The silent patient by alex michaelides

There was no time to waste: Alicia was lost. She was missing. 

And I intended to find her.


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.” 

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