Authors: Alex Michaelides
Tags: #Thrillers, #Psychological, #Fiction, #Suspense
This was my cue. I nodded and kissed her cheek. “Of course it was. True love.”
This received a look of approval from her friends. But I wasn’t performing. She was right, it was love at first sight—well, lust anyway. Even though I was with Marianne that night, I couldn’t keep my eyes off Kathy. I watched her from a distance, talking animatedly to Daniel—and then I saw her lips mouth,
. They were arguing. It looked heated. Daniel turned and walked out.
“You’re being quiet,” Marianne said. “What’s wrong?”
“Let’s go home, then. I’m tired.”
“Not yet.” I was only half listening. “Let’s have another drink.”
“I want to go now.”
Marianne shot me a hurt look, then grabbed her jacket and walked out. I knew there’d be a row the next day, but I didn’t care.
I made my way over to Kathy at the bar. “Is Daniel coming back?”
“No. How about Marianne?”
I shook my head. “No. Would you like another drink?”
“Yes, I would.”
So we ordered two more drinks. We stood at the bar, talking. We discussed my psychotherapy training, I remember. And Kathy told me about her stint at drama school—she didn’t stay long, as she signed up with an agent at the end of her first year and had been acting professionally ever since. I imagined, without knowing why, that she was probably rather a good actress.
“Studying wasn’t for me,” she said. “I wanted to get out there and do it—you know?”
“Do what? Act?”
“No. Live.” Kathy tilted her head, looking out from under her dark lashes, her emerald-green eyes peering at me mischievously. “So, Theo. How do you have the patience to keep doing it—studying, I mean?”
“Maybe I don’t want to get out there and ‘live.’ Maybe I’m a coward.”
“No. If you were a coward, you’d have gone home with your girlfriend.” Kathy laughed, a surprisingly wicked laugh.
I wanted to grab her and kiss her hard. I’d never experienced such overwhelming physical desire before; I wanted to pull her close, feel her lips and the heat of her body against mine.
“I’m sorry,’ she said. ‘I shouldn’t have said that. I always say whatever pops into my head. I told you, I’m a bit nuts.”
Kathy did that a lot, protesting her insanity—“I’m crazy,” “I’m nuts,” “I’m insane”—but I never believed her. She laughed too easily and too often for me to believe she’d ever suffered the kind of darkness I had experienced. She had a spontaneity, a lightness—she took a delight in living and was endlessly amused by life. Despite her protestations, she seemed the least crazy person I’d ever known. Around her, I felt more sane.
Kathy was American. She was born and brought up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Her English mother gave Kathy dual citizenship, but Kathy didn’t seem even remotely English. She was determinedly, distinctly un-English—not just in the way she spoke, but in the way she saw the world and how she approached it. Such confidence, such exuberance. I’d never met anyone like her.
We left the bar, hailed a cab; I gave the address of my flat. We rode the short journey in silence. When we arrived, she gently pressed her lips to mine. I broke through my reserve and pulled her toward me. We kept kissing as I fumbled with the key to the front door. We were scarcely inside before we were undressing, stumbling into the bedroom, falling onto the bed.
That night was the most erotic, blissful night of my life. I spent hours exploring Kathy’s body. We made love all night, until dawn. I remember so much white everywhere: white sunlight creeping around the edges of the curtains, white walls, white bedsheets; the whites of her eyes, her teeth, her skin. I’d never known that skin could be so luminous, so translucent: ivory white with occasional blue veins visible just beneath the surface, like threads of color in white marble. She was a statue; a Greek goddess come to life in my hands.
We lay there wrapped in each other’s arms. Kathy was facing me, her eyes so close they were out of focus. I gazed into a hazy green sea. “Well?” she said.
“What about Marianne?”
A flicker of a smile. “Your girlfriend.”
“Oh, yes. Yes.” I hesitated, unsure. “I don’t know about Marianne. And Daniel?”
Kathy rolled her eyes. “Forget Daniel. I have.”
“Have you really?”
Kathy responded by kissing me.
Before Kathy left, she took a shower. While she was showering, I phoned Marianne. I wanted to arrange to see her, to tell her face-to-face. But she was annoyed about the previous night and insisted we have it out then and there, on the phone. Marianne wasn’t expecting me to break up with her. But that’s what I did, as gently as I could. She started crying and became upset and angry. I hung up on her. Brutal, yes—and unkind. I’m not proud of that phone call. But it seemed like the only honest action to take. I still don’t know what I could have done differently.
