Despite the patience grenade, Baker Street remains structurally sound — to no one’s astonishment, Eurus having made it clear in the last spasm of experiment that she didn’t want Sherlock dead. But the re-plumbing and re-wiring, the re-bricking the hole punched in the street-side wall: all these things take time, meanwhile the place is of course uninhabitable, and after two nights in a hotel Sherlock accepts Mycroft’s offer of a room at the Diogenes. No doubt the offer comes with a side order of lofty self-justification, to be delivered at Mycroft’s earliest convenience, and this should irritate Sherlock, but the hours spent as a lab rat have left him with some vivid memories among which is that of Mycroft taunting and disparaging John, steady-voiced, the better to sacrifice himself for the man his baby brother loves.
He is pretty sure this memory is accurate. John says it is, and John (Sherlock remembers) has never been amenable to Mycroft’s threats or blandishments.
This relying on a memory to shore up a memory. How the snake swallows its tail.
Once upon a time, there was a boy named Sherlock. He had a friend named Victor and a little sister named Eurus and there was just enough water at the bottom of the well —
Once upon a time, there was a boy named Sherlock. His dog Redbeard followed him everywhere —
Sherlock puts down his valise and, for no reason, walks the perimeter of his room. The question whether to be grateful to Mycroft is even more complicated now than it was formerly, but he concedes that the rule of silence in communal spaces makes the Diogenes preferable to any hotel. After he has stood for a while with one hand over his mouth and the other at his hip, looking at nothing in particular, he sits at the plain oval table by the windows and opens his laptop. Ella Thompson’s photograph, on her website, depicts her smiling thoughtfully. Impossible to judge intelligence from a photo, but the text on the site contains only one typographical error and the prose is free of platitude or “affirmation.” Then, too, John said he had found her helpful after Barts.
That last had really been Sherlock’s chief reason for phoning her, after Mary was shot, when John wouldn’t so much as look at him, much less speak to him, much less accept any of his clumsy attempts at comfort.
Ella picks up on the third ring.
“I would like to make an appointment,” Sherlock says, realizing only at the brief startled silence that he has broken into the middle of her hello.
“I see.” Another pause: she will be regrouping. Then: “Certainly, I’ll be happy to see you. But I remember that you didn’t find our earlier work together helpful.”
He thinks, She ought to be sighing in frustration. It makes him uneasy that Ella does not do so; her patience suggests resources he does not have. On the other hand, “Our earlier work together.” The plural possessive comforts him, another knot in a rope line, underwater, along which Sherlock has been pulling himself blindly for weeks now, in hopes of making shore. “Circumstances have changed,” he offers. “It’s become apparent that I —”
— need your help. Unspeakable. Literally and figuratively. The phone is slippery. He regards it with distaste; he sets it down, wipes off his palm, picks it up again, fingertips only; registers that he is clutching it hard enough to hurt. Distractedly, he wonders whether he could crush its case. He sets down the phone again, puts it on speaker. Rubs his forehead.
“There’s no need to feel you must see me, if what you’d prefer is that I make a referral.”
He reminds himself that not everyone treats all conversations as experiments concerning variety and extent of pressure. Ella is only trying to clarify her understanding of his wishes, not test his attachments and resiliency.
“No,” he says. “To explain from the beginning, I — it’s insurmountable. Even with your knowledge of the background it will be difficult . . .” He sounds like one of his own would-be clients, someone with a case he could solve for himself if only he would stop pretending that the facts weren’t staring him in the face. Your husband is cheating on you. Your son is skimming from company accounts. Your mother isn’t dead; she left for the Tesco Superstore and kept on going, because she couldn’t bear to live another day in Bishop’s Stortford.
He becomes aware that Ella is speaking and that her tone is kind. “I have an opening the day after tomorrow, at eleven. Will that do?”
“Thank you,” Sherlock says, “yes,” and disconnects. He squeezes his eyes shut, presses the heels of his hands into them, leans his elbows on the table. These are the things he feels and knows: his eyes, smarting; the bones of his orbits under the flesh of his hands; hardwood, slightly sticky, under his elbows, and the pain he can make himself feel if he rotates the joint against it and pushes.
