When he talks to Marianne he has a sense of total privacy between them. He could tell her anything about himself, even weird things, and she would never repeat them, he knows that. Being alone with her is like opening a door away from normal life and then closing it behind him.
It occurred to Marianne how much she wanted to see him having sex with someone; it didn’t have to be her, it could be anybody. It would be beautiful just to watch him.
She was attuned to the presence of his body in a microscopic way, as if the ordinary motion of his breathing was powerful enough to make her ill.
While she sat there she felt as if Connell had been visiting her house only to test her, and she had passed the test, and the kiss was a communication that said: You passed. She thought of the way he’d laughed when she said she’d never kissed anyone before. For another person to laugh that way might have been cruel, but it wasn’t like that with him. They’d been laughing together, at a shared situation they’d found themselves in, though how to describe the situation or what was funny about it Marianne didn’t know exactly.
Their secret weighed inside her body pleasurably, pressing down on her pelvic bone when she moved.
He looks at the laptop blankly, and then at the thin yellow bedsheet draped over her body, which casts a lilac triangle of shadow on her breast.
He writes these things down, long run-on sentences with too many dependent clauses, sometimes connected with breathless semicolons, as if he wants to recreate a precise copy of Marianne in print, as if he can preserve her completely for future review. Then he turns a new page in the notebook so he doesn’t have to look at what he’s done.
He tells her that she’s beautiful. She has never heard that before, though she has sometimes privately suspected it of herself, but it feels different to hear it from another person.
I love you. I’m not just saying that, I really do. Her eyes fill up with tears again and she closes them. Even in memory she will find this moment unbearably intense, and she’s aware of this now, while it’s happening. She has never believed herself fit to be loved by any person. But now she has a new life, of which this is the first moment, and even after many years have passed she will still think: Yes, that was it, the beginning of my life.
She believes Marianne lacks ‘warmth’, by which she means the ability to beg for love from people who hate her.
He did gradually start to wonder why all their classroom discussions were so abstract and lacking in textual detail, and eventually he realised that most people were not actually doing the reading. They were coming into college every day to have heated debates about books they had not read. He understands now that his classmates are not like him. It’s easy for them to have opinions, and to express them with confidence. They don’t worry about appearing ignorant or conceited. They are not stupid people, but they’re not so much smarter than him either. They just move through the world in a different way, and he’ll probably never really understand them, and he knows they will never understand him, or even try.
It suggests to Connell that the same imagination he uses as a reader is necessary to understand real people also, and to be intimate with them.
Back home, Connell’s shyness never seemed like much of an obstacle to his social life, because everyone knew who he was already, and there was never any need to introduce himself or create impressions about his personality. If anything, his personality seemed like something external to himself, managed by the opinions of others, rather than anything he individually did or produced. Now he has a sense of invisibility, nothingness, with no reputation to recommend him to anyone.
In a voice just false enough to sound nearly sincere, Marianne says: Oh. I’m sorry.
He had thought that being with her would make him feel less lonely, but it only gave his loneliness a new stubborn quality, like it was planted down inside him and impossible to kill.
She smiles again, a lopsided smile like she’s flirting. Really? she says. Maybe you’re telepathic. I did used to think I could read your mind at times, Connell says. In bed, you mean.
I know. It’s classic me, I came to college and got pretty.
She knows Joanna would disapprove, because Marianne herself also disapproves, but when Joanna disapproves of things she doesn’t go ahead and do them anyway.
I think it would be difficult to stay friends if we started sleeping together.
When she comes out, wrapped in a white bathrobe, her hair towelled dry, Connell has eaten already. His plate is clean and he’s checking his email. The room smells like coffee and frying. She goes towards him and he wipes his mouth with the back of his hand, as if he’s nervous suddenly. She stands at his chair and, looking up at her, he undoes the sash of her bathrobe. It’s been nearly a year. He touches his lips to her skin and she feels holy, like a shrine. Come to bed, then, she says. He goes with her.
Men can be possessive, she says.
Generally I find men are a lot more concerned with limiting the freedoms of women than exercising personal freedom for themselves, says Marianne.
Things are pretty good between him and Marianne at the moment. After the library closes in the evening he walks back to her apartment, maybe picking up some food or a four-euro bottle of wine on the way. When the weather is good, the sky feels miles away, and birds wheel through limitless air and light overhead. When it rains, the city closes in, gathers around with mists; cars move slower, their headlights glowing darkly, and the faces that pass are pink with cold. Marianne cooks dinner, spaghetti or risotto, and then he washes up and tidies the kitchen. He wipes crumbs out from under the toaster and she reads him jokes from Twitter. After that they go to bed. He likes to get very deep inside her, slowly, until her breathing is loud and hard and she clutches at the pillowcase with one hand. Her body feels so small then and so open. Like this? he says. And she’s nodding her head and maybe punching her hand on the pillow, making little gasps whenever he moves.
At times he has the sensation that he and Marianne are like figure-skaters, improvising their discussions so adeptly and in such perfect synchronisation that it surprises them both. She tosses herself gracefully into the air, and each time, without knowing how he’s going to do it, he catches her.
Rich people look out for each other, and being Marianne’s best friend and suspected sexual partner has elevated Connell to the status of rich-adjacent: someone for whom surprise birthday parties are thrown and cushy jobs are procured out of nowhere.
He can’t do it. He’s not indecisive on the question of whether he’d like to do it or not, he actually can’t do it. For some reason, and he can’t explain it to himself, he thinks maybe he could fuck Peggy in front of Marianne, although it would be awkward, and not necessarily enjoyable. But he could not, he’s immediately certain, ever do anything to Marianne with Peggy watching, or any of her friends watching, or anyone at all. He feels shameful and confused even to think about it. It’s something he doesn’t understand in himself. For the privacy between himself and Marianne to be invaded by Peggy, or by another person, would destroy something inside him, a part of his selfhood, which doesn’t seem to have a name and which he has never tried to identify before.
