Chapter no 6

The Silent Patient

PROFESSOR DIOMEDES’S OFFICE was in the oldest and most decrepit part of the hospital. There were cobwebs in the corners, and only a couple of the lights in the corridor were working. I knocked at the door, and after a moment’s pause I heard his voice from inside.

“Come in.”

I turned the handle and the door creaked open. I was immediately struck by the smell inside the room. It smelled different from the rest of the hospital. It didn’t smell like antiseptic or bleach; rather bizarrely, it smelled like an orchestra pit. It smelled of wood, strings and bows, polish, and wax. It took a moment for my eyes to become accustomed to the gloom, then I noticed the upright piano against the wall, an incongruous object in a hospital. Twenty-odd metallic music stands gleamed in the shadows, and a stack of sheet music was piled high on a table, an unsteady paper tower reaching for the sky. A violin was on another table, next to an oboe, and a flute. And beside it, a harp—a huge thing with a beautiful wooden frame and a shower of strings.

I stared at it all openmouthed.

Diomedes laughed. “You’re wondering about the instruments?” He sat behind his desk, chuckling.

“Are they yours?”

“They are. Music is my hobby. No, I lie—it is my passion.” He pointed his finger in the air dramatically. The professor had an animated way of speaking, employing a wide range of hand gestures to accompany and underscore his speech—as if he were conducting an invisible orchestra. “I run an informal musical group, open to whoever wishes to join—staff and patients alike. I find music to be a most effective therapeutic tool.” He

paused to recite in a lilting, musical tone, “‘Music hath charms to soothe a savage breast.’ Do you agree?”

“I’m sure you’re right.”

“Hmm.” Diomedes peered at me for a moment. “Do you play?” “Play what?”

“Anything. A triangle is a start.”

I shook my head. “I’m not very musical. I played the recorder a bit at school when I was young. That was about it.”

“Then you can read music? That is an advantage. Good. Choose any instrument. I will teach you.”

I smiled and again shook my head. “I’m afraid I’m not patient enough.” “No? Well, patience is a virtue you would do well to cultivate as a

psychotherapist. You know, in my youth, I was undecided whether I should be a musician, a priest, or a doctor.” Diomedes laughed. “And now I am all three.”

“I suppose that’s true.”

“You know”—he switched subjects without even a hint of a pause—“I was the deciding voice at your interview. The casting vote, so to speak. I spoke strongly in your favor. You know why? I’ll tell you—I saw something in you, Theo. You remind me of myself.… Who knows? In a few years, you might be running this place.” He left the sentence dangling for a moment, then sighed. “If it’s still here, of course.”

“You think it won’t be?”

“Who knows? Too few patients, too many staff. We are working in close cooperation with the Trust to see if a more ‘economically viable’ model can be found. Which means we are being endlessly watched, evaluated—spied upon. How can we possibly do therapeutic work under such conditions? you might well ask. As Winnicott said, you can’t practice therapy in a burning building.” Diomedes shook his head and looked his age suddenly— exhausted and weary. He lowered his voice and spoke in a conspiratorial whisper. “I believe the manager, Stephanie Clarke, is in league with them. The Trust pays her salary, after all. Watch her, and you’ll see what I mean.”

I thought Diomedes was sounding a little paranoid, but perhaps that was understandable. I didn’t want to say the wrong thing, so I remained

diplomatically silent for a moment. And then— “I want to ask you something. About Alicia.”

“Alicia Berenson?” Diomedes gave me a strange look. “What about her?”

“I’m curious what kind of therapeutic work is being done with her. Is she in individual therapy?”


“Is there a reason?”

“It was tried—and abandoned.”

“Why was that? Who saw her? Indira?”

“No.” Diomedes shook his head. “I saw Alicia myself, as a matter of fact.”

“I see. What happened?”

He shrugged. “She refused to visit me in my office, so I went to see her in her room. During the sessions, she simply sat on her bed and stared out of the window. She refused to speak, of course. She refused to even look at me.” He threw up his hands, exasperated. “I decided the whole thing was a waste of time.”

I nodded. “I suppose … well, I’m wondering about the transference.…” “Yes?” Diomedes peered at me with curiosity. “Go on.”

“It’s possible, isn’t it, that she experienced you as an authoritarian presence … perhaps—potentially punitive? I don’t know what her relationship with her father was like, but…”

Diomedes listened with a small smile, as if he were being told a joke and anticipating the punch line. “But you think she might find it easier to relate to someone younger? Let me guess.… Someone like you? You think you can help her, Theo? You can rescue Alicia? Make her talk?”

“I don’t know about rescuing her, but I’d like to help her. I’d like to try.”

Diomedes smiled, still with the same sense of amusement. “You are not the first. I believed I would succeed. Alicia is a silent siren, my boy, luring us to the rocks, where we dash our therapeutic ambition to pieces.” He smiled again. “She taught me a valuable lesson in failure. Perhaps you need to learn the same lesson.”

I met his gaze defiantly. “Unless, of course, I succeed.”

Diomedes’s smile vanished, replaced by something harder to read. He remained silent for a moment, then made a decision.

“We’ll see, shall we? First, you must meet Alicia. You’ve not been introduced to her yet, have you?”

“Not yet, no.”

“Then ask Yuri to arrange it, will you? Report back to me afterwards.” “Good.” I tried to conceal my excitement. “I will.”

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