Sherlock has not been at the Diogenes two hours when he opens the door to a triple knock he might have thought tentative enough to signify cleaning staff. Mycroft’s normal taut prim expression is absent; when Sherlock bows him in, he nods, then stands between the room’s two armchairs, right hand to his mouth. He takes the hand away, makes as if to speak, falls silent.
Sherlock frowns, wondering. He’s unaccustomed to seeing Mycroft in any attitude that isn’t studied — Mycroft makes a performance even of sincerity. It would not have occurred to him to invite Sherlock directly to kill him instead of John, for example. Well, if Mycroft won’t talk, then he, Sherlock, will. “What I don’t understand,” he says, “is why compound the offense. I can appreciate, I think, the reasons to obliterate my memory of our sister. But I balk at your eliminating Victor as well.”
“Really?” Mycroft replies, visibly coming to himself. “How do you suppose you would have accounted for his absence?”
“Perhaps he moved away.”
“And you would have written to him! You would have written him letter after letter, and no reply would ever have come. We could all have enjoyed watching your daily disappointment as it grew and deepened into heartbreak. — In any case, brother, let me remind you: it wasn’t I who ‘eliminated’ him.”
“‘A hit,’” Sherlock says, “‘a very palpable hit.’”
Mycroft dips his chin. “May I sit?”
Sherlock waves him toward the nearer chair; he himself remains standing.
“When I look back,” Mycroft says, at length, “I am at something of a loss to account for my decisions. Though to begin with I followed Uncle Rudi’s lead, of course: for whatever that is worth.” Up to this point he has spoken slowly, but the next sentences leap out of him: “For God’s sake, I was still a teenager when Rudi died. The police investigation, your nightmares of Victor pleading for help — my little brother had been torn to bits in front of me and no one, not our parents, not I, not the supposedly brilliant psychotherapist, had seemed able to help you. Rudi had believed, and I thought, too, If we can contain all this in one secure package and drop it down a well — ”
Mycroft has fallen back against the chair, palms pressed to his cheeks, mouth parodically open. He must now be wondering what else has eluded him, what other grotesqueries he has perpetrated, that would have been obvious to the least of goldfish.
“The glaring answer is, of course, your entire scheme,” Sherlock tells him. And then, more gently, remembering again how Mycroft had tried to die in John’s stead, as John had once tried to die in Sherlock’s: “Uncle Rudi’s and yours.”
Mycroft brings his hands down from his face, rests them on his thighs. A travesty of calm; Sherlock can feel in his own body what that pose means to convey, having assumed it often enough himself.
What am I, he thinks, if not angry?
“Which is worse,” Mycroft asks: “the discovery that your memories were fabricated? Or the conclusion they invited you to draw, that, having never had a friend, you also never would?”
“I don’t know,” Sherlock says. “You omit to mention that even when I called you my arch-enemy, I had a — foundational — trust in you.”
Mycroft, gaze averted, keeps silence.
“You once told me,” Sherlock continues, “that you weren’t lonely.”
“I lied. Obviously.”
“You also told me, Caring is not an advantage.”
“And you asked Dr. Watson, once, whether caring would help save James Moriarty’s victims.” At the tilt of Sherlock’s head: “Yes, of course I watched the surveillance footage while you were away. In fact I watched every moment, Sherlock. But tell me, did caring help?”
“You assume that I did care for them.”
Now Mycroft does look at him. An arch of the eyebrow, as in the old supercilious days, not left behind completely after all.
Now, Sherlock thinks wearily, he is to deliver a resentful “Touché”; how familiar all this will be. He bows to necessity: “Yes, all right, I take your point: caring didn’t help you address my — situation — beneficially.”
“Exactly. Do you believe I did anything that was, shall we say, uninflected by my — all right, then, my love — for you?”
