Chapter no 23

The Silent Patient

Alicia Berenson’s Diary


I hate the fact there’s a gun in the house.

We had another argument about it last night. At least I thought that’s what we were fighting about—I’m not so sure now.

Gabriel said it was my fault we argued. I suppose it was. I hated seeing him so upset, looking at me with hurt eyes. I hate causing him pain—and yet sometimes I desperately want to hurt him, and I don’t know why.

He said I came home in a horrible mood. That I marched upstairs and started screaming at him. Perhaps I did. I suppose I was upset. I’m not altogether sure what happened. I had just gotten back from the park. I don’t remember much of the walk—I was daydreaming, thinking about work, about the Jesus picture. I remember walking past a house on my way home. Two boys were playing with a hose. They couldn’t have been older than seven or eight. The older boy was spraying the younger with a jet of water, a rainbow of color sparkling in the light. A perfect rainbow. The younger boy stretched out his hands, laughing. I walked past and I realized my cheeks were wet with tears.

I dismissed it then, but thinking about it now, it seems obvious. I don’t want to admit the truth to myself—that a huge part of my life is missing. That I’ve denied I want children, pretending I have no interest in them, that all I care about is my art. And it’s not true. It’s just an excuse—the truth is I’m scared to have kids. I am not to be trusted with them.

Not with my mother’s blood running through my veins.

That’s what was on my mind, consciously or unconsciously, when I got home. Gabriel was right, I was in a bad state.

But I never would have exploded if I hadn’t found him cleaning the gun. It upsets me so much that he has it. And it hurts me he won’t get rid of it, no matter how many times I beg him. He always says the same thing—that it was one of his father’s old rifles from their farm and he gave it him when he was sixteen, that it has sentimental value and blah blah blah. I don’t believe him. I think there’s another reason he’s keeping it. I said so. And Gabriel said there was nothing wrong with wanting to be safe—wanting to protect his house and wife. What if someone broke in?

“Then we call the police,” I said. “We don’t fucking shoot them!”

I had raised my voice, but he raised his louder, and before I knew it, we were yelling at each other. Maybe I was a bit out of control. But I was only reacting to him—there’s an aggressive side to Gabriel, a part of him I only glimpse occasionally, and when I do, it scares me. For those brief moments it’s like living with a stranger. And that’s terrifying.

We didn’t speak for the rest of the evening. We went to bed in silence.

This morning we had sex and made up. We always seem to resolve our problems in bed. It’s easier, somehow—when you’re naked and half-asleep under the covers—to whisper, “I’m sorry,” and mean it. All defenses and bullshit justifications are discarded, lying in a heap on the floor with our clothes.

“Maybe we should make it a rule to always conduct arguments in bed.” He kissed me. “I love you. I’ll get rid of the rifle, I promise.”

“No,” I said. “It doesn’t matter, forget it. It’s okay. Really.”

Gabriel kissed me again and pulled me close. I held on to him, laying my naked body on his. I closed my eyes and stretched out on a friendly rock that was molded to my shape. And I felt at peace at last.


I’m writing this in Café de l’Artista. I come here most days now. I keep feeling the need to get out of the house. When I’m around other people, even if it’s only the bored waitress in here, I feel connected to the world somehow, like a human being.

Otherwise I’m in danger of ceasing to exist. Like I might disappear.

Sometimes I wish I could disappear—like tonight. Gabriel has invited his brother over for dinner. He sprung it on me this morning.

“We’ve not seen Max in ages,” he said. “Not since Joel’s housewarming. I’ll do a barbecue.” Gabriel looked at me strangely. “You don’t mind, do you?”

“Why would I mind?”

Gabriel laughed. “You’re such a bad liar, you know that? I can read your face like a very short book.”

“And what does it say?”

“That you don’t like Max. You never have.”

“That’s not true.” I could feel myself going red. I shrugged and looked away. “Of course I like Max. It’ll be nice to see him. When are you going to sit for me again? I need to finish the picture.”

Gabriel smiled. “How about this weekend? And about the painting—do me a favor. Don’t show Max, all right? I don’t want him to see me as Jesus—I’ll never live it down.”

“Max won’t see it. It’s not ready yet.”