Marianne seemed like the kind of straightforward person who would arrange the whole procedure herself, and at most maybe he would go with her on the plane.
With other people she seemed so independent and remote, but with Connell she was different, a different person. He was the only one who knew her like that.
He’s a well-adjusted person raised in a loving home. He just assumes the best of everyone and knows nothing.
That’s money, the substance that makes the world real. There’s something so corrupt and sexy about it.
Connell thinks the aspects of himself that are most compatible with Helen are his best aspects: his loyalty, his basically practical outlook, his desire to be thought of as a good guy. With Helen he doesn’t feel shameful things, he doesn’t find himself saying weird stuff during sex, he doesn’t have that persistent sensation that he belongs nowhere, that he never will belong anywhere. Marianne had a wildness that got into him for a while and made him feel that he was like her, that they had the same unnameable spiritual injury, and that neither of them could ever fit into the world. But he was never damaged like she was. She just made him feel that way.
She doesn’t hear from the others much anymore: Peggy, Sophie, Teresa, that crowd. Jamie wasn’t happy about the break-up, and he told people he wasn’t happy, and people felt sorry for him. Things started to turn against Marianne, she could sense that before she left. At first it was unsettling, the way eyes turned away from her in a room, or conversation stopped short when she entered; the sense of having lost her footing in the social world, of being no longer admired and envied, how quickly it had all slipped away from her. But then she found it was easy to get used to. There’s always been something inside her that men have wanted to dominate, and their desire for domination can look so much like attraction, even love. In school the boys had tried to break her with cruelty and disregard, and in college men had tried to do it with sex and popularity, all with the same aim of subjugating some force in her personality. It depressed her to think people were so predictable. Whether she was respected or despised, it didn’t make much difference in the end. Would every stage of her life continue to reveal itself as the same thing, again and again, the same remorseless contest for dominance?
Trying to summon an exact mental picture of Rob’s face, Connell found that he couldn’t: an image would appear at first, whole and recognisable, but on any closer inspection the features would float away from one another, blur, become confused.
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.
Things happened to him, like the crying fits, the panic attacks, but they seemed to descend on him from outside, rather than emanating from somewhere inside himself. Internally he felt nothing. He was like a freezer item that had thawed too quickly on the outside and was melting everywhere, while the inside was still frozen solid. Somehow he was expressing more emotion than at any time in his life before, while simultaneously feeling less, feeling nothing. *
literature fetishised for its ability to take educated people on false emotional journeys, so that they might afterwards feel superior to the uneducated people whose emotional journeys they liked to read about.
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.
If people appeared to behave pointlessly in grief, it was only because human life was pointless, and this was the truth that grief revealed.
People are juvenile in their attitudes to sexuality,
It’s funny the decisions you make because you like someone, he says, and then your whole life is different. I think we’re at that weird age where life can change a lot from small decisions. But you’ve been a very good influence on me overall, like I definitely am a better person now, I think. Thanks to you.
Her body is just an item of property, and though it has been handed around and misused in various ways, it has somehow always belonged to him, and she feels like returning it to him now.
Out on the street she feels like a petulant child, slamming the door on him like that while he raced out to the landing. Something has come over her, she doesn’t know what it is. It reminds her of how she used to feel in Sweden, a kind of nothingness, like there’s no life inside her. She hates the person she has become, without feeling any power to change anything about herself. She is someone even Connell finds disgusting, she has gone past what he can tolerate. In school they were both in the same place, both confused and somehow suffering, and ever since then she has believed that if they could return to that place together it would be the same. Now she knows that in the intervening years Connell has been growing slowly more adjusted to the world, a process of adjustment that has been steady if sometimes painful, while she herself has been degenerating, moving further and further from wholesomeness, becoming something unrecognisably debased, and they have nothing left in common at all.
From a young age her life has been abnormal, she knows that. But so much is covered over in time now, the way leaves fall and cover a piece of earth, and eventually mingle with the soil. Things that happened to her then are buried in the earth of her body. She tries to be a good person. But deep down she knows she is a bad person, corrupted, wrong, and all her efforts to be right, to have the right opinions, to say the right things, these efforts only disguise what is buried inside her, the evil part of herself.
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.
She used to wonder if he really loved her. In bed he would say lovingly: You’re going to do exactly what I say now, aren’t you? He knew how to give her what she wanted, to leave her open, weak, powerless, sometimes crying. He understood that it wasn’t necessary to hurt her: he could let her submit willingly, without violence. This all seemed to happen on the deepest possible level of her personality. But on what level did it happen to him? Was it just a game, or a favour he was doing her? Did he feel it, the way she did? Every day, in the ordinary activity of their lives, he showed patience and consideration for her feelings. He took care of her when she was sick, he read drafts of her college essays, he sat and listened while she talked about her ideas, disagreeing with herself out loud and changing her mind. But did he love her? Sometimes she felt like saying: Would you miss me, if you didn’t have me anymore? She had asked him that once on the ghost estate, when they were just kids. He had said yes then, but she’d been the only thing in his life at that time, the only thing he had to himself, and it would never be that way again.
When they drew apart Connell looked her in the eyes and said: I love you. She was laughing then, and her face was red. She was in his power, he had chosen to redeem her, she was redeemed. It was so unlike him to behave that way in public that he must have been doing it on purpose, to please her. How strange to feel herself so completely under the control of another person, but also how ordinary. No one can be independent of other people completely, so why not give up the attempt, she thought, go running in the other direction, depend on people for everything, allow them to depend on you, why not. She knows he loves her, she doesn’t wonder about that anymore.