Chapter no 8

The Silent Patient

I OPENED ALICIA’S FILE ON MY DESK. Diomedes had volunteered it: “You must read my notes. They will help you.”

I had no desire to wade through his notes; I already knew what Diomedes thought; I needed to find out what I thought. But nonetheless I accepted it politely.

“Thank you. That will be such a help.”

My office was small and sparsely furnished, tucked away at the back of the building, by the fire escape. I looked out the window. A little black bird was pecking at a patch of frozen grass on the ground outside, dispiritedly and without much hope.

I shivered. The room was freezing. The small radiator under the window was broken—Yuri said he’d try to get it fixed, but that my best bet was to talk to Stephanie or, failing that, bring it up in Community. I felt a sudden pang of empathy with Elif and her battle to get the broken pool cue replaced.

I looked through Alicia’s file without much expectation. The majority of the information I needed was in the online database. Diomedes, however, like a lot of older staff members, preferred to write his reports by hand and (ignoring Stephanie’s nagging requests to the contrary) continued to do so

—hence the dog-eared file in front of me.

I flicked through Diomedes’s notes, ignoring his somewhat old-fashioned psychoanalytic interpretations, and focused on the nurses’ handover reports of Alicia’s day-to-day behavior. I read through those reports carefully. I wanted facts, figures, details—I needed to know exactly what I was getting into, what I’d have to deal with, and if any surprises were in store.

The file revealed little. When she was first admitted, Alicia slashed her wrists twice and self-harmed with whatever she could get her hands on. She was kept on two-on-one observation for the first six months—meaning two nurses watched over her at all times—which was eventually relaxed to oneon-one. Alicia made no effort to interact with patients or staff, remaining withdrawn and isolated and for the most part, the other patients had left her alone. If people don’t reply when you speak to them and never initiate conversation, you soon forget they’re there. Alicia had quickly melted into the background, becoming invisible.

Only one incident stood out. It took place in the canteen, a few weeks after Alicia’s admission. Elif accused Alicia of taking her seat. What exactly had happened was unclear, but the confrontation escalated rapidly. Apparently Alicia became violent—she smashed a plate and tried to slash Elif’s throat with the jagged edge. Alicia had to be restrained, sedated, and placed in isolation.

I wasn’t sure why this incident drew my attention. But it didn’t feel right to me. I decided to approach Elif and ask her about it.

I tore off a sheet of paper from a pad and reached for my pen. An old habit, formed at university—something about putting pen to paper helps me organize my mind. I’ve always had difficulty formulating an opinion until I’ve written it down.

I began scribbling ideas, notes, goals—devising a plan of attack. To help Alicia, I needed to understand her, and her relationship with Gabriel. Did she love him? Hate him? What happened to make her kill him? Why had she refused to speak about the murder—or anything else? No answers, not yet—just questions.

I wrote down a word and underlined it: ALCESTIS.

The self-portrait—it was important, somehow, I knew that, and understanding why would be central to unlocking this mystery. This painting was Alicia’s sole communication, her only testimony. It was saying something I had yet to comprehend. I made a note to revisit the gallery to look at the painting again.

I wrote down another word: CHILDHOOD. If I was to make sense of Gabriel’s murder, I needed to understand not only the events of the night

Alicia killed him, but also the events of the distant past. The seeds of what happened in those few minutes when she shot her husband were probably sown years earlier. Murderous rage, homicidal rage, is not born in the present. It originates in the land before memory, in the world of early childhood, with abuse and mistreatment, which builds up a charge over the years, until it explodes—often at the wrong target. I needed to find out how her childhood had shaped her, and if Alicia couldn’t or wouldn’t tell me, I had to find someone who would. Someone who knew Alicia before the murder, who could help me understand her history, who she was, and how she ended up this way.

In the file, Alicia’s next of kin was listed as her aunt—Lydia Rose— who brought her up, following the death of Alicia’s mother in a car accident. Alicia had also been in the car crash, but survived. That trauma must have affected the little girl profoundly. I hoped Lydia would be able to tell me about it.

The only other contact was Alicia’s lawyer: Max Berenson. Max was Gabriel Berenson’s brother. He was perfectly placed to observe their marriage intimately. Whether Max Berenson would confide in me was another matter. An unsolicited approach to Alicia’s family by her psychotherapist was unorthodox to say the least. I had a dim feeling Diomedes would not approve. Better not ask his permission, I decided, in case he refused.

As I look back, this was my first professional transgression in dealing with Alicia—setting an unfortunate precedent for what followed. I should have stopped there. But even then it was too late to stop. In many ways my fate was already decided—like in a Greek tragedy.

I reached for the phone. I called Max Berenson at his office, using the contact number listed in Alicia’s file. It rang several times before it was answered.

“The offices of Elliot, Barrow, and Berenson,” said a receptionist with a bad cold.

“Mr. Berenson, please.” “May I ask who is calling?”

“My name is Theo Faber. I’m a psychotherapist at the Grove. I was wondering if it might be possible to have a word with Mr. Berenson about his sister-in-law.”

There was a slight pause before she responded. “Oh. I see. Well, Mr. Berenson is out of the office for the rest of the week. He’s in Edinburgh visiting a client. If you leave your number, I’ll have him call you on his return.”

I gave her my number and hung up.

I dialed the next number in the file—Alicia’s aunt, Lydia Rose.

It was answered on the first ring. An elderly woman’s voice sounded breathless and rather annoyed. “Yes? What is it?”

“Is that Mrs. Rose?” “Who are you?”

“I’m calling regarding your niece, Alicia Berenson. I’m a psychotherapist working at the—”

“Fuck off.” She hung up. I frowned to myself.

Not a good start.

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