The silent patient by alex michaelides

I know now that when I have an agenda for a picture, a predetermined idea how it should turn out, it never works. It remains stillborn, lifeless. But if I’m really paying attention, really aware, I sometimes hear a whispering voice pointing me in the right direction. And if I give in to it, as an act of faith, it leads me somewhere unexpected, not where I intended, but somewhere intensely alive, glorious—and the result is independent of me, with a life force of its own. 

I suppose what scares me is giving in to the unknown. I like to know where I’m going. That’s why I always make so many sketches—trying to control the outcome—no wonder nothing comes to life—because I’m not really responding to what’s going on in front of me. I need to open my eyes and look—and be aware of life as it is happening, and not simply how I want it to be. Now I know it’s a portrait of Gabriel, I can go back to it. I can start again.

I’ll ask him to pose for me. He hasn’t sat for me in a long time. I hope he likes the idea—and doesn’t think it’s sacrilegious or anything. 

He can be funny like that sometimes. 

JULY 18 

I walked down the hill to Camden market this morning. I’ve not been there in years, not since Gabriel and I went together one afternoon in search of his lost youth. He used to go when he was a teenager, when he and his friends had been up all night, dancing, drinking, talking. They’d turn up at the market in the early morning and watch the traders set up their stalls and try and score some grass from the Rastafarian dealers hanging out on the bridge by Camden Lock. The dealers were no longer there when Gabriel and I went—to Gabriel’s dismay. “I don’t recognize it here anymore,” he said. “It’s a sanitized tourist trap.” 

Walking around today, I wondered if the problem wasn’t that the market had changed as the fact Gabriel had changed. It’s still populated by sixteen-year-olds, embracing the sunshine, sprawled on either side of the canal, a jumble of bodies—boys in rolled-up shorts with bare chests, girls in bikinis or bras— skin everywhere, burning, reddening flesh. The sexual energy was palpable—their hungry, impatient thirst for life. I felt a sudden desire for Gabriel—for his body and his strong legs, his thighs thick lain over mine. When we have sex, I always feel an insatiable hunger for him—for a kind of union between us—something that’s bigger than me, bigger than us, beyond words—something holy. 

Suddenly I caught sight of a homeless man, sitting by me on the pavement, staring at me. His trousers were tied up with string, his shoes held together with tape. His skin had sores and a bumpy rash across his face. I felt a sudden sadness and revulsion. He stank of stale sweat and urine. For a second I thought he spoke to me. But he was just swearing to himself

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