The silent patient by alex michaelides

I could feel myself thawing in the heat, softening around the edges, like a tortoise emerging into the sun after a long winter’s sleep, blinking and waking up. Kathy did that for me —she was my invitation to life, one I grasped with both hands. 

So this is it, I remember thinking. This is love. 

I recognized it without question and knew clearly that I’d never experienced anything like this before. My previous romantic encounters had been brief, unsatisfactory for all concerned. As a student I had summoned up the nerve, aided by a considerable amount of alcohol, to lose my virginity to a Canadian sociology student called Meredith, who wore sharp metal braces that cut into my lips as we kissed. A string of uninspired relationships followed. I never seemed to find the special connection I longed for. I had believed I was too damaged, too incapable of intimacy. But now every time I heard Kathy’s contagious giggle, a wave of excitement ran

through me. Through a kind of osmosis, I absorbed her youthful exuberance, her unself-consciousness and joy. I said yes to her every suggestion and every whim. I didn’t recognize myself. I liked this new person, this unafraid man Kathy inspired me to be. We fucked all the time. I was consumed with lust, perpetually, urgently hungry for her. I needed to keep touching her; I couldn’t get close enough. 

Kathy moved in with me that December, into my one bedroom apartment in Kentish Town. The dank, thickly carpeted basement flat had windows, but with no view. Our first Christmas together, we were determined to do it properly. We bought a tree from the stall by the tube station and dressed it with a jumble of decorations and lights from the market. 

I remember vividly the scent of pine needles and wood and candles burning, and Kathy’s eyes staring into mine, sparkling, twinkling like the lights on the tree. I spoke without thinking. The words just came out: 

“Will you marry me?” 

Kathy stared at me. “What?” 

“I love you, Kathy. Will you marry me?” 

Kathy laughed. Then, to my joy and amazement, she said, “Yes.” 

The next day, we went out and she chose a ring. And the reality of the situation dawned on me. We were engaged. 

Bizarrely, the first people I thought of were my parents. I wanted to introduce Kathy to them. I wanted them to see how happy I was, that I had finally escaped, that I was free. So we got the train to Surrey. In hindsight, it was a bad idea. Doomed from the start. 

My father greeted me with typical hostility. “You look terrible, Theo. You’re too thin. Your hair is too short. You look like a convict.” 

“Thanks, Dad. Good to see you too.”

My mother seemed more depressed than usual. Quieter, smaller somehow, as if she weren’t there. Dad was a heavier presence, unfriendly, glaring, unsmiling. He didn’t take his cold, dark eyes off Kathy the entire time. It was an uncomfortable lunch. They didn’t seem to like her, nor did they seem particularly happy for us. I don’t know why I was surprised. 

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