Chapter no 56

The Silent Patient

ALICIA SAT IN THE CHAIR opposite me in the therapy room.

“Before we begin, I have some questions for you. A few things I’d like to clarify…”

No reply. Alicia looked at me with that unreadable look of hers. “Specifically, I want to understand your silence. I want to know why

you refused to speak.”

Alicia seemed disappointed by the question. She turned and looked out the window.

We sat like that in silence for a minute or so. I tried to contain the suspense I was feeling. Had the breakthrough been temporary? Would we now go on as before? I couldn’t let that happen.

“Alicia. I know it’s difficult. But once you start talking to me, you’ll find it easier, I promise.”

No response.

“Try. Please. Don’t give up when you’ve made such progress. Keep going. Tell me … tell me why you wouldn’t speak.”

Alicia turned back and stared at me with a chilly gaze. She spoke in a low voice:

“Nothing … nothing to say.”

“I’m not sure I believe that. I think there was too much too say.” A pause. A shrug. “Perhaps. Perhaps … you’re right.”

“Go on.”

She hesitated. “At first, when Gabriel … when he was dead—I couldn’t, I tried … but I couldn’t … talk. I opened my mouth—but no sound came out. Like in a dream … where you try to scream … but can’t.”

“You were in a state of shock. But over the next few days, you must have found your voice returning to you…?”

“By then … it seemed pointless. It was too late.” “Too late? To speak in your defense?”

Alicia held me in her gaze, a cryptic smile on her lips. She didn’t speak. “Tell me why you started talking again.”

“You know the answer.” “Do I?”

“Because of you.”

“Me?” I looked at her with surprise. “Because you came here.”

“And that made a difference?”

“All the difference—it made … all the difference.” Alicia lowered her voice and stared at me, unblinking. “I want you to understand—what happened to me. What it felt like. It’s important … you understand.”

“I want to understand. That’s why you gave me the diary, isn’t it? Because you want me to understand. It seems to me the people who mattered most to you didn’t believe your story about the man. Perhaps you’re wondering … if I believe you.”

“You believe me.” This was not a question but a simple statement of fact.

I nodded. “Yes, I believe you. So why don’t we start there? The last diary entry you wrote described the man breaking into the house. What happened then?”

“Nothing.” “Nothing?”

She shook her head. “It wasn’t him.” “It wasn’t? Then who was it?”

“It was Jean-Felix. He wanted—he had come to talk about the exhibition.”

“Judging by your diary, it doesn’t seem you were in the right state of mind for visitors.”

Alicia acknowledged this with a shrug. “Did he stay long?”

“No. I asked him to leave. He didn’t want to—he was upset. He shouted at me a bit—but he went after a while.”

“And then? What happened after Jean-Felix left?” Alicia shook her head. “I don’t want to talk about that.” “No?”

“Not yet.”

Alicia’s eyes looked into mine for a moment. Then they darted to the window, considering the darkening sky beyond the bars. Something in the way she was tilting her head was almost coquettish, and the beginning of a smile was forming at the corner of her mouth. She’s enjoying this, I thought. Having me in her power.

“What do you want to talk about?” I asked. “I don’t know. Nothing. I just want to talk.”

So we talked. We talked about Lydia and Paul, and about her mother, and the summer she died. We talked about Alicia’s childhood—and mine. I told her about my father, and growing up in that house; she seemed curious to know as much as possible about my past and what had shaped me and made me who I am.

I remember thinking, There’s no going back now. We were crashing through every last boundary between therapist and patient. Soon it would be impossible to tell who was who.

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