Normal People by Sally Rooney Read Online (FREE)
Lorraine opens her hands as if to say she doesn’t know, and then sits back down waiting for the kettle to boil. He’s embarrassed now, which makes him cross. Whatever there is between him and Marianne, nothing good has ever come of it. It has only ever caused confusion and misery for everyone. He can’t help Marianne, no matter what he does. There’s something frightening about her, some huge emptiness in the pit of her being. It’s like waiting for a lift to arrive and when the doors open nothing is there, just the terrible dark emptiness of the elevator shaft, on and on forever. She’s missing some primal instinct, self-defence or self-preservation, which makes other human beings comprehensible. You lean in expecting resistance, and everything just falls away in front of you. Still, he would lie down and die for her at any minute, which is the only thing he knows about himself that makes him feel like a worthwhile person.
What happened tonight was inevitable. He knows how he could make it sound, to Yvonne, or even to Niall, or some other imagined interlocutor: Marianne is a masochist and Connell is simply too nice of a guy to hit a woman. This, after all, is the literal level on which the incident took place. She asked him to hit her and when he said he didn’t want to, she wanted to stop having sex. So why, despite its factual accuracy, does this feel like a dishonest way of narrating what happened? What is the missing element, the excluded part of the story that explains what upset them both? It has something to do with their history, he knows that. Ever since school he has understood his power over her. How she responds to his look or the touch of his hand. The way her face colours, and she goes still as if awaiting some spoken order. His effortless tyranny over someone who seems, to other people, so invulnerable. He has never been able to reconcile himself to the idea of losing this hold over her, like a key to an empty property, left available for future use. In fact he has cultivated it, and he knows he has.
What’s left for them, then? There doesn’t seem to be a halfway position anymore. Too much has passed between them for that. So it’s over, and they’re just nothing? What would it even mean, to be nothing to her? He could avoid her, but as soon as he saw her again, even if they only glanced at one another outside a lecture hall, the glance could not contain nothing. He could never really want it to. He has sincerely wanted to die, but he has never sincerely wanted Marianne to forget about him. That’s the only part of himself he wants to protect, the part that exists inside her.
The kettle comes to the boil. Lorraine sweeps the line of hairpins into the palm of her hand, closes her fist around them and pockets them. She gets up then, fills the cup of tea, adds milk, and puts the bottle back in the fridge. He watches her.