* * *
On our first proper date, Kathy and I met at Kew Gardens. It was her idea.
She was astonished I’d never been. “You’re kidding. You’ve never gone to the greenhouses? There’s this big one with all the tropical orchids and they keep it so hot, it’s like an oven. When I was at drama school, I used to go and hang out there just to warm up. How about we meet there, after you finish work?” Then she hesitated, suddenly unsure. “Or is it too far for you to go?”
“I’d go further than Kew Gardens for you, darling.”
“Idiot.” She kissed me.
Kathy was waiting at the entrance when I arrived, in her enormous coat and scarf, waving like an excited child. “Come on, come on, follow me.”
She led me through the frozen mud to the big glass structure that housed the tropical plants and pushed open the door and charged inside. I followed her and was immediately struck by the sudden rise in temperature, an onslaught of heat. I tore off my scarf and coat.
Kathy smiled. “See? I told you, it’s like a sauna. Ain’t it great?”
We walked around along the paths, carrying our coats, holding hands, looking at the exotic flowers.
I felt an unfamiliar happiness just being in her company, as though a secret door had been opened, and Kathy had beckoned me across the threshold—into a magical world of warmth and light and color, and hundreds of orchids in a dazzling confetti of blues and reds and yellows.
I could feel myself thawing in the heat, softening around the edges, like a tortoise emerging into the sun after a long winter’s sleep, blinking and waking up. Kathy did that for me—she was my invitation to life, one I grasped with both hands.
So this is it, I remember thinking. This is love.
I recognized it without question and knew clearly that I’d never experienced anything like this before. My previous romantic encounters had been brief, unsatisfactory for all concerned. As a student I had summoned up the nerve, aided by a considerable amount of alcohol, to lose my virginity to a Canadian sociology student called Meredith, who wore sharp metal braces that cut into my lips as we kissed. A string of uninspired relationships followed. I never seemed to find the special connection I longed for. I had believed I was too damaged, too incapable of intimacy. But now every time I heard Kathy’s contagious giggle, a wave of excitement ran through me. Through a kind of osmosis, I absorbed her youthful exuberance, her unself-consciousness and joy. I said yes to her every suggestion and every whim. I didn’t recognize myself. I liked this new person, this unafraid man Kathy inspired me to be. We fucked all the time. I was consumed with lust, perpetually, urgently hungry for her. I needed to keep touching her; I couldn’t get close enough.
Kathy moved in with me that December, into my one-bedroom apartment in Kentish Town. The dank, thickly carpeted basement flat had windows, but with no view. Our first Christmas together, we were determined to do it properly. We bought a tree from the stall by the tube station and dressed it with a jumble of decorations and lights from the market.
I remember vividly the scent of pine needles and wood and candles burning, and Kathy’s eyes staring into mine, sparkling, twinkling like the lights on the tree. I spoke without thinking. The words just came out:
“Will you marry me?”
Kathy stared at me. “What?”
“I love you, Kathy. Will you marry me?”
Kathy laughed. Then, to my joy and amazement, she said, “Yes.”
The next day, we went out and she chose a ring. And the reality of the situation dawned on me. We were engaged.
Bizarrely, the first people I thought of were my parents. I wanted to introduce Kathy to them. I wanted them to see how happy I was, that I had finally escaped, that I was free. So we got the train to Surrey. In hindsight, it was a bad idea. Doomed from the start.
My father greeted me with typical hostility. “You look terrible, Theo. You’re too thin. Your hair is too short. You look like a convict.”
“Thanks, Dad. Good to see you too.”
My mother seemed more depressed than usual. Quieter, smaller somehow, as if she weren’t there. Dad was a heavier presence, unfriendly, glaring, unsmiling. He didn’t take his cold, dark eyes off Kathy the entire time. It was an uncomfortable lunch. They didn’t seem to like her, nor did they seem particularly happy for us. I don’t know why I was surprised.
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.
Unexpressed emotions will never die. They are buried alive, and will come forth later, in uglier ways.
Alicia Berenson’s Diary
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.
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.
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.