Chapter no 57

The Silent Patient

THE NEXT MORNING, we met again. Alicia seemed different that day somehow—more reserved, more guarded. I think it’s because she was preparing herself to talk about the day of Gabriel’s death.

She sat opposite me and, unusually for her, looked straight at me and maintained eye contact throughout. She started speaking without being prompted; slowly, thoughtfully, choosing each phrase with care, as if cautiously applying brushstrokes to a canvas.

“I was alone that afternoon. I knew I had to paint, but it was so hot, I didn’t think I could face it. But I decided to try. So I took the little fan I’d bought down to the studio in the garden, and then…”

“And then?”

“My phone rang. It was Gabriel. He was calling to say he’d be back late from the shoot.”

“Did he normally do that? Call to say he’d be late?”

Alicia gave me an odd look, as if it struck her as a strange question. She shook her head. “No. Why?”

“I wondered if he might be calling for another reason. To see how you were feeling? Judging from your diary, it sounds like he was concerned about your mental state.”

“Oh.” Alicia pondered this, taken aback. She slowly nodded. “I see. Yes, yes, possibly…”

“I’m sorry—I interrupted you. Go on. What happened after the phone call?”

Alicia hesitated. “I saw him.” “Him?”

“The man. I mean, I saw his reflection. Reflected in the window. He was inside—inside the studio. Standing right behind me.”

Alicia shut her eyes and sat quite still. There was a long pause. I spoke gently. “Can you describe him? What did he look like?”

She opened her eyes and stared at me for a moment. “He was tall.… Strong. I couldn’t see his face—he had put on a mask, a black mask. But I could see his eyes—they were dark holes. No light in them at all.”

“What did you do when you saw him?”

“Nothing. I was so scared. I kept looking at him. He had a knife in his hand. I asked what he wanted. He didn’t speak. And I said I had money in the kitchen, in my bag. And he shook his head and said, ‘I don’t want money.’ And he laughed. A horrible laugh, like breaking glass. He held the knife up to my neck. The sharp end of the blade was against my throat, against my skin.… He told me to go with him into the house.”

Alicia shut her eyes as she remembered it. “He led me out of the studio, onto the lawn. We walked towards the house. I could see the gate to the street, just a few meters away—I was so close to it.… And something in me took over. It was—it was my only chance to escape. So I kicked him hard and broke away from him. And I ran. I ran for the gate.” Her eyes opened and she smiled at the memory. “For a few seconds, I was free.”

Her smile faded.

“Then—he jumped on me. On my back. We fell to the ground.… His hand was over my mouth, and I felt the cold blade against my throat. He said he’d kill me if I moved. We lay there for a few seconds, and I could feel his breath on my face. It stank. Then he pulled me up—and dragged me into the house.”

“And then? What happened?”

“He locked the door. And I was trapped.”

Alicia’s breathing was heavy and her cheeks were flushed. I was concerned she was becoming distressed, and I was wary of pushing her too hard.

“Do you need a break?”

She shook her head. “Let’s keep going. I’ve waited long enough to say this. I want to get it over with.”

“Are you sure? It might be a good idea to take a moment.” She hesitated. “Can I have a cigarette?”

“A cigarette? I didn’t know you smoked.”

“I don’t. I—I used to. Can you give me one?” “How do you know I smoke?”

“I can smell it on you.”

“Oh.” I smiled, feeling a little embarrassed. “Okay.” I stood up. “Let’s go outside.”

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