The silent patient by alex michaelides

After lunch, my father disappeared into his study. He didn’t emerge again. When my mother said goodbye, she held on to me for too long, too closely, and was unsteady on her feet. I felt desperately sad. When Kathy and I left the house, part of me hadn’t left, I knew, but had remained behind— forever a child, trapped. I felt lost, hopeless, close to tears. Then Kathy surprised me, as always. She threw her arms around me, pulling me into a hug. “I understand now,” she whispered in my ear. “I understand it all. I love you so much more now.” 

She didn’t explain further. She didn’t need to. 

* * * 

We were married in April, in a small registry office off Euston Square. No parents invited. And no God. Nothing religious, at Kathy’s insistence. But I said a secret prayer during the ceremony. I silently thanked Him for giving me such unexpected, undeserved happiness. I saw things clearly now, I understood His greater purpose. God hadn’t abandoned me during my childhood, when I had felt so alone and so scared— He had been keeping Kathy hidden up His sleeve, waiting to produce her, like a deft magician. 

I felt such humility and gratitude for every second we spent together. I was aware how lucky, how incredibly fortunate I was to have such love, how rare it was, and how others weren’t so lucky. Most of my patients weren’t loved. Alicia Berenson wasn’t. 

It’s hard to imagine two women more different than Kathy and Alicia. Kathy makes me think of light, warmth, color, and

laughter. When I think of Alicia, I think only of depth, of darkness, of sadness. 

Of silence.

PART TWO 

Unexpressed emotions will never die. They are buried alive, and will come forth later, in uglier ways. 

SIGMUND FREUD

CHAPTER ONE 

Alicia Berenson’s Diary 

JULY 16 

I never thought I’d be longing for rain. We’re into our fourth week of the heat wave, and it feels like an endurance test. Each day seems hotter than the last. It doesn’t feel like England. More like a foreign country—Greece or somewhere. 

I’m writing this on Hampstead Heath. The whole park is strewn with red-faced, semi-naked bodies, like a beach or a battlefield, on blankets or benches or spread out on the grass. I’m sitting under a tree, in the shade. It’s six o’clock, and it has started to cool down. The sun is low and red in a golden sky—the park looks different in this light—darker shadows, brighter colors. The grass looks like it’s on fire, flickering flames under my feet. 

I took off my shoes on my way here and walked barefoot. It reminded me of when I was little and I’d play outside. It reminded me of another summer, hot like this one—the summer Mum died—playing outside with Paul, cycling on our bikes through golden fields dotted with wild daisies, exploring abandoned houses and haunted orchards. In my memory that summer lasts forever. I remember Mum and those colorful tops she’d wear, with the yellow stringy straps, so flimsy and delicate—just like her. She was so thin, like a little bird. She would put on the radio and pick me up and dance me around to pop songs on the radio. I remember how she smelled of shampoo and cigarettes and Nivea hand cream, always with an undertone of vodka. How old was she then? Twenty-eight? Twenty-nine? She was younger then than I am now. 

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