Authors: Alex Michaelides
Tags: #Thrillers, #Psychological, #Fiction, #Suspense
He jerked his head at me to follow him. He slipped through the crowd and went around the corner and along a backstreet. He entered an old pub and I followed. It was deserted inside, dingy and tattered, and stank of vomit and old cigarette smoke.
“Gissa beer,” he said, hovering at the bar. He was scarcely tall enough to see over it. I begrudgingly bought him half a pint. He took it to a table in the corner. I sat opposite him. He looked around furtively, then reached under the table and slipped me a small package wrapped in cellophane. I gave him some cash.
I went home and I opened the package, half expecting to have been ripped off, but a familiar pungent smell drifted to my nose. I saw the little green buds streaked with gold. My heart raced as though I had encountered a long-lost friend; which I suppose I had.
From then on, I would get high occasionally, whenever I found myself alone in the flat for a few hours, when I was sure Kathy would not be coming back anytime soon.
That night, when I came home, tired and frustrated, and found Kathy out at rehearsal, I quickly rolled a joint. I smoked it out of the bathroom window. But I smoked too much, too fast—it hit me hard, like a punch between the eyes. I was so stoned, even walking felt difficult, like wading through treacle. I went through my usual sanitizing ritual—air freshener, brushing my teeth, taking a shower—and I carefully maneuvered myself to the living room. I sank onto the sofa.
I looked for the TV remote but couldn’t see it. Then I located it, peeking out from behind Kathy’s open laptop on the coffee table. I reached for it, but was so stoned I knocked over the laptop. I propped the laptop up again—and the screen came to life. It was logged into her email account. For some reason, I kept staring at it. I was transfixed—her in-box stared at me like a gaping hole. I couldn’t look away. All kinds of things jumped out before I knew what I was reading: words such as “sexy” and “fuck” in the email headings—and repeated emails from BADBOY22.
If only I’d stopped there. If only I’d got up and walked away—but I didn’t.
I clicked on the most recent email and opened it:
Subject: Re: little miss fuck
I’m on the bus. So horny for you. I can smell you on me. I feel like a slut! Kxx
Sent from my iPhone
Subject: Re: re: re: little miss fuck
U r a slut! Lol. C u later? After rehearsal?
Subject: Re: re: re: re: re: little miss fuck
Ok. Will see what time I can get away. I’ll text u.
Subject: Re: re: re: re: little miss fuck
Ok. 830? 9? xx
Sent from my iPhone
I pulled the laptop from the table. I sat with it on my lap, staring at it. I don’t know how long I sat like that. Ten minutes? Twenty minutes? Half an hour? Maybe longer. Time seemed to slow to a crawl.
I tried to process what I had just seen, but I was still so stoned, I wasn’t sure what I
seen. Was it real? Or some kind of misunderstanding—some joke I wasn’t getting because I was so high?
I forced myself to read another email.
I ended up going through all of Kathy’s emails to BADBOY22. Some were sexual, obscene even. Others were longer, more confessional, emotional, and she sounded drunk—perhaps they were written late at night, after I had gone to bed. I pictured myself in the bedroom, asleep, while Kathy was out here, writing intimate messages to this stranger. This stranger she was fucking.
Time caught up with itself with a jolt. Suddenly I was no longer stoned. I was horribly, painfully sober.
There was a wrenching pain in my stomach. I threw aside the laptop. I ran into the bathroom.
I fell to my knees in front of the toilet and threw up.
“THIS FEELS RATHER DIFFERENT
from last time,” I said.
Alicia sat opposite me in the chair, head turned slightly toward the window. She sat perfectly still, her spine rigid and straight. She looked like a cellist. Or a soldier.
“I’m thinking of how the last session ended. When you physically attacked me and had to be restrained.”
No response. I hesitated.
“I wonder if you did it as some kind of test? To see what I’m made of? I think it’s important that you know I’m not easily intimidated. I can take whatever you throw at me.”
Alicia looked out the window at the gray sky beyond the bars. I waited a moment.
