Normal People by Sally Rooney Read Online (FREE)
It wasn’t nothing, says Connell. He bullied you.
Marianne says nothing. It’s true they did bully her. Eric called her ‘flat-chested’ once, in front of everyone, and Rob, laughing, scrambled to whisper something in Eric’s ear, some affirmation, or some further insult too vulgar to speak out loud. At the funeral back in January everyone talked about what a great person Rob had been, full of life, a devoted son, and so on. But he was also a very insecure person, obsessed with popularity, and his desperation had made him cruel. Not for the first time Marianne thinks cruelty does not only hurt the victim, but the perpetrator also, and maybe more deeply and more permanently. You learn nothing very profound about yourself simply by being bullied; but by bullying someone else you learn something you can never forget.
After the funeral she spent evenings scrolling through Rob’s Facebook page. Lots of people from school had left comments on his wall, saying they missed him. What were these people doing, Marianne thought, writing on the Facebook wall of a dead person? What did these messages, these advertisements of loss, actually mean to anyone? What was the appropriate etiquette when they appeared on the timeline: to ‘like’ them supportively? To scroll past in search of something better? But everything made Marianne angry then. Thinking about it now, she can’t understand why it bothered her. None of those people had done anything wrong. They were just grieving. Of course it didn’t make sense to write on his Facebook wall, but nothing else made sense either. If people appeared to behave pointlessly in grief, it was only because human life was pointless, and this was the truth that grief revealed. She wishes that she could have forgiven Rob, even if it meant nothing to him. When she thinks of him now it’s always with his face hidden, turning away, behind his locker door, behind the rolled-up window of his car. Who were you? she thinks, now that there’s no one left to answer the question.
Did you accept the apology? says Connell.
She nods, looking down at her nails. Of course I did, she says. I don’t go in for grudges.
Luckily for me, he replies.
The half-time whistle blows and the players turn, heads lowered, and start their slow walk across the pitch. It’s still nil-all. She wipes her nose with her fingers. Connell sits up straight and puts his glass on the bedside table. She thinks he’s going to offer her a lift home again, but instead he says: Do you feel like an ice cream? She says yes. Back in a second, he says. He leaves the bedroom door open on his way out. Marianne is living at home now for the first time since she left school. Her mother and brother are at work all day and
Marianne has nothing to do but sit in the garden watching insects wriggle through soil. Inside she makes coffee, sweeps floors, wipes down surfaces. The house is never really clean anymore because Lorraine has a full-time job in the hotel now and they’ve never replaced her. Without Lorraine the house is not a nice place to live. Sometimes Marianne goes on day trips to Dublin, and she and Joanna wander around the Hugh Lane together with bare arms, drinking from bottles of water. Joanna’s girlfriend Evelyn comes along when she’s not studying or working, and she’s always painstakingly kind to Marianne and interested to hear about her life. Marianne is so happy for Joanna and Evelyn that she feels lucky even to see them together, even to hear Joanna on the phone to Evelyn saying cheerfully: Okay, love you, see you later. It gives Marianne a window onto real happiness, though a window she cannot open herself or ever climb through.