Chapter no 69

The Silent Patient

JULIAN MCMAHON FROM THE TRUST was waiting for me in reception. He had a big build, curly ginger hair, and a fondness for phrases such as between you and me or at the end of the day or the bottom line, which frequently popped up in his conversation, often in the same sentence. He was essentially a benign figure—the friendly face of the Trust. He wanted to have a word with me before I went home.

“I’ve just come from Professor Diomedes. I thought you should know— he’s resigned.”

“Ah. I see.”

“He took early retirement. Between you and me, it was either that or face an inquiry into this mess.” Julian shrugged. “I can’t help but feel sorry for him—not a particularly glorious end to a long and distinguished career. But at least this way he’ll be spared the press and all the hoo-ha. Incidentally, he mentioned you.”


“Yes. He suggested we give you his job.” Julian winked. “He said you were the perfect man for it.”

I smiled. “That’s very kind.”

“Unfortunately, at the end of the day, given what happened to Alicia, and Christian’s arrest, there’s simply no question of keeping the Grove open. We’re closing it down permanently.”

“I can’t say I’m surprised. So in fact there’s no job to be had?”

“Well, the bottom line is this—we’re planning to open a new, much more cost-effective psychiatric service here in the next few months. And we’d like you to consider running it, Theo.”

It was hard to conceal my excitement. I agreed with pleasure. “Between you and me,” I said, borrowing one of his phrases, “it’s the kind of opportunity that I dream about.” And it was—a chance to actually help people, not just medicate them; help them the way I believe they should be helped. The way Ruth helped me. The way I tried to help Alicia.

Things have worked out well for me—I’d be ungrateful not to acknowledge that.

It seems I’ve gotten everything I wanted. Well, almost.

* * *

Last year, Kathy and I moved out of central London to Surrey—back to where I grew up. After my father died, he left me the house; although it remained my mother’s to live in until she died, she decided to give it to us, and she moved into a care facility.

Kathy and I thought the extra space and a garden would be worth the commute into London. I thought it would be good for us. We promised ourselves we would transform the house and made plans to redecorate and exorcise. But nearly a year since we moved in, the place remains unfinished, half-decorated, the pictures and convex mirror we bought in Portobello Market still propped up against unpainted walls. It remains very much the house I grew up in. But I don’t mind the way I thought I would. In fact, I feel quite at home, which is ironic.

I arrived at the house and let myself in. I quickly took off my coat—it was sweltering, like a greenhouse. I turned down the thermostat in the hallway. Kathy loves being hot, while I much prefer being cold, so temperature is one of our little battlegrounds. I could hear the TV from the hallway. Kathy seems to watch a lot of TV these days. A never-ending sound track of garbage that underscores our life in this house.

I found her in the living room, curled up on the sofa. She had a giant bag of prawn cocktail crisps on her lap and was fishing them out with sticky red fingers and shoveling them into her mouth. She’s always eating crap like that; it’s not surprising she’s gained weight recently. She hasn’t been working much in the past couple of years, and she’s become quite withdrawn, depressed even. Her doctor wanted to put her on

antidepressants, but I discouraged it. Instead I advocated her getting a therapist and talking through her feelings; I even offered to find her a shrink myself. But Kathy doesn’t want to talk, it seems.

Sometimes I catch her looking at me strangely—and wonder what she’s thinking. Is she trying to summon up the courage to tell me about Gabriel and the affair? But she doesn’t say a word. She just sits in silence, the way Alicia used to. I wish I could help her—but I can’t seem to reach her.

That’s the terrible irony: I did all this to keep Kathy—and I’ve lost her anyway.

I perched on the armrest and watched her a moment. “A patient of mine took an overdose. She’s in a coma.” No reaction. “It looks as though another member of the staff may have administered the overdose deliberately. A colleague.” No reaction. “Are you listening to me?”

Kathy gave a brief shrug. “I don’t know what to say.” “Some sympathy might be nice.”

“For who? For you?”

“For her. I’ve been seeing her for a while, in individual therapy. Her name is Alicia Berenson.” I glanced at Kathy as I said this.

She didn’t react. Not even a flicker of emotion.

“She’s famous, or infamous. Everyone was talking about her a few years ago. She killed her husband … remember?”

“No, not really.” Kathy shrugged and changed the channel. So we continue our game of “let’s pretend.”

I seem to do a lot of pretending, these days—for a lot of people, including myself. Which is why I’m writing this, I suppose. An attempt to bypass my monstrous ego and access the truth about myself—if that’s possible.

I needed a drink. I went into the kitchen and poured myself a shot of vodka from the freezer. It burned my throat as I swallowed it. I poured another.

I wondered what Ruth would say if I went to find her again—as I did six years ago—and confessed all this to her? But I knew it was impossible. That I was altogether a different creature now, a guiltier thing, less capable of honesty. How could I sit opposite that frail old lady and look into those

watery blue eyes that held me safe for so long—and gave me nothing but decency, kindness, truth—and reveal how foul I am, how cruel, how vengeful and perverse, how unworthy I am of Ruth and everything she tried to do for me? How could I tell her that I have destroyed three lives? That I have no moral code, that I’m capable of the worst kind of acts without remorse, and my only concern is for my own skin?

Even worse than the shock or repulsion, or possibly even fear, in Ruth’s eyes as I told her this would be the look of sadness, disappointment, and self-reproach. Because not only had I let her down, I know she would be thinking she had let me down—and not just me, but the talking cure itself. For no therapist ever had a better shot at it than Ruth—she had years to work with someone who was damaged, yes, but so young, just a boy, and so willing to change, to get better, to heal. Yet, despite hundreds of hours of psychotherapy, talking and listening and analyzing, she was unable to save his soul.

