Chapter no 18

The Silent Patient

YOU DON’T NEED TO BE A PSYCHOTHERAPIST to suspect that Kathy had left her laptop open because—unconsciously, at least—she wanted me to find out about her infidelity.

Well, now I had found out. Now I knew.

I hadn’t spoken to her since the other night, feigning sleep when she got back, and leaving the flat in the morning before she woke up. I was avoiding her—avoiding myself. I was in shock. I knew I had to take a look at myself—or risk losing myself. Get a grip, I muttered under my breath as I rolled a joint. I smoked it out of the window, and then, suitably stoned, I poured a glass of wine in the kitchen.

The glass slipped out of my grasp as I picked it up. I tried to catch it as it fell, but only succeeded in thrusting my hand into a shard of glass as it smashed on the table, slicing a chunk of flesh from my finger.

Suddenly blood was everywhere: blood trickling down my arm, blood on broken glass, blood mingling with white wine on the table. I struggled to tear off some kitchen paper and bound my finger tight to stem the flow. I held my hand above my head, watching blood stream down my arm in tiny diverging rivulets, mimicking the pattern of veins beneath my skin.

I thought of Kathy.

It was Kathy I would reach for in a moment of crisis—when I needed sympathy or reassurance or someone to kiss it better. I wanted her to look after me. I thought about calling her, but even as I had this thought, I imagined a door closing fast, slamming shut, locking her out of reach. Kathy was gone—I had lost her. I wanted to cry, but couldn’t—I was blocked up inside, packed with mud and shit.

“Fuck,” I kept repeating to myself, “fuck.”

I became conscious of the clock ticking. It seemed louder now somehow. I tried to focus on it and anchor my spinning thoughts: tick, tick, tick—but the chorus of voices in my head grew louder and wouldn’t be silenced. She was bound to be unfaithful, I thought, this had to happen, it was inevitable—I was never good enough for her, I was useless, ugly, worthless, nothing—she was bound to tire of me eventually—I didn’t deserve her, I didn’t deserve anything—it went on and on, one horrible thought after another punching me.

How little I knew her. Those emails demonstrated I’d been living with a stranger. Now I saw the truth. Kathy hadn’t saved me—she wasn’t capable of saving anyone. She was no heroine to be admired—just a frightened, fucked-up girl, a cheating liar. This whole mythology of us that I had built up, our hopes and dreams, likes and dislikes, our plans for the future; a life that had seemed so secure, so sturdy, now collapsed in seconds—like a house of cards in a gust of wind.

My mind went to that cold room at college, all those years ago—tearing open packets of paracetamol with clumsy, numb fingers. The same numbness overtook me now, that same desire to curl up and die. I thought of my mother. Could I call her? Turn to her in my moment of desperation and need? I imagined her answering the phone, her voice shaky; just how shaky depended on my father’s mood, and if she’d been drinking. She might listen sympathetically to me, but her mind would be elsewhere, one eye on my dad and his temper. How could she help me? How can one drowning rat save another?

I had to get out. I couldn’t breathe in here, in this flat with these stinking lilies. I needed some air. I needed to breathe.

I left the flat. I dug my hands in my pockets and kept my head low. I pounded the streets, walking fast, going nowhere. In my mind I kept going back over our relationship, scene by scene, remembering it, examining it, turning it over, looking for clues. I remembered unresolved fights, unexplained absences, and frequent lateness. But I also remembered small acts of kindness—affectionate notes she’d leave for me in unexpected places, moments of sweetness and apparently genuine love. How was this possible? Had she been acting the whole time? Had she ever loved me?

I remembered the flicker of doubt I’d had upon meeting her friends. They were all actors; loud, narcissistic, preening, endlessly talking about themselves and people I didn’t know. Suddenly I was transported back to school, hovering alone on the fringes of the playground, watching the other kids play. I convinced myself Kathy wasn’t like them at all—but clearly she was. If had I encountered them that first night at the bar when I met her, would they have put me off her? I doubt it. Nothing could have prevented our union: from the moment I saw Kathy, my fate was written.

What should I do?

Confront her, of course. Tell her everything I had seen. She’d react by denying it—then, seeing it was hopeless, she would admit the truth and prostrate herself, stricken with remorse. She’d beg my forgiveness, wouldn’t she?

What if she didn’t? What if she scorned me? What if she laughed, turned on her heel, and left? What then?

Between the two of us, I had the most to lose, that was obvious. Kathy would survive—she was fond of saying she was tough as nails. She’d pick herself up, dust herself off, and forget all about me. But I wouldn’t forget about her. How could I? Without Kathy, I’d return to that empty, solitary existence I had endured before. I’d never meet anyone like her again, never have that same connection or experience that depth of feeling for another human being. She was the love of my life—she was my life—and I wasn’t ready to give her up. Not yet. Even though she had betrayed me, I still loved her.

Perhaps I was crazy, after all.

A solitary bird shrieked above my head, startling me. I stopped and looked around. I’d gone much farther than I thought. Shocked, I saw where my feet had carried me—I had walked to within a couple of streets of Ruth’s front door.

Without intending to, I had unconsciously made my way to my old therapist in a time of trouble, as I had done so many times in the past. It was a testament to how upset I was that I considered going up to her door and ringing the bell and asking for help.

And why not? I thought suddenly; yes, it was unprofessional and highly improper conduct, but I was desperate, and I needed help. Before I knew it, I was standing in front of Ruth’s green door, watching my hand reach up to the buzzer and press it.

It took her a few moments to answer it. A light went on the hallway, then she opened the door, keeping the chain on.

Ruth peered out through the crack. She looked older. She must be in her eighties now; smaller, frailer than I remembered, and slightly stooped. She was wearing a gray cardigan over a pale pink nightgown.

“Hello?” she said nervously. “Who’s there? “Hello, Ruth.” I stepped into the light.

She recognized me and looked surprised. “Theo? What on earth—” Her eyes went from my face to the clumsy, improvised bandage around my finger, with blood seeping through it. “Are you all right?”

“Not really. May I come in? I—I need to talk to you.”

Ruth didn’t hesitate, only looked concerned. She nodded. “Of course.

Come in.” She undid the chain and opened the door.

I stepped inside.

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