“Sit down here.” He gestured to an empty chair by his side. “Sit, sit, sit.”
I did as he asked.
Diomedes presented me with a flourish. “Allow me to introduce our new psychotherapist. Theo Faber. I hope you will join me in welcoming Theo to our little family—”
While Diomedes spoke, I glanced around the circle, looking for Alicia. But couldn’t see her anywhere. Apart from Professor Diomedes, impeccably dressed in suit and tie, the others were mostly in short-sleeved shirts or T-shirts. It was hard to tell who was a patient and who was a member of staff.
A couple of faces were familiar to me—Christian, for instance. I had known him at Broadmoor. A rugby-playing psychiatrist with a broken nose and a dark beard. Good looking in a bashed-up kind of way. He’d left Broadmoor soon after I arrived. I didn’t like Christian much, but to be fair I hadn’t known him well, as we didn’t work together for long.
I remembered Indira, from the interview. She smiled at me, and I was grateful, for hers was the only friendly face. The patients mostly glared at me with surly mistrust. I didn’t blame them. The abuses they had suffered—physical, psychological, sexual—meant it would be a long time before they could trust me, if ever. The patients were all women—and most had course features, lined, scarred. They’d had difficult lives, suffering from horrors that had driven them to retreat into the no-man’s-land of mental illness; their journey was etched into their faces, impossible to miss.
But Alicia Berenson? Where was she? I looked around the circle again but still couldn’t find her. Then I realized—I was looking right at her. Alicia was sitting directly opposite me, across the circle.
I hadn’t seen her because she was invisible.
Alicia was slumped forward in the chair. She was obviously highly sedated. She was holding a paper cup, full of
tea, and her trembling hand was spilling a steady stream of it onto the floor. I restrained myself from going over and straightening her cup. She was so out of it I doubt she’d have noticed if I had.
I hadn’t expected her to be in such bad shape. There were some echoes of the beautiful woman she had once been: deep blue eyes; a face of perfect symmetry. But she was too thin and looked unclean. Her long red hair was hanging in a dirty, tangled mess around her shoulders. Her fingernails were chewed and torn. Faded scars were visible on both her wrists —the same scars I’d seen faithfully rendered in the Alcestis portrait. Her fingers didn’t stop trembling, doubtless a side effect of the drug cocktail she was on—risperidone and other heavyweight antipsychotics. And glistening saliva was collecting around her open mouth, uncontrollable drooling being another unfortunate side effect of the medication.
I noticed Diomedes looking at me. I pulled my attention away from Alicia and focused on him.
“I’m sure you can introduce yourself better than I can, Theo,” he said. “Won’t you say a few words?”