On New Year’s Eve they saw Marianne’s mother in the supermarket. She was wearing a dark suit with a yellow silk blouse. She always looked so ‘put together’. Lorraine said hello politely and Denise just walked past, not speaking, eyes ahead. No one knew what she believed her grievance was. In the car after the supermarket Lorraine reached back from the passenger seat to squeeze Marianne’s hand. Connell started the car. What do people in town think of her? Marianne said.
Who, your mother? said Lorraine.
I mean, how do people see her?
With a sympathetic expression Lorraine said gently: I suppose she’d be considered a bit odd.
It was the first time Marianne had heard that, or even thought about it. Connell didn’t engage in the conversation. That night he wanted to go out to Kelleher’s for New Year’s. He said everyone from school was going. Marianne suggested she might just stay in and he appeared to consider this for a moment before saying: No, you should come out. She lay face down on the bed while he changed out of one shirt into another one. Far be it from me to disobey an order, she said. He looked in the mirror and caught her eye. Yeah, exactly, he said.
Kelleher’s was packed that night and damp with heat. Connell was right, everyone from school was there. They kept having to wave at people from a distance and mouth greetings. Karen saw them at the bar and threw her arms around Marianne, smelling of some faint but very pleasant perfume. I’m so glad to see you, Marianne said. Come and dance with us, said Karen. Connell carried their drinks down the steps to the dance floor, where Rachel and Eric were standing, and Lisa and Jack, and Ciara Heffernan who had been in the year below. Eric gave them a mock-bow for some reason. Probably he was drunk. It was too loud to have an ordinary conversation. Connell held Marianne’s drink while she took her coat off and stowed it under a table. No one was really dancing, just standing around shouting in each other’s ears. Karen occasionally made a cute boxing motion, as if punching the air. Other people joined them, including some people Marianne had never seen before, and everyone embraced and yelled things.
At midnight when they all cheered Happy New Year, Connell took Marianne into his arms and kissed her. She could feel, like a physical pressure on her skin, that the others were watching them. Maybe people hadn’t really believed it until then, or else a morbid fascination still lingered over something that had once been scandalous. Maybe they were just curious to observe the chemistry between two people who, over the course of several years, apparently could not leave one another alone. Marianne had to admit that she, also, probably would have glanced. 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.