Chapter no 20

The Silent Patient

KATHY WAS THERE WHEN I GOT HOME. She was sitting on the couch, texting. “Where were you?” she asked without looking up.

“Just a walk. How was rehearsal?” “All right. Tiring.”

I watched her texting, wondering who she was writing to. I knew this was my moment to speak. I know you’re having an affair—I want a divorce. I opened my mouth to say it. But I found I was mute. Before I could recover my voice, Kathy beat me to it. She stopped texting and put down her phone.

“Theo, we need to talk.” “What about?”

“Don’t you have something to tell me?” Her voice had a stern note.

I avoided looking at her, in case she could read my thoughts. I felt ashamed and furtive—as if I were the one with the guilty secret.

And I was, as far as she was concerned. Kathy reached behind the sofa and picked something up. At once my heart sank. She was holding the small jar where I kept the grass. I’d forgotten to hide it back in the spare room after I’d cut my finger.

“What’s this?” She held it up. “It’s weed.”

“I’m aware of that. What’s it doing here?” “I bought some. I fancied it.”

“Fancied what? Getting high? Are you—serious?” I shrugged, evading her eye, like a naughty child.

“What the fuck? I mean, Jesus—” Kathy shook her head, outraged. “Sometimes I think I don’t know you at all.”

I wanted to hit her. I wanted to leap on her and beat her with my fists. I wanted to smash up the room, break the furniture against the walls. I wanted to weep and howl and bury myself in her arms.

I did none of this.

“Let’s go to bed,” I said, and walked out.

We went to bed in silence. I lay in the dark next to her. I lay awake for hours, feeling the heat from her body, staring at her while she slept.

Why didn’t you come to me? I wanted to say. Why didn’t you talk to me? I was your best friend. If you had said just one word, we could have worked through it. Why didn’t you talk to me? I’m here. I’m right here.

I wanted to reach out and pull her close. I wanted to hold her. But I couldn’t. Kathy had gone—the person I loved so much had disappeared forever, leaving this stranger in her place.

A sob rose at the back of my throat. Finally, the tears came, streaming down my cheeks.

Silently, in the darkness, I wept.

* * *

The next morning, we got up and performed the usual routine—she went into the bathroom while I made coffee. I handed her a cup when she came into the kitchen.

“You were making strange sounds in the night,” she said. “You were talking in your sleep.”

“What did I say?”

“I don’t know. Nothing. Didn’t make sense. Probably because you were so stoned.” She gave me a withering look and glanced at her watch. “I have to go. I’ll be late.”

Kathy finished her coffee and placed the cup in the sink. She gave me a quick kiss on the cheek. The touch of her lips almost made me flinch.

After she left, I showered. I turned up the temperature until it was almost scalding. The hot water lashed against my face as I wept, burning away messy, babyish tears. As I dried myself afterward, I caught a glimpse of my reflection in the mirror. I was shocked—I was ashen, shrunken, had aged thirty years overnight. I was old, exhausted, my youth evaporated.

I made a decision, there and then.

Leaving Kathy would be like tearing off a limb. I simply wasn’t prepared to mutilate myself like that. No matter what Ruth said. Ruth wasn’t infallible. Kathy was not my father; I wasn’t condemned to repeat the past. I could change the future. Kathy and I were happy before; we could be again. One day she might confess it all to me, tell me about it, and I would forgive her. We would work through this.

I would not let Kathy go. Instead I would say nothing. I would pretend I had never read those emails. Somehow, I’d forget. I’d bury it. I had no choice but to go on. I refused to give in to this; I refused to break down and fall apart.

After all, I wasn’t just responsible for myself. What about the patients in my care? Certain people depended on me.

I couldn’t let them down.

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