Normal People by Sally Rooney Read Online (FREE)
After completing the rest of the questions, all of which are intensely personal and the last one is about his sex life, he folds the pages over and hands them back to the receptionist. He doesn’t know what to expect, handing over this extremely sensitive information to a stranger. He swallows and his throat is so tight it hurts. The woman takes the sheets like he’s handing over a delayed college assignment and gives him a bland, cheerful smile. Thanks, she says. You can wait for the counsellor to call you now. He stands there limply. In her hand she holds the most deeply private information he has ever shared with anyone. Seeing her nonchalance, he experiences an impulse to ask for it back, as if he must have misunderstood the nature of this exchange, and maybe he should fill it out differently after all. Instead he says: Okay. He sits down again.
For a while nothing happens. His stomach is making a low whining noise now because he hasn’t eaten breakfast. Lately he’s too tired to cook for himself in the evenings, so he finds himself signing in for dinner on the scholars’ website and eating Commons in the Dining Hall. Before the meal everyone stands for grace, which is recited in Latin. Then the food is served by other students, who are dressed all in black to differentiate them from the otherwise identical students who are being served. The meals are always the same: salty orange soup to start, with a bread roll and a square of butter wrapped in foil. Then a piece of meat in gravy, with silver dishes of potatoes passed around. Then dessert, some kind of wet sugary cake, or the fruit salad which is mostly grapes. These are all served rapidly and whisked away rapidly, while portraits of men from different centuries glare down from the walls in expensive regalia. Eating alone like this, overhearing the conversations of others but unable to join in, Connell feels profoundly and almost unendurably alienated from his own body. After the meal another grace is recited, with the ugly noise of chairs pulled back from tables. By seven he has emerged into the darkness of Front Square, and the lamps have been lit.
A middle-aged woman comes out to the waiting room now, wearing a long grey cardigan, and says: Connell? He tries to contort his face into a smile, and then, giving up, rubs his jaw with his hand instead, nodding. My name is Yvonne, she says. Would you like to come with me? He rises from the couch and follows her into a small office. She closes the door behind them. On one side of the office is a desk with an ancient Microsoft computer humming audibly; on the other side, two low mint-coloured armchairs facing one another. Now then, Connell, she says. You can sit down wherever you like. He sits on the chair facing the window, out of which he can see the back of a concrete building and a rusting drainpipe. She sits down opposite him and picks up a pair of glasses from a chain around her neck. She fixes them on her face and looks down at her clipboard.