“Do you believe that your motive should absolve you?” This goes direct to target: Sherlock is as sure as he has been of anything recently that Mycroft’s flinch is genuine.
“I’m neither an idiot nor an optimist, Sherlock. No, to spell it out for you, I do not expect absolution, or even forgiveness. Not yours and not our parents’. I am asking you to consider the logical implications of two facts: that I acted without malice toward anyone, not even to our sister and least of all toward you, and that my judgment was immature. If you proceed from those assumptions, you will see that now, as an adult, I would neither begin such a deception nor would I continue any that was already in place. There are no more Redbeards, Sherlock, no more Euruses. All the graves have been opened.”
Sherlock brings the tips of his fingers together, left against right, thumbs last. “‘All Cretans are liars,’” he says, finally.
“You’ll remember that the paradox dissolves if Epimenides is understood to be lying. I am not he, and in any event I’m not attempting to propound a paradox.”
“Nevertheless the paradox exists. If you aren’t telling the truth now, how would I know it? I rely on my memory, only to remember that I have recently learned my memories are not to be relied upon.”
Mycroft lets out a short, frustrated breath and turns his hands over, as if to accompany speech.
Unwilling, annoyed with himself — Forty years old, and in spite of everything you look to your big brother to help you? — Sherlock says: “Don’t you see? I can’t find a logical way forward. If memory fails me, and logic fails me, what am I left with? Feeling. Intuition? A leap of faith?”
In Eurus’s cell, when he could not shoot the director, Mycroft’s air of superiority had dissolved, as (Sherlock thinks) it has done not even a handful of times in their adult lives — at least, when there is anyone to see. Now, as Mycroft sags into the chair, it abruptly becomes clear to Sherlock that however much he objects to leaps of faith, he is making one. His brother’s attempt to die in John’s stead isn’t proof of truthfulness, exactly, but it’s strong evidence that when Mycroft says he has Sherlock’s interests at heart, he means it. Consequently, in spite of everything, Sherlock does trust his brother. All the graves have been opened.
But he still feels unmoored and unballasted: riding too lightly on the water, flung about by any somewhat forceful wave. What is it?
He passes the afternoon in walking. London in reality confirms, as much as three hours’ survey can confirm, the accuracy of the version stored in his Mind Palace: that’s no more than Sherlock expected, and anyway he’s answering a different question. Not Is my storage system, as a whole, reliable despite a single though major known instance of tampering? but one he doesn’t quite want to put into words just yet.
Down Gower Street from UCL he finds himself arrested by a window display in Waterstones, books tied together by the forced-whimsy thread that their subject matter begins with the letter R. Radiolarians, Rastafarians, the Restoration, the Reformation, Rabbits, Russian cookery, the Red Scare in America, and an artist named Gerhard Richter, of whom Sherlock has never heard. The colors of the monograph’s cover illustration are shimmering washes of gray. Black lines compose what isn’t, and is, a closed-in landscape of narrow trees and fallen branches; in the center a stag in almost photographic soft focus, divided at a high angle through the torso by — a larger tree? Hard to say why the other lines in the image, equally devoid of detail, somehow depict living growth while these two lines create . . . something else. The stag might be partly concealed behind a tree, but rather Sherlock’s impression is that he has been divided by a vacancy. A rupture in the picture’s world. The stag’s lower legs and feet fade away as if hidden in low fog or mist. He is disappearing. Or appearing.
Sherlock buys a copy of the monograph. The transaction enables him to make the gratifying discovery that, when faced with dewy-eyed hero-worship emanating from a stranger, he is still capable of his sharkiest and most terrifying smile.
John meets Sherlock for supper at Angelo’s the next day, with Rosie in her sling across his chest. Angelo claps both men on the shoulder but then draws back, no longer beaming, to cluck and shake his head: “Ah, you look like something dragged by a lorry, the two of you, let me put you in the back where it’s quiet.” He purses his lips, takes away the candle, comes back with menus and a plate of salumi, gives Sherlock another worried glance, disappears and reappears again, this time with a bottle of Sicilian red. “ ‘From the slopes of Mount Etna,’” John reads.
