll be the same person, trapped inside her own body. There’s nowhere she can go that would free her from this. A different place, different people, what does that matter? Alan releases his knuckle from his mouth.

Like he fucking cares, says Alan. I’m surprised he even knows your name.

Oh, we used to be quite close actually. You can ask him about that too, if you want. Might make you a bit uncomfortable, though.

Before Alan can respond, they hear someone calling out from inside the house, and a door closing. Their mother is home. Alan looks up, his expression changes, and Marianne feels her own face moving around involuntarily. He glances down at her. You shouldn’t tell lies about people, he says. Marianne nods, says nothing. Don’t tell Mam about this, he says. Marianne shakes her head. No, she agrees. But it wouldn’t matter if she did tell her, not really. Denise decided a long time ago that it is acceptable for men to use aggression towards Marianne as a way of expressing themselves. As a child Marianne resisted, but now she simply detaches, as if it isn’t of any interest to her, which in a way it isn’t. Denise considers this a symptom of her daughter’s frigid and unlovable personality. She believes Marianne lacks ‘warmth’, by which she means the ability to beg for love from people who hate her. Alan goes back inside now. Marianne hears the patio door slide shut.

Three Months Later


Connell doesn’t know anyone at the party. The person who invited him isn’t the same person who answered the door and, with an indifferent shrug, let him inside. He still hasn’t seen the person who invited him, a person called Gareth, who’s in his Critical Theory seminar. Connell knew going to a party on his own would be a bad idea, but on the phone Lorraine said it would be a good idea. I won’t know anyone, he told her. And she said patiently: You won’t get to know anyone if you don’t go out and meet people. Now he’s here, standing on his own in a crowded room not knowing whether to take his jacket off. It feels practically scandalous to be lingering here in solitude. He feels as if everyone around him is disturbed by his presence, and trying not to stare.

Finally, just as he decides to leave, Gareth comes in. Connell’s intense relief at seeing Gareth triggers another wave of self-loathing, since he doesn’t even know Gareth very well or particularly like him. Gareth puts his hand out and desperately, bizarrely, Connell finds himself shaking it. It’s a low moment in his adult life. People are watching them shake hands, Connell is certain of this. Good to see you, man, says Gareth. Good to see you. I like the backpack, very nineties. Connell is wearing a completely plain navy backpack with no features to distinguish it from any of the other numerous backpacks at the party.

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)