“There’s something I need to tell you, Alicia. That I’m on your side. Hopefully one day you’ll believe that. Of course, it takes time to build trust. My old therapist used to say intimacy requires the repeated experience of being responded to—and that doesn’t happen overnight.”
Alicia stared at me, unblinking, with an inscrutable gaze. The minutes passed. It felt more like an endurance test than a therapy session.
I wasn’t making progress in any direction, it seemed. Perhaps it was all hopeless. Christian had been right to point out that rats desert sinking ships. What the hell was I doing clambering upon this wreck, lashing myself to the mast, preparing to drown?
The answer was sitting in front of me. As Diomedes put it, Alicia was a silent siren, luring me to my doom.
I felt a sudden desperation. I wanted to scream at her,
Say something. Anything. Just talk.
But I didn’t say that. Instead, I broke with therapeutic tradition. I stopped treading softly and got directly to the point:
“I’d like to talk about your silence. About what it means … what it feels like. And specifically why you stopped talking.”
Alicia didn’t look at me. Was she even listening?
“As I sit here with you, a picture keeps coming into my mind—an image of someone biting their fist, holding back a yell, swallowing a scream. I remember when I first started therapy, I found it very hard to cry. I feared I’d be carried away by the flood, overwhelmed. Perhaps that’s what it feels like for you. That’s why it’s important to take your time to feel safe and trust that you won’t be alone in this flood—that I’m treading water here with you.”
“I think of myself as a relational therapist. Do you know what that means?”
“It means I think Freud was wrong about a couple of things. I don’t believe a therapist can ever really be a blank slate, as he intended. We leak all kinds of information about ourselves unintentionally—by the color of my socks, or how I sit or the way I talk. Just by sitting here with you, I reveal a great deal about myself. Despite my best efforts at invisibility, I’m showing you who I am.”
Alicia looked up. She stared at me, her chin slightly tilted—was there a challenge in that look? At last I had her attention. I shifted in my seat.
“The point is, what can we do about this? We can ignore it and deny it and pretend this therapy is all about you. Or we can acknowledge that this is a two-way street and work with that. And then we can really start to get somewhere.”
I held up my hand. I nodded at my wedding ring.
“This ring tells you something, doesn’t it?”
Alicia’s eyes ever so slowly moved in the direction of the ring.
“It tells you I’m a married man. It tells you I have a wife. We’ve been married for nearly nine years.”
No response, yet she kept staring at the ring.
“You were married for about seven years, weren’t you?”
“I love my wife very much. Did you love your husband?”
Alicia’s eyes moved. They darted up to my face. We stared at each other.
“Love includes all kinds of feelings, doesn’t it? Good and bad. I love my wife—her name is Kathy—but sometimes I get angry with her. Sometimes …
I hate her
Alicia kept staring at me; I felt like a rabbit in the headlights, frozen, unable to look away or move. The attack alarm was on the table, within reach. I made a concerted effort not to look at it.
I knew I shouldn’t keep talking—that I should shut up—but I couldn’t stop myself. I went on compulsively:
“And when I say I hate her, I don’t mean
of me hates her. Just a part of me hates. It’s about holding on to both parts at the same time. Part of you loved Gabriel. Part of you hated him.”
Alicia shook her head—no. A brief movement, but definite. Finally—a response. I felt a sudden thrill. I should have stopped there, but I didn’t.
“Part of you hated him,” I said again more firmly.
Another shake of the head. Her eyes burned through me. She’s getting angry, I thought.
“It’s true, Alicia. Or you wouldn’t have killed him.”
Alicia suddenly jumped up. I thought she was about to leap on me. My body tensed in anticipation. But instead she turned and marched to the door. She hammered on it with her fists.
There was the sound of a key turning—and Yuri threw open the door. He looked relieved not to find Alicia strangling me on the floor. She pushed past him and ran into the corridor.
“Steady on, slow down, honey.” He glanced back at me. “Everything okay? What happened?”
I didn’t reply. Yuri gave me a funny look and left. I was alone.
Idiot, I thought to myself. You idiot. What was I doing? I’d pushed her too far, too hard, too soon. It was horribly unprofessional, not to mention totally fucking inept. It revealed far more about my state of mind than hers.