“Volcanic, you see. Angelo believes himself subtle.”
“He’s expecting an explosion?”
“It wouldn’t be the first, would it?” But this is sharper than Sherlock meant to be; John isn’t the cause of his present distress. He brings his hands up apologetically.
John returns a thin worried smile. “You . . . okay, after — ?”: waving his hands. He has been on his best behavior since that day in the morgue.
Sherlock has no idea how to reassure him. “It was certainly revelatory. What about you?”
Shrug. Conversation had flowed more freely in Eurus’s cell; perhaps this awkwardness after mortal peril is another experiment of hers, something she planned though she knew she might not be present to observe it. I salute you, sister. A more subtle form of stress than most, but excruciating all the same.
An uneasy silence settles over them; John pretends to be busy with Rosie, though she’s sound asleep. Sherlock pours their second glasses of wine, orders for himself and John; John looks up long enough to ask for a starter-size risotto, cheese and butter only, for Rosie, and gives Sherlock another of those anxious smiles when their glances cross. His frame of mind is all too legible: he knows something’s wrong, probably has some idea what it is, wants to help, but, since the beating, has been paralyzed by shame except when he and Sherlock have some project together to distract him — keeping Sherlock off heroin, prodding Mycroft into revealing the truth about Eurus, and of course not dying.
To speak up would be to risk exposing the wounds he himself has inflicted, and which he believes are fatal, and which he is trying to pretend he believes are not fatal. He might even (and at this Sherlock almost laughs) be trying to pretend he didn’t inflict them. Shame and self-deceit, making a matched set.
“The flat’s nearly ready,” Sherlock tries, and, at John’s startled look, “Not to move in. But ready to clear, I mean of the general mess from the repairs. And after that, the paper and painting and so forth.”
“You’re doing it yourself, then?” With a hint of the old affectionate, scoffing tone that he thinks he has forfeited the right to. Familiar, blessedly familiar.
“Oh, well,” Sherlock says, “I thought I might inveigle a friend into helping me.”
John’s face falls. “I’ve got — ”
Had Sherlock thought his capacity for exasperation diminished by recent events? “Come while Watson’s in daycare. Or for that matter, bring her. How much cognitive capacity does wearing that sling require you to expend? Surely you can combine it with watching to see whether I’ve laid the wallpaper straight.”
There was a time when you wouldn’t have hesitated, Sherlock doesn’t say. And so many reasons why that time has passed; but there was that time, there was, all its archaeology laid out in John’s voice, in his immediate and correct assumption that he, John, is the one Sherlock calls “a friend.” Relief and pleasure cross his face at Sherlock’s teasing, before the tide of chronic anxiety and guilt washes them away.
John’s momentary happiness lights Sherlock’s spirit too. But although John — John's trouble with him, or rather with himself, and Sherlock's cautious hope for its resolution — has been Sherlock’s main problem for years now, it’s not what's been most on his mind since Sherrinford.
Sherlock remembers having a first friend now, and a sister; too, he remembers both of them being gone. But in fragments only: digging beside pea plants, damp cool air, the crumbly soft smell of the dirt, and Victor’s voice, “Won’t they mind?”; a still image of Victor and himself running toward a child’s toy boat adrift among reeds somewhere. Eurus standing in Sherlock’s bedroom, and the sense that someone had been shouting.
A heap of towels on the floor. The towels near the pile’s top blotched red; toward the bottom, the color dulled, approaching brown. Sherlock’s throat hurt; his arms and thighs hissed and stung. Then the feeling of wrongness, of absence.
