Chapter no 15

The Silent Patient


Yuri was tending to my bleeding scratches in the goldfish bowl. He opened the bottle of antiseptic and applied it to a swab. The medicinal odor transported me to the sick bay at school, conjuring up memories of playground battle scars, grazed knees and scratched elbows. I remembered the warm, cozy feeling of being taken care of by Matron, bandaged and rewarded for my bravery with a boiled sweet. Then the sting of the antiseptic on my skin brought me back sharply to the present, where the injuries I presented were not so easily remedied. I winced.

“My head feels like she hit me with a fucking hammer.”

“It’s a nasty bruise. You’ll have a lump tomorrow. We’d better keep an eye on it.” Yuri shook his head. “I never should have left you alone with her.”

“I didn’t give you a choice.”

He grunted. “That’s true enough.”

“Thanks for not saying, ‘I told you so.’ It’s noted and appreciated.”

Yuri shrugged. “I don’t need to, mate. The professor will say it for me.

He’s asked to see you in his office.” “Ah.”

“Rather you than me, by the look of him.” I started getting up.

Yuri watched me carefully. “Don’t rush. Take a minute. Make sure you’re ready. Any dizziness or headaches, let me know.”

“I’m fine. Honestly.”

That wasn’t strictly true, but I didn’t feel as bad as I looked. Bloody scratches, and black bruises around my throat where she’d tried to strangle

me—she’d dug so deep with her fingers, she’d drawn blood.

I knocked on the professor’s door. Diomedes’s eyes widened when he saw me. He tutted. “Po po po. Did you need stitches?”

“No, no, of course not. I’m fine.”

Diomedes gave me a disbelieving look and ushered me inside. “Come in, Theo. Sit down.”

The others were already there. Christian and Stephanie were standing. Indira was sitting by the window. It felt like a formal reception, and I wondered if I was about to get fired.

Diomedes sat behind his desk. He gestured to me to sit in the remaining empty chair. I sat. He stared at me in silence for a moment, drumming his fingers, deliberating what to say, or how to say it. But before he could make up his mind, he was beaten to it by Stephanie.

“This is an unfortunate incident. Extremely unfortunate.” She turned to me. “Obviously we’re all relieved you’re still in one piece. But that doesn’t alter the fact that it raises all kinds of questions. And the first is, what were you doing alone with Alicia?”

“It was my fault. I asked Yuri to leave. I take full responsibility.”

“On whose authority did you make that decision? If either of you had been seriously injured—”

Diomedes interrupted. “Please don’t let’s get dramatic. Thankfully neither was hurt.” He gestured at me dismissively. “A few scratches are hardly grounds for a court-martial.”

Stephanie pulled a face. “I don’t think jokes are really appropriate, Professor. I really don’t.”

“Who’s joking?” Diomedes turned to me. “I’m deadly serious. Tell us, Theo. What happened?”

I felt all their eyes on me; I addressed myself to Diomedes. I chose my words carefully. “Well, she attacked me. That’s what happened.”

“That much is obvious. But why? I take it was unprovoked?” “Yes. At least, consciously.”

“And unconsciously?”

“Well, obviously Alicia was reacting to me on some level. I believe it shows us how much she wants to communicate.”

Christian laughed. “You call that communication?”

“Yes, I do. Rage is a powerful communication. The other patients—the zombies who just sit there, vacant, empty—they’ve given up. Alicia hasn’t. Her attack tells us something she can’t articulate directly—about her pain, her desperation, her anguish. She was telling me not to give up on her. Not yet.”

Christian rolled his eyes. “A less poetic interpretation might be that she was off her meds and out of her mind.” He turned to Diomedes. “I told you this would happen, Professor. I warned you about lowering the dose.”

“Really, Christian?” I said. “I thought it was your idea.”

Christian dismissed me with a roll of his eyes. He was a psychiatrist through and through, I thought. By that I mean psychiatrists tend to be wary of psychodynamic thinking. They favor a more biological, chemical, and, above all, practical approach—such as the cup of pills Alicia was handed at every meal. Christian’s unfriendly, narrow gaze told me that there was nothing I could contribute.

Diomedes, however, eyed me more thoughtfully. “It hasn’t put you off, Theo, what happened?”

I shook my head. “On the contrary, I’m encouraged.”

Diomedes nodded, looking pleased. “Good. I agree, such an intense reaction to you is certainly worth investigating. I think you should keep going.”

At this Stephanie could restrain herself no longer. “That’s absolutely out of the question.”

Diomedes kept talking as if she hadn’t spoken. He kept looking at me. “You think you can get her to talk?”

Before I could reply, a voice said from behind me, “I believe he can, yes.”

It was Indira. I’d almost forgotten she was there. I turned around.

“And in a way,” Indira said, “Alicia has begun to talk. She’s communicating through Theo—he is her advocate. It’s already happening.”

Diomedes nodded. He looked pensive for a moment. I knew what was on his mind—Alicia Berenson was a famous patient, and a powerful

bargaining tool with the Trust. If we could make demonstrable progress with her, we’d have a much stronger hand in saving the Grove from closure.

“How long to see results?” Diomedes asked.

“I can’t answer that,” I said. “You know that as well as I do. It takes as long as it takes. Six months. A year. Probably longer—it could be years.”

“You have six weeks.”

Stephanie drew herself up and crossed her arms. “I am the manager of this unit, and I simply cannot allow—”

“I am clinical director of the Grove. This is my decision, not yours. I take full responsibility for any injuries incurred upon our long-suffering therapist here,” Diomedes said, winking at me.

Stephanie didn’t say anything further. She glared at Diomedes, then at me. She turned and walked out.

“Oh, dear,” Diomedes said. “You appear to have made an enemy of Stephanie. How unfortunate.” He shared a smile with Indira, then gave me a serious look. “Six weeks. Under my supervision. Understand?”

I agreed—I had no choice but to agree. “Six weeks.” “Good.”

Christian stood up, visibly annoyed. “Alicia won’t talk in six weeks, or sixty years. You’re wasting your time.”

He walked out. I wondered why Christian was so positive I would fail. But it made me even more determined to succeed.

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