Home > Normal People(13)

Normal People(13)
Author: Sally Rooney

It’s not.

They both smile, a half-repressed smile of amusement. Connell puts the empty bottle on the countertop and looks at Marianne. She smooths down her dress.

You look really well, he says.

I know. It’s classic me, I came to college and got pretty.

He starts laughing. He doesn’t even want to laugh but something about the weird dynamic between them is making him do it. ‘Classic me’ is a very Marianne thing to say, a little self-mocking, and at the same time gesturing to some mutual understanding between them, an understanding that she is special. Her dress is cut low at the front, showing her pale collarbones like two white hyphens.

You were always pretty, he says. I should know, I’m a shallow guy. You’re very pretty, you’re beautiful.

She’s not laughing now. She makes a kind of funny expression with her face and pushes her hair back off her forehead.

Oh well, she says. I haven’t heard that one in a while.

Does Gareth not tell you you’re beautiful? Or he’s too busy with like, amateur drama or something.

Debating. And you’re being very cruel.

Debating? says Connell. Jesus, don’t tell me he’s involved in this Nazi thing, is he?

Marianne’s lips become a thin line. Connell doesn’t read the campus papers much, but he has still managed to hear about the debating society inviting a neo-Nazi to give a speech. It’s all over social media. There was even an article in The Irish Times. Connell hasn’t commented on any of the Facebook threads, but he has liked several comments calling for the invite to be rescinded, which is probably the most strident political action he has ever taken in his life.

Well, we don’t see eye to eye on everything, she says.

Connell laughs, happy for some reason to find her being so uncharacteristically weak and unscrupulous.

I thought I was bad going out with Rachel Moran, he says. Your boyfriend’s a Holocaust denier.

Oh, he’s just into free speech.

Yeah, that’s good. Thank god for white moderates. As I believe Dr King once wrote.

She laughs then, sincerely. Her little teeth flash again and she lifts a hand to cover her mouth. He swallows some more of the drink and takes in her sweet expression, which he has missed, and it feels like a nice scene between them, although later on he’ll probably hate everything he said to her. Okay, she says, we’ve both failed on ideological purity. Connell considers saying: I hope he’s really good in bed, Marianne. She would definitely find it funny. For some reason, probably shyness, he doesn’t say it. She looks at him with narrowed eyes and says: Are you seeing anyone problematic at the moment?

No, he says. Not even anyone good.

Marianne gives a curious smile. Finding it hard to meet people? she says.

He shrugs and then, vaguely, nods his head. Bit different from home, isn’t it? he says.

I have some girlfriends I could introduce you to.

Oh yeah?

Yeah, I have those now, she says.

Not sure I’d be their type.

They look at one another. She’s a little flushed, and her lipstick is smudged just slightly on her lower lip. Her gaze unsettles him like it used to, like looking into a mirror, seeing something that has no secrets from you.

What does that mean? she says.

I don’t know.

What’s not to like about you?

He smiles and looks into his glass. If Niall could see Marianne, he would say: Don’t tell me. You like her. It’s true she is Connell’s type, maybe even the originary model of the type: elegant, bored-looking, with an impression of perfect self-assurance. And he’s attracted to her, he can admit that. After these months away from home, life seems much larger, and his personal dramas less significant. He’s not the same anxious, repressed person he was in school, when his attraction to her felt terrifying, like an oncoming train, and he threw her under it. He knows she’s acting funny and coy because she wants to show him that she’s not bitter. He could say: I’m really sorry for what I did to you, Marianne. He always thought, if he did see her again, that’s what he would say. Somehow she doesn’t seem to admit that possibility, or maybe he’s being cowardly, or both.

I don’t know, he says. Good question, I don’t know.

Three Months Later


Marianne gets in the front seat of Connell’s car and closes the door. Her hair is unwashed and she pulls her feet up onto the seat to tie her shoelaces. She smells like fruit liqueur, not in a bad way but not in a fully good way either. Connell gets in and starts the engine. She glances at him.

Is your seatbelt on? he says.