By contrast, Redbeard, who never lived, exists in complete detail. Sherlock can call to mind, as clear as his internal map of 221B, the day he arrived, when Sherlock was five. He was not a puppy but a young dog, perhaps two or three. Steadier than a puppy, sturdier, Sherlock’s parents explained. Sherlock’s father put his hands in his pockets and rocked back and forth on his heels as Sherlock’s mother spoke. She held Redbeard on a leash at first, in case Sherlock was frightened of such a big dog, but Sherlock was not frightened; he was so entranced that none of the logical reasons for choosing this particular dog mattered. This dog was clearly the correct dog, and that was that. Sherlock petted him all over while he sat, turning his head toward Sherlock from time to time and licking Sherlock’s hand, or his ear. The wet was not very nice when you stopped to think about it but Sherlock decided not to mind it anyway. There was the snick of the leash unclipped; Sherlock knew at once that if he ran a little ways off and clapped his hands and called, “Redbeard! To sea!” the fearsome pirate’s trusty companion would be alongside him in a flash.
Sherlock can summon exactly the thick smell of Redbeard’s coat when it was wet, and the dip in the bone behind the cartilage of his ears that Sherlock could feel when he rubbed there. When Redbeard slept in the bed, he made it too warm; rather than make him get down, Sherlock would throw off the covers, because a pirate’s trusty companion should be with him at all times. Sometimes Sherlock would reach down with his feet, careful so as not to push, and flex his toes into the soft fur. When he and Redbeard walked together along the margins of the pond at the far end of the Holmeses’ back garden, Redbeard would take hold of one end of a stick and bear it prancing toward Sherlock, then pause long enough for Sherlock to take the other end so they could play tug.
The oddest feature of these memories — odder than their detail, odder than their being illusory — is that when Sherlock considers their chronology it becomes clear at once that they cover no great span of time. A spring, a summer, an autumn, and then there is no more trusty companion. He supposes, now, that Redbeard disappears in the illusion as abruptly as Victor had in reality. He has always “known” that Redbeard was ill and had to be put down, to spare him suffering, but of this his whole picture consists of Redbeard, sitting, in an empty room. There’s no vet visit, no tender explanation, no tearful farewell. He has always “known” that Redbeard died, that he grieved wildly, that Mycroft has only to remind him of this to bring home, once again, the message that caring is not an advantage.
All that grief properly belonged to Victor. What of Redbeard, then? Because Sherlock has discovered, much to his dismay, that to know his memories are illusory doesn’t lessen their force. He had a dog, once, whose every particular has its place in the Mind Palace saferoom where Sherlock keeps what he most cherishes — he had a dog, once, and he misses him.
“I once told you that I needed to know what to do about John,” Sherlock says, temporizing and annoyed with himself for it.
Ella tilts her head a few degrees, signaling invitation; she’s the equal of any interrogator at keeping quiet until the witness can’t bear it one more second. Sherlock’s dealt with this tactic before and been unmoved, but now it’s working. He soothes his chagrin at this discovery by reminding himself that he at least halfway wants to talk, so Ella’s success isn’t a consequence only of her skills. He forces himself to fall silent again for a count of five, during which it occurs to him that he’s replicating Mycroft’s behavior toward himself, and in exasperation he surrenders:
“He blamed me for his wife’s death, perhaps with some justice, and when eventually I was able to enlist his help on a case, there was an episode . . . He behaved badly, I suppose. And now it’s he who doesn’t know what to do about me.”
“Would you like to tell me about that?”
For this boilerplate, Sherlock grants her a poisonous look, which she acknowledges with a dip of her head. Mycroft’s assessment of her: another of his miscalculations. Ella’s blandness masks craft as well as Sherlock’s false sincerities distract the objects of his scrutiny; she knows that he knows that she knows, et cetera ad nauseam, and his knowledge does nothing to diminish her effectiveness.
“No,” he says. “I did work out, later, what to do about John, and — I am not entirely without hope that he’ll eventually work out what to do about me.”
This is oblique, but not so oblique that Ella misses either Sherlock’s tacit admission or the precise nature of his insight into John; nor does she entirely succeed in concealing the flash of amusement in response. The chink in her therapeutic neutrality is reassuring. That Sherlock should find it reassuring is irrational, just as his temporizing was. He takes a deep breath and begins.
