Home > Normal People(7)

Normal People(7)
Author: Sally Rooney

Up the hall the door comes open again and Karen comes out, with Eric and Rachel and Connell following. They see Marianne on the floor and Karen runs over to her while the other three stay standing where they are, not knowing what to do maybe, or not wanting to do anything. Karen hunches down in front of Marianne and touches her hand. Marianne’s eyes are sore and she doesn’t know where to look.

Are you alright? Karen says.

I’m fine, says Marianne. I’m sorry. I think I just had too much to drink.

Leave her, says Rachel.

Here, look, it was just a bit of fun, says Eric. Pat’s actually a sound enough guy if you get to know him.

I think it was funny, says Rachel.

At this Karen snaps around and looks at them. Why are you even out here if you think it was so funny? she says. Why don’t you go and pal around with your best friend Pat? If you think it’s so funny to molest young girls?

How is Marianne young? says Eric.

We were all laughing at the time, says Rachel.

That’s not true, says Connell.

Everyone looks around at him then. Marianne looks at him. Their eyes meet.

Are you okay, are you? he says.

Oh, do you want to kiss her better? says Rachel.

His face is flushed now, and he touches a hand to his brow. Everyone is still watching him. The wall feels cold against Marianne’s back.

Rachel, he says, would you ever fuck off?

Karen and Eric exchange a look then, eyes wide, Marianne can see them. Connell never speaks or acts like this in school. In all these years she has never seen him behave at all aggressively, even when taunted. Rachel just tosses her head and walks back inside the club. The door falls shut heavily on its hinges. Connell continues rubbing his brow for a second. Karen mouths something at Eric, Marianne doesn’t know what it is. Then Connell looks at Marianne and says: Do you want to go home? I’m driving, I can drop you. She nods her head. Karen helps her up from the floor. Connell puts his hands in his pockets as if to prevent himself touching her by accident. Sorry for making a fuss, Marianne says to Karen. I feel stupid. I’m not used to drinking.

It’s not your fault, says Karen.

Thank you for being so nice, Marianne says.

They squeeze hands once more. Marianne follows Connell towards the exit then and around the side of the hotel, to where his car is parked. It’s dark and cool out here, with the sound of music from the nightclub pulsing faintly behind them. She gets in the passenger seat and puts her seatbelt on. He closes the driver’s door and puts his keys in the ignition.

Sorry for making a fuss, she says again.

You didn’t, says Connell. I’m sorry the others were being so stupid about it. They just think Pat is great because he has these parties in his house sometimes. Apparently if you have house parties it’s okay to mess with people, I don’t know.

It really hurt. What he did.

Connell says nothing then. He just kneads the steering wheel with his hands. He looks down into his lap, and exhales quickly, almost like a cough. Sorry, he says. Then he starts the car. They drive for a few minutes in silence, Marianne cooling her forehead against the window.

Do you want to come back to my house for a bit? he says.

Is Lorraine not there?

He shrugs. He taps his fingers on the wheel. She’s probably in bed already, he says. I mean we could just hang out for a bit before I drop you home. It’s okay if you don’t want to.

What if she’s still up?

Honestly she’s pretty relaxed about this sort of stuff anyway. Like I really don’t think she would care.

Marianne stares out the window at the passing town. She knows what he’s saying: that he doesn’t mind if his mother finds out about them. Maybe she already knows.

Lorraine seems like a really good parent, Marianne remarks.

Yeah. I think so.

She must be proud of you. You’re the only boy in school who’s actually turned out well as an adult.

Connell glances over at her. How have I turned out well? he says.

What do you mean? Everyone likes you. And unlike most people you’re actually a nice person.

He makes a facial expression she can’t interpret, kind of raising his eyebrows, or frowning. When they get back to his house the windows are all dark and Lorraine is in bed. In Connell’s room he and Marianne lie down together whispering. He tells her that she’s beautiful. She has never heard that before, though she has sometimes privately suspected it of herself, but it feels different to hear it from another person. She touches his hand to her breast where it hurts, and he kisses her. Her face is wet, she’s been crying. He kisses her neck. Are you okay? he says. When she nods, he smooths her hair back and says: It’s alright to be upset, you know. She lies with her face against his chest. She feels like a soft piece of cloth that is wrung out and dripping.

