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Chapter no 53

The Silent Patient

THE HOUSE WAS IN DARKNESS as we approached. “Here it is,” Paul said. “Follow me.”

An iron ladder was attached to the side of the house. We made our way over to it. The mud was frozen beneath our feet, sculpted into hard ripples and ridges. Without waiting for me, Paul started climbing up.

It was getting colder by the minute. I was wondering if this was such a good idea. I followed him and gripped the first rung—icy and slippery. It was overgrown with some kind of climbing plant; ivy, perhaps.

I made my way up, rung by rung. By the time I reached the top, my fingers were numb and the wind was slashing my face. I climbed over, onto the roof. Paul was waiting for me, grinning in an excited, adolescent way. The razor-thin moon hung above us; the rest was darkness.

Suddenly Paul rushed at me, a strange expression on his face. I felt a flicker of panic as his arm reached out toward me—I swerved to avoid it, but he grabbed hold of me. For a terrifying second I thought he was going to throw me off the roof.

Instead he pulled me toward him. “You’re too close to the edge. Stay in the middle here. It’s safer.”

I nodded, catching my breath. This was a bad idea. I didn’t feel remotely safe around Paul. I was about to suggest climbing down again—then he pulled out his cigarettes and offered me one. I hesitated, then I accepted. My fingers were shaking as I took out my lighter and lit the cigarettes.

We stood there and smoked in silence for a moment.

“This is where we would sit. Alicia and me. Every day, pretty much.” “How old were you?”

“I was about seven, maybe eight. Alicia couldn’t have been more than ten.”

“You were a bit young to be climbing ladders.”

“I suppose so. Seemed normal to us. When we were teenagers, we’d come up and smoke and drink beers.”

I tried to picture a teenage Alicia, hiding from her father and her bullying aunt; Paul, her adoring younger cousin, following up the ladder, pestering her when she’d much rather be silent, alone with her thoughts.

“It’s a good hiding place,” I said.

Paul nodded. “Uncle Vernon couldn’t make it up the ladder. He had a big build, like Mum.”

“I could barely make it up myself. That ivy is a death trap.”

“It’s not ivy, it’s jasmine.” Paul looked at the green vines that curled over the top of the ladder. “No flowers yet—not until the spring. Smells like perfume then, when there’s a lot of it.” He seemed lost in a memory for a moment. “Funny that.”

“What?”

“Nothing.” He shrugged. “The things you remember … I just was thinking about the jasmine—it was in full bloom that day, the day of the accident, when Eva was killed.”

I looked around. “You and Alicia came up here together, you said?”

He nodded. “Mum and Uncle Vernon were looking for us down there. We could hear them calling. But we didn’t say a word. We stayed hiding. And that’s when it happened.”

He stubbed out his cigarette and gave me an odd smile. “That’s why I brought you here. So you can see it—the scene of the crime.”

“The crime?”

Paul didn’t answer, just kept grinning at me. “What crime, Paul?”

“Vernon’s crime. Uncle Vernon wasn’t a good man, you see. No, not at all.”

“What are you trying to say?” “Well, that’s when he did it.” “Did what?”

“That’s when he killed Alicia.”

I stared at Paul, unable to believe my ears. “Killed Alicia? What are you talking about?”

Paul pointed at the ground below. “Uncle Vernon was down there with Mum. He was drunk. Mum kept trying to get him to go back inside. But he stood down there, yelling for Alicia. He was so angry with her. He was so mad.”

“Because Alicia was hiding? But—she was a child—her mother had just died.”

“He was a mean bastard. The only person he ever cared about was Auntie Eva. I suppose that’s why he said it.”

“Did what?” I was losing patience. “I don’t understand what you’re saying to me. What exactly happened?”

“Vernon was going on about how much he loved Eva—how he couldn’t live without her. ‘My girl,’ he kept saying, ‘my poor girl, my Eva … Why did she have to die? Why did it have to be her? Why didn’t Alicia die instead?’”

I stared at Paul for a second, stunned. I wasn’t sure I understood. “‘Why didn’t Alicia die instead?’”

“That’s what he said.” “Alicia heard this?”

“Yeah. And Alicia whispered something to me—I’ll never forget it. ‘He killed me,’ she said. ‘Dad just—killed me.’”

I stared at Paul, speechless. A chorus of bells started ringing in my head, clanging, chiming, reverberating. This was what I’d been looking for. I’d found it, the missing piece of the jigsaw, at last—here on a roof in Cambridge.

* * *

All the way back to London, I kept thinking about the implications of what I had heard. I understood now why Alcestis had struck a chord with Alicia. Just as Admetus had physically condemned Alcestis to die, so had Vernon Rose psychically condemned his daughter to death. Admetus must have

loved Alcestis, on some level, but there was no love in Vernon Rose, just hate. He had committed psychic infanticide—and Alicia knew it.

“He killed me,” she said. “Dad just killed me.”

Now, at last, I had something to work with. Something I knew about— the emotional effects of psychological wounds on children, and how they manifest themselves later in adults. Imagine it—hearing your father, the very person you depend upon for your survival, wishing you dead. How terrifying that must be for a child, how traumatizing—how your sense of self-worth would implode, and the pain would be too great, too huge to feel, so you’d swallow it, repress it, bury it. Over time you would lose contact with the origins of your trauma, dissociate the roots of its cause, and forget. But one day, all the hurt and anger would burst forth, like fire from a dragon’s belly—and you’d pick up a gun. You’d visit that rage not upon your father, who was dead and forgotten and out of reach—but upon your husband, the man who had taken his place in your life, who loved you and shared your bed. You’d shoot him five times in the head, without possibly even knowing why.

The train raced through the night back to London. At last, I thought—at

last I knew how to reach her.

Now we could begin.

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