I learned, recently, that my brother Mycroft had concealed from me the existence of a sister . . .
As he speaks, he watches Ella. For the next thirty-five minutes, she barely moves.
“Sometimes,” he says, at last, “I forget all about it. For an hour, two hours. At an autopsy, for example. Then my concentration breaks and it comes home to me all over again that nothing I thought I knew about myself is true.”
Sherlock laughs. Your best friend’s wife wasn’t who she pretended to be, you hadn’t got quite as far away from the heroin as you once believed, and there was never any dog. Good news: you have a sister. Bad news: she makes a game of killing people because you wouldn’t play pirates with her when you were six and seven. “Surely the biographical revisions I’ve just described are sufficiently sweeping to make my point?”
“I haven’t known you long,” Ella says, carefully, “so this might be off base, but I have the impression that you use that very formal diction when you’re in pain.”
“I’m not — ” Sherlock stops, looks down at his hands where they rest on his thighs, remembers Mycroft in his room at the Diogenes, placing his hands in that very position: shamming calm, badly. “The history I now know to be true barely exists for me. The history I know to be false — ” He forces himself to continue. “I prefer it. I prefer a series of falsehoods to the truth. I prefer them although they were imposed on me. There were times — while I was away. That were especially difficult. I was. Afraid. Or lonely. Mostly I thought about John” — saying this makes his face feel hot — “or my parents. Even Mycroft. Sometimes it helped me to — to continue, when I remembered some irritating trait of his.
“But sometimes I thought about my childhood dog. My dog. I had no dog. I was propping myself up on — mists.”
He glances at Ella, as much as he can manage just now. Her body language is quiet; it occurs to him to wonder how much she would fidget if she were, say, working alone at a desk, or on the phone.
“You said, of Redbeard,” she begins slowly, “that your memories of him were imposed on you. I realize he was your brother’s invention. But are all the details you remember — yes, I’m going to use that word — his invention, too?”
“You’re suggesting that I colluded in Mycroft’s deception.”
“No. No, ‘collude’ isn’t the word I’d use. I’m suggesting that you made something out of it worth valuing.”
This is nonsense, but Sherlock has nothing better to substitute for it, and — time’s up, he sees on the clock arranged, tactfully, where both of them can see it.
“You know,” Ella says after the exchange of greetings the following week, “that I often work with soldiers.”
Sherlock is still irritated by the suggestion that there’s something worthwhile about emotional reliance on an imaginary dog. “I presume you’ve a reason for stating the obvious.”
“Suppose it’s a lead-in to the slightly less obvious.”
“Do enlighten me.”
Ella ignores the rudeness. “Your experiences at Sherrinford were harrowing. And it wasn’t so long ago that you had to make extensive revisions to your personal history — you put it like that, more or less, I think.”
“Still stating the obvious.”
“Sherlock,” she says, “I do realize that you’re exceptionally intelligent. More intelligent, by most measures, than I am. But you wouldn’t be here unless you believed I had something to offer you, so why not let me offer it?”
He opens his mouth to snarl something, he’s not sure what, shuts it. “I take your point.”
“That’s not necessarily a rhetorical question, by the way,” Ella continues. “The insights people have in therapy are often uncomfortable. You may want to fend them off — that’s natural.”
“For God’s sake, leave off the platitudes about my comfort.”
In the silence that follows Sherlock imagines a blinking neon sign over them that says “She’s on to something and you know it.” He also becomes aware that Ella has left the silence precisely so that he will have an opportunity to come to this conclusion, to register that his attempts to put her off are not putting her off, and finally that this is because his attempts are exactly like the attempts of every other client to avoid understanding whatever it is they’re paying Ella to help them understand, apart from the linguistic register in which he expresses himself and which Ella already perceives as the shield it in fact is, and — fine. “I’m sorry,” he says, and to his horror feels his throat close up on the last syllable.
