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Normal People by Sally Rooney Read Online (FREE)

Yeah, I’m sure I will, he says. Why wouldn’t I?

I know you’ll be civil. But I mean I hope you get along.

I’ll try.

And don’t intimidate him, she says.

Connell pours a splash of milk in his coffee, letting the colour come up to the surface, and then replaces the jug on the table.

Oh, he says. Well, I hope you’re telling him not to intimidate me either.

As if you could find him intimidating, Connell. He’s shorter than I am.

It’s not strictly a height thing, is it?

Seen from his point of view, she says, you’re a lot taller, and you’re the person who used to fuck his girlfriend.

That’s a nice way of putting it. Is that what you told him about us, Connell’s this tall guy who used to fuck me?

She laughs now. No, she says. But everyone knows.

Does he have some insecurities about his height? I won’t exploit them, I’d just like to know.

Marianne lifts her coffee cup. Connell can’t figure out what kind of relationship they are supposed to have now. Are they agreeing not to find each other attractive anymore? When were they supposed to have stopped? Nothing in Marianne’s behaviour gives him any clue. In fact he suspects she is still attracted to him, and that she now finds it funny, like a private joke, to indulge an attraction to someone who could never belong in her world.

*

 

Back in July he went to the anniversary Mass for Marianne’s father. The church in town was small, smelling of rain and incense, with stained-glass panels in the windows. He and Lorraine never went to Mass, he’d only been in there for funerals before. He saw Marianne in the vestibule when he arrived. She looked like a piece of religious art. It was so much more painful to look at her than anyone had warned him it would be, and he wanted to do something terrible, like set himself on fire or drive his car into a tree. He always reflexively imagined ways to cause himself extreme injury when he was distressed. It seemed to soothe him briefly, the act of imagining a much worse and more totalising pain than the one he really felt, maybe just the cognitive energy it required, the momentary break in his train of thought, but afterwards he would only feel worse.

That night, after Marianne went back to Dublin, he went out drinking with some people from school, to Kelleher’s first, and then McGowan’s, and then that awful nightclub Phantom around the back of the hotel. No one was around that he had ever been really close with, and after a few drinks he became aware that he wasn’t there to socialise anyway, he was just there to drink himself into a kind of sedated non-consciousness. He withdrew from the conversation gradually and focused on consuming as much alcohol as he could without passing out, not even laughing along with the jokes, not even listening.