The silent patient by alex michaelides

That’s an odd thought. 

On my way here I saw a small bird on the path, lying by the roots of a tree. I thought it must have fallen from its nest. It

wasn’t moving and I wondered if it had broken its wings. I stroked its head gently with my finger. It didn’t react. I nudged it and turned it over—and the underside of the bird was gone, eaten away, leaving a cavity filled with maggots. Fat, white, slippery maggots … twisting, turning, writhing … I felt my stomach turn—I thought I was going to be sick. It was so foul, so disgusting—deathly. 

I can’t get it out of my mind. 

JULY 17 

I’ve started taking refuge from the heat in an air-conditioned café on the high street—Café de l’Artista. It’s icy cold inside, like climbing into a fridge. There’s a table I like by the window, where I sit drinking iced coffee. Sometimes I read or sketch or make notes. Mostly I just let my mind drift, luxuriating in the coldness. The beautiful girl behind the counter stands there looking bored, staring at her phone, checking her watch, and sighing periodically. Yesterday afternoon, her sighs seemed especially long—and I realized she was waiting for me to go, so she could close up. I left reluctantly. 

Walking in this heat feels like wading through mud. I feel worn down, battered, beaten up by it. We’re not equipped for it, not in this country—Gabriel and I don’t have air-conditioning at home—who does? But without it, it’s impossible to sleep. At night we throw off the covers and lie there in the dark, naked, drenched in sweat. We leave the windows open, but there’s no hint of a breeze. Just hot dead air. 

I bought an electric fan yesterday. I set it up at the foot of the bed on top of the chest. 

Gabriel immediately started complaining. “It makes too much noise. We’ll never sleep.” 

“We can’t sleep anyway. At least we won’t be lying here in a sauna.”

Gabriel grumbled, but he fell asleep before I did. I lay there listening to the fan. I like the sound it makes, a gentle whirring. I can shut my eyes and tune in to it and disappear. 

I’ve been carrying the fan around the house with me, plugging it in and unplugging it as I move around. This afternoon I took it down to the studio at the end of the garden. Having the fan made it just about bearable. But it’s still too hot to get much work done. I’m falling behind—but too hot to care. 

I did have a bit of a breakthrough—I finally understood what’s wrong with the Jesus picture. Why it’s not working. The problem isn’t with the composition—Jesus on the cross—the problem is it’s not a picture of Jesus at all. It doesn’t even look like Him—whatever He looked like. Because it’s not Jesus. 

It’s Gabriel. 

Incredible that I didn’t see it before. Somehow, without intending to, I’ve put Gabriel up there instead. It’s his face I’ve painted, his body. Isn’t that insane? So I must surrender to that —and do what the painting demands of me. 

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