Sherlock’s eyes always redden so inconveniently, but Ella is kind: she proceeds without acknowledging what she must see. “Soldiers often need psychological help for the trauma they’ve experienced. Killing, being in fear for their lives, witnessing violent death. But not you. The grenade at your flat, and then what happened at Sherrinford caused you fear and pain, yes. You’ve told me you lost sleep, that you find yourself reliving the moment when the director shot himself. All that’s what I’d expect.”
She’s not above a little drama, apparently, for she pauses here. Sherlock has clasped his hands to stop them shaking.
“But if I can judge by what you’ve told me so far, all those sequelae of your experience are improving. You’re sleeping better, revisiting the suicide and your sister’s experiments less often; you’ve talked with your brother about his deception and the reasons for it. I mean that you’re showing remarkable resilience. And that’s great.
“It leaves me with a couple of questions, though. Why didn’t your experiences at Sherrinford leave you with long-term trauma? It’s clearly more difficult for you to accept the importance of Redbeard. And that’s my second question: why does it cause you such distress that you developed a rich narrative about him, and that you relied on that narrative to sustain you emotionally at bad times?” She looks at Sherlock carefully: assessing, he sees, whether to continue. He feels scraped open and has pressed himself back into his chair, but he urgently wants to hear this all at once and have done; being unable to speak, he nods.
She continues. “You said” — she consults her notes — “you were propping yourself up on mists. But they were pretty solid mists, Sherlock. They worked for you. And yet your dismay about them brought you to do something very difficult for most people and I think even more difficult for you. You came to see me.
“So tell me. What makes one experience manageable to you, and the other not?”
Sherlock fills the next twenty minutes with an account of a murder he solved after he got back from Serbia, which John never wrote up, or even knew about, because he wasn’t speaking to Sherlock then. Ella allows him the derailment — infuriatingly, because he needs it, and she can see he needs it, and he can see . . . Therapy seems to be one long walk down a mirrored hall. He times the mystery’s dénouement perfectly; with thirty seconds left in the session, he can confirm the following week’s appointment and then flee.
“Your sister,” Ella says almost as soon as Sherlock has sat down, “has huge intellectual gifts.”
Having conceded that whenever Ella states the obvious she’s about to lay him bare, he holds his tongue.
Then: “But what do you make of her emotional life?”
A blank screen comes down in front of Sherlock’s brain; minus the eyeball-laced coffee, this could be a reprise of the moment when John asked him to serve as best man. When he finds his voice, he says, “How can I answer that? I hardly know what to make of my own.”
“Don’t worry,” Ella says, dryly; “we’ll get there. . . . Think of it as a case. What evidence do you see? Where does it lead you?”
“The evidence. Fine. My sister killed my childhood friend, I am told because she was jealous and she felt alone. At that time, she could not tell the difference between screams and laughter, and quite possibly she still can’t. Recently she concocted a melodrama in which a small girl, who turned out to be herself, was trapped on an unpiloted airplane that would inevitably crash. As part of this same melodrama, she murdered several people, induced another to kill himself, forced me to inflict emotional torture on someone whom I consider a friend and who was in love with me for years, and attempted to force me to choose which of two people dear to me I would kill. I am led by this evidence to conclude that her emotional life is a catastrophic and extremely dangerous mess. Are you now going to deliver a lecture on emotional intelligence, in the course of which you explain to me that Eurus’s is pitiably low?”
“Then what was the point of that exercise?”
“Do you think your sister loves you?”
“How would I know? Even if I could take at face value anything she said about her attitude toward me, or toward anyone else for that matter, you do remember my telling you that she no longer speaks?”
“Sherlock. I do understand that what she says is unreliable. But you’ve had plenty of experience of her behavior; what does it tell you?”
“She didn’t kill me when we were children; she killed Victor, who was an obstacle between her and me. She balked when I made it clear that I would shoot myself rather than kill either my brother or John. I have some value to her, then.
“On the other hand, she is content to cause me distress, either directly or by harming others. I suppose you could say she prizes me, as one prizes an interesting specimen. But — ”
“ — It was when I offered her comfort that she helped me find John. Her unhappiness was real and it was alleviated by closeness to me. The facsimile of closeness, I suppose.”
