Chapter no 60

The Silent Patient

SO THERE YOU HAVE IT. Alicia Berenson didn’t kill her husband. A faceless intruder broke into their home and, in an apparently motiveless act of malice, shot Gabriel dead before vanishing into the night. Alicia was entirely innocent.

That’s if you believe her explanation. I didn’t. Not a word of it.

Apart from her obvious inconsistencies and inaccuracies—such as that Gabriel was not shot six times, but only five, one of the bullets being fired at the ceiling; nor was Alicia discovered tied to a chair, but standing in the middle of the room, having slashed her wrists. Alicia made no mention to me of the man’s untying her, nor did she explain why she hadn’t told the police this version of events from the start. No, I knew she was lying. I was annoyed that she had lied, badly and pointlessly, to my face. For a second I wondered if she was testing me, seeing whether I accepted the story? If so, I was determined to give nothing away.

I sat there in silence.

Unusually, Alicia spoke first. “I’m tired. I want to stop.” I nodded. I couldn’t object.

“Let’s carry on tomorrow,” she said. “Is there more to say?”

“Yes. One last thing.” “Very well. Tomorrow.”

Yuri was waiting in the corridor. He escorted Alicia to her room, and I went up to my office.

As I have said, it’s been my practice for years to transcribe a session as soon as it’s ended. The ability to accurately record what has been said

during the past fifty minutes is of paramount importance to a therapist— otherwise much detail is forgotten and the immediacy of the emotions lost.

I sat at my desk and wrote down, as fast as I could, everything that had transpired between us. The moment I finished, I marched through the corridors, clutching my pages of notes.

I knocked on Diomedes’s door. There was no response, so I knocked again. Still no answer. I opened the door a crack—and there was Diomedes, fast asleep on his narrow couch.

“Professor?” And again, louder: “Professor Diomedes?” He woke with a start and sat up quickly. He blinked at me. “What is it? What’s wrong?”

“I need to talk to you. Should I come back later?”

Diomedes frowned and shook his head. “I was having a brief siesta. I always do, after lunch. It helps me get through the afternoon. It becomes a necessity as you get older.” He yawned and stood up. “Come in, Theo. Sit down. By the looks of you, it’s important.”

“I think it is, yes.” “Alicia?”

I nodded. I sat in front of the desk. He sat down behind it. His hair was sticking up to one side, and he still looked half-asleep.

“Are you sure I shouldn’t come back later?”

Diomedes shook his head. He poured himself a glass of water from a jug. “I’m awake now. Go on. What it is?”

“I’ve been with Alicia, talking.… I need some supervision.”

Diomedes nodded. He was looking more awake by the second, and more interested. “Go on.”

I started reading from my notes. I took him through the entire session. I repeated her words as accurately as I could and relayed the story she had told me: how the man who’d been spying on her broke into the house, took her prisoner, and shot and killed Gabriel.

When I finished, there was a long pause. Diomedes’s expression gave little away. He pulled a box of cigars out of his desk drawer. He took out a little silver guillotine. He popped the end of a cigar into it and sliced it off.

“Let’s start with the countertransference. Tell me about your emotional experience. Start at the beginning. As she was telling you her story, what kind of feelings were coming up?”

I thought about it for a moment. “I felt excited, I suppose.… And anxious. Afraid.”

“Afraid? Was it your fear, or hers?” “Both, I imagine.”

“And what were you afraid of?”

“I’m not sure. Fear of failure, perhaps. I have a lot riding on this, as you know.”

Diomedes nodded. “What else?”

“Frustration too. I feel frustrated quite frequently during our sessions.” “And angry?”

“Yes, I suppose so.”

“You feel like a frustrated father, dealing with a difficult child?” “Yes. I want to help her—but I don’t know if she wants to be helped.”

He nodded. “Stay with the feeling of anger. Talk more about it. How does it manifest itself?”

I hesitated. “Well, I often leave the sessions with a splitting headache.” Diomedes nodded. “Yes, exactly. It has to come out one way or another.

‘A trainee who is not anxious will be sick.’ Who was it who said that?” “I don’t know.” I shrugged. “I’m sick and anxious.”

Diomedes smiled. “You’re also no longer a trainee—although those feelings never go away entirely.” He picked up his cigar. “Let’s go outside for a smoke.”

* * *

We went onto the fire escape. Diomedes puffed on his cigar for a moment, mulling things over. Eventually he reached a conclusion.

“She’s lying, you know.”

“You mean about the man killing Gabriel? I thought so too.” “Not just that.”

“Then what?”

“All of it. The whole cock-and-bull story. I don’t believe a single word of it.”

I must have looked rather taken aback. I had suspected he’d disbelieve some elements of Alicia’s tale. I hadn’t expected him to reject the whole thing.

“You don’t believe in the man?”

“No, I don’t. I don’t believe he ever existed. It’s a fantasy. From start to finish.”

“What makes you so sure?”

Diomedes gave me a strange smile. “Call it my intuition. Years of professional experience with fantasists.” I tried to interrupt but he forestalled me with a wave of his hand. “Of course, I don’t expect you to agree, Theo. You’re in deep with Alicia, and your feelings are bound up with hers like a tangled ball of wool. That is the purpose of a supervision like this—to help you unpick the strands of wool—to see what is yours and what is hers. And once you gain some distance, and clarity, I suspect you will feel rather differently about your experience with Alicia Berenson.”

“I’m not sure what you mean.”

“Well, to be blunt, I fear she has been performing for you. Manipulating you. And it’s a performance that I believe has been tailored specifically to appeal to your chivalric … and, let’s say, romantic instincts. It was obvious to me from the start that you intended to rescue her. I’m quite sure it was obvious to Alicia too. Hence her seduction of you.”

“You sound like Christian. She hasn’t seduced me. I am perfectly capable of withstanding a patient’s sexual projections. Don’t underestimate me, Professor.”

“Don’t underestimate her. She’s giving an excellent performance.” Diomedes shook his head and peered up at the gray clouds. “The vulnerable woman under attack, alone, in need of protection. Alicia has cast herself as the victim and this mystery man as the villain. Whereas in fact Alicia and the man are one and the same. She killed Gabriel. She was guilty—and she is still refusing to accept that guilt. So she splits, dissociates, fantasizes— Alicia becomes the innocent victim and you are her protector. And by

colluding with this fantasy you are allowing her to disown all responsibility.”

“I don’t agree with that. I don’t believe she is lying, consciously, anyway. At the very least, Alicia believes her story to be true.”

“Yes, she believes it. Alicia is under attack—but from her own psyche, not the outside world.”

I knew that wasn’t true, but there was no point in arguing further. I stubbed out my cigarette.

“How do you think I should proceed?”

“You must force her to confront the truth. Only then will she have a hope of recovery. You must refuse point-blank to accept her story. Challenge her. Demand she tell you the truth.”

“And do you think she will?”

He shrugged. “That”—he took a long drag on his cigar—“is anyone’s guess.”

“Very well. I’ll talk to her tomorrow. I’ll confront her.”

Diomedes looked slightly uneasy and opened his mouth as if he was about to say something further. But he changed his mind. He nodded and stamped on his cigar with an air of finality. “Tomorrow.”

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