Chapter no 25

The Silent Patient

THAT AFTERNOON I WENT TO CAMBRIDGE, to visit Alicia’s cousin, Paul Rose.

As the train approached the station, the landscape flattened out and the fields let in an expanse of cold blue light. I felt glad to be out of London— the sky was less oppressive, and I could breathe more easily.

I left the train along with a trickle of students and tourists, using the map on my phone to guide me. The streets were quiet; I could hear my footsteps on the pavement echoing. Abruptly the road stopped. A wasteland lay ahead, muddy earth and grass leading to the river.

Only one house stood alone by the river. Obstinate and imposing, like a large red brick thrust into the mud. It was ugly, a Victorian monster. The walls were overgrown with ivy, and the garden had been overtaken by plants, weeds mostly. I got the sense of nature encroaching, reclaiming territory that had once been hers. This was the house where Alicia had been born. It was where she spent the first eighteen years of her life. Within these walls her personality had been formed: the roots of her adult life, all causes and subsequent choices, were buried here. Sometimes it’s hard to grasp why the answers to the present lie in the past. A simple analogy might be helpful: a leading psychiatrist in the field of sexual abuse once told me she had, in thirty years of extensive work with pedophiles, never met one who hadn’t himself been abused as a child. This doesn’t mean that all abused children go on to become abusers, but it is impossible for someone who was not abused to become an abuser. No one is born evil. As Winnicott put it, “A baby cannot hate the mother, without the mother first hating the baby.” As babies, we are innocent sponges, blank slates, with only the most basic needs present: to eat, shit, love, and be loved. But something goes wrong, depending on the circumstances into which we are born, and the house in

which we grow up. A tormented, abused child can never take revenge in reality, as she is powerless and defenseless, but she can—and must—harbor vengeful fantasies in her imagination. Rage, like fear, is reactive. Something bad happened to Alicia, probably early in her childhood, to provoke the murderous impulses that emerged all those years later. Whatever the provocation, not everyone in this world would have picked up the gun and fired it point-blank into Gabriel’s face—most people could not. That Alicia did so points to something disordered in her internal world. That’s why it was crucial for me to understand what life had been like for her in this house, to find out what happened to shape her, make her into the person she became—a person capable of murder.

I wandered farther into the overgrown garden, through the weeds and waving wildflowers, and made my way along the side of the house. At the back was a large willow tree—a beautiful tree, majestic, with long bare branches sweeping to the ground. I pictured Alicia as a child playing around it and in the secret, magical world beneath its branches. I smiled.

Then I felt uneasy suddenly. I could sense someone’s eyes on me.

I looked up at the house. A face appeared at an upstairs window. An ugly face, an old woman’s face, pressed against the glass—staring straight at me. I felt a strange, inexplicable shiver of fear.

I didn’t hear the footsteps behind me until too late. There was a bang—a heavy thud—and a stab of pain at the back of my head.

Everything went black.

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