And even if it were, Max is the last person I want in my studio. I thought that but didn’t say it.

I’m dreading going home now. I want to stay here in this air-conditioned café and hide until Max has left. But the waitress is already making little impatient noises and emphatically checking her watch. I’ll be kicked out soon. And that means short of wandering the streets all night like a mad person, I have no choice but to go home and face the music. And face Max.


I’m back in the café. Someone was sitting at my table, and the waitress gave me a sympathetic look—at least I think that’s what she was communicating, a sense of solidarity, but I could be wrong. I took another table, facing in, not out, by the air-conditioning unit. There’s not much light—it’s cold and dark, which suits my mood.

Last night was awful. Worse than I thought it would be.

I didn’t recognize Max when he arrived—I don’t think I’ve ever seen him out of a suit before. He looked a bit silly in shorts. He was sweating profusely after the walk from the station—his bald head was red and shiny, and dark patches were spreading out from under his armpits. He wouldn’t meet my eye at first. Or was it me, not looking at him?

He made a big thing of the house, saying how different it looked, how long it was since we’d invited him that he was starting to think we’d never ask again. Gabriel kept apologizing, saying how busy we’d been, me with the upcoming exhibition and him with work, and we’d not seen anyone. Gabriel was smiling, but I could tell he felt annoyed that Max had made such a point of it.

I kept up a pretty good front at first. I was waiting for the right moment. And then I found it. Max and Gabriel went into the garden and got the barbecue going. I hung around in the kitchen on the pretext of making a salad. I knew Max would make an excuse to come and find me. And I was right. After about five minutes, I heard his heavy, thudding footsteps. He doesn’t walk at all like Gabriel—Gabriel is so silent, he’s like a cat, I never hear him moving around the house at all.

“Alicia,” Max said.

I realized my hands were shaking as I chopped the tomatoes. I put down the knife. I turned around to face him.

Max held up his empty beer bottle and smiled. He still wouldn’t look at me. “I’ve come for another.”

I nodded. I didn’t say anything. He opened the fridge and took out another beer. He looked around for the opener. I pointed at it on the counter.

He gave me a funny smile as he opened the beer, like he was going to say something. But I beat him to it:

“I’m going to tell Gabriel what happened. I thought you should know.”

Max stopped smiling. He looked at me for the first time, with snakelike eyes. “What?”

“I’m telling Gabriel. About what happened at Joel’s.” “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Don’t you?”

“I don’t remember. I was rather drunk, I’m afraid.” “Bullshit.”

“It’s true.”

“You don’t remember kissing me? You don’t remember grabbing me?” “Alicia, don’t.”

“Don’t what? Make a big deal out of it? You assaulted me.”

I could feel myself getting angry. It was an effort to control my voice and not start shouting. I glanced out the window. Gabriel was at the end of the garden, standing over the barbecue. The smoke and the hot air distorted my view of him, and he was all bent out of shape.

“He looks up to you,” I said. “You’re his older brother. He’s going to be so hurt when I tell him.”

“Then don’t. There’s nothing to tell him.”

“He needs to know the truth. He needs know what his brother is really like. You—”

Before I could finish, Max grabbed my arm hard and pulled me toward him. I lost my balance and fell onto him. He raised his fist and I thought he was

going to punch me. “I love you,” he said, “I love you, I love you, I love—”

Before I could react, he kissed me. I tried to pull away but he wouldn’t let me. I felt his rough lips all over mine, and his tongue pushing its way into my mouth. Instinct took over.

I bit his tongue as hard as I could.

Max cried out and shoved me away. When he looked up, his mouth was full of blood.

“Fucking bitch!” His voice was garbled, his teeth red. He glared at me like a wounded animal.

I can’t believe Max is Gabriel’s brother. He has none of Gabriel’s fine qualities, none of his decency, none of his kindness. Max disgusts me—and I said so.

“Alicia, don’t say anything to Gabriel,” he said. “I mean it. I’m warning you.”

I didn’t say another word. I could taste his blood on my tongue, so I turned on the tap and rinsed my mouth until it was gone. Then I walked out into the garden.

