The silent patient by alex michaelides

The painting was a self-portrait. She titled it in the bottom left-hand corner of the canvas, in light blue Greek lettering. 

One word: 

Alcestis.

CHAPTER TWO 

ALCESTIS IS THE HEROINE OF A GREEK MYTH. A love story of the saddest kind. Alcestis willingly sacrifices her life for that of her husband, Admetus, dying in his place when no one else will. An unsettling myth of self-sacrifice, it was unclear how it related to Alicia’s situation. The true meaning of the allusion remained unknown to me for some time. Until one day, the truth came to light— 

But I’m going too fast. I’m getting ahead of myself. I must start at the beginning and let events speak for themselves. I mustn’t color them, twist them, or tell any lies. I’ll proceed step by step, slowly and cautiously. But where to begin? I should introduce myself, but perhaps not quite yet; after all, I am not the hero of this tale. It is Alicia Berenson’s story, so I must begin with her—and the Alcestis. 

The painting is a self-portrait, depicting Alicia in her studio at home in the days after the murder, standing before an easel and a canvas, holding a paintbrush. She is naked. Her body is rendered in unsparing detail: strands of long red hair falling across bony shoulders, blue veins visible beneath translucent skin, fresh scars on both her wrists. She’s holding the paintbrush between her fingers. It’s dripping red paint—or is it blood? She is captured in the act of painting—yet the canvas is blank, as is her expression. Her head is turned over her shoulder and she stares straight out at us. Mouth open, lips parted. Mute. 

During the trial, Jean-Felix Martin, who managed the small Soho gallery that represented Alicia, made the controversial decision, decried by many as sensationalist and macabre, to exhibit the Alcestis. The fact that the artist was currently in the dock for killing her husband meant, for the first time in the gallery’s long history, queues formed outside the entrance.

I stood in line with the other prurient art-lovers, waiting my turn by the neon-red lights of a sex shop next door. One by one, we shuffled inside. Once in the gallery, we were herded toward the painting, like an excitable crowd at a fairground making its way through a haunted house. Eventually, I found myself at the front of the line—and was confronted with the Alcestis. 

I stared at the painting, staring into Alicia’s face, trying to interpret the look in her eyes, trying to understand—but the portrait defied me. Alicia stared back at me—a blank mask— unreadable, impenetrable. I could divine neither innocence nor guilt in her expression. 

Other people found her easier to read. 

“Pure evil,” whispered the woman behind me. 

“Isn’t she?” her companion agreed. “Cold-blooded bitch.” 

A little unfair, I thought—considering Alicia’s guilt had yet to be proven. But in truth it was a foregone conclusion. The tabloids had cast her as a villain from the start: a femme fatale, a black widow. A monster. 

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *