Chapter no 54

The Silent Patient


I was getting better at these silences, better at enduring them, settling into them and toughing it out; it had become almost comfortable, sitting in that small room with her, keeping quiet.

Alicia held her hands in her lap, clenching and unclenching them rhythmically, like a heartbeat. She was facing me, not looking at me, but gazing out of the window through the bars. It had stopped raining, and the clouds momentarily parted to reveal a pale blue sky; then another cloud appeared, obscuring it with gray. Then I spoke.

“There’s something I have become aware of. Something your cousin told me.”

I said this as gently as I could. She didn’t react, so I went on.

“Paul said that when you were a child, you overheard your father say something devastating. After the car accident that killed your mother … you heard him say that he wished you had died, instead of her.”

I was certain there would be a knee-jerk physical reaction, an acknowledgment of some kind. I waited, but none came.

“I wonder how you feel about Paul telling me this—it might seem like a betrayal of confidence. But I believe he had your best interests in mind. You are, after all, in my care.”

No response. I hesitated.

“It might help you if I tell you something. No—perhaps that’s being disingenuous—perhaps it’s me it would help. The truth is I understand you better than you think. Without wishing to disclose too much, you and I experienced similar kinds of childhoods, with similar kinds of fathers. And we both left home as soon as we could. But we soon discovered that

geographical distance counts for little in the world of the psyche. Some things are not so easily left behind. I know how damaging your childhood was. It’s important you understand how serious this is. What your father said is tantamount to psychic murder. He killed you.”

This time she reacted.

She looked up sharply—straight at me. Her eyes seemed to burn right through me. If looks could kill, I would have dropped dead. I met her murderous gaze without flinching.

“Alicia. This is our last chance. I’m sitting here now without Professor Diomedes’s knowledge or permission. If I keep breaking the rules like this for your sake, I’m going to get fired. That’s why this will be the last time you see me. Do you understand?”

I said this without any expectation or emotion, drained of hope or feeling. I was sick of bashing my head against a wall. I didn’t expect any kind of response. And then …

I thought I imagined it at first. I thought I was hearing things. I stared at her, breathless. I felt my heart thudding in my chest. My mouth was dry when I spoke.

“Did—did you just … say something?”

Another silence. I must have been mistaken. I must have imagined it.

But then … it happened again.

Alicia’s lips moved slowly, painfully; her voice cracked a little as it emerged, like a creaking gate that needed oiling.

“What…” she whispered. Then she stopped. And again: “What … what


For a moment we just stared at each other. My eyes slowly filled with

tears—tears of disbelief, excitement, and gratitude.

“What do I want? I want you to keep talking.… Talk—talk to me, Alicia


Alicia stared at me. She was thinking about something. She came to a


She slowly nodded. “Okay.”

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