Normal People by Sally Rooney Read Online (FREE)
After Mass they went to the burial, and then back to the Tavern to eat sandwiches and drink tea in the ballroom. Behind the bar a girl from the year below in school was dressed in a white shirt and waistcoat, serving pints. Connell poured Helen a cup of tea and then one for himself. They stood by the wall near the tea trays, drinking and not talking. Connell’s cup rattled in its saucer. Eric came over and stood with them when he arrived. He was wearing a shiny blue tie.
How are things? Eric said. Long time no see.
I know, yeah, said Connell. It’s been a fair while alright.
Who’s this? Eric said, nodding at Helen.
Helen, said Connell. Helen, this is Eric.
Eric held out his hand and Helen shook it, balancing her teacup politely in her left hand, her face tensed in effort.
The girlfriend, is it? Eric said.
With a glance at Connell she nodded and replied: Yes.
Eric released her, grinning. You’re a Dub anyway, he said.
She smiled nervously and said: That’s right.
Must be your fault this lad never comes home anymore, Eric said.
It’s not her fault, it’s my fault, said Connell.
I’m only messing with you, Eric said.
For a few seconds they stood looking out at the room in silence. Helen cleared her throat and said delicately: I’m very sorry for your loss, Eric. Eric turned and gave her a kind of gallant nod. He looked back at the room again. Yeah, hard to believe, he said. Then he poured himself a cup of tea from the pot behind them. Good of Marianne to come, he remarked. I thought she was off in Sweden or someplace.
She was, said Connell. She’s home for the funeral.
She’s gone very thin, isn’t she?
Eric took a large mouthful of tea and swallowed it, smacking his lips. Marianne, detaching herself from another conversation, made her way towards the tea tray.
Here’s herself, said Eric. You’re very good to come all the way back from Sweden, Marianne.
She thanked him and started to pour a cup of tea, saying it was nice to see him.
Have you met Helen here? Eric asked.
Marianne put her teacup down in her saucer. Of course I have, she said. We’re in college together.
All friendly, I hope, said Eric. No rivalry, I mean.
Behave yourself now, said Marianne.
Connell watched Marianne pouring the tea, her smiling manner, ‘behave yourself’, and he felt in awe of her naturalness, her easy way of moving through the world. It hadn’t been like that in school, quite the opposite. Back then Connell had been the one who understood how to behave, while Marianne had just aggravated everyone.
After the funeral he cried, but the crying felt like nothing. Back in fifth year when Connell had scored a goal for the school football team, Rob had leapt onto the pitch to embrace him. He screamed Connell’s name, and began to kiss his head with wild exuberant kisses. It was only one-all, and there were still twenty minutes left on the clock. But that was their world then. Their feelings were suppressed so carefully in everyday life, forced into smaller and smaller spaces, until seemingly minor events took on insane and frightening significance. It was permissible to touch each other and cry during football matches. Connell still remembers the too-hard grip of his arms. And on Debs night, Rob showing them those photographs of Lisa’s naked body. Nothing had meant more to Rob than the approval of others; to be thought well of, to be a person of status. He would have betrayed any confidence, any kindness, for the promise of social acceptance. Connell couldn’t judge him for that. He’d been the same way himself, or worse. He had just wanted to be normal, to conceal the parts of himself that he found shameful and confusing. It was Marianne who had shown him other things were possible. Life was different after that; maybe he had never understood how different it was.