But that’s what Alicia did for you. Her silence was like a mirror—reflecting yourself back at you.
And it was often an ugly sight.
YOU DON’T NEED TO BE A PSYCHOTHERAPIST
to suspect that Kathy had left her laptop open because—unconsciously, at least—she wanted me to find out about her infidelity.
Well, now I had found out. Now I knew.
I hadn’t spoken to her since the other night, feigning sleep when she got back, and leaving the flat in the morning before she woke up. I was avoiding her—avoiding myself. I was in shock. I knew I had to take a look at myself—or risk losing myself. Get a grip, I muttered under my breath as I rolled a joint. I smoked it out of the window, and then, suitably stoned, I poured a glass of wine in the kitchen.
The glass slipped out of my grasp as I picked it up. I tried to catch it as it fell, but only succeeded in thrusting my hand into a shard of glass as it smashed on the table, slicing a chunk of flesh from my finger.
Suddenly blood was everywhere: blood trickling down my arm, blood on broken glass, blood mingling with white wine on the table. I struggled to tear off some kitchen paper and bound my finger tight to stem the flow. I held my hand above my head, watching blood stream down my arm in tiny diverging rivulets, mimicking the pattern of veins beneath my skin.
I thought of Kathy.
It was Kathy I would reach for in a moment of crisis—when I needed sympathy or reassurance or someone to kiss it better. I wanted her to look after me. I thought about calling her, but even as I had this thought, I imagined a door closing fast, slamming shut, locking her out of reach. Kathy was gone—I had lost her. I wanted to cry, but couldn’t—I was blocked up inside, packed with mud and shit.
“Fuck,” I kept repeating to myself, “fuck.”
I became conscious of the clock ticking. It seemed louder now somehow. I tried to focus on it and anchor my spinning thoughts: tick, tick, tick—but the chorus of voices in my head grew louder and wouldn’t be silenced. She was bound to be unfaithful, I thought, this had to happen, it was inevitable—I was never good enough for her, I was useless, ugly, worthless, nothing—she was bound to tire of me eventually—I didn’t deserve her, I didn’t deserve anything—it went on and on, one horrible thought after another punching me.
How little I knew her. Those emails demonstrated I’d been living with a stranger. Now I saw the truth. Kathy hadn’t saved me—she wasn’t capable of saving anyone. She was no heroine to be admired—just a frightened, fucked-up girl, a cheating liar. This whole mythology of
that I had built up, our hopes and dreams, likes and dislikes, our plans for the future; a life that had seemed so secure, so sturdy, now collapsed in seconds—like a house of cards in a gust of wind.
My mind went to that cold room at college, all those years ago—tearing open packets of paracetamol with clumsy, numb fingers. The same numbness overtook me now, that same desire to curl up and die. I thought of my mother. Could I call her? Turn to her in my moment of desperation and need? I imagined her answering the phone, her voice shaky; just how shaky depended on my father’s mood, and if she’d been drinking. She might listen sympathetically to me, but her mind would be elsewhere, one eye on my dad and his temper. How could she help me? How can one drowning rat save another?
I had to get out. I couldn’t breathe in here, in this flat with these stinking lilies. I needed some air. I needed to breathe.
I left the flat. I dug my hands in my pockets and kept my head low. I pounded the streets, walking fast, going nowhere. In my mind I kept going back over our relationship, scene by scene, remembering it, examining it, turning it over, looking for clues. I remembered unresolved fights, unexplained absences, and frequent lateness. But I also remembered small acts of kindness—affectionate notes she’d leave for me in unexpected places, moments of sweetness and apparently genuine love. How was this possible? Had she been acting the whole time? Had she ever loved me?
I remembered the flicker of doubt I’d had upon meeting her friends. They were all actors; loud, narcissistic, preening, endlessly talking about themselves and people I didn’t know. Suddenly I was transported back to school, hovering alone on the fringes of the playground, watching the other kids play. I convinced myself Kathy wasn’t like them at all—but clearly she was. If had I encountered them that first night at the bar when I met her, would they have put me off her? I doubt it. Nothing could have prevented our union: from the moment I saw Kathy, my fate was written.