Occasionally I sensed Max staring at me over dinner. I’d look up and catch his eye and he’d look away. I didn’t eat anything. The thought of eating made me sick. I kept tasting his blood in my mouth.

I don’t know what to do. I don’t want to lie to Gabriel. Nor do I want to keep it a secret. But if I tell Gabriel, he’ll never speak to Max again. It would devastate him to know he’d misplaced his trust in his brother. Because he does trust Max. He idolizes him. And he shouldn’t.

I don’t believe that Max is in love with me. I believe he hates Gabriel, that’s all. I think he’s madly jealous of him—and he wants to take everything that belongs to Gabriel, which includes me. But now that I’ve stood up to him, I don’t think he’ll bother me again—at least I hope not. Not for a while, anyway.

So, for the moment, I’m going to remain silent.

Of course, Gabriel can read me like a book. Or maybe I’m just not a very good actress. Last night, as we were getting ready for bed, he said I’d been weird the whole time Max was there.

“I was just tired.”

“No, it was more than that. You were so distant. You might have made more of an effort. We barely ever see him. I don’t know why you have such a problem with him.”

“I don’t. It was nothing to do with Max. I was distracted, I was thinking about work. I’m behind with the exhibition—it’s all I can think about.” I said this with as much conviction as I could muster.

Gabriel gave me a disbelieving look but he let it go, for the moment. I’ll have to face it again next time we see Max—but something tells me that won’t be for a while.

I feel better for having written this down. I feel safer, somehow, having it on paper. It means I have some evidence—some proof.

If it ever comes to that.


It’s my birthday today. I’m thirty-three years old.

It’s strange—it’s older than I ever saw myself as being; my imagination only ever extended this far. I’ve outlived my mother now—it’s an unsteady feeling, being older than she was. She got to thirty-two, and then she stopped. Now I’ve outlived her, and won’t stop. I will grow older and older

—but she won’t.

Gabriel was so sweet this morning—he kissed me awake and presented me with thirty-three red roses. They were beautiful. He pricked his finger on one of the thorns. A bloodred teardrop. It was perfect.

Then he took me for a picnic in the park for breakfast. The sun was barely up, so the heat wasn’t unbearable. A cool breeze was coming off the water

and the air smelled of cut grass. We lay by the pond under a weeping willow, on the blue blanket we bought in Mexico. The willow branches formed a canopy over us, and the sun burned hazily through the leaves. We drank champagne and ate small sweet tomatoes with smoked salmon and slivers of bread. Somewhere, in the back of my mind, was a vague feeling of familiarity, a nagging sense of déjà vu I couldn’t quite place. Perhaps it was simply a recollection of childhood stories, fairy tales, and magical trees being gateways to other worlds. Perhaps it was something more prosaic. And then the memory came back to me:

I saw myself when very young, sitting under the branches of the willow tree in our garden in Cambridge. I’d spend hours hiding there. I may not have been a happy child, but during the time I spent under the willow tree, I felt a similar contentment to lying here with Gabriel. And now it was as if the past and the present were coexisting simultaneously in one perfect moment. I wanted that moment to last forever. Gabriel fell asleep, and I sketched him, trying to capture the dappled sunlight on his face. I did a better job with his eyes this time. It was easier because they were closed—but at least I got their shape right. He looked like a little boy, curled up asleep and breathing gently, crumbs around his mouth.

We finished the picnic, went home, and had sex. And Gabriel held me in his arms and said something astonishing:

“Alicia, darling, listen. There’s something on my mind I want to talk to you about.”

The way he said it made me instantly nervous. I braced myself, fearing the worst. “Go on.”

“I want us to have a baby.”

It took me a moment to speak. I was so taken aback I didn’t know what to say.

“But—you didn’t want any children. You said—”

“Forget that. I changed my mind. I want us to have a child together. Well? What do you say?”

Gabriel looked at me hopefully, expectantly, waiting for my response. I felt my eyes welling up with tears. “Yes,” I said, “yes, yes, yes…”

We hugged each other and cried and laughed.

He’s in bed now, asleep. I had to sneak away and write all this down—I want to remember this day for the rest of my life. Every single second of it.

I feel joyous. I feel full of hope.

You'll Also Like