He’s looking in the rear-view mirror like it’s a normal day. Actually it’s the morning after a house party in Swords and Connell wasn’t drinking and Marianne was, so nothing is normal. She puts her seatbelt on obediently, to show that they’re still friends.

Sorry about last night, she says.

She tries to pronounce this in a way that communicates several things: apology, painful embarrassment, some additional feigned embarrassment that serves to ironise and dilute the painful kind, a sense that she knows she will be forgiven or is already, a desire not to ‘make a big deal’.

Forget about it, he says.

Well, I’m sorry.

It’s alright.

Connell is pulling out of the driveway now. He has seemingly dismissed the incident, but for some reason this doesn’t satisfy her. She wants him to acknowledge what happened before he lets her move on, or maybe she just wants to make herself suffer unduly.

It wasn’t appropriate, she says.

Look, you were pretty drunk.

That’s not an excuse.

And high out of your mind, he says, which I only found out later.

Yeah. I felt like an attacker.

Now he laughs. She pulls her knees against her chest and holds her elbows in her hands.

You didn’t attack me, he says. These things happen.


This is the thing that happened. Connell drove Marianne to a mutual friend’s house for a birthday party. They had arranged to stay the night there and Connell would drive her back the next morning. On the way they listened to Vampire Weekend and Marianne drank from a silver flask of gin and talked about the Reagan administration. You’re getting drunk, Connell told her in the car. You know, you have a very nice face, she said. Other people have actually said that to me, about your face.

By midnight Connell had wandered off somewhere at the party and Marianne had found her friends Peggy and Joanna in the shed. They were drinking a bottle of Cointreau together and smoking. Peggy was wearing a beaten-up leather jacket and striped linen trousers. Her hair was loose around her shoulders, and she was constantly throwing it to one side and raking a hand through it. Joanna was sitting on top of the freezer unit in her socks. She was wearing a long shapeless garment like a maternity dress, with a shirt underneath. Marianne leaned against the washing machine and retrieved her gin flask from her pocket. Peggy and Joanna had been talking about men’s fashion, and in particular the fashion sense of their own male friends. Marianne was content just to stand there, allowing the washing machine to support most of her body weight, swishing gin around the inside of her mouth, and listening to her friends speaking.

Both Peggy and Joanna are studying History and Politics with Marianne. Joanna is already planning her final-year thesis on James Connolly and the Irish Trades Union Congress. She’s always recommending books and articles, which Marianne reads or half-reads or reads summaries of. People see Joanna as a serious person, which she is, but she can also be very funny. Peggy doesn’t really ‘get’ Joanna’s humour, because Peggy’s form of charisma is more terrifying and sexy than it is comic. At a party before Christmas, Peggy cut Marianne a line of cocaine in their friend Declan’s bathroom, and Marianne actually took it, or most of it anyway. It had no appreciable effect on her mood, except that for days afterwards she felt alternately amused at the idea that she had done it and guilty. She hasn’t told Joanna about that. She knows Joanna would disapprove, because Marianne herself also disapproves, but when Joanna disapproves of things she doesn’t go ahead and do them anyway.

Joanna wants to work in journalism, while Peggy doesn’t seem to want to work at all. So far this hasn’t been an issue for her, because she meets a lot of men who like to fund her lifestyle by buying her handbags and expensive drugs. She favours slightly older men who work for investment banks or accounting agencies, twenty-seven-year-olds with lots of money and sensible lawyer girlfriends at home. Joanna once asked Peggy if she ever thought she herself might one day be a twenty-seven-year-old whose boyfriend would stay out all night taking cocaine with a teenager. Peggy wasn’t remotely insulted, she thought it was really funny. She said she would be married to a Russian oligarch by then anyway and she didn’t care how many girlfriends he had. It makes Marianne wonder what she herself is going to do after college. Almost no paths seem definitively closed to her, not even the path of marrying an oligarch. When she goes out at night, men shout the most outrageously vulgar things at her on the street, so obviously they’re not ashamed to desire her, quite the contrary. And in college she often feels there’s no limit to what her brain can do, it can synthesise everything she puts into it, it’s like having a powerful machine inside her head. Really she has everything going for her. She has no idea what she’s going to do with her life.

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