Chapter no 37

The Silent Patient


“Seven o’clock. After rehearsal.” Kathy handed me her coffee cup. “If you can’t remember her name, Theo, it’s Nicole.”

“Right.” I yawned.

Kathy gave me a stern look. “You know, it’s a little insulting that you don’t remember—she’s one of my best friends. You went to her going-away party for fuck’s sake.”

“Of course I remember Nicole. I just forgot her name, that’s all.”

Kathy rolled her eyes. “Whatever. Pothead. I’m having a shower.” She walked out of the kitchen.

I smiled to myself. Seven o’clock.

* * *

At a quarter to seven I walked along the river toward Kathy’s rehearsal space on the South Bank.

I sat on a bench across the way from the rehearsal room, facing away from the entrance so Kathy wouldn’t immediately see me if she left early. Every so often I turned my head and glanced over my shoulder. But the door remained obstinately shut.

Then, at five minutes past seven, it opened. There was the sound of animated conversation and laughter as the actors left the building. They wandered out in groups of two or three. No sign of Kathy.

I waited five minutes. Ten minutes. The trickle of people stopped, and no one else came out. I must have missed her. She must have left before I arrived. Unless she hadn’t been here at all?

Had she been lying about the rehearsal?

I got up and made my way toward the entrance. I needed to be sure. If she was still inside and she saw me, what then? What excuse could I have for being here? I’d come to surprise her? Yes—I’d say I was here to take her and “Nicole” out for dinner. Kathy would squirm and lie her way out of it with some bullshit excuse—“Nicole is sick, Nicole has canceled”—so Kathy and I would end up spending an uncomfortable evening alone together. Another evening of long silences.

I reached the entrance. I hesitated, grabbed the rusted green handle, and pushed open the door. I went inside.

The bare concrete interior smelled damp. Kathy’s rehearsal space was on the fourth floor—she had moaned about having to climb the stairs every day—so I went up the main central staircase. I reached the first floor and was starting for the second when I heard a voice on the stairs, coming from the floor above. It was Kathy. She was on the phone:

“I know, I’m sorry. I’ll see you soon. I won’t be long.… Okay, okay, bye.”

I froze—we were seconds away from colliding with each other. I dashed down the steps, hiding around the corner. Kathy walked past without seeing me. She went out the door. It slammed shut.

I hurried after her and left the building. Kathy was walking away, moving fast, toward the bridge. I followed, weaving between commuters and tourists, trying to keep a distance without losing sight of her.

She crossed the bridge and went down the steps into the Embankment tube station. I went after her, wondering which line she would take.

But she didn’t get on the tube. Instead she walked straight through the station and out the other side. She continued walking toward Charing Cross Road. I followed. I stood a few steps behind her at the traffic lights. We crossed Charing Cross Road and headed into Soho. I followed her along the narrow streets. She took a right turn, a left, another right. Then she abruptly stopped. She stood on the corner of Lexington Street. And waited.

So this was the meeting place. A good spot—central, busy, anonymous. I hesitated and slipped into a pub on the corner. I positioned myself at the

bar. It offered a clear view through the window of Kathy across the road. The barman, bored, with an unruly beard, glanced at me. “Yeah?”

“A pint. Guinness.”

He yawned and went to the other side of the bar to pour the pint. I kept my eyes on Kathy. I was pretty sure she wouldn’t be able to see me through the window even if she looked in this direction. At one point Kathy did look over—straight at me. My heart stopped for a second—I was sure she had noticed me—but no, her gaze drifted on.

The minutes passed, and still Kathy waited. So did I. I sipped my pint slowly, watching. He was taking his time, whoever he was. She wouldn’t like that. Kathy didn’t like to be kept waiting—even though she was perpetually late. I could see she was getting annoyed, frowning and checking her watch.

A man crossed the road toward her. In the few seconds he took to cross the street, I had already assessed him. He was well built. He had shoulder-length fair hair, which surprised me, as Kathy always said she only went for men with dark hair and eyes like mine—unless that was another lie.

But the man walked right by her. She didn’t even look at him. Soon he was out of sight. So it wasn’t him. I wondered if Kathy and I were both thinking the same thing—had she been stood up?

Then her eyes widened. She smiled. She waved across the street—at someone out of sight. At last, I thought. It’s him. I craned my neck to see—

To my surprise, a tarty-looking blonde, about thirty, wearing an impossibly short skirt and improbably high heels, tottered over to Kathy. I recognized her at once. Nicole. They greeted each other with hugs and kisses. They walked off, talking and laughing, arm in arm. So Kathy hadn’t been lying about meeting Nicole.

I registered my emotions with shock—I ought to have been hugely relieved that Kathy had been telling the truth. I ought to have been grateful. But I wasn’t.

I was disappointed.

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