“A facsimile, because . . . ?”
“Because she was only an obstacle between myself and John!” When Sherlock’s ears stop ringing, he adds, quietly: “That is to say, between myself and the preservation of John’s life.”
Ella leans forward a few degrees, tilts her head: the pose of a raptor with target in view. “Do you remember when you began to think of yourself as a sociopath?”
One might think that a sharp turn away from the topic of Eurus’s psyche.
“There was a — ” No. No, there hadn’t been. If you want to tell a convincing lie, make yourself believe it: Sherlock had told himself the story of his diagnosis plenty of times.
Ella sits back, rests her chin on her hand, performing patience and expectancy as she does so well.
“I wasn’t supposed to care for anyone,” Sherlock says. “That was Mycroft’s way of protecting me, because I was so distraught after Victor disappeared. I think now — protecting himself too. He said it over and over, Caring is not an advantage, advantage being the summum bonum, the good that comprises all others. Eventually, I suppose, to call myself a sociopath became a — a reminder — when I found myself on the verge of — if I was a sociopath then that was not for me. It was so completely not for me that I need not even shield myself from — I must go, I’m sorry, we still have the appointment for the end of this week, you’ll let me know of course whether to change it — ”
He’s halfway out the door and it’s August and he has not got his coat to throw over himself. No sunglasses, no growth of beard, no hoodie. He’s not even wearing a suit, just a plain white shirt and gray trousers. The Diogenes Club is halfway across London. He stops.
“We have a quarter of an hour left and you don’t need to say anything if you don’t want to. But it might be an interesting choice for you not to leave when you’re distraught.”
“‘Interesting,’” Sherlock says, sitting down with his face averted.
“Or ‘useful,’” she rejoins; so Sherlock passes in silence the endless minutes that ensue, during which he endures the condition of feeling that will not be talked away or acted away or crime-solved away or injected away, or even beaten away. What he loved had been torn from him, and he had abandoned what he loved; he had disappeared; he had fallen asleep in one world and awakened in another; what he loved had been killed, he himself had killed, he had been wounded unto death. He could barely remember Victor, but the feeling of losing his friend was live and present; it took the form of a red dog.
“I — thank you,” he says, just before the time runs out.
Once upon a time, there was a boy named Sherlock. He had a friend named Victor and a little sister named Eurus and there was just enough water at the bottom of the well —
Once upon a time, there was a boy named Sherlock. His dog Redbeard followed him everywhere —
There are two stories, and both of them are true. Not caring is not an advantage. He spends months with Ella, learning this. He will forget it and learn it again a dozen times, a score of times, a thousand thousand times.
He thinks: One day, if John comes home, and once the child is old enough (five, say, or six), we might, maybe, get a dog.
Art, as a general thing, doesn’t interest Sherlock much. The monograph he bought on impulse, the one whose cover depicts a sundered stag, makes its way from his room at the Diogenes (where Mycroft had spotted it, frowning, but had elected to say nothing; “I’ll come with you to tell our parents,” Sherlock told him, though Mycroft hadn’t asked) to the reconstructed Baker Street, where Sherlock stuffs it higgledy-piggledy beside his still rather smoky forensics texts and forgets about it for a long time; it doesn’t catch his eye again until after his first visit to Eurus in her new and improved . . . well, it is a cell, and there’s no point in feeling sorry that it has to be. He has the impression that she attends to his violin, but concludes, over a whisky later that evening, that he can’t be sure.
Upstairs, John is putting Rosie to bed. Sherlock pulls out the monograph and finds Stag in the index. The painting is much larger than he had realized, just shy of five feet high and over six feet across. If you’re going to imagine a painting as a portal in the first place, of course, it makes no sense to consider whether it’s realistic as to size.
Gerhard Richter thought the work was not yet finished, but then a friend told him there was nothing he should add; was Stag complete, then, after all?
Sherlock studies the page for many minutes, wondering.