The doorbell rang, rousing me from my thoughts. It wasn’t a common occurrence, an evening visitor, not since we moved to Surrey; I couldn’t even remember the last time we’d had friends over.

“Are you expecting someone?” I called out, but there was no reply.

Kathy probably couldn’t hear me over the TV.

I went to the front door and opened it. To my surprise, it was Chief Inspector Allen. He was wrapped up in a scarf and coat, and his cheeks were flushed.

“Good evening, Mr. Faber.”

“Inspector Allen? What are you doing here?”

“I happened to be in the neighborhood and thought I’d pop in. A couple of developments I wanted to tell you about. Is now convenient?”

I hesitated. “To be honest, I’m just about to cook dinner, so—” “This won’t take long.”

Allen smiled. He clearly wasn’t going to take no for an answer, so I stepped aside and let him enter. He looked happy to be inside. He pulled off his gloves and his coat. “It’s getting bloody cold out there. Cold enough to snow, I’d bet.” His glasses had steamed up and he took them off and wiped them with his handkerchief.

“I’m afraid it’s rather warm in here,” I said. “Not for me. Can’t be too warm for my liking.” “You’d get on with my wife.”

Right on cue, Kathy appeared in the hallway. She looked from me to the inspector quizzically. “What’s going on?”

“Kathy, this is Chief Inspector Allen. He’s in charge of the investigation about the patient I mentioned.”

“Good evening, Mrs. Faber.”

“Inspector Allen wants to talk to me about something. We won’t be long. Go upstairs and have your bath, and I’ll call you when dinner’s ready.” I nodded at the inspector to go into the kitchen. “After you.”

Inspector Allen glanced at Kathy again before he turned and went into the kitchen. I followed, leaving Kathy lingering in the hallway, before I heard her footsteps slowly going upstairs.

“Can I get you something to drink?”

“Thank you. That’s very kind. A cup of tea would be lovely.” I saw his eyes go to the bottle of vodka on the counter.

I smiled. “Or something stronger if you prefer?” “No, thank you. A cup of tea suits me just fine.” “How do you take it?”

“Strong, please. Just enough milk to color it. No sugar, I’m trying to give it up.”

As he spoke, my mind drifted—wondering what he was doing here, and if I should be nervous. His manner was so genial it was hard not to feel safe. Besides, there was nothing that could trip me up, was there?

I switched on the kettle and turned to face him.

“So, Inspector? What was it you wanted to talk to me about?” “Well, about Mr. Martin, mainly.”

“Jean-Felix? Really?” That surprised me. “What about him?”

“Well, he came to the Grove to collect Alicia’s art materials, and we got talking about one thing and another. Interesting man, Mr. Martin. He’s planning a retrospective of Alicia’s work. He seems to think now is a good time to reevaluate her as an artist. Given all the publicity, I daresay he’s

right.” Allen gave me an appraising look. “You might want to write about her, sir. I’m sure there’ll be interest in a book, or something like that.”

“I hadn’t considered it.… What exactly has Jean-Felix’s retrospective got to do with me, Inspector?”

“Well, Mr. Martin was particularly excited to see the new painting—he didn’t seem concerned that Elif defaced it. He said it added a special quality to it—I can’t remember the exact words he used—I don’t know much about art myself. Do you?”

“Not really.” I wondered how long it was going to take the inspector to get to the point, and why I was feeling increasingly uneasy.

“Anyway, Mr. Martin was admiring the picture. And he picked it up to look at it more closely, and there it was.”

“What was?” “This.”

The inspector pulled out something from inside his jacket. I recognized it at once.

The diary.

The kettle boiled and a shriek filled the air. I switched it off and poured some boiling water into the mug. I stirred it and noticed my hand was trembling slightly.

“Oh, good. I wondered where it was.”

“Wedged in the back of the painting, in the top-left corner of the frame.

It was jammed in tight.”

So that’s where she hid it, I thought. The back of the painting that I hated. The one place I didn’t look.

The inspector stroked the creased, faded black cover and smiled. He opened it and looked through the pages. “Fascinating. The arrows, the confusion.”

I nodded. “A portrait of a disturbed mind.”

Inspector Allen flicked through the pages to the end. He started reading from it aloud:

“‘… he was scared—of the sound of my voice.… He grabbed my wrist and stuck a needle in my vein.’”

I felt a sudden rising panic. I didn’t know those words. I hadn’t read that entry. It was the incriminating evidence I had been looking for—and it was in the wrong hands. I wanted to snatch the diary from Allen and tear out the pages—but I couldn’t move. I was trapped. I started stammering—

“I—I really think it’s better if I—”

I spoke too nervously, and he heard the fear in my voice. “Yes?” “Nothing.”

I made no further attempt to stop him. Any action I took would be viewed as incriminating anyway. There was no way out. And the strangest thing is, I felt relieved.

“You know, I don’t believe you happened to be in my neighborhood at all, Inspector.” I handed him his tea.

“Ah. No, you’re quite right. I thought it best not to announce the intention of my visit on the doorstep. But the fact is, this puts things in rather a different light.”

“I’m curious to hear it,” I heard myself saying. “Will you read it aloud?” “Very well.”

I felt strangely calm as I sat in the chair by the window.

He cleared his throat and began. “‘Theo just left. I am alone. I’m writing this as fast as I can.…’”

As I listened, I looked up at the white clouds drifting past. Finally, they had opened—it had started to snow—snowflakes were falling outside. I opened the window and reached out my hand. I caught a snowflake. I watched it disappear, vanish from my fingertip. I smiled.

And I went to catch another one.

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