You would never hit a girl, would you? she says.

God, no. Of course not. Why would you ask that?

I don’t know.

Do you think I’m the kind of person who would go around hitting girls? he says.

She presses her face very hard against his chest. My dad used to hit my mum, she says. For a few seconds, which seems like an unbelievably long time, Connell says nothing. Then he says: Jesus. I’m sorry. I didn’t know that.

It’s okay, she says.

Did he ever hit you?


Connell is silent again. He leans down and kisses her on the forehead. I would never hurt you, okay? he says. Never. She nods and says nothing. You make me really happy, he says. His hand moves over her hair and he adds: I love you. I’m not just saying that, I really do. Her eyes fill up with tears again and she closes them. Even in memory she will find this moment unbearably intense, and she’s aware of this now, while it’s happening. She has never believed herself fit to be loved by any person. But now she has a new life, of which this is the first moment, and even after many years have passed she will still think: Yes, that was it, the beginning of my life.

Two Days Later

(APRIL 2011)

He stands at the side of the bed while his mother goes to find one of the nurses. Is that all you have on you? his grandmother says.

Hm? says Connell.

Is that jumper all you have on you?

Oh, he says. Yeah.

You’ll freeze. You’ll be in here yourself.

His grandmother slipped in the Aldi car park this morning and fell on her hip. She’s not old like some of the other patients, she’s only fifty-eight. The same age as Marianne’s mother, Connell thinks. Anyway, it looks like his grandmother’s hip is kind of messed up now and possibly broken, and Connell had to drive Lorraine into Sligo town to visit the hospital. In the bed across the ward someone is coughing.

I’m alright, he says. It’s warm out.

His grandmother sighs, like his commentary on the weather is painful to her. It probably is, because everything he does is painful to her, because she hates him for being alive. She looks him up and down with a critical expression.

Well, you certainly don’t take after your mother, do you? she says.

Yeah, he says. No.

Physically Lorraine and Connell are different types. Lorraine is blonde and has a soft face without edges. The guys in school think she’s attractive, which they tell Connell often. She probably is attractive, so what, it doesn’t offend him. Connell has darker hair and a hard-looking face, like an artist’s impression of a criminal. He knows, however, that his grandmother’s point is unrelated to his physical appearance and is meant as a remark on his paternity. So, okay, he has nothing to say on that.

No one except Lorraine knows who Connell’s father is. She says he can ask any time he wants to know, but he really doesn’t care to. On nights out his friends sometimes raise the subject of his father, like it’s something deep and meaningful they can only talk about when they’re drunk. Connell finds this depressing. He never thinks about the man who got Lorraine pregnant, why would he? His friends seem so obsessed with their own fathers, obsessed with emulating them or being different from them in specific ways. When they fight with their fathers, the fights always seem to mean one thing on the surface but conceal another secret meaning beneath. When Connell fights with Lorraine, it’s usually about something like leaving a wet towel on the couch, and that’s it, it’s really about the towel, or at most it’s about whether Connell is fundamentally careless in his tendencies, because he wants Lorraine to see him as a responsible person despite his habit of leaving towels everywhere, and Lorraine says if it was so important to him to be seen as responsible, he would show it in his actions, that kind of thing.

He drove Lorraine to the polling station to vote at the end of February, and on the way she asked who he was going to vote for. One of the independent candidates, he said vaguely. She laughed. Don’t tell me, she said. The communist Declan Bree. Connell, unprovoked, continued watching the road. We could do with a bit more communism in this country if you ask me, he said. From the corner of his eye he could see Lorraine smiling. Come on now, comrade, she said. I was the one who raised you with your good socialist values, remember? It’s true Lorraine has values. She’s interested in Cuba, and the cause of Palestinian liberation. In the end Connell did vote for Declan Bree, who went on to be eliminated in the fifth count. Two of the seats went to Fine Gael and the other to Sinn Féin. Lorraine said it was a disgrace. Swapping one crowd of criminals for another, she said. He texted Marianne: fg in government, fucks sake. She texted back: The party of Franco. He had to look up what that meant.

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